Murrumbidgee around Canberra

Hi guys, I thought I’d add some (loooong!!) notes to some sections of the Murrumbidgee within a stones throw of suburban Canberra. It’s a nice stretch of river with a few options, has a decent catchment and tends to hold the water longer than other rivers round these parts.

Thought it may be timely seeing that a pack rafting course will be in town shortly. Think I will be away during the course, bummed to miss it but maybe this will come in handy for people in town for the course and Sydneysiders looking to paddle not too far from home.

Thanks Andrew for some of the video footage and to those who have paddled these sections with me!

Walk / paddle option: No
Low: Lobbs - 2.15m - McDonald 1.2m
Good: Lobbs –2.3-2.5m Mt McDonald 1.3 -1 .6m

I have paddled this section three times, once at around minimum and twice at moderate to high (good) flows. I’ve done it in a couple of hours after work but allow about 4 hours first time through. This is a very good section of river, fairly continuous with some quality rapids

As with most runs on the Murrumbidgee it starts with some flat paddling into a few gentle races and drops over the first couple of kms, improving with moderate water. The first major rapid is just after a nice PR2 chute. In lower water it has a two stage drop with the second being slightly more technical at PR2. In higher flows it provides a quality continuous run at PR3. Easily scouted from both sides of the river.

After this there are couple of small rapids before a big rock in the middle of the river signals the next tricky section. The section starts with a nice bouncy drop, maybe PR2-3, which leads into a gorge with scope to eddy out at the start of the narrow section. At the end of the gorge the river disappears under boulders on the left with a way through on the right. The whole section can be scouted from river right and it’s probably best to have safety in place at top of the gorge to assist in collecting bodies and gear if a paddler blows the first drop. It is also good to take a look at the boulder section, as a mistake here would not be good. At low levels the line to the right is easier to access. At higher levels it is quite tricky getting into the line on river right and avoiding the boulder choke so be very careful. If you blow it , it looks like this . Its easy to portage on river right and I would do so to avoid any chance of dying here … not worth the risk!

One of my vids shows me running this section at 2.4m (same day as the unfortunate guy above), next time I ran it at 2.5m and emulated his performance. Being swept under a massive boulder is generally something I would prefer to avoid and hope was a once in a lifetime experience!

Not long after is another gorge section with the hardest rapid of the trip. This is a very tricky initial drop with about 30 metres of fast moving water before another easier drop. The whole thing would approach PR4. The top section is very difficult in lower water due to exposed rocks in the line and becomes more doable with higher flows but is still pretty tricky. It can be viewed and portaged from both sides of the gorge.

After this there is one further fun drop which has a pretty straightforward line and is very pleasant at PR2 Then back onto a short section of flat to the car. Best to park at Tharwa Sandwash to avoid a couple of kms of flat paddling. An excellent run a and quite pretty through the gorge section

Pics and vids at:

Low - Lobbs 1.95m Mt MacDonald 1.3 m
Good – Lobbs 2.3-2.5 Mt Macdonald 1.4-1.5m

Walk/ paddle option: No

I have only done this section once at the good level above. It can probably be run higher but suspect the few rapids that this section has would wash out. Whilst still reasonably pleasant this is an easy paddle and doesn’t present the nice scenery you can get by paddling the Casuarina Sands to Uriarra Section listed later. Takes about 3 hours. Not highly recommended

Walk paddle option - Yes

Low - Lobbs 1.95m Mt MacDonald 1.2 m
Good – Lobbs 2.3-2.8m Mt Macdonald 1.4-1.7m

Canberra’s version of afternoon delight as this section provides a fun 1-2 hour paddle at PR 2 standard and is an easy hour walk from Pine Island if only have one car or you want some extra exercise. An after work classic! There is no real high level for this one however things get fast moving and trees more of a hazard above 3 metres on the Lobbs gauge.

The paddling starts out flat for a km or so staying river right before the river takes you left for a series of two or three easy PR 2 rapids in low water getting more continuous and bouncy as the water level increases. Next is the best rapid which runs on both sides of a small island /land strip, noticeable due to a line of rocks and low bushes on river right. At lower levels the left hand option is best and provides a rocky run into a 1m-drop however at higher levels the right hand side presents a nice chute. If you do the walk up you will see this rapid clearly from a hill 1km south of Pine Island. The south end of Pine Island will shortly come into view, it is much better to continue to the north end of Pine Island as there is more white water to come. From here there is a small section of flat before a couple more small but fun rapids both best run on the middle right of the river. It is well worth doing the rapid just after the beach at North Pine Island, another fun bouncy PR 2 at the good level indicated above. You can beach just after the rapid and walk but through the low bushes to the car.

The majority of rapids are boat scouted, no easy viewing sections but shouldn’t present too many issues for pack rafters assuming care is taken with trees. Sun in the eyes and head winds common for late arvo trips

Low – 1.2 Mt Macdonald (Lobbs 2.0)
Good - 1.3-1.4 Mt MacDonald (Lobbs 2.4)
High 1.7 Mt MacDonald (Lobbs 2.8-3.0)

Walk/ paddle option :Yes

This is a very good section of moderate paddling on the Murrumbidgee with some great rapids and stellar scenery for a piece of river so close to a city, It’s certainly a step up from the section to Pine Island. I’ve run this section a number of times between the heights above and suggest 1.3m on Mt Mac is the best intro height for this section where all the rapids paddle well and have good clean lines. Higher levels present straightforward lines but big and heavy water, which is potentially challenging in a pack raft. Best for more experienced paddlers. It’s best to scout all rapids as the narrowing nature of the rapids may lead to tree blockages (although I’ve only seen a log in a channel once). Mt MacDonald seems to be the best gauge for this section of river and the Lobbs gauge is only indicative. Whilst it is a 2 or 3-hour trip car to car you can make a day of it and walk from Kambah on a good track to Pine Island

Straight at the put in is a nice PR2 rapid, which is indicative of water level, rocky will be low whilst a nice wave will be a good level, its starts to wash out and gets bouncy at high levels.

This is followed by a km or two of flat paddling then a series of races around bends, these vary from rocky PR1 races to nice wave trains at easy PR2 depending on river height.

There is another small rapid section, which leads into the first named rapid ‘Junkyard’, which you can hear rather than see. It is easy to eddy out on river left to view and portage if required. The rapid starts with a slight dogleg to get into a narrow line between low rock walls, there is a rock mid channel which disappears with height and a small drop to finish at lower levels which flattens out to turbulence when running high. This one is around PR3 and a lot of fun

Almost immediately after Junkyard is the Chasm which is an easy 200m portage on river left. This is considered a mandatory portage and I wouldn’t suggest anyone have a go in a pack raft. Put in just under the chasm itself and again another tricky rapid is just downstream. The Toaster is a sievy drop around right of a boulder at lower levels and a burly difficult drop at high water. There is a nice little chute just prior and you can eddy out river left just above (it helps to know this drop as you may be caught unawares in higher water when it looks straight forward from upstream)
Can be portaged on both sides and has been run in a pack raft although I generally walk this one, for more experienced paddlers, although at high levels there is an excellent chicken run on river left, easily scouted and about PR2

Now you are into the Red Rocks section, which is a stunning piece of river. As you see the big red cliff looming on river left there is series of about three rapids at PR2 in lower water and boat scoutable although one can be a little tricky. At higher water the first drop gets very pushy and is PR 3, easily scouted on river right with the others PR 2. At the end of the red wall is the next PR 3 rapid ‘Rollies’ . You can eddy out river right to scout this rapid (red cliffs on your left). At low to mid heights it presents a fantastic twisting run with two small drops, quite tricky due to rocks when low, technical at mid height and a powerful run when high, PR 3.

After a few hundred meters of flat you hit the final rapid, which is scoutable from the rocks river left. This PR 2+ rapid is either a rocky drop (best on river right) at lower levels to a very pushy straight run down the middle in mid to high levels. All that’s left is a couple of kms flat paddling to Kambah . Enjoy one of the best sections of the Murrumbidgee

Pics and vids at:

Low - Mt MacDondal 1.20-1.35
Good - 1.35-1.5 Mt McDonald
High – 1.7m Mt McDonald

Walk /paddle option: No

I’ve run this section twice and more so then any other section height makes a huge difference to the paddling experience. Not long out of Kambah you hit the first rapids, which can be scouted river right. On my first trip down in high water this section provided a long and challenging PR 3-4 however on my second trip at low/good levels (1.35m) it was a pretty straightforward PR 2 section. After this the river is primarily easy races and rapids no more than PR1-2 however this section is better when high as it provides pretty continuous paddling. The main rapid in the section is a 1-2m stepped waterfall, which is a couple of km from the end of the run. At higher levels looked pretty intimidating and would be solid PR 3-4 however at 1.35m level provided a fun and bouncy line on left side of the right hand channel which could be scoped from the top of the rapid itself, maybe PR 2+. This is followed by a section of flat to a fun little run near the bridge, which is just before the car park. Hard one to recommend as the main rapids are not easily scouted and the various sections are at the best at different heights so doesn’t provide a nice consistent run like other sections. Still worthwhile if others sections are running a little high or you have done the others and want a change. Takes about 3 hours


Walk/ paddle option: No

Good: Mt Mac 1.3-1.7m Lobbs 2.0m – 2.7m

For mine this is probably the nicest beginner paddle on the river being quite scenic and having a number of very straightforward races and rapids. Can have headwinds, which can make the flat stretches unpleasant however water flows at suggested heights keeps thing moving and doesn’t wash out all the good bits. A good introduction stretch or first pack raft in white/moving water trip. Recommended for the new paddler. Takes about 3-4 hours

Pics and vids for last two sections at:

Cheers, Mick

Wow- excellent write up! Thanks heaps for this. This is the sort of thing the packrafting community needs- some decent notes from a packrafters perspective. Also very helpful indicating walk/paddle options. Looking forward to getting to Canberra & having a go at some of these. I think I’ve paddled a few of these but in big rafts or Canadian canoes a few centuries ago :slight_smile:

Yep, really useful guide! Thanks

Awesome info (!!) Mick and great to have it on this site as its much easier to find here than on Facebook. I might message you to pick your brains a bit more before we run the course near your local area as neither Alex nor I have paddled the Murrumbidgee. Hopefully we will have some water for the course. An excellent resource - cheers

I have been lucky enough to do are few of the trips with Mick on the river he describes. His backyard is awesome. At all the flows I have done its been worthwile, from casual to getting smashed.

Thanks Mick for putting in print.

Mark if anyone bails on the course let me know.

Thanks for the notes Mick,invaluable information.Looking forward to when the guide book is coming out !
Some rain starting on the Sth Coast, maybe a paddle this weekend ???

You can order your coffee table book this Christmas, Matt. Thanks guys, obviously the notes are indicative (although I think the rapids are graded relatively) and your own judgement is key as always. Mark feel free to drop me a line if you want any further info, more than happy to provide any help I can
Cheers Mick

Nice work Batch, been a lota lota years since I paddled all that water (back in the 70’s and 80’s…) almost inspires me out of retirement :slight_smile:

Great guide. Thanks Mick!