When red turns to salmon pink
Stephen Scourfield is in awe paddling the Murchison
Kalbarri days are themed by water as much as they are by the red sandstone coastal cliffs and river gorge.
ESTUARY & RIVER MOUTH
As I paddle towards the river mouth, the water clears until it is crystal, turquoise, transparent, casting my shadow on the rippling sand bottom way below.
The Finn Gizmo ski is perfect on the roof rack and for messing around on the Murchison estuary.
The river mouth is famous for its dogleg entry, where boats have to run abeam of the swell until they turn the last mark and head out.
But most are mucking about in dinghies and on paddle craft on the estuary.
I’m a bit surprised, too, as I have never paddled here before — and what actually appears to be just the rather sandy finger of headland to the north of the estuary has a channel inside it.
The big Pacific and other gulls lift off as they see the Finn coming but I barely notice as I’m watching the terns fishing. Kalbarri has gull-billed, Caspian, crested, whiskered and roseate terns, which are a constant delight to me.
And then another — pink sand. There are drifts of it, a light salmon pink in ripples.
And further on, not only a
beautiful beach to walk but rocks to explore and then, briefly, a whip-thin snake sunning itself on the sand.
Back on the ski, paddling back over to the foreshore, where there are dinghies and sailing catamarans for hire, the water is too tempting. But the sight of a human in it brings the interest of a norwest blowie as long as my forearm.
He comes in to have a go, is chased off and returns time and again. It turns into some weird sort of game. Kalbarri is alive. Natural. Authentic.
THE RIVER UPSTREAM
Sometimes the water’s shallow and I slip over the canoe’s side, to walk barefoot on the sandy bottom,
towing the boat on a strap, and glad I brought it for this.
I guess there’s paddling, and there’s paddling, and they’re equally good, for it’s all about just mooching down the Murchison.
Mullet jump clear of the water. A massive wedge-tailed eagle, too big to be juvenile, but marked like one, takes off from a branch.
We stop in a sheoak grove for lunch in the shade, follow the bank and track down the middle of the wider stretches, in a languid, satisfying day on the river.
It started by driving up to Murchison House Station to put the
canoe in (they charge $10 a boat to launch there). There are four of us in two boats, and we’ve left the other car just this side of the township, on the sand track which follows the river, to cut off the last few kilometres. It’s 13km from the station launching spot to the town. Commercial operators offer paddling excursions.
Fishing and Kalbarri go hand in hand (or hook in hand, in one moment which I witnessed).
But first a warning about the demersal finfish ban which started on October 15 and finishes on December 15, covering the West Coast Bioregion from the Zuytdorp Cliffs down to Black Point on the south coast.
This gives a breather to the slowgrowing fish which live on or near the ocean floor, often at depths of more than 20m — gropers, cods, emperors, snappers, dhufish and coral trout among them. But Kalbarri is as much about family fishing — whiting, tailor, mulloway, mangrove jack, black and yellowfin bream, all found in the Murchison River and fished from jetties, dinghies and paddle craft.
The bar between the Murchison estuary and the ocean, north of the river.
Paddling near the river mouth in Kalbarri.