Wallowing down the Wollangambe

I’ve been meaning to get my sister and her kids out of a trip for a while now but we just haven’t been able to coordinate it. Then things came together for new years day. The original plan was to do Twister and Rocky creek but with canyonfest on up that way and Edwin wanting to show his nephew down something with less jumping and a little warmer we settled on the popular Wollangambe 1 section


The Wollangambe river has been in the head lines for all the wrong reasons lately.

An incident at Clarence colliery in June 2015 saw material (water and coal fines) from a reject dam enter the upper reaches of the river. According Gary Whytcross, Director of EPA South,  the quick response by the EPA in directing the company to install 22 silt fences had worked effectively to prevent any further material entering the Wollangambe River. While the bulk of the spill managed to be contained the ruggedness of the terrain made the clean up extremely difficult and coal fines (which despite some sensationalist headlines are nontoxic but still an added siltation issue to the river) did make it several kilometers down river

Clean up measures continue https://au.prime7.yahoo.com/n3/news/a/-/local/30332805/getting-on-with-the-job-video/

Anyhoo I’ve done this section many times over the years but we’ve always gone really early to avoid the crowds or really late to catch the glowworms.

Being New Years Day we decided to risk the crowds, take our time and meet at Mt Wilson at 10am. I’ve decided I’m not good at waiting about to do things. I’ll get ready early, double check things a few times get distracted, start something else and end up running late.

This time I manged to get there on time.

I know a few people have been asking to tag along on a trip and I’m not trying to be snobby but we already had a big slow moving party so don’t get offended if you didn’t get an invite this time around. It was a bit of a family thing

Saying that Tal ditched me and went camping and Beth just ditched me.

So we had Meggs and Ben, Myself and Mandy, Shaz and Sean and their 3 kids, Tom, Claire and Tillie, Edwin, Ed’s brother inlaw Ethan and his son Kybas(I know I’ve spelt that wrong, sorry mate)

A quick meet and greet at the car park and we were soon following the well worn footpad down towards the river


gambe 1

We made reasonable time and as we got closer to the cliff line you could hear other parties already at the river preparing to set off down stream.

Reaching the water there was another largish group almost ready to go. A smaller group not far off. Everyone was nice and friendly and some sizable yabbies were hanging about.



There are a few crayfish species found in the waterways around the Blue mts the most common two you see in canyons both look very similar in size with similar colour morphs. They are the Sydney crayish (Euastacus Australasiensis) which tends to be more common in the lower mountains (thou there is a healthy population up around Leura). And, the Giant Spiny Crayfish (Euastacus spinifer) which tends to be more common in the upper mountains. Rule of thumb for telling them apart is Australasiensis has 3 largish mesial carpal spines on the joint below the claw where as Spinifer has 2.

I didn’t have a close look, I think these ones are E. Spinifer but I could be completely wrong.

Colours vary from bright red, to blackish, to greens, to bright blue with red spines… When I was a kid dad always said that if the creek flowed generally east they were red, if it flowed generally west they were blue. This tends to hold reasonably true but I have seen different colours in different parts of the same creek so obviously it’s more complex than that. I think it comes down to camouflage. To us red seems striking but, in the ocean at least, bottom dwellers are often red as red light struggles to penetrate water to any great depth therefore most bottom dwellers lose the ability to see red and red things become invisible. As you move up into the canyons the dark, mottled light would favour darker critters and in the slower moving sections often littered with decomposing gum leaves maybe blues and greens blend in more. Or maybe Bright blues and reds are better at attracting mates in the dark waters. I really don’t know. Other than eels and the occasional snake I’m not sure if they’d have a natural predator beside each other once they gain a bit of size.

Anyway you could tell where the good eating was. The big daddy patrolling around the start beach was about 150mm long and probably 25-30mm across the thorax. There was one just down stream of the popular lunch beach even bigger and the one at the exit dwarfed both. and smaller ones were plentiful in between.

E Spinifer have been recorded to around 250mm long and weighting well over 1kg. You often see ones approaching that size in Deep Pass Canyon but nothing that big spied today.


We get busy inflating our array of surf mats, Lilos and even a 2 person boat as the other groups head off in front of us. As we depart I can hear another group behind but once going we didn’t really see the other groups besides when we leap frogged each other at on our respective lunch stops and then again at the exit

It is a different style of canyon trip. The first third, at least, is very relaxing as you float with the current, giving your self the occasional couple of paddles to steer or for a slight boost in speed.

Being in no particular rush we take the opportunity to climb up the canyon walls at several spots and indulge in a bit of cliff jumping. You carefully check water depth before heading up. Once up you look down and it’s a bit eerie. You can’t see anything in the glassy water and you start second guessing yourself, then from way down in the depths some bubbles make their way up (I’m assuming from the crayfish) you can see a hell of a long way down and the bottom is no where insight.

I scramble up our first spot and jump from a reasonable ledge inside a little cave, I’m thinking it’s around 5m, maybe a tad more, it’s pretty cool. Ben and Claire follow me. Ben claims he is scared of heights but takes the leap with a grin on his face. Claire isn’t scared of anything and just launches herself. We all have a bit of fun on this one, Tillie looks dwarfed by the rock she jumps off but barely hesitates either.

Edwin scrambles up to a higher ledge directly above the cave. I’m guessing it’s around the 10-12m mark, I’ve heard people claiming 15 but I doubt it’s that high. We launch off that and continue down to find more ledges. There are so many options.

We float on down, the sun is directly over head now and it’s quiet warm. Water temps is such the wetsuits probably weren’t necessary but they are not uncomfortably warm either.

Several boulder scrambles follow. These take a bit of effort to negotiate with the lilos and boat but we pick our way through


I’ve been thinking lately of what it is that attracts me to canyoning. People who know what it is but haven’t done it often refer to canyoners as “adrenaline junkies” but I can tell you that aint it. Sure there might be a bit of an adrenaline rush from the cliff jumps like we did today but there are a hell of a lot easier,quicker ways to get an adrenaline rush than hiking,swimming and scrambling through the bush for 5 or 6 hrs straight.

I’m sure there is an endorphin high from the sustained effort and that is probably part of it. Seeing stunningly beautiful places relatively few other people get experience is a major part but the thing I discovered in my pondering was the the puzzle aspect. I’ve always liked puzzles and canyoning is one long, live action, 3D puzzle. How do we navigate in? (Poorly, I can hear Meggsie’s accusation now) whats the best way to get through this boulder jam?  Whats the best spot to set up the anchor? Will the ropes pull down OK? How do we get out? From planing to doing it’s a great challenge.

Anyhoo I digress.

gambe9         The Great Wollangambe Sphinx

We continue our way down stream with a mix of floating, walking and scrambling for a way before diverting up the bottom of Water Dragon canyon which enters the Wollangambe on the left. Water Dragon canyon is a lot more constricted and dark than the section of the Wollangambe it flows into. It’s also called the Kelvinator because you can feel the temp drop dramatically as you wander up. It’s worth the side trip as there is a very dark section you can get up too with out to much scrambling and only 1 cold swim. Didn’t see any glowworms today but it’s so dark you sometimes see them in the middle of the day.

We came across a iddy biddy tiger snake on the way up Water Dragon. I normally give baby snakes a wide berth. Because just about anything bigger than them eats them they tend to be fast, nervous and very defensive. The coolness of the canyon had this one fairly placid and the colours on it were stunning for such a tiny snake

You see snakes in cold canyons like this and your first thought is it must have fallen in and become trapped but scrolling through the good ol’ Facebook for photos tagged in the ‘Gambe there is a few from not that long ago of a big tiger snake in the kelvinator so I’m wondering if laying a clutch here might be a deliberate ploy to put the hatchlings somewhere they are less likely to be eaten by birds and other reptiles. Considering we’ve stumbled across juvenile snakes on several of our last canyon trips it has me wondering…

Back to the relative warmth of the Gambe. Even though there didn’t seem to be a big flow coming out of the Kelvinator the water down stream is noticeably cooler. It’s still not unpleasant but you do notice the temp difference.

Not much further on and its our exit spot. I tend to forget about the haul out of this section. It’s such a pleasant trip down and you think of it as a good beginners trip but the walk out is no easier than most other canyons. Bigger than some.

There is a short, exposed climb that can be intimidating for non climbers. The kids all rocked up with out issue, though Tillie had to stretch for hand holds at one point. The walk out has some great views but for some people it could be seen as a long, one foot in front of the other/surely we’re at the top by now/how much bloody further/OMG is that the top of the ridge up there/I’m done just leave me here … slog


5 thoughts on “Wallowing down the Wollangambe

  1. Hi Flynny

    Would you be happy to be a guide for my daughter and I? We were more on the easy access couple of hours swimming around variety – more than the full on long trip, but going to see some beautiful places.

    Please let me know?



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