When we took part in the Follow the Sun Relay earlier this year, our journey took us along a substantial stretch of the Murray River. We loved all the larger towns that we stayed in – Renmark, Mildura, Swan Hill and Echuca. But the places we really found the most appealing were the smaller towns we discovered along the way.
BLANCHETOWN, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Blanchetown is a small town located just off the Sturt Highway about 70 kilometres east of the Barossa Valley. It was one of the first river settlements in S.A. and this is where we caught our first glimpse of the mighty Murray River. We stopped in a lovely park right where Lock No. 1 is located. The Murray River has a series of 13 locks right along it’s length. These allow the river to remain navigable when water levels vary.
There were some really interesting information boards that showed the history of the locks and astonishing river heights during floods.
If you have never been through a lock it’s an interesting experience and one we had when we cruised the Murray on a houseboat a few years ago.
The area around the lock was teeming with bird life as well. There were lots of pelicans, seagulls, herons and hundreds of shags. All sitting around waiting to catch a fish or two.
Blanchetown is a very popular spot for water sports and fishing. The river was buzzing with boats towing water skiers and wake-boarders. There were houseboats tied up in a number of spots along the river too. There was also a great looking caravan park just next to the Lock and shops and a pub just up the hill.
We were able to get a bird’s eye view of all this river activity from the old highway bridge which you can still walk across. I can tell you it was very windy up there and a long way to the bottom but the view was amazing!
WAIKERIE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Our next stop was in the town of Waikerie. Here we stopped at the Lions Park right on the edge of the river and had lunch. There were kids jumping of the jetty and splashing in the water. Power boats and water skiers zooming past and the car ferry going across to the north eastern side of the river.
If you want to stay awhile in Waikerie the brand new Waikerie Holiday Park is just next door to the Lions Park and the river.
Waikerie was established way back in 1894 with an instant population of almost 300 people. They began farming the area and established vineyards and orchards. The area is still known as the fruit capital of South Australia.
There are two outstanding features of this town – the Waikerie Rotary Clifftop Walk and the Waikerie Silos. The clifftop walk is a three kilometre walking track overlooking the Murray River. The views were just spectacular and I would love to be there for a sunrise or sunset. Next time!
The other surprise we got was the painted silos. We had no idea they were there until we were heading out of town and spotted them on the edge of the main road. There is lots of Silo Art popping up all over Australia. These ones are the work of two artists – Jimmy D’Vate and Garry Duncan. Make sure you head around the back of the silos to see Jimmy’s Regent Parrot. Garry Duncan has also completed some additional work since we were there too.
BARMERA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Barmera sits on the bank of Lake Bonney rather than on the Murray River. But the Murray River feeds into and drains the lake. It is a beautiful spot to while away an afternoon or even a couple of days. Lake Bonney is a popular spot for all types of water sports and fishing too. The edges are shallow and the water calm and clear so it is a great spot for the kids to play.
The lake is bordered by a beautiful park with shady trees and lots of green grass. There is a great walking/cycle track that runs through the centre of park and there is also a selection of exercise equipment there as well.
The small main street looked to have plenty of places to grab a bite to eat or something to drink. If you are travelling with kids the Barmera Playspace looked like a place not to be missed.
Just outside of Barmera but still on the edge of Lake Bonney are the ruins of the former Lake Bonney Hotel. This was a very interesting look back into our pioneering past. The hotel was built in 1859 by William Napper and William Parnell. Napper purchased the hotel from Parnell in 1863 and ran it until 1876. The hotel was eventually abandoned until the mid 1880’s when Napper returned to the Hotel and ran it as a boarding house until his death 1907.
The remains are now being preserved by the National Trust of South Australia. One can only imagine how tough life was in those days.
The next tiny town that we visited was Wentworth. Wentworth is located on the junction of the Murray River and the Darling River in NSW. It is just a short drive over the border from Mildura.
At the junction of the two rivers there is a huge park and a viewing tower. It is not everyday that you get to stand where two of Australia’s biggest river systems join together. It’s an awesome site!
The park itself has lots of green grass, shady trees, a small kids playground, toilets and a few picnic tables. We saw some lovely birds in the area as well including some lovely parrots that came down for a drink from the waters edge.
A little further up from the junction you will find another of the Murray River’s locks. Lock No. 10 is a slightly different design to Lock No. 1 at Blanchetown but still serves the same purpose.
OLD WENTWORTH GAOL
The highlight of Wentworth for us, was a visit to the Old Wentworth Gaol. Built between 1879 and 1881, it was the first Australian designed gaol. It is in remarkably good condition given it’s age and is a real insight into the harsh conditions of prisons at that time.
The prison was closed in 1927 and subsequently leased by the Department of Education and used as a school annex from 1935 until 1963. It is said that infamous bush ranger Captain Starlight may have been a prisoner there at one time. This has never been confirmed though, as little is known about the real Captain Starlight.
There are numerous displays throughout the complex that are worth looking at so make sure you allow plenty of time to wander around. Entry is $8.00 per adult.
The rest of Wentworth is a neat little town, with a couple of great pubs and a good selection of shops. The Church of St John the Evangelist is a beautiful building. It was built in 1871 and has National Trust Classification. Also make sure you stop at Fotherby Park as there is a great display of vintage machinery there.
Just a short drive over the border from Echuca you will find Moama. This lovely town is the ‘little sister’ to Echuca. It is smaller and quieter than Echuca, but still a lovely spot to visit. We took a drive a short distance out of town and discovered a little bit of history along the way.
We found the Old Telegraph station which is thought to be Moama’s oldest surviving building, having been built in the late 1840’s to 1860’s. The building was almost demolished in 2002 until a group of residents stepped in and ensured the building was preserved.
A little further along from the Old Telgraph Station is another building from the 1800’s which was formerly the River Captains Cottage. A stop at the River Captains Reach is a must as the views of the Murray River from here are just stunning.
Once again we only skimmed the surface with the towns we visited along the Murray River. It is such a beautiful part of Australia with so much history. We can’t wait to head back that way and explore some more Tiny Towns of the Murray River.