Liloing and Kayaking the Colo River

Forward by Blair Paterson

Garry is an indisputable authority on liloing the Colo River. He has a real sense of the place from his many trips over the last twenty years. He seems to know every bend, every set of rapids, and what follows is worth reading for any intrepid adventurer wanting to experience the Colo River.


Anyone who has experienced liloing (paddling in water on an air mattress), kayaking or hiking along the Colo River and through the Colo Gorge will no doubt have a story to share – of beautiful scenery, wildlife, bushfires, floods, drought, fatigue, injury, “Colo River Itch”, air mattress blowouts, kayak rollovers and the big bass that got away. During my adventures along the Colo River I have experienced plenty.

I remember the first time I entered the river having absolutely no idea what to expect. Had I entered the gorge with anything but an open mind I would surely have found myself in some sort of trouble, just like a handful of people do every year. Over the years this has resulted in things being left behind and I have noticed the remnants of lilos, inflatable rafts, tractor tubes, paddles, buried rubbish and other paraphernalia polluting the otherwise a near pristine Colo River. It is for these reasons I would like to share my experience and help those who would like to undertake such a journey to be safe, full of enjoyment and adventure, be better prepared, and keep this wilderness clean and in its natural beautiful state.

Common Mistakes

One of the most fundamental mistakes made by people who travel through Colo Gorge is underestimating the time needed to complete their trip. This has resulted in needing to be rescued or having to walk out in the dark or a day or two late. Trying to meet a pickup often leads to fatigue and injury soon follows. After many repetitive hours on the river, members of the group start arguing as to what they should or shouldn’t do. In the end the trip becomes a nightmare and their adventure gets remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Another big mistake is being under-prepared for the trip. This is not necessarily due to negligence but merely inexperience of the Colo Gorge. Should I buy a new air mattress for the trip or just grab the old one from the cupboard? What kind of sun screen do I take? Should I wear Volleys or hiking shoes? What about a wetsuit? Should I take a tent or a tarp? There are many questions to ask yourself while preparing your trip but it’s hard to know all the answers and impossible to know all the questions you need to ask yourself. Even with my own experience I am still learning and improving on every trip.

Another mistake often made is inviting too many people and not knowing the friend of the friend who is also invited. The more people, the longer it will take. Remember you’re only as fast as the slowest person.

Which Section to Paddle?

If it’s your first experience of using a lilo or kayak, I recommend an introduction paddle starting from Bob Turner’s Track and finishing at Upper Colo Reserve or Upper Colo Bridge. This trip is challenging enough to get a feel for the Colo and it can be completed in a weekend with an early start. Don’t be fooled into thinking a kayak will be quicker. If there is plenty of water then yes, but if the water is low, you may be walking in shallow water for the majority or the trip.

For those who are more experienced I recommend starting from Canoe Creek and finishing at Bob Turner’s Track. If you have more time you can continue down to Upper Colo Reserve but from my experience you will be content to walk out at Bob Turner’s Track (though it is a long uphill walk with heavy gear). This trip is not for the half-hearted. But it is for those with liloing and kayaking experience, have done their homework and are well prepared and physically fit. For liloing allow 5-6 days and for kayaking allow 4-5 days. Chances are you may come out earlier by a day or two but at least allow yourself this amount of time for the trip to be completed. There are other options for liloing or kayaking on the Colo River but I will give information for starting from Canoe Creek, though the information provided can be used as a general guide for all trips along the Colo River.
Colo River

Getting There

Car-pooling is best. Leave one car at the end of Bob Turners Track, and take another car to the starting point at the end of Grassy Hill Fire Trail (Canoe Creek Track). It’s best to put your keys in a sealed bag and hide them under a rock in the bush near the car rather than risk losing or getting them wet in the Colo River. Make sure everyone knows where you hide the keys in case of an emergency.

Getting Out

If you need to call somebody to pick you up there is a Public Phone at Colo Heights Service Station, which is located on the Putty Rd, 700m south of the start of Bob Turner’s Track. From the river, it’s about a 3.5km walk out along the track and altogether about 7kms to the service station.

If you exit the river at Colo Bridge (Putty Road ) you can call a taxi (public phone is located out the front of the caravan park (currently closed) north of the bridge) or hitch-hike. Both options aren’t very reliable.

Details of hiking in and out can be found here:

Starting Point: Canoe Creek

Finishing Point: Bob Turners

Group Size

A group of 4 is good, anymore and may be too many. In the event of serious injury or sickness and having no PLB, one person can stay with the injured or sick person and the other two can go for help.


The equipment I have used is not necessarily the best but is what has worked for me in the past:

Air Mattress (Liloing)

Only use a new mattress and test it before your trip (normally navy blue on one side and red on the other; can be bought from general camping shops). After many days of shooting rapids the corners of the mattress can wear. Before commencing your trip it’s best to rub silicon into the corners of the mattress including the corners between the pillow and bed. Make sure the mattress is dry. Sikaflex is best but if not available, Selleys Roof and Gutter is next best. Don’t use Selleys All Clear as it tends to peel off.

Take one spare mattress per person or one spare for every two people. If you find yourself without a mattress it will be very hard to walk along the bank. If the water level is low you can walk parts of the river but this can be tiring too.

The air mattress can be used as your bed mattress at night so it’s a good idea to dry it out before sleeping. In summer the mattress will usually dry out quickly in the sun. If you run out of sunlight dry your mattress near the fire but not too close. Only one side needs to be totally dry. Ensure you take a repair kit for the air mattress.

Kayak (Kayaking)

My personal choice for kayaking through Colo Gorge is with the Sevylor SK100 or an older model. These kayaks seem to be able to take a battering.

I strongly advise not taking fiberglass or plastic canoes or kayaks as there is a good chance they won’t be coming out with you. They are too rigid and will more than likely get stuck, flip and take on water. Trying to recover your vessel when full of water with the current applying pressure and pushing it hard against rocks or trees will make recovery near impossible. The logistics of getting a rigid canoe or kayak down Canoe Creek Track is very difficult. Many years ago I saw an abandoned canoe half way down. The track was far too steep to manage a heavy canoe. Starting from Bob Turner’s Track is a better option if you insist on taking a rigid vessel but still is high risk for the first few kilometers on the river


I have found the best footwear for liloing to be aqua or reef shoes without the split between the big toe. I recommend reef shoes that stop just above the ankle. Before setting off each morning wrapping duct tape (a wide grey tape can be bought from most hardware shops) around the ankles (firmly but not too tight) with half the width covering skin and half covering the top of the aquatic shoes. IMG_4141This prevents sand getting in. It works very well. Hiking shoes and Volleys will accumulate sand and will result in having to stop many times to remove the sand. One advantage of wearing aquatic boots is you don’t loose your shoe when your feet sink in soft sand (sometimes as deep as your thighs). If you do decide to wear shoes make sure to wear thick socks and make sure the shoes grip well on wet rocks. I recommend Volleys for their grip.


I normally wear a long-sleeve surf-rash or long-sleeve thermal top, quick drying long board shorts and a broad-rim hat. I cover any exposed part of my body with SPF30+ sun screen. I have never worn a wetsuit but some advantages would include: protection from knocks against rocks, providing warmth in bad weather, and stopping March Fly bites. I only carry one change of clothing and try to keep them dry for the whole trip.


In the past I have used a lightweight fly (nylon tarp) for shelter. It works well except in times of thunderstorms and when the rain blows under. More recently I have started using an ultra-lightweight tent. Sandstone caves can be found throughout the gorge and can be used for shelter but you will need to keep a look out for them.
Camping beside Colo River

Lunchtime in a large cave.

Lunchtime in a large cave.

Sleeping Bag

A synthetic lightweight sleeping bag is good – it will retain warmth if it happens to get wet. Down sleeping bags are great for their size to weight ratios but need to be kept dry. This can be achieved by placing in its own dedicated dry bag. If there is some room left, pack it with your dry clothes as well.


When it comes to liloing I don’t have much experience with taking a conventional backpack along as I have always used a set of custom made dual PVC watertight pipes with a screw on caps attached to a plastic backpack frame. This then floats in the water and is pulled along using a leg strap. This device has several drawbacks which include the rubber seal becoming dislodged without knowing and the PCV pipe caps cracking if hit hard on rocks, both causing water leaks. Therefore I wouldn’t recommend making.

 Illustration of PVC pipes from Blair Paterson’s Wet Volley’s and Soggy Tea Bags

Illustration of PVC pipes from Blair Paterson’s Wet Volley’s and Soggy Tea Bags

I would recommend using a 50ltr backpack with all the contents sealed in lightweight dry bags. Separate clothes, food, sleeping bag and take some spare bags. Waterproof backpacks are best but even then I would use dry bags inside just in case you get a tear.

With kayaking, in addition to the backpack a tough dry bag is handy to have attached to the front of the kayak for things like camera, food, etc. Again it’s best to use dry bags inside the larger dry bag in case of a tear. Tears normally occur when the kayak had flipped and the bag is dragged over rocks.


I separate food into daily packs and sealed within zip-lock bags. This makes for easier organization and storage, and ensures you have your estimated amount of food for each day.

Take carbohydrate-enriched foods. Liloing or kayaking along the Colo River can be strenuous and you need to keep your energy levels up by eating appropriately. Chocolate tends to melt. Muesli bars, nuts and dried fruits are all excellent foods to take as you can munch on the move.


Drinking untreated water directly from the Colo River is not recommended though I have done it without becoming ill but a friend has not been so lucky. There are small creeks which run into the Colo and are safe to drink from. I generally carry 2 x 750ml water bottles. It’s better to carry two bottles instead of one large bottle just in case one gets lost or damaged or stolen by a goanna; yes a goanna. I also fill one of these bottles with powder drinks such as Gatorade.

Cooking Utensils

A small lightweight billy set is ideal for boiling water, pasta, noodles and a cup of tea etc. A lightweight cutlery set is also good. If you plan to fish I advise taking foil to wrap the fish you’ve caught for cooking on the fire. A gas cooker is good and convenient but adds to the overall weight. I normally take a lightweight gas cooker.


What goes in must go out! Rubbish should not be buried or burnt as this will pollute the river. Try to avoid taking canned food. I have found the best way to manage rubbish is to place it in re-sealable plastic bags and compress and wrap tight with duct tape. If using aluminium foil to cook fish, after eating it’s best to remove any leftover fish and lightly burn the foil until crisp. Then compress and place it in a zip lock plastic bag.

Maps and GPS

I recommend taking a Global Positioning System (GPS) as well as topographical maps and a compass. A GPS should not be relied on alone.

Topographical maps to cover from Canoe Creek to Bob Turner’s Track are:

  • Colo Heights 9031-1-N
  • Mountain Lagoon 9031-3-S

If continuing on down to Colo Bridge (Putty Rd) include map:

  • Lower Portland 9031-2-S

Topographical maps to cover the Wolgan and Capertee Rivers (which flow into the Colo River) are:

  • Mount Morgan 8931-1-S
  • Six Brothers 9031-4-S

All the maps mentioned above should see you through the gorge.

Other Necessities

These days there is no real excuse for not taking a Personal Locating Beacon (PLB). These can be bought from most camping shops. Police stations near national parks or remote areas often have PLBs available to use at no charge. PLBs are available from Windsor Police Station which is open 24 hours. Ph: 02 45874099

Mosquito repellents are good for the nights when the mossies are out in force. It’s also good to use when the March Flies are biting your legs while paddling along. A combined repellent and Sunscreen is good but I have found it irritating when applied to my face. Don’t be fooled to think a thin rashy will protect you from March Flies. They do manage to sting through the clothing.

March Fly

March Fly

A first aid kit is important but what you leave in or take out is personal choice. Mine consists of Elastoplasts instead of band aids (band aids tend to fall off when wet where as Elastoplasts won’t), a bandage, a safety thermal blanket (for if the weather turns cold or your sleeping bag is soaking wet), a packet of pain killers, anti-itch or allergy cream would also be handy to take. As I mention at the beginning of this article of the ‘Colo River Itch’. This is when a rash develops (only when liloing) on your thighs, bottom and belly, normally contained within your shorts but may spread up to your chest depending on severity. I’m not too sure what causes it but I suspect it’s a combination of something in the water and laying on a lilo for many hours each day. The best cure for this is to dry off and stay out of the water as long as possible.

Brown Tree Snake

Brown Tree Snake


Setting up camp on the sandbanks is always nice but in times of thunderstorms, extra care is needed so you don’t float away during the night from floods. In the Colo Gorge this is entirely possible. Two of my favourite campsites are at the confluence of the Wollangambe and Colo Rivers next to the big rock, and the other is just below the perennials (King Rapid), a half-day paddle downstream from the Wollangambe River. When the water levels are up these two sites may be underwater. The only official campsites are at the bottom of Bob Turner’s Track and thereafter at Colo Meroo Campground and Upper Colo Reserve.

Shelter at Meroo

Shelter at Meroo

River Levels

The Wollemi NP covers 492 220ha and the majority of its rivers and creeks run into the Colo River. Some of its contributories start beyond the national park. The potential for fast rising floodwater is real and it’s best to check out the weather forecast before commencing your trip.

Current Colo River water levels can be found here:

It’s a good idea to contact Hawkesbury City Council to find out about current water levels as the water levels provided may not be accurate. Ph: 02 4560 4528 or 02 4560 4647

King Rapid in Colo Gorge

King Rapid in Colo Gorge

Water levels around 1m are good for liloing and around 1.5m for kayaking. The higher the water level means more dangerous conditions and a lifejacket and helmet are recommended in these conditions. Personally I haven’t taken a helmet or lifejacket before as conditions have mostly been favorable but there have been times when I wish I had both at my disposal, especially on a trip in Feb 2012 where my friend Sam and I had to endure the Colo River in flood. It peaked around 4 metres which made conditions extremely dangerous. Portaging around rapids in these conditions was virtually impossible and also dangerous. You can watch the video by clicking on the link (Sam and Garry kayaking Colo River 2012) at the bottom of this page.


The Colo River is a hidden wonder which awaits those who wish to enter. Have respect for it. Let it be your teacher, your guide and your friend. Let the sun and the moon tell you the time and the stars reflect in your eyes. Sit on a rock and stay there for a while. Listen to the sounds around you. And may the Colo live long in your heart.


If you would like to ask any questions in regards to kayaking or liloing the Colo River, Capertee River, Wolgan River or Wallangambe River, please fell free contact me at:

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Where the River Runs Wild

Sam and Garry kayaking Colo River

About Garry Sonter

To say Garry is excited about camping would be an understatement. Given a choice between a luxury hotel and a tent, he would probably opt for the tent. Garry loves introducing people to the outdoors and nature. And in return enjoys seeing them make their own connections. Garry strives for perfection with his photography. He has held exhibitions in his homeland of Australia and in Japan and he is in endless pursuit of photographic opportunities to illustrate how he interacts with life and the outdoors.
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4 thoughts on “Liloing and Kayaking the Colo River

  1. Hi! We’re interested in liloing down the Colo River. We went camping there recently and have been on a two night hike (our first one ever!) a couple of weeks ago and now have a taste for it. I would just like to confirm, liloing from Bobs Turner to Upper Colo Reserve, is that a two day one night affair or can it be done in a day? Having absolutely no experience with liloing I don’t understand how we carry all of our gear for an overnight trip. I would love to hear back from you to discuss this further. Please feel free to use my email address. Regards,

    • Hi
      I am looking for a location to run some swift water rescue training as close to sydney as possible, with good access and at least a moderate consistent flow, could you recommend any section of the Colo?



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