OVENS RIVER INFORMATION
The lower reaches of the Ovens River offer some of the best still water canoeing in the state.
The Ovens River, Victoria starts near Harrietville at an elevation of 529m and ends at an elevation of 124m merging with the Murray River. The Ovens River drops around 405m over its 191km length. The Ovens River flows into Lake Mulwala (124m) where it joins the Murray River.
Twenty creeks and rivers flow into the Ovens River. The five longest tributaries are: King River, Fifteen Mile Creek, Buffalo River, Buckland River and Barwidgee Creek.
Hamilton Hume and William Hovell explored the area in 1824, naming the Ovens River in honour of Major Ovens, the Secretary to Thomas Brisbane, the Colonial Governor of New South Wales.
In the Aboriginal Waywurru language, the river has two names, Burwang, with no clearly defined meaning; and Djerrang, meaning “leaf”.
The river reach consists mainly of finely-textured unconsolidated deposits particularly of alluvium, colluvium, swamp deposits, sand, gravel, silt, clay, peat and gypsum.
Flora & fauna
The Ovens River is unique in that it is one of the few largely unregulated rivers found within the Murray Darling Basin in Victoria. The river reach has high nature conservation value, containing a significant rare flora community and the riparian vegetation provides an important habitat corridor for many significant fauna, particularly those which are dependent on mature trees. The in-stream condition of the river is largely in a natural state and provides habitat for many significant species. The wetlands, particularly at the lower end of the river corridor, also provide valuable habitat for many species of water-birds.
Over 800 native and 360 exotic plant species have been recorded along the Ovens River and its tributaries. Fourteen native species are of national significance while 62 are of conservation significance in Victoria.
The dominant tree in the Lower Ovens section is River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis). Under storey plants include Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata), River Bottlebrush (Callistemon sieberi), Chinese Scrub (Cassinia arcuata), Grey Parrot-pea (Dillwynia cinerascens) and native grasses.
On sand rises, White Cypress Pine (Callitris glaucophylla) tends to be the dominant tree especially in the Ovens Warby area.
Plants of higher ground include Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa), Yellow Box (E. melliodora), Buloke, Sweet Bursaria, Gold-dust Wattle (Acacia acinacea) and Black-anther Flax-lily (Dianella revoluta).
Birds. The Ovens, Murray and King Rivers have their own unique biodiversity with both migrating and non-migrating birds. An approximate 190 native bird species are to be found in the Ovens catchment. overleaf details some of the birds that could be encountered whilst kayaking.
It is common to spot Kingfishers (Left: Sacred Kingfisher) hanging on the branches, and the Yellow Rosella or yellow subspecies of the Crimson Rosella (depending on what list you follow) is a common bird along the lower reaches.
Turquoise Parrots (left) can be found in pairs, small family groups or small flocks in winter and early springtime feeding on native grass seeds or introduced plants.
A rare Nankeen Night-Heron (pictured left) and can be seen just 3km upstream of Wangaratta. Also to be found on this tour are Darters, the Great Egret, Pied Cormorant, Ibis and various duck species are common along the banks, shallows and tree branches of the river.
Land animals. There have been 47 native mammal species, 38 native reptile species and 12 native frog species recorded in the Upper Ovens River catchment.
The Heritage-listed Wetlands of the Lower Ovens are nourished by the river’s high natural flows. The Ovens River provides life for the threatened and endangered wildlife Powerful Owl and Squirrel Glider.
In the spring and summer you may hear the noisy Cicada particularly up river.
Freshwater turtles thrive in the Ovens catchment and the hard to spot koalas, bats, frogs and possums all live along the banks of the river. The platypus and Water rats have a healthy population in this region and a keen eye along with a stealth-like paddle may enable you a glimpse.
Water fauna. The wetland areas provide perfect conditions for native fish, such as the iconic Murray Cod. The Ovens River is home to fresh water turtles, yabbies and crayfish. The dominant invertebrates are water bugs, beetles, midge larvae, dragonfly larvae and some mayflies.
Fish; native species in bold are protected in this Basin. Introduced species underlined are declared noxious.
Large Native species fish include: Golden Perch, Murray Cod, Murray Spiny Crayfish, Freshwater Catfish, Macquarie Perch and Trout Cod. Six fish in this Basin: Trout Cod, Macquarie Perch, Murray Hardyhead, Murray Cod, Murray River Rainbowfish, Murray Spiny Crayfish are threatened species in Victoria.
Last update: 1 March 2018
RIVER TRIBE STATUS: fun, sometimes challenging, rewarding.
ABILITY: River Tribe recommends guests/kayakers are fit and agile with the ability to swim and sometimes climb or traverse fallen logs or trees. Sometimes 2 or 3 trees have fallen and provide an obstacle. Be prepared to exit the kayak to traverse an obstacle, generally every 5-7km or so and sometimes less (depending on the river and time of year)
RAIN STATUS: Minimal rain events over the last month
RIVER LEVEL: 8.m and steady – February at the Wangaratta marker.
RIVER CONDITIONS: The current water levels are providing a more challanging passage along the Ovens River. River speeds vary at about 1-2km. The water is very flat and snags and obstacles are peaking through. There are a few tree blocks across the river (over the 36km span). The River and the conditions good – expect to duck and weave a bit.
KAYAK CONDITIONS: Lots of fun, safe as long as you follow safety rules and common sense and generally easy paddling. The water flow is tracking at about 1-2km/hour meaning you can easily paddle at 5km to 8km/hour. With the height of the river at just over 8m the water is very flat and great views are afforded. The Kayaking is fun and very relaxing.
RIVER SNAPSHOT: The Ovens River is one of the last Rivers in Victoria that is in a natural state. Being less maintained the river has much more habitat for wildlife. The River is 190km long and ranges in width from 10-30m. River Tribe Adventures describes it as: intimate. Trees hang over, a great mix of shallow beaches and sometimes low and high river banks make for a snug river with lots of scenic variety. The changing seasons and river conditions make for a changeable river. This brings different experiences and a different story and perspective each time you go out. Winter and spring bring a faster flowing river and the banks merge with the water, views across farm and bushlands are afforded. During late summer and autumn the lower water levels reveal hidden snags, old water worn logs, sand and stone bars and an interesting and natural river story. Whatever the time of year and what ever the river conditions are River Tribe Adventures love it… these changes bring new discoveries and new adventures!
ALTERNATIVES: River Tribe Adventures provides self guided and guided tours on the Murray River. Please visit our Murray River tours page for more options. The Murray River offers a very different experience from the Ovens River. The Murray is a very broad, deep and steady river. If you like broad sky views, massive Murray Gum Trees and a steady pace then this is for you.
Map of the Ovens River – click to enlarge
- launch and exit points
- distance information
- Beach points and photos
Here are some great links to pages with information about the Ovens River:
- Camping on the Ovens River
- Everton Camp
- Tarrawingee Camp
- Ovens River access and recreational fishing information
The Ovens River catchment supports a wide range of ecosystems, from the alpine grassland and heath near Mount Feathertop and Mount Hotham, to the Victorian riverine plains, where the Ovens River meets the River Murray.
The Ovens River wetlands are listed as nationally significant in the Directory of Important Wetlands. Close to the River Murray, the river reach corridor features an extensive network of billabongs, anabranches and islands. It provides important habitat for many species of waterbirds, including the great egret, and there is a significant ibis rookery. Other wetlands in the same aggregation include Billabong and Chinaman creeks, the latter which forms an important link between the Killawarra State Forest and the river. Both creeks contain good riparian zones, which are important food sources for birds in the river reach.
Considered to have a high nature conservation value, the lower Ovens River reach contains a significant rare flora community, with 9 threatened species including river red gum forests, silver wattle, river bottlebrush and rough barked honey myrtle. The riparian vegetation within the reach also provides an important habitat corridor containing 48 threatened species of fauna, of which 3 are listed nationally. Threatened or vulnerable species within the mature river red gum forests include the broad-shelled tortoise and the large-footed myotis bat. The Ovens River in-stream condition is in a largely natural state, providing good habitat for native fish species. It has high conservation value for at least 7 species including the Murray cod and freshwater hardyfish.
The Sustainable Rivers Audit 2 released in 2012 reported the overall ecosystem health of the Ovens River to be poor. Flow regulation had impacted species abundance and diversity significantly for fish and fish community was rated poor overall. The abundance and diversity of macroinvertebrates was rated moderate. Riverine vegetation was in poor condition overall, with changes most significant on the lower reaches. The physical form of the river was rated in good condition, although impacts of sedimentation were evident. Flow seasonality and variability was in good condition.
PADDLE DISTANCES AND TIMES...
These vary greatly and depend on how fast a kayaker paddles, how many stops are taken and for how long. The table below provides a guide on the distances and times.
FACTS, QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS…
River conditions, river flow, river levels and seasonal changes… the Ovens River is one of the last natural rivers in Victoria. Typically water levels increase in autumn and start to decrease in summer with the lowest point traditionally being late summer to autumn. High flows are traditionally late winter and into spring however this is dependent on rain falls and snow melt.
Water speed assists with fast tracking a kayaker when paddling with the flow, the speed of the water obviously increases with river height, rainfall and is influenced by the seasons. You can take advantage of low flows in the warmer months by paddling against the current which makes the Tarrawingee base camp a great spot to camp and explore from.
Please note that all routes are tested regularly to allow River Tribe to pass on information to guests that is up to date. It is normal to have a few tree obstacles where a kayaker has to transition with the kayak by foot via a river beach. Locations often change as trees often fall and create new obstacles and habitats for fish and other native species. The route between Everton and Tarrawingee has more obstacles in the river than the Tarrawingee to Wangaratta route. The route between Tarrawingee to Wangaratta has 3-4 tree blocks of varying size. Some blocks are easily transitioned by kayak and some may require kayakers to hop over or drag the kayak over a log or beach area. This is all part of the adventure and is relatively easy. It is also a good thing to get out of the kayak every hour or so to stretch, move and maybe explore.
HOW SHOULD I PREPARE TO KAYAK, CAMP, STORE AND TRAVEL ALONG THE RIVER…
Pack light and practical for the environment and the conditions.
A basic list should include:
- Sun cream,
- Mozzie replant,
- Lots of water (3-6 litres of drinking water per day/person is recommended for warm to hot weather),
- Travel towel,
- Warm clothing,
- Hat, polarized sunglasses,
- Change of clothes,
- Baby wipes for sanitization,
- Sealable plastic bags for rubbish,
- Ice packs with collapsible (soft) cool bags,
- Emergency medical kit (including snake bite kit),
- Cooking equipment if catching your dinner or taking raw foods,
- Sleeping mat and bag or maybe for hot weather just a bag liner.
For details on kayak storage and limitations please read about the on the sales page: here
SNAKES AND OTHER DANGERS TO CONSIDER…
Yes, snakes are out and about.
The ovens river and surrounding bushland contains dangerous and venomous snakes and spiders.
Falling trees, limbs, changing and untested water conditions and other dangers are present.
Kayakers and campers should be aware of the dangers and should research how to avoid, minimise and manage a situation whereby a danger presents and/or an incident occurs. Guests should carry a phone with a Telstra service (serviced on the river) and know how to read a map and guide emergency services to a location. Know your limits, understand the environment and research how and what to do in different situations. River tribe adventures are not qualified and cannot help in an emergency situation, only the emergency services are trained, qualified and can legally assist.
A FISHY VIEW OF THE OVENS RIVER…
The Ovens River rises near Mount Hotham and flows for 190 km to Lake Mulwala. It flows through a small area of forest at Harrietville then through pine plantations near Bright/Porepunkah but most of its length to Wangaratta is through farmland. Downstream of Wangaratta it flows through farmland and then through red gum forest for several kilometres, before reaching Lake Mulwala. The river can be divided into two main sections, upstream and downstream of Myrtleford. Upstream, it is a clear, fast flowing river with coarse substrate providing good habitat for salmonids.
Downstream the substrate becomes sand, the water turbid, and deeper, providing more suitable habitat for native fish. Most of the catchment has been highly modified and cleared with resulting extensive bank erosion, although remedial works have been carried out. Historically there was extensive gravel extraction upstream of Myrtleford.
Despite being an un-regulated river upstream of Myrtleford and draining a large catchment, most of the river upstream of Wangaratta is quite shallow with most pools usually less than 130 cm deep and large areas of shallow riffles 30-60 cm deep, during summer.
Access is good and it is a popular angling water for trout upstream of Myrtleford and for Murray cod, golden perch and redfin downstream of Wangaratta.
The Ovens River was selected to be stocked with trout cod over a 5 year period, as part of the National Trout Cod Recovery Program (conservation stocking). Activities include restocking of trout cod upstream of Wangaratta for 4 years, with stock assessment in the 5th year. (Other rivers in Victoria which are part of this Recovery Program, are Seven Creeks, Goulburn River and the upper Mitta Mitta River. The upper Murray River, which is also part of the Recovery Program, is being managed by NSW). The result has been excellent, with a large population of ‘self sustaining’ trout cod distributed throughout the length of the Ovens River and into the King and Buffalo Rivers. The species is now commonly caught by anglers but is still protected and must be released unharmed.
The Ovens River was undamaged by the 2006/07 fires, however it was subjected to extensive periods of low flow during the past drought years. Fish populations are still in good condition.
There has been extensive river improvement work in the Ovens River, under the River Health Program. Locations targeted are the Heritage River section, between Wangaratta and Myrtleford, and tributaries Happy Valley, Deep, Barwidgee, Hodgsons and Burgoigee Creeks. Activities include the removal of seeding willow trees and revegetation of the banks with native species. There are also actions to manage bank erosion and reduce sedimentation. Revegetated areas and remnant native vegetation have been fenced off to protect them from stock. Nine reaches of the river have been listed as Environmental Water Reserves and are now receiving improved flow regimes through changes in off-stream water diversions (see Introduction to the Guide for additional explanation).
Activities under the Murray-Darling Native Fish Strategy which are specific to the Ovens River include, river improvement works by catchment management authorities; support for local communities and landholders to continue river improvement activities in the Ovens River and its tributaries, Reedy Creek, Devils Creek and Morses Creek. There has also been an evaluation of the ecological condition and health of the Ovens River Valley (Sustainable Rivers Audit) at a number of sites. There has also been a geomorphic assessment of the river between Myrtleford and Wangaratta to provide base line information and to identify any constraints which may affect habitat rehabilitation activities.
Upstream of Bright…
The river rises near Harrietville then flows for 35 km through patches of forest, unimproved farmland and pine plantations. The channel is 8-15 m wide with numerous shallow riffles 30-50 cm deep and pools less than 80 cm deep with a boulder and rubble substrate. It has clear, fast-flowing water and good habitat for small trout. Contains abundant brown trout to 1.3 kg (av.350 g), abundant small rainbow trout (av.75 g), two-spined blackfish, some redfin, tench and mountain galaxias. Flows close to the road and access is good.
A Stream Flow Management Plan is being prepared (2008) for the upper Ovens River. This will develop a flow sharing arrangement for all water users, and allocate an appropriate environmental flow for the river.
Bright to Myrtleford…
Flows for 30 km through pine plantations and farmland. Good access at Porepunkah but restricted access downstream where it flows through farmland. Width varies from 10-16 m at Porepunkah to 42 m wide (av.25 m) at Myrtleford. There are extensive riffles and runs at Porepunkah (20-50 cm deep) with pools to 100 cm deep, and gravel and rubble substrate. At Myrtleford, there are extensive runs 40-60 cm deep and riffles with high water velocity, but most of the river has water deeper than 100 cm with the majority of pools 200-230 cm deep, and some pools over 350 cm deep.
Substrate is gravel, rubble, rock and some sand. All these conditions create excellent habitat for trout in this section of the river. Contains brown trout to 1.3 kg, some rainbow trout, abundant small blackfish, trout cod, redfin, and mountain galaxias. Contains a self-sustaining trout population and has not been stocked since 1996. Trout cod have moved into this area from stocking downstream.
Myrtleford to Wangaratta…
This 40 km length of river flows through farmland with good riparian vegetation of red gums. It is accessible from a number of cross roads. The lower reaches near Wangaratta are navigable by small boats provided they can be launched from the bank. River width varies from 20-50 m. Water depth of pools averages 130 cm with only a few deeper holes to 200 cm. There is considerable water 40-75 cm deep. Substrate is rubble, gravel and sand near Myrtleford, becoming sand and gravel towards Wangaratta.
Contains brown trout to 850 g, some rainbow trout, trout cod, two-spined blackfish, river blackfish, redfin, mountain galaxias, Australian smelt and some small Murray cod downstream of Whorouly. Also possibly some golden perch.
Trout cod were stocked from 1997 to 2001 and again in 2006 (Trout cod Recovery Program). Anglers report that they are now abundant and widely dispersed throughout the lower reaches of this section of the river. Trout cod are protected under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 and must be released unharmed.
Downstream of Wangaratta…
The 25 km section of river downstream of Killawarra (Spring Creek D8) to Lake Mulwala on the Murray River is nominated as a Heritage River.
The river flows through farmland and then red gum forest downstream of Peechelba. Channel width at Peechelba is 33-40 m, with extensive areas of water 100-220 cm deep, and gutters and holes over 350 cm deep. Substrate is sand and clay. There is some instream habitat, also gravel and sand banks along the sides of the channel. This section is very accessible by small boats, however the lower reaches near Lake Mulwala have anabranches and backwaters, which can be confusing to navigate. Boats can be launched at Bundalong.
The lower reaches are in a very natural condition and it is a pleasant area to fish. Contains some redfin, numerous Murray cod, some golden perch particularly near Lake Mulwala, also Murray spiny crayfish and trout cod. Other species are European carp, some blackfish, tench, eastern gambusia, goldfish, Australian smelt, southern pygmy perch, western carp gudgeon and Murray River rainbowfish. Murray cod are self-sustaining in Lake Mulwala and the Ovens River. Golden perch are stocked into Lake Mulwala by NSW and they move