Snowy River – Guthega Power Station to Island Bend

Despite the fact that there wasn’t much water around anywhere, 3 of us (Allen, Josh and Tristan) decided that a road trip was in order. We headed south towards Jindabyne in the Snowy Mountains area.

Jindabyne itself is quite interesting in the summer. It’s right next door to Australia’s main ski fields, and is a very busy place during the snow season. This was the first time I’d been to Jindabyne in summer, and it’s a total ghost town! There were so many shops, homes and other buildings that were shut up waiting for Winter.

The Snowy River is in the midst of Australia’s largest engineering project, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. There is a large cluster of dams and hydro-electric power stations in a relatively small area. Unfortunately this means that a lot of great sections of rivers in the area have been lost forever beneath the dams. Sections of river that escaped being turned into lakes rarely have enough flow to paddle. Rain water that ends up in the catchments ends up stored in dams instead of flowing freely down the rivers.

The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme supplies a lot of power to NSW. On hot days, the Guthega Power Station is switched on in the afternoon to help supplement the extra power demands associated with trying to keep cool. As this is a hydro-electric power station, water is allowed to flow down through the plant’s turbines, which makes electricity. Water then flows out of the power station and into the Snowy River, before it ends up in another dam just a few kilometres downstream. It had been a hot day, and we received news that Guthega Power Station would be operational that afternoon, so we headed up there ready for a paddle.

The water that powers the Guthega Power Station actually comes from over the hill, and not from the Snowy River. Once the water flows through the power station it then flows out into the Snowy River. It was a strange and bizarre feeling carrying our kayaks down to the river. We found ourselves in the middle of a bone dry river bed of the Snowy River. Looking upstream there was nothing but dry rocks and leaf litter that had blown into the valley. From the amount of loose debris in the river bed, it was clear it had been dry for quite some time. Yet just metres below, on the same river, the water was flowing swiftly downstream after gushing out of the power station.

As soon as we set off down stream the river began to pick up pace. The first few rapids weren’t too difficult, but the river was flowing faster than I’d anticipated when looking from the bank. This was a good reminder to focus and be ready for whatever may be awaiting downstream.

whitewater rapids on the Snowy River

Allen and Tristan scouting a choked up section of the Snowy River.

It wasn’t far below the power station when the river dropped away and all we could see was a horizon line. There were a few steep rapids early on. We portaged one that had a marginal line. It looked like you would pin for sure if you messed up your line, but even if you hit your line it was still a manky rapid. The fun to risk factor was low, and the portage was very easy.

whitewater rapids on the Snowy River

Boat scouting another choked section

For most of the remaining rapids, boat scouting was enough to get down safely. In many places where the river began to widen the river seemed to get choked up between boulders and sticks that had washed down. It seemed we were paddling at a lower than optimum water level. This made for a few untidy lines, but nothing too severe, and there were still many fun and clean rapids.

whitewater kayaking on the Snowy River

Floating down a flatter section, admiring the beautiful country

The scenery along this river in Summer is spectacular. I found the contrasting vegetation on each side of the river fascinating. Green alpine tree’s and scrub lined the river right side, while the tree’s on the river left side where bare, without leaves. If you had a picture of both side by side, you wouldn’t believe they were taken from the same place!

Towards the end of the trip we made another portage. The river had split into 2 channels, and we had unfortunately ended up in the wrong one. We would have had to work our way back upstream a hundred metres or more to cross to the opposite channel. We decided to take the easy option and simply portage. In the end however, this rapid turned out to be one of the better rapids of this section.

portaging a whitewater rapid on the Snowy River

The second of two portages we made

The rapids eased off in difficulty toward the end, although it was still quite continuous until we reached Island Bend. Below this, the river’s flow stops again as it reaches yet another dam.

Overall this was a really fun section of river with some fast and technical rapids. The cold water was a good incentive not to mess up your line, because nobody wanted to roll. Some more water would have opened up some of the choked up rapids. However this would also make the section more challenging and continuous overall.

We didn’t get out to take any photo’s. Unfortunately this meant the few images we ended up with where taken from in our kayaks in the flatter sections. A scratched lens and a dodgy Chinese SD card left us with no real usable head cam footage either.

We drove off from the iconic Snowy River, “The Man From Snowy River” playing in the background, whilst trying to dodge the countless roo’s on the road. I felt proud to have been able to paddle Australia’s most iconic river. But I was also saddened knowing that the river we had paddled was only a glimpse of what once existed, and its countless dams ensured that its fate is unable to change.

Trip Date: 23 February 2010

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2 Responses to Snowy River – Guthega Power Station to Island Bend

  1. Rob GT says:

    Hi there, nice write up on my local river. The small number of local paddlers get to run this section quite often, but mostly in the spring. It sound like you only had a low one turbine operating from “Munyang” power station. The water that flows through it is from Guthega dam and is from the Snowy River. Generally we paddle all rapids and at high water they become a very fast, pushy, high volume run with car size holes and must make moves.

    Most of the rapids in the top section have names and the ones you portages are locally known as the “can opener” and “waterfall rapid”. The can opener (first portage) has been run through all possible lines and has bitten most paddlers at least once.

    All sections of the Snowy River have been paddled, from far up near Kosciuszko all the way to Guthega dam, from Guthega dam to Island bend and Island bend to lake Jindabyne. All sections change dramatically between low to high water flows and are all world class alpine creek runs.

    If you get down here again and want to know more about all the locally run rivers don’t hesitate to contact me on 0423 403 804 for more info or people to paddle with.
    Cheers Rob GT

    • padallen says:

      Hey Rob, good to hear from you, and thanks for adding the extra info. We met you in the car park at the local shops on this trip. You sent us off to get a copy of a whitewater guide you’d put together. Without it we wouldn’t have had the info to paddle this run, so thanks for that! I’ve still got your number in my phone from then 😉

      It definitely wasn’t a high water run, so one turbine would probably be right. It would be great with more water, and I imagine pretty full on. Hopefully I’ll be able to get down there and run a few more sections at some nicer flows!

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