The Glenelg River originates in the Grampians (right near where we did this walk up the Chimney Pots - the river was dry) and runs out to meet the Southern Ocean at Nelson in southwestern Victoria. The lower 50 km of the river lies within Lower Glenelg National Park and Victoria Parks has a "canoe trail" down the river featuring eight campsites for canoes/kayaks only spaced along the river. We've done a few nice canoe trails in Australia - two years ago in early January we paddled the Murrumbidgee from Gundagia to Wagga Wagga, and, in southern Queensland we paddled the Noosa River. These aren't epic sea kayak trips but they are relaxing, enjoyable, and, when an effort is made to separate the motorized users from the non-motorized users, well worth doing. Be warned, however, that although the canoe camps are for kayakers/canoers only, motorboats also use the river.
We decided to put in at Pines Landing as the 25 km from Dartmoor to Pines Landing has many, many snags. The water level is high enough, but you will spend a lot of time avoiding trees in the river, and, truthfully, there is no special scenery on the extra 25 km. Pines Landing is a small canoe only campsite accessed off the Nelson-Winnap Road. The only sign marking the turn is a faded blue arrow spray painted on a tree and the track is a little rough, but we got our car and caravan down so it's not that bad. The guy who shuttled us told me that Victoria Parks does not want to sign the access as they are trying to keep vehicles out of this canoe only campsite. Signed or unsigned , the locals use the area to launch small power boats, camp and fish. Pines Landing is not really a very nice campsite in any case, so, unless you are paddling from Dartmoor, you may as well skip it. Apparently, most people put in at Moleside (4 km downstream) which is accessible right off the paved road.
Looking downstream from Pines Landing
After unloading our boats and gear at Pines Landing, Doug drove down to Nelson and got a lift back to Pines Landing with Chris from Nelson Boat and Canoe Hire ($65) while I packed the boats. We were on the river and paddling by about 10.45 am. The Glenelg River is brown and sluggish, so you won't get much help from the current, but, paddling is easy, and we were able to amble along at an easy 5.5 km/hour (roughly). We stopped for lunch at Wild Dog Bend, and then paddled on to Skipworth Springs to camp. Unfortunately, this is not a very nice campsite at all. The area is fairly small and heavily treed so it has a bit of a gloomy feel - particularly on a grey day. More importantly, however, there is virtually no level ground for a tent and the spring seeps all over the track from the jetty up to the campsite creating a big mud pit you have to walk through every time you want something from your boat. We were sharing the site with three brothers in a raft and they found a semi level site up the hill a bit. We also found a fairly level site near the water, but once the lads got the blasted campfire going, we were getting smoked out and had to move our tent up above the outhouse and put it on the access track as there was no other even semi-level ground. It was a bit of a lumpy night spent sliding off our sleeping mats.
Four hungry baby birds
You can, however, take a stroll along the Great Southwest Walk easily from the campsite, simply walk down the road above camp a short distance until you see the red arrows. I spotted two echidnas, a koala and a snake on my walk. There are many, many koalas in this area and it is currently koala mating season so all night the males make a hellish grunting sound that really is something to hear. There was also a nest of four baby birds sitting on a roll of toilet paper in the outhouse!
Our second day on the river was cool, windy and drizzly. Cool enough that we really didn't feel like dallying on the river, so we paddled fairly smartly down to McLennans Punt for a cold, shivery lunch (much like lunches on a mid-winter ski tour in Canada). Our plan was to camp at Lasletts, so that our last day was only 17 or 18 km, but, Pattersons Canoe Camp is such a nice camp, and has shelters! that we pulled in there instead. This a really nice camp with a wooden ramp to pull your boats up (most of the other sites have jetties that are actually very difficult to manage in a kayak/canoe), a huge banquet sized picnic bench, three old, but perfectly serviceable huts, and a new outhouse. The Great Southwest Walk is accessible for afternoon strolls, and, on my afternoon walk I saw three kangaroos, two emus, and three echidnas. No koalas, but we could hear the males grunting from camp.
Echidna out for lunch
The last day from Pattersons to Nelson is both the best and the worst paddling. The river enters a limestone gorge and there are short limestone bluffs and caves along the shoreline. There is also an increase in motor boat traffic, particularly close to Nelson, and, a series of ugly boat houses along the shore, most notably along the section of river that dips over into South Australia. It took us about 4.5 hours to paddle the 22 km, including a stop at Princess Margaret Rose Cave (we just wandered about, but you can take a cave tour), and a snack stop at Simpsons Landing. It was a windy, cool day, but, if you've done any paddling in Victoria, you'll realise that windy cool weather is pretty much the norm.
Limestone bluffs on the river
It was early December when we paddled the river and fairly cool, cloudy, drizzly weather. We met only two other canoeists, and three men in a boat (that should be a book title), and the motor boat traffic was fairly light. I suspect January is a completely different story with motorboats hooning about and many canoe-campers. The canoe campsites are supposed to accommodate 20 people, but, apart from Pattersons which is spacious, they are all pretty small and would feel pretty crowded if full. You could camp at any of the vehicle accessible sites as they all have jetties and some have boat ramps, but, the car accessible campsites cost about $38 versus $10 per person for the canoe sites. All sites are now booked online (Victoria Parks new policy) It would be tough, but not impossible, although likely illegal, to camp outside of the campsites, as the banks of the river are mostly heavily vegetated. We did, however, pass a few flat grassy spots that would be suitable for camping, but, the ranger might fine you. The scenery is pleasant, but not spectacular. There is lots of wildlife of all shapes, sizes and species so if you like nature, you'll enjoy this paddle. Putting in at Moleside is much easier than Pines Landing, and you won't miss anything. Nelson Boat and Canoe Hire does shuttles and rents canoes, but, apparently they are busy in the summer so you might have to book ahead.