The Morning after the Day Before… Kayaking the Katherine River
There was a chill to the air as I peered out into the early morning light from under the flap of my swag. My arm flailed free from the confines of my bedroll falling on the thick outer canvas, wet with beads of dew.
I was pleased I’d brought a beanie night cap to wear as the temperature had severely dropped in the early hours to what felt like single digits from the lovely mid 20′s C (mid 70′s F) we’d experienced all the previous (August) day as we’d floated down the Katherine River in our kayaks. [Click the link to read about our 1st day's adventures]
But the sun was now piercing through the foliage and the temperature was already on the rise, so with the camp fire brewing the first cup of tea for the day and the smell of a cooked breakfast that our guide Matt was preparing, I’m enticed out of my cocoon.
With full bellies, the kitchen and sleeping gear all magically disappear back into Matt’s seemingly bottomless canoe and the three of us were back on the water, paddling downstream.
Twitching (without Twitter in sight)
There is such a beauty to being totally unplugged from the world.
- No mobile
- No 3G
- No Internet
- No communication devices… whatsoever!
What lengths do we have to go to, to escape the constant madness that bombards us in our everyday life?
Well, taking a 3 day kayaking trip down the Katherine River could be one!
Our second day on the river saw us add another 9 different species of birds, to the 16 we’d spotted on Day 1, including the stunning Nankeen Heron and a Great Billed Heron. (There are potentially 78 species that have been verified on this stretch of River on the Eremaea Bird Sightings List)
The narrow pandanus channel where we’d camped having rejoined the main river gradually widened out and slowed its pace.
Despite our lazy approach an egret on a distant sandy bank gave us a wide berth taking off with its large white flapping wings creating a painterly reflection in the water below.
But I was in awe when we spotted a Goshawk sitting on a tree branch who amazingly, stayed put as I floated silently underneath.
What a treat!
This is absolutely the most brilliant thing about travelling down stream in a kayak -
Its so silent, so gentle, such a smooth method of moving through the bush you can glide up on the wildlife, totally unheard, and appear relatively nonthreatening.
We next see a White Bellied Sea Eagle, who seemed to enjoy our company, and appeared to play a game of tag with us!
Sitting in a tree as we approached, he took off displaying his superb wing span, flew down stream to the next branched vantage point - Sat, watched us approach, sometimes letting us pass, then would come up from behind, circle, tag and taunt us with his aerobic prowess!
Life under the Water’s Surface
While the bird-life above the river tended to steal the show, there was all manner of water-life going on below our kayaks as well -
- Stripped Grunters
- Black Bream (also known as Sooty Grunters)
And of course the shy turtles -
If you heard something enter the water, yet weren’t sure what made those ripples, Matt told us:
“Crocodiles go S-P-L-A-S-H and turtles go P-L-O-P!”
Then there were the fresh water prawns – Cheribin.
Later that night Matt highlighted these for us with his torch beaming down into the shallows, showing their iridescent pinky-orange eyes glowing back at us along the water’s edge.
We also saw some larger red eyes shining from over on the distant bank – freshwater crocodile eyes.
The following morning when we set off around the corner of the river there were the tell tale signs of a female freshie who’d been up on the bank checking out suitable spots to lay her eggs – as seen by the piles of sand she’d heaped up as she dug.
Lazy Afternoon on the River
Despite the simplicity of a picnic on a river bank, there’s something quite decadent about pulling up in one’s kayak on an uninhabited, perfect white sandy beach on the side of a river for a spot of lunch!
Maybe its the isolation.
With no one else in sight, this wilderness is ours for the taking.
After filling our bellies (again), washed down with another brew of billy tea, tinged with the delicate fragrance of eucalyptus leaves plucked from a nearby paperbark tree (Melaleuca)…
Matt took us a away from the water to share an outback delight he’d spotted on a previous trip.
Hidden away under a bush was a Great Bowerbird’s nest.
Unlike the Satin Bowerbird that collects blue objects to woo the female, the Great Bowerbird collects white and pale green objects to attract his mate – In this case a beautiful collection of bleached snail shells.
With house building skills like this what female could ever refuse?
Green travel in the Top End
The afternoon continued in a lazy fashion, where even a Scarlet Percher dragonfly took a break from the day’s flutterings and hitched a ride on my yellow waterproof day bag wedged in the front of my kayak.
But the afternoon hotted up, not only the temperature, but in the pace of the river as we approached a series of rapids. Well, not real rapids if you are a true-blue kayaker – but for us beginners, they were rapids.
Rapids on the Katherine River
For some of these sections we stopped awhile before proceeding to get Matt’s guidance as to which was the best line to take…
On others where there were more rocks protruding than water, Matt had us out so he could ‘walk’ the kayaks over the shallows.
But for the remainder we had the fun of what felt like speeding through frothing white water, putting our newly found kayaking skills to the test.
Paddles aren’t just used for paddling!
On a river such as this where there’s quite a good flow of water, the paddle more often is used as a rudder to steer.
Placing the paddle vertically in the water (towards the back of the kayak) on the left side will turn your vessel left, or of course positioning it vertically on the right will steer you right.
Another nifty trick to remember, particularly when going with the flow around a corner at speed, is not to lean into the corner as you would on a bicycle, as this will court disaster.
The water coming down stream with you will start to come over that inside edge and before you know what’s happened the pressure of the flow will push it down – and bang – you’re flipped!
So if you’re heading for a bank while on the turn – lean into the bank you’re about to hit, which will keep you level… and still floating
Camping Out Under the Stars – Night 2
It was at the bottom of this last set of rapids that we stopped for our second night of camping out under the stars and were thrilled to see this Mertens Water Monitor.
With the invasion of the introduced cane toads from Queensland, spreading across the Top End, their future is classified as ‘vulnerable’, so they may become an increasing rare sight.
Mertens Water Monitor
Matt’s magic canoe again produced tables, chairs and a camp oven (Bedourie spun steel pot) which once the camp fire had died back a bit he placed in the red hot embers, full of all manner of vegetables, which he roasted to a turn.
As the sun lowered behind the trees I retreated to the back of the sandy beach and set myself up with a micron pen and some watercolours to sketch the weeping paperbark tree and rocks on the opposite side of the River, behind our camp spot.
I also made a start on my Story-Map Journal, listing the birds we’d seen and illustrating highlights of our adventures from the 2nd day of kayaking down the Katherine River.
Excited from the previous night when we’d been treated to such a spectacle of shooting stars I forced myself to lie awake for part of the night to again relish the natural firework display laid on by this annual passing of the Perseid Meteor shower. It didn’t disappoint.
Final Day Kayaking the Katherine River
Another chilly, dewy morning but with steaming hot tea and pancakes on the menu we were up and away.
This final day presented another 10 different species of birds – in addition to the 25 we’d previously seen making it a a total of 35, which considering we had no binocs and certainly were not twitchers it was wonderful that so many types of birds had naturally presented themselves to us.
After travelling about 50km downstream over the three days we were met by Gecko Canoe company’s 4WD vehicle and trailer to pick us, and the kayaks, up.
It had been a wonderful adventure into the Northern Territory’s outback.
My final Story-Map recording highlights from the third day:
Gecko Canoeing made this video of their 3 day kayaking trip down the Katherine River:
(If you can’t see it below click this link: http://player.vimeo.com/video/60529305 )
Kayaking is a great way for getting out into nature.
Totally away from the trials and tribulations of life…
Have you done any kayaking?
Or, is this on your to do list?
Do share in the comments below
To read about our first day on the
Katherine River in our kayaks -
Click the link above