The fire crackles and pops beside me. Soon we will be cooking our evening meal over it and warming ourselves on an Autumn evening under the stars.
The afternoon air is warm and invites me to sit under the canopy of a red gum. The breeze, although refreshing, is not enough to shoo the flies away.
Their pestering is not enough to have me wishing I was anywhere else but here, sitting beside the Murrumbidgee River, Australia’s second longest, in The River Red Gum National Park.
Why have I never explored country Australia before? Why did I think the beach was all that Australia was about and anywhere else was boring and a hole?
There is a beauty that is hard to describe in the River Red Gum National Forest. The silence often cannot be heard, not because of the noise of the busy outside world, but because of the laughing kookaburras, and flocks of squawking cockatoos and crows battling for air time.
There are 150 species of birds soaring and gliding, ducking and swooning amongst the canopy, some venturing down into camp to peck at our scraps. Joining them is a wide variety of other forest animals learning to live harmoniously with each other. Now we have decided to join them to do the same.
The sun sets on the beach opposite lighting the bush in a soft pink glow. Stumps of trees, remains of illegal firewood logging, and in more recent times, the logging of the red gums for train sleepers and building frames can be seen far and wide.
In 2010, the park was declared a National Park and protected from any more senseless ring barking and logging and given back to nature and ourselves to appreciate and enjoy.
It’s a popular place to visit for those wishing to get away from Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra; it also makes a worthwhile stop over for those overlanding from Adelaide to Sydney.
Despite its popularity, we had the whole place to ourselves, which would not be difficult for anyone travelling to this area that is 100, 000 hectares in size, 15,000 -20,000 of that stretching along the Murrumbidgee where we now sat in our bush campsite.
Bush Camping in the River Red Gum National Park
Open grassy fields, a crackling fire fed by the tonnes of firewood laying on the forest floor, and a river to bathe in. What more do you need to set up camp in? There are multiple areas like this to choose within the park and along the river. And it is all FREE.
If you want to be a little closer to Narranderra town, Town Beach has a beautiful camping area near a large swimming beach.
It is bush camping so there are no amenities, but the lovely Ian from Riverina Experiences, organized a portaloo and table and chairs for our camping party. You can contact him if you would like the same creature comforts.
We camped in the Graham’s Grave area, named after the local who was killed by the Aboriginal people for supplying them with poisoned flour. Rumour has it that the flour was actually poisoned by the local white people who did not appreciate Graham helping the Aboriginals.
Don’t worry there are no ghosts walking around at night, but there will be the odd wild animal and visions of Wolf Creek murderers stepping out from the shadows and dashing cowboys named Troy to rescue you thanks to your spooky campfire talk late at night.
Kayaking along the Murrumbidgee River
We started off our kayaking trip on the hunt for wild koalas. We did not have to hunt for long; I think it was the first bend we turned that a koala was spotted snuggled high up in the trees curiously watching us staring in awe at him.
During the drought and the hotter months of summer, koalas can often be seen on the ground on the banks of the river desperate to catch a cool breeze. A special reserve was created for them in the seventies and they were reintroduced with koalas from Queensland and French Island, Victoria.
We found about five koalas along the river and all of them were outside of the reserve grounds, proving that the program worked and koalas are now thriving in the area.
It is not easy to spot koalas in the Australian wild, but here in the River Red Gum National Park you have a very high chance to see several.
I was mesmerized by the beauty and peacefulness of the 14km kayaking trip. The river moved quickly so we could often sit back and float lazily down.
Flashes of rainbow colour burst overhead as pink galahs and yellow crested cockatoos chased each against an azure sky from branch to branch. The whoop whoop of the crow’s wings heard so sharply as it swooped low over my head reminding me that I need to stop more and take in the beauty of my natural surroundings.
At times I felt I owned the place, not another soul could be found or heard and when I paddled way in front of the rest of our group I felt as if I were a part of the forest, a connected feeling with nature I have not experienced in a long time. A glowing buzz filled my body- this is why I love to travel.
Mountain Bike Riding
The trees in the River Red Gum National Park have a distinctive white water mark a couple of metres up from the base, evidence of the recent flooding that occurred in this area. This meant that we had a soft and muddy mountain bike trail to ride on, which burned my legs and had me struggling for breath.
Despite the physical exertion, the mountain bike riding adventure thought the forest was a thrilling way to experience the National Park. And there were many spots where the track was easy riding.
My favourite part of the trip was the beginning as we rode through the old red gum open forest. We had a glimpse of how magical this forest was hundreds of years before logging. Attempts are being made by National Parks to restore it to this condition where gum trees had space to thicken out and spread wide canopies across the open grassland.
To me, gum trees are the most beautiful trees in the world. I could have spent all day running through that forest hugging every single one.
We stumbled across horses shading themselves under trees and startled kangaroos would often leap out in front of us and bound through the trees in a line. If the ground would not have been so soft I would have been tempted to chase them.
The mountain bike trails go through the Flora and Fauna reserve which is located on the edge of town, near the swimming pool. It follows the river and takes you to the Koala Reserve. New bike trails are being set to open in the near future, once a makeshift bridge is built to give access.
This area is also popular for walking. A 3km loop takes you to First and Second Beach for a lovely picnic area and refreshing swim on a hot day.
For any traveller wanting to experience true Australia country this is it.
Kangaroos bounding freely around you, wild koalas peering at you from around the branches of their home, warm and friendly locals, gum trees aplenty, and Aboriginal artists and craftsmen welcoming you into their work shed sharing a bit of the history with you and offering you a taste of their stash of witchetty grubs.
It’s not on the typical traveller’s route in Australia and I urge you to be different and make it so. You will not regret it.
River Red Gum National Park Facts
Location: The Riverina area of South West NSW. Narrandera is 549kms from Sydney, 428kms from Melbourne, 852kms from Adelaide and 341kms from Canberra on the junction of the Sturt and Newell highways.
Camping: Visit the visitors centre in Narrandera town to find out the best free camping spots
Riverina Experience: Ian has lived in the area for 20 years and is very knowledegeable about the National Park. He is a wonderful guide and will do anything to help make your stay an enjoyable one. He offers the following tours:
Kayaking: 3 hour tours start from $63 per person (group of 6)
Cycling: 2 hour tours start from $36 per person (group of 6)
Walking: 2 hour tours start from $20 per person (Groupof 6)
Our tents and sleeping mats were provided by Kathmandu. The Lansan Plus Tent a comfortable two person tent with a generous front vestible giving you plenty of room for your luggage and a comfortable, padded self inflating sleeping mat.
I was a guest of NSW National Parks and the Riverina Experience