Upper Shoalhaven River

Friday 26 – Sunday 27 May 2018

Photos by Barry and Simon

Six club members (Simon, Barry, Wendy, Bronwyn, David and Ian) walked for two days southward, 26 kilometres, through the upper headwaters of the Shoalhaven River. This area is part of the Deua National Park, and rarely explored, between the Mimuma Range and the Braidwood-Cooma Road.

We commenced at the Wyanbene Caves, and climbed directly to Wyanbene Mountain trig. Despite its abandonment in this digital age, the trig is still in virtually original condition with a large rock cairn, timbered post and all four black circular vanes still in place. Nearby, we enjoyed a magnificent 270° view, west to south and particularly into, and across, the Deua valley, from a limestone outcrop on the Minuma Range.

We then walked onto the Range’s firetrail and slogged its ups and downs southward. As the Range and the Shoalhaven River came closer, we left the firetrail and descended a long ridge. Two large chunks of butchered beef on the ground indicated that feral animal baiting was in progress. We arrived at the river’s wooded flats and stoney Snow Gum ridges.

Choosing the overnight campsite proved problematic due to few river crossings and dense scrub along most of the banks. However, in time, we scored a delightful flat, grassy spot under the Ribbon Gums surrounded by unlimited firewood and we settled in for the night.

The broad, flat basin of the upper Shoalhaven generates high levels of cold air drainage on winter nights and our campsite was no exception. Around a warming campfire in the morning we compared frost and ice accumulations on our tents, bivvy bags, and the solidified water in outside containers. This generated plenty of discussion on value for money equipment.

On the second day we started to follow the river upstream and admired some impressive waterholes on the way. Although the water looked ideal for trout and other aquatic species, none were seen. Neither were there waterfowl – quite odd. However, judging by the many forensically opened mussel shells on the banks, we guessed the river was home to many water rats.

Scrubby riverbanks and big areas of dense Dwarf She-oak (Allocasuarina nana), which often spread down the dry stoney ridges to the river, began to slow our progress. So, after lunch, we deviated away from the river and wandered up a tributary toward Wambagugga Swamp. Evidence of feral pigs appeared about the time we found a long abandoned pig trap.

The topography was gently undulating with open forest (Ribbon Gum, Mountain Gum, Peppermints, Snow Gum) with either a woody litter or grassy ground layer. It was a joy to walk through. And then it got even better – we entered a large area of open forest dominated by Brown Barrel with occasional grassy flats. With no indicative reason we could find, a tree had a large silver horseshoe screwed to it.

We rejoined the river where it constricts to a narrow channel among the reeds. The constriction appears to have been formed at the boundary of the metamorphic and granite geologys, thereby creating the upstream swamps, the very source of the Shoalhaven River. After the crossing we made a beeline for our waiting cars and arrived as the sun set.

In summary, the limestone of Wyanbene and the hilly Minuma Range contrasted with the undulating upper reaches of the Shoalhaven River. Despite the river valley’s easy topography, one has to carefully thread a route to avoid the large areas of almost impenetrable Dwarf She-oak and to find the easier river crossings. Aerial photos were valuable in this respect and good map and compass navigation was essential.

We enjoyed the walk and there are already plans to include more fixed camps with day walks in this area.