Snowy River Bikerafting
Words & photos by Seb Nieuwesteeg
‘Maybe I’ll just stop here? Maybe I’ll roll out the Tyvek in that flat part of the rollover, its not too bad, I could wrap myself up in it, I wouldn’t even have to use the tent. I’m sure I would be able to sleep a bit, right?’
It’s funny the thoughts that run through your head when you’re riding. Well at this stage I wasn’t riding I was walking. Walking my bike up a god damn monstrously steep and loose hill, feet slipping as I crest every rollover pushing my fully laden bike upwards towards the sky. Would we make it to the river tonight? Had we bitten off more than we could chew? I’m still not sure if it was type 2 or type 3 fun.
Something about me savours these hard moments, so I’m pretty sure its the former.
The plan was to do a bikerafting expedition. We had come up with a few different trip options but eventually settled on paddling a section of the Snowy River in our packrafts that we could access with our bikes, hence ‘bikerafting’.
We had lucked out with the weather, Spring had most definitely sprung and the sun was shining for the next three days that we had allowed for our trip. We set off from McKillops Bridge, a wooden bridge crossing the Snowy which was due to open in 1934 but was washed away in a flood. It was then rebuilt and opened in 1936. When you stand on the bridge over the river it is hard to fathom how a bridge of this size could be washed away by the waters below.
The riding started off easy. Though bikes were heavy – real heavy. Not only did we have the usual bikepacking gear but packrafts and bulky items like a paddle, PFD and all the other paraphernalia that goes along with it. We pedalled at a good pace along the Deddick River which we soon crossed, marking the start of a long gradual climb through the farming area of Amboyne. The climb was gradual but relentless, the scenery on the other hand, stunning! To the South the Bowen Wilderness, still bearing the scars of numerous wildfires of the last decade. To the East Mt Tingaringy loomed large with its imposing escarpment and to the North our destination the upper reaches of the Snowy River in Victoria.
We rolled through the farmland and the road eventually turned to tracks as we entered the Alpine National Park. It was mid arvo and we were halfway (in distance) to our intended camp on the Snowy. It was at this point that I thought, ‘Shit, we may not make it to the river before dark! Nah it’ll be right, it’s only 25km to go, should only take a few hours tops!’
Wrong. I had grossly underestimated how hard and long it would take to get ourselves and our bikes over the lumps and bumps of the mountains that separated us from the Snowy. There was a lot of pushing of bikes uphills. A lot! It was in these hard moments I had contemplated just rolling out camp in the flat-ish part of the rollover, those drains on the track we are all used to riding over in the High Country. We reached the highpoint of our journey around a half hour before sunset. From here it was all downhill…for the most part. We rode and pushed our bikes along the track. At one point it took both of us to drag and push the bikes up the steepest part of the track. This effort was rewarded with the spectacular sunset from a helipad. The mountains rolled on in all directions changing colour from green to blue to purple as the sky burnt orange. A few more ups and downs and we were there, not at the river but at the top of the final descent. It was dark. Head torches were fitted to helmets and then we rolled off into the dark unknown.
After a long loose sketchy descent we made it to the river and were greeted by a mob of feral horses tearing up the grassy river flats. We walked around in the dark looking for a good flat spot to camp. We found a nice spot on the waters edge. Dehydrated and exhausted we set up camp, I wasn’t hungry and could barely eat, but a handful of Shapes, BBQ flavour of course, slowly brought me back to life. I crawled into the tent and fell into an exhausted sleep.
The sun started creeping in around 6.00am and it was warm! So nice and mild and dead calm. The river looked very very inviting! We tucked into oats and coffee for breakfast and began to organise and pack our gear ready for the rafts. The riverbank resembled a gear yard sale (no wonder the bikes were heavy) as we went about sorting the packrafts and working out the best way to put the bikes on them.
Packrafts inflated, gear stowed and bikes lashed to the bow it was time to hit the water and get paddling! The weather was glorious, the river and surrounding mountains beautiful! The hard yakka of yesterday all but a distant memory. ‘Bikerafting is great!’ I remember saying, forgetting about the struggles of the day before. We were on the water for around six hours that day. Paddling at a leisurely pace and getting out every now and then to explore the rock shelters and native cypress pine forests that cover the drier slopes in this corner of the state. The river was absolutely stunning, in parts massive boulders in the water dwarfed us in our little boats, wide open sections with sweeping views tightened in narrow gorges hemmed in by the towering mountains above. There were no significantly hard rapids, enough waves and flow to make for an exceptional day of paddling. We pulled in the rafts in the evening and found a good flat spot on a high bank overlooking the confluence of the Suggan Buggan and Snowy Rivers.
As the sun went down the sky was illuminated by the amazing star show, far from any light pollution, they shone with such intensity. It was an early night for us, still feeling the fatigue from a big day beforehand but our efforts had been well and truly rewarded with such an awesome day on a seldom visited part of the river.
We awoke to another beautiful morning. We took our time getting sorted and made some adjustments to how the bikes lashed to the rafts from our learnings of the day before. Paddling a river is a great way to journey through a landscape. There’s no rush about it and you fully immerse yourself in the surroundings and get a feel for the place. It feels like you’re miles from anywhere and perhaps the only person in a vast environment.
We knew we’re weren’t far off the car and our paddling seemed to slow, a little sad that it was almost over and nearly time to deflate the packrafts and load up the car. I felt so lucky to be able to ride and paddle through this incredible landscape. Traversing this awe-inspiring area on bike and packraft was an awesome experience and it has definitely got me keen for more adventures like this in the future!