Flanked by cypress pine-clad ridges which tumble precipitously to the valley floor, we paddle steadily down the Snowy River under the midday sun.
Downstream, as if on cue, we hear a distinctive splashing sound. Startled by our appearance, a brumby gallops through the shallows and shelters in thick undergrowth on the shore.
No, we're not acting out a verse of Banjo Paterson's The Man from Snowy River, rather we are on the family adventure of a lifetime, a two-day paddle down Australia's most fabled river, which if first impressions are anything to go by, is even more spectacular in experience than it is in verse.
This isn't the babbling brook as many would know the Snowy as it runs by Jindabyne or Dalgety, this is the wild Snowy which further south, like a giant serpent, cuts a slithering swathe through the Byadbo Wilderness, home to some of the most remote mountainous country in Australia.
This is the same rugged country which in 1847 forced surveyor Thomas Townsend to turn back, describing it as follows on his original map: "It is impossible to proceed along the banks of the river at this point, and appears to continue for miles."
Almost 100 years later, in 1937, when kayakers Stanley Hanson and Arthur Hunt set off from Jindabyne in a pine bark canoe to journey down the river, one local, Mick O'Malley, echoed the sentiments of almost all on the Monaro. "If you go down there, you'll never come back," he warned.
But today we needn't be nervous for both of these observations were before the advent of the Snowy Hydro Scheme resulted in a dramatic reduction in the flow of the Snowy, reducing it to a mere trickle of its former glory.
Also in our favour is our guide, ''Mr Snowy River'' Richard Swaine. You need complete confidence in your guide when you don't know what's around the next corner and ''Swainy'' has been down this river more than anyone else alive, negotiating rapids and avoiding hazards for over a quarter of a century.
In fact, in 2012 Swainy was one of the first to paddle the river following the first significant environmental water flows since the damming of the river in the 1950s and 60s as part of the Snowy Hydro Scheme.
"It was amazing, it was like the animals hadn't seen people before," Swainy says. "Everything stood and looked at us as we went past, even pigs stood on the side of river and looked at us in awe.
"It was like something out of Grizzly Adams."
Our adventure today actually began early at Box Ridge, at an eagle's eyrie lookout suspended almost a kilometre above the river.
While we tucked into a three-course breakfast whipped up by Owen Davis and Karen Davidson from High Country Trails and Tucker, Swainy pointed out prominent landmarks in the landscape from the imposing Black Jack Mountain to the south-east and unnamed peaks stacked up against the Victorian border to the south.
He also gestured in the general vicinity of a much closer mountain he calls Mt Malagan (Mulligans on the map). "That's women's business there, men aren't allowed to look at it," he cautioned.
I didn't need much convincing for the focus of my gaze was in the deep gorge below, on a tiny clearing next to the river — apparently our camp spot for tonight. The binoculars hardly made it any bigger. At the time it seemed a world away.
And now as we paddle down river from our launch point at Paupong, soaked in the Snowy's fabled waters (yes, OK, so I fell out while launching, but it was only once), now it's that lofty ridge and all the comforts of home which seem a world away.
This paddle is into unchartered waters for the Yowie clan, all of whom have none or limited paddling experience. Sitting up front in a seemingly sturdy rubber raft and peering out from under their ratcheted helmets are an anxious Mrs Yowie and my eldest daughter Sarah (10).
Meanwhile, up the back of the raft next with Swainy's steady hand at the helm is Emily (7) who in her snug PFD is leaning over the side dragging her hand through the water and grabbing handfuls of ''treasure'' from the river bed (don't try telling her it's just fools gold).
It's clear who is going to do all the muscle work in that vessel.
Meanwhile, along with Owen, who is embarking on his first trip down river beyond the familiarity of his own slice of high country freehold, I've opted for an inflatable kayak.
Earlier atop Box Ridge we were huddled around the crackling fire, clutching blankets to keep warm, but here in the depths of the valley, the temperature is pushing 30 degrees and with no recent environmental flows to push us along, paddling is a tough slog.
"During a flow, we'll zoom through here", Swainy explains as we approach what would normally be a Grade 2 rapid. But instead of being jettisoned through a maze of river pebbles punctuated by car-sized granite boulders, my kayak bottoms out. I get the feeling it'll be the first of many portages.
One advantage of our near glacial pace is that it gives you time to attune to your surroundings. Like to watch a mother Moonbah duck swimming beneath us (as a decoy to lead us away from its young) and to count the number of flaps of its wings it takes a lone majestic black swan just ahead of us to lift off from the water.
We eventually reach a deep pool and the kids, hot from their paddling efforts (well, that's what they claim, anyway), don't need any encouragement to jump overboard for a swim. Think of the Snowy and you think icy, but at this time of the year the water temperature is pleasant.
"All the granite here acts like giant head beads and as the rocks heat up, so does the water," Swainy says.
From his kayak, Owen points out the side of the valley where the height of the water flow pre-Snowy Hydro reached. Heck, you'd almost need a packed lunch to hike up to it from today's river level.
"In its full glory it would have been a sight to behold," he remarks. Little wonder when Hanson and Hunt sent off in 1937 so many thought they were embarking on a certain suicide mission.
However ''tough'' times were for European explorers, our paddle isn't about the trials and tribulations of early pioneers. No, we're also here to discover the Snowy's lesser-known past, as a place of plenty for the first peoples of the Monaro.
When I ask Swainy, whose aboriginal heritage links him to this area, when we'll reach the first indigenous site, his response is as short as is it telling.
"Mate, this whole river is one big significant site," he deadpans.
What exactly does he mean? Most indigenous sites I've visited have been contained within a certain area. From its headwaters up near the side of Mt Kosciuszko to where it flows into the Tasman Sea at Marlo in Victoria, the Snowy is over 350 kilometres long. How can it be just one site?
But my thoughts are suddenly interrupted by the reflection in the water of a mountain peak. Oh no, it looks like Mt Malagan. Oops. I've only glimpsed its fractured reflection but I don't dare tell Swainy.
I couldn't anyway for as I glance over towards the fully-laden raft, he is deep in thought, almost like a priest about to deliver the first words of his sermon.
Ahead, the sides of the valley become higher and steeper, causing the familiar line of contrails in the sky to temporarily vanish.
A strange silence suddenly descends. It's not eerie, more a sense of reverence. The girls seem to have picked up on it too, their playful banter replaced by a rare and respectful silence.
Even the birds have stopped singing and as Swainy quietly motions us to beach our kayaks on the near shore, the hairs on my neck stand up.
Without saying a word Swainy drags the raft up on the sand, unstraps his helmet and peels off his life jacket. We each follow suit and in single file follow him up an ancient creek line.
Next Week: Don't miss part two of this series on the Snowy River as Swainy shares with me some of its ancient secrets.
Wilderness Rafting Adventure: Alpine River Adventures and High Country Trails and Tucker have teamed up to offer family-friendly fully-guided and catered Snowy River Rafting Adventures through the Byadbo Wilderness. Ex-Jindabyne. Prices vary depending on numbers (max six) and dates dependent on water flow. Suitable for age 7 and above but with at least an average level of fitness, an adventurous spirit and an appreciation for remote wilderness travel. Paddling experience not essential.
Did You Know? Although Hanson and Hunt did survive their 1937 expedition down the Snowy River, it wasn't without incident and in an article published in The Canoe Club of NSW newsletter of 1938, Hunt articulated one of the best descriptions I've heard of the country now known as the Byadbo Wilderness. "Surely the Creator of the Universe must have raked together all the spare, rough mountain ranges, gorges and boulders into one vast heap, meaning to level them out when he had nothing more important on hand."
While driving from Coolendel towards Burrier, inland from Jervis Bay, Ron Jacobs of Calwell recently noticed this large-nosed "stone pixie peering out from a rock face".
"If you're on the section of single-lane road where you have to give way to oncoming traffic, you'll see him appear on a very slight left bend," advises Jacobs, who recommends that if you're in the area, don't miss the view from McKenzie's Lookout, off Old Burrier Fire Trail from Yalwal Road.
WHERE IN CANBERRA?
Clue: Thousands drive past here every day, but not many visit.
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Congratulations to Rosemary Parker of Fisher who was the first reader to correctly identify last week's photo as Belconnen Mall (now Westfield Belconnen). Parker just beat a number of other readers to the prize, including first-time entrant Rhys Cardew of Crace and serial guesser June McKenzie of Fisher who "used to shop there a lot when living in Aranda".
Terry Sheales of Melba reports, "as a (then) new resident of the Belconnen area, its opening for business in February 1978 (hence your clue of Happy 40th) was a very welcome addition to our (until then) relatively limited shopping facilities."
How to enter: Email your guess, along with your name and address, to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday March 3, 2018, will win a double pass to Dendy.