Shoalhaven Gorge

The hardest thing about writing a guide for this place is doing it justice. There’s something very special about Shoalhaven Gorge; a communion with nature that rejuvenates your spirit and makes your heart sing.

WATERWAY Shoalhaven River
REGION Illawarra, NSW
DISTANCE 30 kilometres
TIME 6 hours
START Tallowa Dam, Tallowa Dam Road, Morton National Park
GPS DMS: 34° 46′ 11.1″ S, 150° 18′ 57.1″ E
DD: -34.769750, 150.315861
FINISH Return to start
PARKING Large car park
TOILET Near start
CONDITIONS Open areas, reservoir, light traffic, shallow areas
FISHING Bass, carp, Macquarie perch, rainbow trout

Shoalhaven Gorge Map

The feeling of anticipation starts building before you even see the water. Driving down Tallowa Dam Road from Kangaroo Valley you catch glimpses of the magnificent escarpment that lines Shoalhaven Gorge and you know it is going to be an awesome adventure.

Shoalhaven Gorge Photo 1

Fossickers Flat is 15 kilometres upstream and the furthest point of this trip. Due to its distance from Tallowa Dam, most people stay there overnight and return the next day. There are four or five great campsites. One has a toilet and there is plenty of room to pitch a tent and boil a billy. If you plan on staying, make sure to take some extra warm gear as the sun disappears over the top of the gorge pretty early on.

Not long after getting on the water, the sheer majesty of the surroundings washes over you and leaves you sitting entranced in your boat. Even speaking seems almost sacrilegious.

The experience of paddling through Shoalhaven Gorge is enhanced by the fact that the only other people are paddlers and there usually aren’t many of them either. The steep walls of the gorge mean it is impossible to get in by car and extremely difficult on foot. Also, this is a water supply managed by the Sydney Catchment Authority and motorboats are not allowed.

The “Boulevarde of Broken Trees” begins just past the entrance to Cumburmurra Creek (see map). This is an area where the land that existed on the edge of the Shoalhaven River prior to the introduction of the dam has now been fully submerged. Only the trunks of former great trees remain, standing tall from beneath the water’s surface as eerily beautiful reminders of a past era.

Around 7 kilometres into the trip, the river sweeps to the right and the landscape is visibly more open on the left. This is a natural amphitheatre in which the acoustics are perfect for listening to bird calls. Bellbirds seem to be everywhere. If you notice a number of different sounds coming from the one place it is more than likely that you are being entertained by a Lyrebird which has the amazing ability to mimic anything it hears. There is a comfortable grassy area on the left bank that is the perfect spot to relax quietly and listen to the amazing concert. Day trippers often pause here for a while before turning around and heading back.

Some of the other wildlife is more seen than heard. A family of goats forages for food on the southern shore, their presence in this seemingly inaccessible area a clear mark of their superior climbing ability. Groups of playful sparrows dart around, sometimes coming right up to your boat.

Towards the end of the outward leg, campsites appear on both the left and the right, each with its own sandy landing area. The temptation is to try and make it all the way to Fossickers Flat, but water levels will determine whether that is possible without having to negotiate an oncoming rapid. Settle in by mid-afternoon and you can enjoy watching the last rays of sunshine cut across the peaceful valley.

Shoalhaven Gorge Photo 2

“The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.” Norman Vincent Peale

EAT Hampden Deli Dining, 160 Moss Vale Rd, Kangaroo Valley, 477 002 102
DRINK Friendly Inn Hotel, Moss Vale Rd, Kangaroo Valley, (02) 4465 1355
SLEEP KV Tourist Park, Moss Vale Rd, Kangaroo Valley, 1300 559 977

2 thoughts on “Shoalhaven Gorge

  1. A few of us paddled here yesterday and were entranced by the beauty of the gorge. It truly takes your breath away. The edge of the dam is marked by buoys and after launching, it’s best to paddle on the west side of the dam, well away from the buoys as the drag from the water going over the dam wall can be quite strong. We relieved to find compost toilets just past the Boulevard of Broken Trees. It’s a nice gesture that paddlers who are returning from their camping adventure, leave their toilet paper for day paddlers who may need to stop here. If you haven’t paddled Tallowa dam, it’s a must for your Bucket List! We will be returning again to continue our exploration!
    PS. We encountered a lot of stinging nettles when we stopped to have our lunch. It’s a good idea to take Stingoes or similar with you.

  2. This is one of our top spots to Kayak and camp over, best times we have found are during mid week or non school holidays, if you want solitude and quiet. Set up camp, there are a few easy sites up stream, but there are smaller ones along the way, you just have to keep an eye out for them. If the water levels are high and you love the paddle head as far up as you can and find that perfect spot to stay over. On a sunny day you can just lay back and drift or take up a a spot of fresh water fishing or that warm shady spot in camp and listed to the many thousands of native bees buzzing, the quiet is deafening. There are many small nooks and creek inlets to explore and one or two small waterfalls. Camping is great, but watch out for the cheeky possums, your camp fire is a beacon for invite, they are very friendly so take some spare fruit to feed and by all means PACK away ALL your camp gear and food as they are stealthy at stealing and getting into tucker and snacks, NEVER leave any rubbish, take that home with you. Camp fires are allowed but heed fire restrictions , the SCA (Sydney Catchment Authority) does snap patrols in their boat. If you have one or two day to kayak and camp put this location in your “to do” list…Also a last note, the gorge up the Shoalhaven River can get very HOT, so please “slip-slop-slap” and take plenty of water……..and enjoy.

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