Kayaking on the Murray is great, but the river is only part of the story. When we went kayaking in Mildura, we couldn’t wait to explore the surrounding billabongs and creeks. There are no houseboats or jet skis to worry about. Often you have the quiet waterways, great scenery and wildlife all to yourself.
We hired kayaks from Wild Side Outdoors. They met us at the Kings Billabong carpark which was great. It was nice not having to worry about collecting the kayaks, attaching them to the car and returning them.
Psyche Bend Pump House
The carpark is right next door to the Psyche Bend pump house. Whether engineering is your thing or not, it is worth arriving a few minutes early to check this place out. It is impressive! The pump house was built in the late 1800s to provide water to farmers.
The ingenuity needed to put this thing together is amazing. It’s no Snowy Hydro scheme, but the various components are all enormous. The steam engine that powered it, the chimney stacks, the enormous pipes… How they put together without modern cranes is beyond me.
The working restoration in place today is a fascinating thing. If you are lucky enough to be near Mildura during school or public holidays, you have the chance to see it in action. Had we known about it we would have come by for a look. As we read the last of the interpretive signs, our kayaks arrived.
Launch into the channel
We got set up with our kayaks, fitted into our life jackets and given a few pointers on where to go. There are two parts to the billabong. We were starting in a narrow channel. The channel opens into a lagoon with several little islands in it. There was an ibis rookery to look out for and we got directions for the best route to take for our two hour paddle.
For the first time in our kayaking lives we entered the water using a kayak launcher. This is a ramp with rollers on it that starts on the bank and disappears into the water. You position your kayak at the top, use the handrails to get moving and you roll straight in. It’s great!
Despite being near the road the channel is lovely and quiet. Pelicans, herons, and cormorants sit on the banks and fallen tree trunks. We passed one log that was home to a couple of pelicans and a pied cormorant. While they all had the same colourings, the cormorant looked quite out of place size-wise.
There are dead tree trunks dotted throughout the channel. At the top of each tree is a little island of life with flowering plants sprouting from the tops.
Into the Lagoon
Part way along the channel is a low bridge where you need to duck to get under. Once your limbo manoeuvre is complete, the channel opens into the wide lagoon. There are three small islands off to the right of the channel. We tried to paddle around them, but the water became too shallow to get close to them.
The view across the lagoon is spectacular. There are pelicans and black swans as far as you can see. As we made our way into the middle of the lagoon the swan slowly moved out of our way. Above us, ibises were flying towards another island on the far side of the lagoon.
Before we left, we asked how we would find the ibis rookery. The guy who dropped off our kayaks laughed and said we would have no problems seeing it, hearing it or smelling it. And, he was right on all the counts.
As we paddled towards the rookery, we saw more and more ibises circling and landing amongst the reeds. We only had to get halfway out to them before we could hear them squawking. Soon after that, the smell hit us. It wasn’t horrible but it was certainly noticeable. It was at about this point we realised how many birds there were. There were hundreds.
It is fair to say that the poor old ibis doesn’t make it onto most people’s favourite bird list. It has several nicknames that confirm its lack of popularity. Bin chicken, flying rat and tip turkey to name a few. While they might get a bad rap, they are still an Australian native. Were their habitat not disappearing, we wouldn’t see as many of them looking for scraps in bins.
As we quietly approached the island, we could see their enormous nests in the reeds. A couple of metres across, they contained two or three fluffy little black and white chicks. The adult ibises stood around the nests. When they stretched out their wings you see the characteristic bright red flashes of featherless skin.
It was a great sight. The noise, the number of birds, the size of the nests was something we hadn’t experienced before. To top it off, as we floated around to the other side of the island, we spotted 50 or 60 pelicans.
Beauty of the Billabong
The sun started to set, and we had to make our way back. On the return journey the breeze dropped away completely turning the water into a mirror. The trees along the banks cast perfect reflections. The two pelicans and cormorant were sitting on the same log as we paddled past them again on our way back.
The din of the rookery seemed to heighten the tranquillity of the channel. We paddled slowly, savouring the last few hundred metres of the paddle. The sun was close to setting which cast a soft dusk light across the water. A chorus of bird calls filled the air. We sat in our kayaks, not paddling, trying to take it all in.
Great finish to a great paddle
With some reluctance, we returned to the ramp. Docking with the ramp was a dream. We lined ourselves up, got our paddles out of the way and rolled up the bank using the handrails. Easy! With very little effort you find yourself high and dry and ready to make a graceful exit from your kayak.
This was a great paddle. If you find yourself near Mildura, give Kings Billabong a try. The birdlife is spectacular and if you can be on the water at the end of the day, you’ll experience the very best the river has to offer.
BURONGA riverside CARAVAN PARK – DISCOVERY
.We stayed at Discovery Parks Buronga Riverside Caravan Park enjoying the riverside sites and the gorgeous trees in full flower. We relaxed in the evening with the in-house country music performances and the food cart with delicious paela, baked potatoes and curries. Buronga has a relaxed and quiet vibe looking across the river to busy Mildura