Dookanelly to Possum Springs
The Hike - With severe weather warnings in place for overnight and leading into the day, I was surprised to wake up at dawn and find a calm Dookanelly Campsite in front of me. I'd only woken during the night to answer nature's call and again when something had hit the water tank. With conditions fine for hiking and only light drizzle around, Aron and I made the decision over brews and breakfast to continue on as planned. Before we left the weather forecast was showing 20-40mm of rain expected but you don't go hiking expecting perfect weather so we were mentally prepared. Someone had left a small pack in the shelter when we arrived at Dookanelly filled with lots of first aid gear, buckles, a blanket and a rain jacket. Having left the bag mostly unopened overnight just in case someone returned, the rain jacket had been used by everyone during the night to venture outside and we all agreed it was a useful addition.
My guess is someone had ditched the pack here after realising that they didn't need to be carrying it although leaving the rain jacket was puzzling unless it was a spare. I was carrying my own rain jacket but this one was a little bigger and had some interior pockets that would be useful for storing my camera when it did rain instead of burying it deep in my pack. If you left your pack here and want the rain jacket back then email me with the colour and brand and I will return it to you. We all said our goodbyes as everyone was heading in the opposite direction to us and at the bottom of the hill we parted ways. The day ahead of us was going to be the longest of our trip at over 22.5km and with soggy weather predicted we were about to test just how watertight all of our gear was. To start with we followed the 4x4 tracks out of Dookanelly and through the light drizzle. I love hiking in the rain so was enjoying the pitter patter of the raindrops on the hood of my jacket while traversing through the forest. Not long into the day you encounter the blue gum plantations that are still very young.
While I prefer this to the clear felling of our native forests, it certainly disrupts your experience seeing patches of open land and scraggly eucalypts that clearly aren't the same as the surrounding forest. Looking at the now dated satellite photos it used to be pine so I suppose blue gum is an improvement of sorts. Leaving the 4x4 tracks you are pointed into the forest for some lovely single track walking. We were making great pace at this stage, mainly because the scenery hadn't been that enticing to photograph and it had been all downhill since the campsite. The reason for the downhill became obvious as we saw peaking through the undergrowth a glimpse of the new Bilya Djena Bidi (pronounced beel-ya jenabidi) structure that replaced the old Long Gully Bridge that sadly burnt down in the 2015 bushfires. Translated to swinging river foot bridge, I like the traditional name a bit better but the sentiment is the same. The 92m long swing bridge towers over the landscape but thanks to the natural rusting process applied to the steel still manages to blend into the landscape somewhat. Visiting this bridge was something I was looking forward to ever since fundraising started and again when it was completed in 2017.
While it would have been very cool to see the old Long Gully Bridge still standing, I think this swing bridge arrangement certainly packs a wow factor into the one and only crossing of the Murray River. Aron and I had a good amount of fun taking photos and bouncing up and down on the bridge before settling on the other side and admiring the Bilya Djena Bidi for the last time. In a few more years I think it will be a great spot once the area surrounding the installation has had a chance to grow and accept the bridge. After crossing the Murray, you certainly aren't done with it and instead follow the course of the river as it meanders through the landscape towards Harvey Quindanning Rd. With the rain now setting in for the day we were bunkered down in our wet weather gear for better or worse. Switching back to 4x4 tracks, the forest along here is spectacular with a decent canopy for Jarrah forest and a pleasant undergrowth including the occasional fern that always adds to the fertile feels.
An issue we would face on this long section of 4x4 walking was avoiding the giant puddles, something that would get more entertaining as the rain bucketed more water into them throughout the day. I jokingly created a class system for the puddles with Class 1 puddles being no bigger than a pothole and Class 6 being the "no way am I getting past without getting seriously soggy". To start with we encountered a lot of Class 2 & 3 puddles so it wasn't too bad and it was just after the Bilya Djena Bidi that I spotted my first (and only) emus of the trip. I rounded a corner and there were three large bush chooks standing there. Before I had a chance to retrieve my camera from inside my jacket they had run off into the bush and unfortunately weren't captured on camera. With my track record at encountering wildlife I am not surprised that the only day with multiple sightings was when it was raining a lot and the camera wasn't out. Later on we saw emu tracks in the mud filled with water and scenes from Jurassic Park flooded into my head. Lucky they are no T-Rex so we were safe.
With a lot of 4x4 walking to get through between kilometres 5 & 11, I was actually glad when it really started to pour down. While walking along the river valley was nice at times with sweeping views of the surroundings hills livening things up, most of the 4x4 track is through run of the mill forest. Again it's something I enjoy so it was nice to listen to the sounds of the rain and soak it all in (which my pants were also doing to the rain). Dodging puddles every now and then, along with second guessing if we'd missed a turn-off somehow as the waugyls were few and far between here, we were making pretty good time despite the heavy rain. A brief expedition onto single track paths provided a nice break but it didn't last long and we were back to navigating the edges of puddles that were getting increasingly bigger. On one of the last of the Class 5 puddles Aron slipped a little and his left leg succumbed to the orange ocean below, saying goodbye to any chance of dry socks for the rest of the day.
Mercifully as we hit the end of the 4x4 track and into the gloomy looking area containing pine and blue gum plantations, the rain ceased and became a soft drizzle. Being able to take off the hood and expand your field of vision was a joy and this also meant the camera came back out from it's hidey pocket. Not that the area was terrible interesting to photograph as it was wide 4x4 track and one that was quite popular over the long weekend. Michelle and Eric had mentioned passing large groups of 4WDs, motor homes and dirt bikes on this stretch and we saw the remnants of their exploits. Eric had said he saw the dirt bike group leaving and as they departed they threw all their aerosol cans onto the fire they had created. Not the smartest lot or the most respectful. We passed a still smoking log, incredible given the rain we'd had all day and of course the usual smattering of rubbish strewn everywhere by these thoughtless idiots. You carry it in, you carry it out!!