The mighty Murray River is an icon of Australian life and the towns of the Murray River are many and varied. On our recent trip for the Follow the Sun Relay we got to explore quite a few of them – big and small. Without exception we loved all the towns of the Murray River that we passed through.
THE MURRAY RIVER
The Murray River is Australia’s longest river at 2,530 kilometres long. It starts high in the Snowy Mountains region of NSW before flowing out into the Great Australian Bight in South Australia. Historically the river was a major transport hub for people, wool and grain in the 1800’s. But it wasn’t long before the railways soon took over that role. This was largely due to efficiency and the fact that loads could get stuck up the Darling River for months in the dry season.
These days it is used for many recreation purposes including fishing and water sports. A popular way to enjoy the Murray River is on a houseboat and you can see hundreds of them cruising along or moored at shady spots along the bank. It is also a major source of water for farmers right along the river’s length. As you travel along it you will see the landscape change from red towering cliffs, to Mallee scrub to bright green irrigated vineyards.
RENMARK, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
A mere 25 kilometres north west of the South Australian and Victorian border, Renmark is a major town of the area. Renmark is located in the area of South Australia known as the Riverland and it’s easy to see why. It feels like everything in this lovely town revolves around the river.
We found plenty to do to whilst we were in town. A visit to one of my favourite wineries – Angove Family Winemakers was high on my list. We followed this up with a drive out to Wilkadene Woolshed. A locally owned craft beer brewery in an old wool shed and once again right on the banks of the river. This was an fantastic spot to spend a Sunday afternoon. It is family friendly, has lots of green grass, shady trees and an awesome deck overlooking the river. And cold beer! A tasting paddle will set you back $20.00 and they have some very tasty ales to try.
For the best view of the Murray River that you will get anywhere, make sure you stop at the Murtho Forest Lookout. Just off the main road on the way to Wilkadene the views from this 10 metre high viewing platform were nothing short of spectacular!
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at the Big 4 Renmark Riverfront Holiday Park. And it certainly is river front. Our site was about 20 metres from the waters edge. Here we were able to sit in the shade and watch the many boats towing water skiers, knee boarders and every other kind of towable water ‘toy’ imaginable. It wasn’t a bad spot for a refreshing dip after a hot day either.
This is a large park and it was very busy but it didn’t feel crowded as the sites are huge. It has so many features including a pool and water park, gym, games room and an awesome camp kitchen.
Crossing from South Australia into Victoria, the next major Murray River town we encountered was Mildura. A large regional city with a population in excess of 60,000, it is best known for it’s agricultural pursuits such as grape and fruit growing. The agricultural industry was established in Mildura in the 1880’s and has continued to flourish since then.
The riverfront is a popular recreational spot, with lots of green space, play areas and walking and cycle tracks. Mildura has also gained a reputation for being a bit of a ‘foodie’ hot spot. There are loads of spots to grab a coffee or something to eat, especially along the river front.
To get a feel for the history of the city, take a stroll through the grounds of Old Mildura Homestead. An accurate replica of the original Mildura Station it will give you an insight into how the pioneers of the area lived and worked. Another must see is the very grand Rio Vista House which was built for the Chaffey family in 1890. It is located adjacent to the Mildura Arts Centre and has lovely grounds as well.
No trip to Mildura would be complete without a visit to Woodsies Gem Shop. A significant collection of gems and crystals from around the world. The display inside Aladdin’s Cave has to be seen to be believed. Plus if you happen to be travelling with kids (or just have a curious mind) you will learn a lot about the types of crystals and fossils found here in Australia.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at the All Seasons Holiday Park. This is not a huge park but it had everything we needed for our stay. We were given an en suite site which was a first for us and it was certainly convenient. We were lucky to have a nice shady tree and some green grass to relax under. It had a great air conditioned camp kitchen with the games room right next door. There was also a pool, water park and undercover BBQ area. The pool was certainly refreshing in the 45 degree heat!
SWAN HILL, VICTORIA
Swan Hill is a medium sized town with a population of just over 10,000. Not knowing much about the history of the area, we decided to spend the morning at the Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement. This is a great place to learn about our pioneering past. There are lots of buildings to wander through as well as old machinery, some of which is still operational. An authentic paddle steamer the PS Gem sits proudly at the end of the village. Built as a barge in 1876, you can climb aboard and wander through the cabins or give the wheel a spin.
You can also go for a vintage car or horse drawn carriage ride. I went for a loop around the park on the Cobb and Co stage coach sitting up front with the driver! You can also add a cruise on the paddle steamer, Pyap to your outing. For morning tea you can enjoy a traditional Devonshire Tea at the Paragon Cafe. The Cafe is run entirely by the museum’s team of volunteers.
For another great learning experience, we recommend heading out of Swan Hill to Lake Boga and visiting the Flying Boat Museum. We had absolutely no idea that during World War II Lake Boga played a very significant role in Australia’s war effort. After the Japanese attack on Broome in March, 1942 Lake Boga was chosen as the site for the RAAF Flying Boat Repair Depot.
In pride of place is a fully restored Catalina Flying Boat. 416 of these and other aircraft were repaired at Lake Boga during the war. The museum is housed inside a huge hangar and is fully of exceptionally good displays.
Another big plus for Swan Hill was the river side walking track, parkland and exercise equipment. Just great for the traveller.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at the Big 4 Riverside Resort and yes we were riverside. It’s a great park, with plenty of sites and a lovely pool area pool. It had an awesome camp kitchen with an inside area as well as a covered BBQ area. The main amenities block looked like it had been recently renovated. It was very clean and the shower cubicles were huge. No struggling to get dressed in them!
I’m going to say right off the bat – I loved Echuca! It is still the same busy and bustling port town that it was 150 years ago. So much of the charm of yesteryear has been retained in it’s building facades and wide, timber lined streets. And there is so much to see and do.
We started off our day with breakfast at the Beechworth Bakery. This is a great spot to grab a pie, cake or coffee. Even better is you can head up stairs and sit on the balcony overlooking the Campaspe River which is a tributary of the Murray. We then wandered along the main street checking out the many shops and pubs. Make sure you stop into the Echuca Chocolate Company for a little taste.
We then met up with friends that we hadn’t seen for a few years and headed to the Shamrock Hotel for lunch. This is a great old pub and has 101 parmy’s on the menu. Make sure you are hungry though, as the meals were huge!
The following day was all about exploring the Port of Echuca. We started our day with a one hour cruise on the Pride of the Murray paddle wheeler. Originally built as a barge in 1924 she was converted to a paddleboat in 1972 and refurbished between 1997 and 1999. A river cruise is a great way to take in the scenery of the beautiful Murray River. A cruise on the Pride of the Murray is just $22.00 and this includes a morning tea.
Make sure you check out the Port of Echuca Discovery Centre. This fantastic display brings to life the Port of Echuca as it was in the 1800’s. Bustling, thriving and noisy!
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed at the Discovery Parks – Echuca. Located 4 kilometres out of Echuca, this is a lovely quite park. The river is just a short walk through the bush and there are plenty of spots to access the river if you want to swim. But you won’t need to as there are two on-site pools. We had a BBQ directly opposite our site and once again there was an air conditioned camp kitchen. There are two amenities block and the one I used was spacious and clean. I do have to make mention of the management team as well. Judy, Peter and Michelle were very friendly and helpful and it was an absolute pleasure to stay there.
We have only skimmed the surface of what this beautiful river has to offer. There are so many more towns, big and small, along it’s path that we are yet to visit and we can’t wait to see more of the Towns of the Murray River.