The rivers of the Margaret River region are as integral to the magic of the South West’s landscape as the sea, trees and beaches. Sarah Szabo speaks to locals whose lives revolve around them.
From the magnificent Blackwood to the secluded Margaret River and the worldclass Vasse Wonnerup Wetlands – the rivers of the Margaret River region each have their own treats of flora, fauna and adventure to offer.
Paul Berry from Surf N’ Dirt Adventure Tours says kayaking the Blackwood River, which is included in a number of their adventures, is the ‘must-do’ experience of the region.
On the tours, kayaks are launched into a small creek which opens up to meet the Blackwood. “It is so peaceful and stunningly beautiful that you often find yourself slipping into a meditative state,” he says.
“The water is often crystal clear with schools of black bream darting about the snags underneath us and the occasional marron. While overhead, eagles, white-faced herons and kite hawks glide, and cormorants, swamp hens and ducks frolic on the banks.”
Pamela Winter agrees. She has been running Blackwood River Houseboats for 15 years and says that the experience of lazily guiding your houseboat through the waterway as it winds through 28km of national park is a revelation for many guests.
“It is a pretty laid-back break that really makes you stop and rest,” says Pamela.
“It is beautiful to get rocked off to sleep at night, and often it is just you and the Milky Way because there are not a lot of people on the river, particularly midweek.
“One customer came back just today calling it a ‘hidden gem’ saying he was shocked by how few people there were along the way.”
Jan Hughes from Augusta Eco Cruises sees the same reaction, particularly from overseas visitors who are blown away by the space and lack of other vessels. A 12-year veteran of hosting dolphin and bird-watching cruises on the Blackwood she says the serenity and ambience of the river is amazing.
“It is different every time I go out,” she says. She says it is unusual not to encounter the resident pod of seven dolphins along the route and the abundant birdlife is always a feature. ”We have 1,500 black swans in this river system and when they take flight they reveal the white tips of their wings and they look amazing.
“We also have a 70-strong local pelican population, avocets, spoonbills, pied oystercatchers and a flock of musk ducks who scurry along the surface of the river flapping their little wings and disappearing when they dive.”
Rivers of the Region
Blackwood River – The River begins at the junction of Arthur River and Balgarup River and travels in a south westerly direction through Bridgetown and Nannup until it discharges into the ocean at Hardy Inlet near Augusta. It has 41 tributaries and at 300km, It is the longest river in the South West.
Margaret River – This river arises from a catchment of 40sqkm in the Whicher Range and extends for 60km. The middle passes through land cleared for agriculture and viticulture and the mouth of the river is a small estuary, closed to the Indian Ocean by a sandbar.
Vasse River and Vasse Wonnerup Wetland – The headwaters of the river are in the Whicher Range and flow in a northerly direction through Busselton and thereafter the Vasse Estuary to the Indian Ocean via Wonnerup Inlet and Geographe Bay. The basin area is over 230km and the length is 32km. The Vasse Wonnerup Wetlands receive flow from the Vasse, Sabina, Abba and Ludlow rivers.
Sources: Geocatch, Blackwood Basin Group
Windsurfing champ and lifelong water sports enthusiast Simon Peters hosts a Stand-Up Paddle Scenic River Tour on the Blackwood where participants learn how to steer a board through the fallen logs on the narrow Chapman Brook on the way to the bigger waterway.
“Wobbly knees gradually get strong and within five minutes most people start to feel confident on the basics as we paddle along through the natural forest,” says Simon.
“It’s completely safe, of course, but the natural bush of the surrounding park and the sense of isolation and wilderness gives it a real adventure feel.”
Helen Lee, also known as The Bushtucker Woman, runs the Bushtucker Cave and Canoe Tours on the much smaller Margaret River and says if you want seclusion then this is the river for you.
Helen has been working on the river with local and regional conservation groups for 25 years and has seen it transformed back to good health through good management practices.
Recently named by The National Rivers Council as one of the best kept eco systems in Australia, Helen thinks the river itself is the jewel in the Margaret River region.
“The river has gone from being quite a backwater when I first started, where the banks were exposed to too much heat because the town was basically using up all the water, to a place teeming with long-necked turtles, fish and marron,” she says.
Helen counts the relative difficulty of access as a plus and says once there, among the paperbark trees in an area she calls nature’s dining room, you are in for a truly unique experience.
A number of tours include a showcase of wild foods found in the area. Her must-try pick is the Carpobrotus Virescens (also known as Pigface) which, if turned upside down and squeezed, pops out a juicy, high in vitamin C delicious fig.
If birdlife is your particular passion, the Vasse Wonnerup Wetlands, fed by the Vasse river on the outskirts of Busselton, is said to have the highest concentration of birdlife in Australia and is listed under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international importance.
The wetlands cycle through dramatic seasonal changes from abundant flooding to shallow mudflats, and play host to changing populations of over 90 species of birdlife, many of them rare.
Some are locals, some are only visiting but all are visible from wellplaced hides and a network of walk trails.
Even if you don’t know your tattlers from your warblers or your shovelers from your coots this is an experience to covet.