Wilcannia And The Darling River Run

With the summer holidays fast approaching I found this one gathering dust in the vault (so to speak). First written during last summer with reference (even further back) to the previous summer. It is quite interesting to see the differences in the great Darling River…

Here’s the Post I Drafted About 10 Months Ago…

Last year at Bourke we were unable to drive the Darling River Run due to the closure of the unsealed roads. Unable to drive downstream from Bourke I headed to Wilcannia where I could head back upstream towards Tilpa and then downstream to Menindee. It meant a long detour via Cobar to get to Wilcannia (on the major roads) and a night’s stay in Wilcannia. Not exaclty the most welcoming of towns… More on that later perhaps.

The Darling River Run

One of the iconic outback driving adventures is the Darling River Run. More than 700km, 9 hours, of driving on unsealed dirt roads from Bourke all the way down to Wentworth where the Darling pours into the mighty Murray river.

There are three parts to the Darling River Run. Firstly – starting upstream – there are routes either side of the river between Bourke and Wilcannia passing through the small settlements of Louth and Tilpa.  The second stretch runs from Wilcannia, southwest to Menindee, for around 150km. Then the third run goes from Menindee, south to Wentworth where the Darling river joins the Murray. This one is a 250km drive that takes in the small town of Pooncarie on the western side of the Mungo National Park.

The roads heading downstream from Bourke were closed, just as they were the same time last year. However I had heard that the road heading upstream from Wilcannia to Tilpa was open. The plan changed from Bourke to Wilcania (via Louth and Tilpa) to Wilcannia to Tilpa then back south to Menindee. It was basically a case of making the most of what was available.

Last January there had been rainfall. Enough to close the river run roads. Yet the river itself remained fairly low. This year was very different. Some of the roads I wanted to drive were again closed (mainly out of Bourke); but the Darling was like a completely different river.

What a difference a year makes…

The old bridge crossing

This is the same stretch exactly one year on in January 2022… More or less taken from the exact same spot.

The Darling crossing at Wilcannia, January 2022
The Darling river was a trickle of the 11 metre depths it can reach (according to the water markers).

Only one river height pole still showing…

The water markers I photographed last year were all but submerged this year. Incredible what can happen when it actually rains in a part of the world renown for having several years of continuous drought.

Likewise for the Darling river at Menindee. This was the scene in January 2021 at the railway bridge just before the station…

Bridge over the Darling river.

And this January 2022… Quite a change eh? I do believe that is the same bush (more or less bottom left).

The railway crossing at Menindee, January 2022

This part of the river lies about 10km downstream of one of the contentious schemes on the Darling river.  One of the large weirs that have been built to control the flow of this important river scheme.

Upstream of the main weir near Menindee
Downstream side of the weir.

As the photos above show the weir has made little difference this year. Such was the amount of rain that has flowed through the Darling river basin. All the lakes upstream of this weir have already been fully replenished and yet so much of the river flows over the weir.

They say you don’t need a four wheel drive vehicle for this river run but I was driving one anyway. The road was quite rough in places and I would not have wanted to be in a low profile 2-wheel drive vehicle that’s for sure. There were no real tricky wet and muddy sections but it was bumpy at times. It was also lonely. I saw only four other cars in a total of  four hours of driving. That’s an average of one other soul – per hour!

Along the way there were a few kangaroo corpses. The fresher ones being picked at by birds including a few large birds of prey. Another corpse was being pulled apart by some very large lizard type animals. As I got closer it looked like what was left of a sheep. By that point the reptiles had scurried off into the low lying bushes. They moved so quickly I had no chance of taking a picture but they looked like large goannas/monitor lizards.

Wedge Tailed Eagle?

The river run just north of Wilcannia passes through part of the Paroo-Darling National Park. Along the Wilcannia to Tilpa road I spotted this big fella…

Just like the movies… Spotted at the side of the dirt road from Wilcannia to Tilpa
Zoom in on what I think is a wedge tailed eagle…

I believe this is a wedge tailed eagle but I am no expert. So, if you know for sure what type of bird this is then please write a comment on this post and share it with us.

I was just in time. Immediately after I had snapped the close-up, the bird took off…

Around the Menindee Weir

The small lakes upstream of the weir, fully replenished.
The river level had dropped slightly from its peak but the weir was almost covered
High water levels upstream of the weir
So much water still flowing downstream of the weir
No shortage of water downstream…
An abandoned catch? Or washed up in the floods?

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