When red turns to salmon pink

Stephen Scour­field is in awe pad­dling the Murchi­son

Geraldton Guardian - - TRAVEL -

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.

GONE, FISH­ING

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.

Pic­tures: Stephen Scour­field

Pad­dling near the river mouth in Kal­barri.

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