It might sound like a beer-fuelled hallucination, but earlier this year Kiwi sailor Melinda Henshaw and Aussie journo Rob Dickson took two TIWAL inflatable sailing dinghies into some of Australia’s most parched areas.

Life and travel in outback Australia has always been about finding water. Even in this record-breaking drought, we were to sail in places many would never consider visiting – just because we could! We became ‘nautical nomads’ looking for water. We weren’t the first, and we won’t be the last.
The new TIWAL 2 prototype had just arrived, so we loaded two of them into my 4WD and headed inland to Storm King Dam near Stanthorpe, to enjoy a nice sail in light winds. Fortunately, you don’t need much water to sail a TIWAL.
Heading southwest to Walgett, NSW where the dry Barwon River runs through Ulah Station, we were there to see the first waterflow in over 12 months, fed by an ‘environmental release’ of water from Copeton Dam. Third-generation farmers, David Fleming and family watched the water trickle down the huge, dry channel. No sailing here!


David reckoned we were already halfway to Lake Eyre and “couldn’t miss this chance – and, besides, it was only another 20 hours driving.” Er, what chance?
Perversely, while inland Australia can receive little or no rain, the Cooper, Thompson and Diamantina Rivers will flood from the tropical north, flowing down through the arid centre. Though Lake Eyre rarely floods, it’s spectacular when it does, and it was happening now.
But a call to the Commodore of the Lake Eyre Yacht Club changed our plans – the floodwaters hadn’t yet filled the lake. Rule No 1: Respect, enjoy and talk to the locals! We were redirected to Innamincka, Cooper Creek and Coongie Lakes, above Lake Eyre.
So we headed into the real outback, through Bourke, Cunnamulla, Thargamindah and Noccundra – lively towns and unique outback Australian scenery. It’s mind-altering to travel across these vast red, dry, shrubby plains – while trying to find roadside ‘Floodway’ signs. Water here can spread to the horizon and when it does it stops everything: this is truly “a land of drought and flooding rains”.

Noccundra Waterhole was our first outback sail. The little yellow TIWAL 2 was a colourful spectacle to fellow-travellers – and what a great way to relax and cool off after a long drive! Later, around the campfire, we yarned to friendly travellers under the roof of the ‘million-star hotel’.
We found our way across the red plains of western Queensland and crossed into South Australia to Innamincka. The roads to Coongie Lakes were flooded and impassable, but Cooper Creek did not disappoint. What a relief to find this great stream in the desert! What a privilege to sail here – and without the drama of towing a trailer.
The sights and sounds of river life, the beautiful giant gums, the birdlife, the peace and tranquillity – and spectacular mood changes when the sun rises and sets – all calm the soul.
The birdlife ensures you never sleep in. Morning and evening breezes follow these watercourses, even on the stillest days. You can just set the sail, or float down the river and relax – fantastic. BTW – there are no snapper or kingies here, but the yellowbelly are good fun when they’re biting.
After a week on Coopers Creek it was time to head home. We diverted to the friendly little opal town of Yowah, near Eulo. No sailing water there, but Yowah has unlimited artesian water to bathe in after a day of relaxing or fossicking.

The opals were beautiful and the search for them intriguing. We found it easier to buy opals at the right price from locals, than to find our own – though many others did. After saying ‘just one more day’ every day for a week, you realise there is far more to many places in Australia than meets the eye!
Back across miles of open country, to the amazing ‘silo art’ at Thallon. How the artists manage to do such amazing works is baffling but inspiring. After a sail on the Balonne River at St George, a country music and poetry festival had us in tears of laughter. For a laugh, have a look at this Bill Kearns’ poem, ‘Entrapment’ after your Christmas lunch.
Then beautiful Coolmunda Dam outside Goondiwindi: countless pelicans, but the water was too low. Still waiting, waiting, waiting for rain.
It was time to go home. We were to fly back to Auckland from Sydney, so a sail on Sydney Harbour was a good opportunity for some fun. What a contrast from Cooper Creek!

In all we travelled more than 4,000km. A reliable vehicle is all you need, though four-wheel-drive is probably best. The roads are generally in good order and the many established campsites, caravan parks, motels and service station staff won’t let you down.
The TIWALs were the reason we did this trip and provided real highlights: sailing under rivergums, among the wildlife, the countless stars, reflections, friendly people and a thousand unexpected surprises.
There are many other waterholes, gorges, lakes, bays and rivers hidden across this great continent – and while we’ve been told TIWALs make a great teething ring for crocodiles, there are no crocs in 90% of Australia. Google it, it’s true!
When this drought breaks, the Australian Outback will become one of the most spectacular places on earth to visit. Who will be the first to sail down Cooper Creek into Lake Eyre?

Why a TIWAL?
The TIWALs were by far the most compact and easily-transportable watercraft we saw on this journey. You can take a TIWAL as luggage in any vehicle and be on the water in 15 or 20 mins.

We have recently experimented with a transom for a small outboard. New electric outboard units like the Torqeedo Ultralite 403 promise to make this boat even more versatile and useful for fishing or as a tender. Removable inflatable sides enclosing the deck are on the drawing board.
Awarded 2014 Most Innovative Sailboat of the Year by Sailing World magazine, the TIWAL’s tough and rigid hull packs down to fit in the back of even a small car, boat or caravan. It is made using dropstitch technology also used in SUPs, and it serves as a reasonable camp mattress if you get the pressure right!

To see videos of Melinda’s trip visit Facebook page: Nautical Nomads of Australia, NZ, and the South Pacific.
For more information about TIWAL sailing dinghies visit