I am up early, feeling happy and chirpy like the birds.
Today I hope to reach the Colo River, which begins where the Wolgan and Capertee Rivers meet. I hope the boulders which have thwarted my progress to date might be replaced with some longer sandy sections which would be much easier for me to traverse, particularly as there will likely be more flowing water. With these thoughts in mind I enter the river for another day.
Within a short distance downriver it all starts again: lifting, pulling and levering the kayak up over boulders and sliding down the other side. Instead of complaining by way of anger or sorrow, I embrace the challenge with open arms. I am willing to push myself to the limits and beyond if needed. It is like a test of mental and physical ability set by myself, for myself.
After lunch the river terrain changes gradually and is easier to traverse. The long sandy stretches are not yet deep enough to paddle, but allow me to progress with my kayak and supplies in pull at a steady walking pace. Rapids are now developing into distinguishable sets and I can picture my kayak turning from a large amphibious dog on a leash into a small water taxi taking me on a sightseeing tour.
I’ve seen snakes in this wilderness before – mostly Red-Belly Black snakes crossing the river and disappearing into the dense riverbank foliage, but I hadn’t seen tree pythons. That was until now, when I accidentally bumped one off its branch. I knocked it into the water, then it swam off and disappeared. I am disappointed, left only with a short diluted image of a snake swimming underwater and a sensation like knocking an orange from its tree. I like snakes. For me they evoke excitement and fear, but fear shared with a feeling of calmness and respect.
Sand now dominates the riverbed, and with it quicksand. It’s not the quicksand you see in the movies but just river sand which is unexpectedly soft. As I walk along my leg suddenly disappears up to the thigh and is only stopped by the other leg bending at my knee and resting itself just below the sand. I wonder what would happen if I was to run and jump, pin dropping with arms and legs together? How far would I go down? I’m not willing to take a chance here and thus my answer to this question will remain happily unresolved. Nobody is going find me buried up to my neck out here!
In the afternoon I gladly reach a point on the Wolgan River where it finally meets in confluence with the Capertee River. Together the two rivers join to form the spectacular Colo River. The Colo catchment constitutes the heart of the Wollemi National Park and many of the tributaries within the park run into it. The river takes on many forms. It has experienced drought, bushfires, floods, and has stood the test of time. Its surrounding mountains and cliffs host rare and endemic animal and plant species, including the Wollemi Pine, a near perfect clone of its ancestors, dating back over 200 million years. The river is wild and untamed. There are no weirs or dams holding back its waters. Through the pristine Wollemi wilderness, the Colo carries some of the cleanest water in New South Wales. The Colo ends at the Hawkesbury River – a river system in distress from intense human presence – so the Colo’s clean waters are a much needed lifeline. The name Colo comes from the Aboriginal word meaning Koala. I wish the Aboriginals still lived around the Colo to teach me more about this place.
The Colo River is wider – more like a broad yellow ribbon than a thin piece of string like the Wolgan. The river opens up to allow a full panorama of the surrounding mountains and an undisturbed view of the sky overhead. I can see storm clouds building. There are roars of thunder echoing through the gorge telling me it is about to start raining at any minute.
My time where the Wolgan and Capertee meet is short and I decide to make a dash downriver; to where I set up camp on an elevated sand bank.
I make extra provisions for the storm by stockpiling firewood under my tarp. The storm arrives and the thunder is deafening; and the lightning so bright I’m temporarily blinded by the flashes. My tarp blows up and down, sporadic rain infringes on the three square metres of dry land I am permitted by my shelter. Here, I am exposed to nature’s elements and it makes me feel my own smallness and insignificance. Here also, I feel some excitement about the prospect of more water flowing into the river. The amount of water in the river could mean the difference between a slow or fast trip, hard or easy, life or death, being stranded or being rescued. Too little water means more walking. Too much water may cause flooding and danger of serious injury or drowning. I prefer just enough to make kayaking possible.
The storm passes and leaves me to my usual business of dinner, relaxing, writing and… creepy crawlies. I am surrounded by Earwigs scavenging for food. Do they really like crawling into ears like the name suggests? Do they sting? The Earwigs are small, brown and have two pincers on their back. They don’t look like an insect you want to mess with, maybe because I don’t know anything about them. And so for the next two hours I sit and watch earwigs, crickets, millipedes and a small spider crawl around me.