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Tallowa Dam to Fossickers Flat

by Paul Ellis

(Autumn 2005)

Leader: Chris Bellamy. Subordinates: Sandra Kelley, Pam Dix, Rhonda Guy, Julie Davison, Colin Hancock, Pat and Roger Castle, Alison and Brad Coates, Mel Turner, June Thompson, Lyn Partridge and Paul Ellis.

At 9.00am on Saturday 12th February we all gathered at Tallowa Dam Picnic Area under sunny blue skies for two days of kayaking on the Shoalhaven River. There were 14 of us, 11 craft including 3 doubles and ranging from Canadians, Sea Kayaks, Bass and Hobies plus a few others. Ray Spratt was there to wish everyone well, help with the unloading of gear and the taking of group photographs. The water level was still down, but not too bad. One report had the Tallowa Dam at 70% capacity - we wondered if that would be enough to get us to Fossickers Flat.

By 10.00am we were paddling up the Shoalhaven River. The water was calm, not particularly cold and there was very little breeze and we were soon paddling below high cliffs on either side. It was not long before we came to the Valley Of Dead Trees - the trees having been submerged when Tallowa Dam was built, leaving just their skeletons above water. This was a very picturesque section of the river and many paddlers paddled through this maze of dead trees. The Shoalhaven Gorge continued to be spectacular - high cliffs on both sides of the water, some coming straight down to the river, others descending to a tree-lined slope, but the banks on either side were almost identical, several feet of sloping sand or dirt, caused by the recent drought forcing Lake Yarrunga to be pumped to service those water gluttons in Sydney. After good rain over the past few months the exposed banks are now grass covered and everything seems greener than the last time I was here.

After a short morning tea break approximately halfway into the journey we continued our paddle up the gorge until finally we came to a small rapid. Finding myself close to the front of the group I decided to have a go at paddling up this race (bad choice). I quickly showed everyone how not to paddle up the rapid, because the water turned my boat and it caught a semi-submerged rock, turned my craft full turtle, and dunked me unceremoniously into the water. As I surfaced, trying to grab my camera bag and kayak, the daypack on the stern of my kayak became submerged. "Brilliant work you Bonehead" I thought to myself. I'd just soaked my lunch, dinner, first aid kit, toilet items and sleeping clothes. On top of that I banged up the thumb on my left hand which was quite sore and bruised for several days. I somehow managed to get my craft to the bank while the laughter of my companions echoed in my ears. (Wet Bum Award coming up?)

We decided to walk the kayaks up the rapids as it was clear there was a long stretch of calm water further ahead. I got my boat over without further incident and was soon paddling along past a wide open section of beach (which would normally be underwater) and soon came to another rapid, this one bigger than the last.

Learning my lesson from the first rapid, I pulled over onto the bank, got out of my kayak and walked across the rocks to a spot above the rapids. I was soon joined by Colin and Roger and we noticed a very comfortable camping spot across the river under the shade of a couple of large pine trees. Unfortunately it looked like there was only room for about 4 large tents. We had a group that was likely to have 11, it was much too small. Looking back down the rapid I noticed several of our group paddling towards the open beach. We went back to investigate. Ronda informed us that she knew there was a decent campsite above this beach as she had camped there on a previous trip. It was apparent everyone had decided this was to be our stopping point. We were still about 1.5 kilometres downstream from Fossickers Flat.

After everyone had pitched their tents in what turned out to be a magnificent green grassy camping area shaded by trees (and covered with stinging nettles), we all had lunch - well, some of us - mine was rather soggy. Chris suggested we split into separate groups for the afternoon's activities. One group planned to take a swim in the river, another group took the Canadian canoes upstream in a bid to reach Fossickers Flat, and I joined Sandra, Pam and June for a riverside bushwalk that took us upstream and included a very wet and slippery crossing at another set of rapids and featured the sighting of a very large eel.

We all returned to camp in time for the traditional Shoalhaven Bushwalkers 'Happy Hour' and the food again was magnificent, despite the absence of Kynie and her famous Mexican dip (bugger!). The evening was spent round the campfire, until the invasion of small flying black beetles, attracted by our head torches sent us to our tents amidst the nearby growling of possums foraging for the night.

Next morning we were up early for breakfast and packed ready to go at 10.00am, well before Chris' original planned time of 11.30. It was overcast but obviously going to clear. We headed back towards Tallowa Dam. The return descent of the rapids was uneventful and we all kept up a steady paddle, content to enjoy the magnificent river scenery around us. We had two stops, one where Chris took us for a short stroll up a small side creek to view a rare red cedar and a lunch stop that revealed a rather large goanna in a tree above our seating area. We arrived back at Tallowa Dam just before 3.00pm to finish a most enjoyable two days on the Shoalhaven River.

(Ettremist - February 2005)