Thursday, May 29, 2014

Running Rapids on the Roper River

Ahead of me, Doug was balanced somewhat precariously on a submerged log and was attempting to pull the kayak over using a couple of branches sticking perpendicularly into the air, when, I saw a large tail slithering down the bank, heard a big splash and registered the back of a crocodile sliding into the water a metre in front of him. We were paddling our kayaks up the Roper River in Elsey National Park which had not yet been declared "clear" of saltwater crocodiles after the wet season, and, when I yelled "croc!" I was sincerely hoping that the big lizard I had seen was one of the harmless Johnstone River (freshwater) crocodiles and not a large, hungry or territorial "saltie." 

 Doug heading up the Roper River

Our easy paddle up river had lasted all of one kilometre when the wide Roper River abruptly shallowed up and the first of a series of small grade two rapids began. Undeterred, we had continued to work our way up, hauling the boats up small rapids wading waist deep in the water. After our first crocodile sighting, we pulled back into deeper water to regroup and easily convinced ourselves the reptile was harmless, and, about "as big as me" I said, "so not very big." We continued on, aware now that we might actually see a few lizards. Sure enough, not 10 minutes later, a rustling in the bushes, heralded the sight of another somewhat smaller crocodile sliding down from the midst of some pandanus palms and disappearing into the water ahead of us. 

 Portaging near Mulurark

We had a long stretch of easy paddling up the now broad river and noted a National Parks sign on the bank. A half a kilometre further on, we got to a rapid that was difficult to drag the kayaks up due to the narrowness of the river, the speed of the water, and a large strainer lying right across the river. After three hours of paddling upstream intermittently dragging our boats, we decided this was a good turn around point and easily paddled back down to the National Park sign for a break on the bank. As we were having tea and lunch, a family came by, jokingly asked if we had seen any crocodiles, and were shocked when we replied "yes, two." "Can I swim, Mummy?" asked the little girl. 

 Doug doing the kayak limbo

On the way down, we decided to count the rapids we had portaged, ten in all, eight of which we managed to run in the sea kayaks with only a bit of bumping over shallow sections. I was surprised how naturally all those leaning, sweeping, and ferry gliding skills from whitewater kayaking (something I haven't done for about 25 years) instinctively came back. Grade two rapids in a sea kayak are not particularly exciting but I did get a small flash of the old thrill that running rapids in a whitewater boat used to bring. So many fun sports to play at, how do the Australians find time to do all that sitting? We came across one more crocodile on the way down but this one was dead, head low in the water, tail out and looking somewhat flat and desiccated. 

 Running a small rapid on the Roper River

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