Nelbuck Island is in the Bulyong Island section of the Murray River National Park. The waters that surround it are a combination of small secluded creeks and the magnificent Murray River. These same waters also provide a barrier to entry by road or on foot. It’s a brilliant place to paddle and camp.
The Murray River National Park is made up of three separate sections; Katarapko, Lyrup Flats and Bulyong Island. The Bulyong Island section is just north of Renmark. It isn’t just one island as the name implies. It is made up of a group of smaller islands that are called Longwang (teehee), Landmark, Kylie, Bulyong and Nelbuck. Nelbuck Island is the most northerly of these.
This paddle is a 20 kilometre lap of Nelbuck Island which starts and ends at the Goolwa Street boat ramp in Renmark North. Head left after launching to go upstream on Ral Ral Creek. After a short distance, you will see Bulyong Creek running in from the right. That is where you will be returning at the end of this adventure. For now, keep left to stay on Ral Ral Creek.
Just over 7 kilometres from the start, you will enter the scenic expanse of Ral Ral Wide Waters lagoon. Ral Ral Creek continues further to the north but for now, turn right and follow the near shoreline into Nelbuck Creek.
Nelbuck Creek is a narrow waterway of around 3.5 kilometres in length which is memorable for its shady environment and many tight twists and turns. One notable resident to look out for is the colourful rainbow bee-eater. This charming little bird loves to build nesting tunnels near the water and feed on insects which it impressively catches in mid-flight.
Turn right when you reach the mighty Murray River. If the weather is nice, this part of the trip is a lovely 4 kilometre cruise on a scenic stretch of Australia’s longest waterway. However, it is quite open so it is important to be aware of any potentially adverse conditions.
Turn right again when you reach the entrance to Bulyong Creek. This is easy to recognise because there is a brown sign with the creek’s name on it right next to a blue sign indicating that the Murray River has 584 kilometres to go before it reaches its final destination in Encounter Bay.
The early stages of Bulyong Creek are very similar to Nelbuck Creek and memorable for the same reasons. Later, there are also some longer straights where wildlife can be seen more easily. Keep an eye out for kangaroos, emus, monitor lizards, echidnas, whistling kites and a variety of parrots. Bulyong Creek ends at a T-intersection with Ral Ral Creek. Turn left there to return to where you started.
Nelbuck Island and its backwaters are generally very peaceful but it is important to note that this is also the venue for the Riverland Dinghy Derby which takes place on the first weekend in February every year. A good explanation of the event can be found in its 2016 promotional material: “Over ninety heavily modified ‘average’ fishing boats, capable of pushing upwards of 80km/h on water, through creeks and river systems barely wide enough for the boat itself and perilously close to rocks, logs and riverbanks.” Paddlers should obviously not be on the water at that time.
You can take as many days as you like to complete this trip because there is free bush camping on the island. There are no designated sites but please read the brochure on the Murray River National Park website before you go and make sure to minimise your impact on the environment.
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” Jawaharal Nehru