Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Cave Creek Packrafting

Much of the northern end of Kosciuszko National Park is made up of huge grass plains fringed low, gentle tree-clad hills. The country was favoured by graziers and at first glance seems far from rugged. Some of the plains are scattered with granite boulders and contain small creeks; others are divided by deep, slowly moving rivers, and a couple at the northern end appear to be dry. These latter plains sit atop limestone country, known as karst.

Tucked away at the edge of a dry plain is a location called Blue Waterholes. It is here that water emerges from beneath the surface and forms the permanent watercourse of Cave Creek. As the name suggests there are many caves in the area, however they were not the target of this trip. I wanted to travel down Cave Creek by packraft.

I set off around midday on a beautiful blue sky day. A short walk from the carpark one comes to the creek itself, which was flowing at a decent level; as good as you could expect for the middle of summer in Australia, anyway.

Inflating the raft, I paddled along the pools, bounced through the pebble races and occasionally had to get out and drag. Around a few bends the river does a sharp left-hand turn and enters the highlight of the area; Clarke Gorge.

The gorge is simply spectacular. It consists of sheer limestone cliffs plunging down into the creek, and reminds me of a scene from Lord Of The Rings. An amazing place to be paddling a packraft.

After a couple of hundred metres the gorge opens out again, though the scenery is still spectacular.

Due to the low water levels there was a fair bit of contact between the floor of the packraft and the rocks in the bed of the river. Usually this wasn't an issue, as the most of the rocks were fairly smooth and one could spin over them, or jiggle off them by throwing some body mass around. However, on a shallow stretch of river the raft made contact with a rock that felt much more vicious. I heard an unusual noise, and instinctively reached down and felt the base of the raft where the contact had been made. My fingertips detected a couple of edges of fabric that weren't there before and the unmistakable presence of air escaping, so I headed towards dry ground. By the time I reached the bank a few seconds later the raft was looking a little soft.

Soon the raft was unloaded, seat removed and the damage could be examined. A chunk of limestone had sliced the base open beneath the seat, cutting through the tube as well. The total opening length was about 50mm, with a supplementary gouge continuing along the floor to the stern of the raft. For a soft rock, it's amazing how sharp limestone can be!

My original aim for the trip was to continue further down Cave Creek, through a second gorge and past a waterfall, to its terminus at the Goodradigbee River. However, I'd started a little later than I had hoped and the puncture would consume more time, so I decided to dry the raft out, have a bite to eat and then return to the car; the repair could wait until the evening, and the rest of the trip could wait for another day.

As I sat there eating some jerky and soaking up the sun a narrow, slippery and scaly critter came swimming along the creek, beaching itself near the stricken packraft. It was a 600mm long snake, which saw me and burrowed itself in under a rock, with its tail still in the water.

Initially I wasn't thrilled with the idea of sharing the bank with the snake, but it soon became apparent that it wasn't moving anywhere in a hurry. After deflating the packraft and getting ready to depart it eventually slithered out of its hiding place and into some nearby grass. I crossed the creek, located the walking track and started returning to the car. The walk is easy and provides some interesting views of the gorge and the river.

This photo captures the gorge at its best.

The gorge was over all too soon, but Cave Creek still had one final surprise in store. At the end of the second-last creek crossing, basking on a small rock, was a magnificent lizard. It didn't seem at all concerned by my presence, and following a couple of photos I departed with the lizard still occupying the rock.

All in all, a great way to spend a summer's day. Nevertheless, I'm not in a hurry to return to limestone country and paddle a packraft at low water levels. Perhaps it's time for a sacrificial plastic kayak to join the fleet?


  1. Beautiful pics Craig, and a nice place to take a packraft. You might just be the first.
    I can't believe you damaged the raft!

  2. Yes it's been on my 'to do' list for a while Darren. I'd still be interested in heading back through at higher water levels (after heavy rain). Lower down the gradient increases which could make things interesting.

    The raft damage was surprising, but it's always a risk when going through this sort of country. The rock that did the damage would have to have been nearly as sharp as a knife to get through the floor. It's literally sliced through it. Can you imagine what a cheap vinyl raft would look like after going over the same rock?