It all started way back in 1899 when Samuel McCaughey purchased some land on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River and called it the North Yanko Estate.
The land was considered useless but McCaughey established a successful irrigation system by using pumps to send water through 322 kilometres of canals and ditches, enabling him to successfully grow a whole range of crops. This idea caught on and others, encouraged by his success, did the same so very soon a whole lot more water was needed. The irregular volumes of water that flowed naturally along the river were not considered reliable so, in 1906, the Government passed the Barren Jack and Murrumbidgee Canals Construction Act, the construction of Burrinjuck Dam and the birth of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area.
What’s this got to do with camping? All in good time.
The dam was to be built some 60km from Yass and received its name Barren Jack, from the Aboriginal Booren Yiack, which means ‘precipitous mountain’. This didn’t go down too well with those in Macquarie Street because they needed overseas labour to build the dam and ‘precipitous mountain’ wouldn’t attract too many workers, so the name was changed to Burrinjuck.
The dam was finished in 1927 and from 1938 to 1957 major modifications were made and infrastructure like housing, shops and a school in more than 50 hectares of village was built. After completion of the dam it was turned into the recreation area we now know as the Burrinjuck Waters State Park.
The park is just over three hours’ drive from Sydney and only an hour-and-a-half from Canberra. This place is a favourite of mine for peace, solitude and tranquillity. That is, if you don’t fish! More on that later.
There are 17 fully-equipped cottages scattered throughout the park, each in its own unique setting. From hideaways nestled in the bush to lofty chalet-styles with commanding views, they can accommodate five to 12 people. They are fully equipped with a stove, fridge, frypan, toaster, microwave, kettle, saucepans, crockery, cutlery, utensils (even a corkscrew), heater, blankets and pillows. All you need are sheets and pillowslips. Everything is kept impeccably clean.
There are eight ensuite cabins and 12 cabins with no bathroom facilities. They sleep from four to eight and are of the style you find in most van parks. There are 22 powered van sites and 50 non-powered van sites and dozens of tent sites scattered throughout the park, not regimented in neat little rows.
There are six amenities blocks. Showers are 20c for five minutes and there are four laundries with washing machines and dryers. There are coin-operated and wood barbecues throughout the park and two all-weather tennis courts for hire at $5 an hour. There is boat hire at $75 per day, which includes a tank of fuel, and there is a kiosk that operates from 8am to 7pm for take-away tucker, limited groceries, petrol, gas bottle refills, drinks, ice, limited fishing tackle and alcohol. What more could you want? Except the operators also will cook and deliver meals to your door or tent!
Apart from the fishing, there is water skiing, canoeing and bushwalking on extensive tracks, including part of the 370km Hume and Hovell Explorers’ Track. You can check out the dam wall and take a tour of the hydro-electric power station, or you could just relax.
The surrounding bushland has changed little since European settlement so be prepared to be greeted by a welcoming committee. When you walk out onto the verandah of your cottage there will be dozens of crimson rosellas and king parrots everywhere. They land all over you, particularly if you have the foresight to take a big bag of sunflower seeds with you. They will even come into the house. Later on, the cockatoos will arrive and make a lot of noise and stir up the party.
A word of warning: The kookaburras are very friendly and will take small pieces of steak out of your fingers if you feed them carefully – and they will take large pieces off the barbecue if you are not careful! The currawongs are a bit cheeky, too. You will get to the birds if you manage to run the gauntlet of the kangaroos common throughout the park. You can purchase ’roo food at the shop and it keeps the kids amused for ages. Remember that kangaroos are wild animals and can get nasty, so be careful when the kids are with them.
If you are still struggling to fill in your time, there are eight wineries around nearby Murrumbateman, or you could visit the spectacular Careys Caves at Wee Jasper, which have seven chambers of colourful limestone formations. Guided tours run Friday to Monday.
Then there is the fishing.
Burrinjuck Dam was once rated in the top 10 most productive impoundments in the world and still produces some very respectable fishing. Where else could you go in freshwater and have the chance at catching nine different species in one day? There are silver, golden and (protected) Macquarie perch, Murray cod to more than 40kg (season closed from September 1 to December 1), brown and rainbow trout, Atlantic salmon, redfin and European carp by the truckload.
The dam covers 5500 hectares and has hundreds of kilometres of bank to fish. You can fish all day and not even see another boat so the options are endless.
There are only a few drawbacks. In the Summer it can be very hot and in the Winter it can be bitterly cold, but the seasons in between are heavenly. Some of the campsites are bare dirt, which means they can get a bit muddy when the weather turns.
There is an entry fee. for early-morning launching, stop at the office and read the after-hours entry information. this will give you a boom gate number, just enter the number and pay on exit. The park is not just a camping area but also a recreation area. There are only a handful of places to launch on the dam and the next-nearest is some 20km away.
I don’t mind paying to use facilities but a fee just to get to the water is a bit rich, although it also gives you access to other park facilities. It has been an open road for the past 45 years and you paid for your accommodation and campsites, but not these days – it’s becoming ‘Australia, the land of the fee’. It’s only a small negative but worth mentioning. It’s a way of catching up on the reduced Government funding.
How much does it cost to stay? For a two-day weekend stay in a cottage the average cost is around $160 and cabins are around $100 for the weekend. Weekday rates are about 40% cheaper and campsites are $14 a night for unpowered and $17 for powered sites at peak times.
One last thing: It is wise to call the office prior to planning your trip as the dam is used for irrigation and can be drained to very low levels so, there may not be enough water to conduct the activities you were planning on.
For information and booking details contact Burrinjuck Waters State Park, 2373 Burrinjuck Road, Burrinjuck, NSW 2582 or phone 02 6227 8114. Visit [url=http://www.stateparks.nsw.gov.au/] for more information.
Even if there isn’t a lot of water in the dam the attraction of this place is the beauty, peace and tranquillity. Motor up the dam a little way or walk along the bank and the quiet is all-consuming. You can stand in one spot and look around for an hour and still not see everything there is to see. From the animals and birds to the plants and stunning scenery, it is truly a wonderful place.
There are plenty of flat camping spots in great bushland settings around Burrinjuck State park.
The view from the balconies of many of the cottages is spectacular.
There is plenty of wildlife around, particularly parrots, to keep the kids amused.
Pic No 4.
There is great fishing and the ubiquitous carp are always a hit with the kids.
There is plenty of great fishing from the shore so you don’t need to tow the boat. Check out the style of this mighty angler – this fish didn’t get away!
Golden perch are one of the main catches in Burrinjuck Dam.Reads: 10005