Like a coiling serpent, the Murray River twists and turns for over 2,500km through the Australian Outback, much of it forming the border between Victoria and New South Wales. The Murray region of Victoria is a series of country towns dotted along the banks of Australia’s longest river. Indigenous Dreamtime myths tell of a hunter chasing a Murray cod through the landscape; the tracks he left paved a course for the river. Nowadays life along the Murray is just as dreamy, whether it’s from the deck of a paddlesteamer or from the end of a fishing line.
Paddlesteamers (steam-powered boats) were once commonplace here. They were a quicker and cleaner alternative to transporting cargo like wool across dusty desert lands. The first steamers on the river competed in a race with the lure of £4,000 for the winner. Nowadays you can captain your own houseboat in Echuca Moama, a place where the Goulburn and Campaspe rivers join the Murray. In the height of the paddle-power era there were over 100 paddlesteamers chugging up and down the rivers.
This is wine country. It is home to Rutherglen, which has more wineries than I have safari suits. It’s also home to Mildura, or as the locals like to call it the Mediterranean of the Outback, so named because of its citrus groves, vineyards and many sunny days. Despite declining water levels, the Murray region is home to almond and grape plantations – so expect to bump into a few nutty winos along the way.
Harry Nanya Tours
An Aboriginal owned and operated accredited tour company, specialising in daily tours to the World Heritage listed Mungo National Park.
Experience an unforgettable journey with one of our local Aboriginal guides as they take you for a walk through history. Mungo National Park, spiritual and cultural significant sites include evidence of the
oldest human occupation dating back to Aboriginal life 60,000 years ago to the present day.
Tours 7 days a week and subject to weather conditions.
PO Box 7, Wentworth, NSW 2648
Phone +61 3 5027 2076
tours Mungo National Park and
Pete’s Primo Pastimes
To the north of Swan Hill is the Nyah Vinifera State Forest. This is a more rugged and unkempt stretch of the Murray, a place where red gums and box trees line the riverbank. Discover ancient Indigenous sites while birds with green, yellow, red and blue plumages flitter and dart overhead. A 10km self-drive tour winds through the state park.
Also near Swan Hill is the Golden Mine Wine Trail. You’d be a plonk-er to miss out on sampling Swan Hill’s many vineyards. For details of the different wineries check out
Hop on a paddlesteamer at Echuca and cruise down the Murray on one of three boats. Port of Echuca (52 Murray Esplanade) offer overnight cruises of one, two, three or four nights on the Emmylou (www.emmylou.com.au; 03 5482 5244). You can also relax with an hour-long cruise on the oldest wooden hulled paddlesteam er in the world, the PS Adelaide. www.portofechuca.org.au; Ph 1300 942 737.
Those who want to rev things up a little should check out Wild Side Outdoors (10 Tecoma St, Red Cliffs), who offer six-hour 4WD trips out to the mallee country of Hattah-Kulkyne National Park. You can also hire canoes, kayaks and mountain bikes. www.wildsideoutdoors.com.au; 03 5024 3721.
Saddle up and get yourself along to Billabong Ranch (2831 Tehan Rd, Echuca) where you can ride horses along trails to wineries and pubs. There are also overnight rides. On this 310-acre site you’ll also find a fun park where you can ride ponies, pedal boats, play mini golf or pretend you’re Robin Hood and have a go at archery. If your favourite movie hero is Spiderman then get yourself to the bouldering wall. www.billabongranch.com.au; Ph (03) 5483 5122.
If you like your action frothy and wet then you should head to Brett Sands Watersports (Merool Lane, Moama) who offer lessons in wakeboarding, waterskiing, barefooting and kneeboarding. They do hourly lessons to half-, full- and multi-day packages that cater for novices and people who want to better their skills.
www.brettsands.com; 03 5482 1851.
You don’t have to go all the way to America to visit the Alamo or the Wild West. Grab a mask, load your gun with pellets and launch a splat attack on over twenty-five themed paintball playing fields, including the Celtic Ruins and afore mentioned US-themed arenas. Splat Attack Paintball (594 Old Deniliquin Rd, Moama) is set over 300 acres and is the only paintball place in Oz to offer glow-in-the-dark night-time paintball. Go ahead punk, make my night. www.splatattackpaintball.com.au; 1300 733 333.
The Barmah Choke may sound like you need the Heimlich Manoeuvre, although what you really need to survive it is a boat. This is the nickname given to the narrowest section of the Murray where the water travels twice as quickly as the rest of the river. Kingfisher Cruises glide through the World-Heritage listed Barmah Wetlands aboard the MV Kingfisher. Their two-hour cruises explore Barmah Lake and the Choke, as well as incorporating a short land excursion (dependent on water levels). Onboard commentary will inform you about some of the wetland’s 236 bird species, 50 mammals and 500+ plant species. www.kingfishercruises.com.au; 03 5855 2855.
Which way, cobber?
V/Line runs regular trains from Southern Cross Station to Swan Hill, Echuca and Albury, with buses servicing many smaller townships in the region. Check out vline.com.au
for fares and timetables.
From Melbourne, the Hume Highway (M31) will take you to Albury/Wodonga which is on the Murray. From there the B400 runs alongside the Murray with various turn-offs
Located on the banks of the mighty Murray River, Mildura is a vibrant growing city. It has a Mediterranean climate and an abundance of fruit orchards and grape vines, and is one of the major producers of Australia’s wine grapes. It’s a great place for those on a backpacking holiday to work, and the ideal base from which to explore the
Mildura is a regional arts hub with a vibrant community of writers, artists and per formers. This is reflected in a bustling events calendar which includes the annual Mildura Wentworth Arts Festival in March. Its quality arts scene is well complemented by the unique “Feast Street” restaurant precinct peppered with great eateries,
interesting bistros and sidewalk tables all serving sumptuous fresh and local produce along with premium wines and beers.
Each November the Mildura Jazz and Wine Festival combines the best of Australian modern and traditional jazz, along with the region’s fine wines which can be sampled on riverboats, at wineries and restaurants, and along Mildura’s broad boulevards. You can also dress up and have a punt on the horses at the Mildura Cup Carnival in August or Mildura Melbourne Cup races in November.
Sport is also high on the agenda. Watch a footy match in winter or a game of cricket in summer. Motor sports enthusiasts can catch world-class racers at the speedway or zip around the local go-kart track. During Easter there is the Power Sports Festival featuring the fastest ski racing on the Murray, as well as drag and motor bike racing.
Mildura is the gateway to the outback, fringed by national parks, each one unique and easily accessible. Take the World Heritage–Listed Mungo National Park for example, inside which are the lunette natural sculptures of the curiously named Walls of China. These fascinating forma tions are made of sand, salt and clay and have eroded into many unusual shapes over thousands of years. www.visitmungo.com.au
To understand the vastness of the mighty Murray River take a hot air balloon flight with Mildura Ballooning. Discover firsthand why Mildura hosted the world hot air
ballooning championships by visiting www.milduraballooning.com.au.
Pete’s Primo Pastimes
Discover Mildura Tours offer small, personalised group trips around Mildura and the surrounding district. Tours include historic sites, paddleboat river cruises and visits to cellar doors where you can sample hand-crafted wines. www.milduratours.com.au; 03 5024 7448.
If you fancy seeing the Murray at a sedate pace, then take a canoeing journey with Wildside Outdoors through some of the most spectacular scenery the Murray and Darling rivers have to offer. www.wildsideoutdoors.com.au Ph (03) 5024 3721.
See the mysteriously magical dunes in Mungo National Park up close with Harry Nanya Tours. An aboriginal owned and operated accredited tour company, takes you to significant sites which contain evidence of the world’s oldest human occupation dating back some 60,000 years. www.harrynanyatours.com.au; 03 5027 2076
Head out to Wentworth and visit the confluence of Australia’s two longest rivers: the Murray and the Darling. Whilst out that way you can also visit the Perry, ten hectares of striking red dunes located 5km from Wentworth. Take a picnic and a boogie board so you can slide down these gigantic sand dunes.
Nature lovers can visit Kings Billabong which is home to majestic river red gums and a variety of bird life; it has great walking trails and local tour operators hire out canoes and bikes.
Apex Beach is a good swimming spot in summer. It’s the only Australian inland beach with a life-saving club. It is long enough for a great beach cricket match.
Have a drink with the locals at the Setts (corner of Eighth St and Orange Avenue) which has Backpacker Fridays with free entry, drink specials, prizes and giveaways, live music, DJ’s and a beer garden. The Mildura Brewery (16 Langtree Ave) runs tours and you can buy tasting trays to go alongside a hearty meal.
Work, work, work
There is seasonal work nearly all year round. Jobs can range from fruit picking/ packing and vine training, as well as factory work, hospitality, construction and administration. Before setting off, it’s advisable to ring the hostel in which you plan stay to make sure there is work available. For an up-to-date list of seasonal work opportunities in the region, check the Harvest Trail website www.harvesttrail.gov.au. Alternatively, contact the MADEC Harvest Labour Office in Mildura (corner Deakin Ave and Tenth St) on 1800 062 332 or visit www.madec.edu.au/employment.
Where to crash
StopOver Mildura – 29 Lemon Avenue; Ph 03 5021 1980
These guys offer free pick-up, and have cable TV, internet and pizza nights.
Mildura City Backpackers – 50 Lemon Ave; Ph 03 5022 7922
This place has a BBQ area, is centrally located and offers guests transport to and from work. www.milduracitybackpackers.com.au
Mildura International Backpackers – 5 Cedar Ave; Ph 0408 210 132
These guys offer a free pick-up service from the bus terminal, have a covered outdoor entertainment area and will give you a free lift to work. www.mildurabackpackers.com.au
Which way, cobber?
V/Line runs regular trains from Southern Cross Station to Swan Hill, Echuca and Albury, with buses servicing many smaller townships in the region. Check out vline.com.au for fares and timetables.
From Melbourne, the Hume Highway (M31) will take you to Albury/Wodonga, which is on the banks of the Murray. From there the B400 runs alongside the Murray with various turn-offs for other small towns.
Direct flights into Mildura from Melbourne are available on QantasLink, www.qantas.com.au; Virgin Blue, www.virginblue.com; and Regional Express (REX), www.regionalexpress.com.au. REX airlines also offer return services between Mildura and Adelaide, Sydney and Broken Hill. If you book early you’ll be able to pick up some cheap flights and be there in a flash.
Pete's Regional Watering Holes
Victorians love their beer, and you’ll find many a pub in regional areas. Here's a few to get you started.
OPT Bar and Restaurant – 272 Hare St, Echuca
Warning: this is probably the last pub before you enter NSW. Granted, the border is a few metres away, but if you’re up for a mezzanine feed and dancing to a band or a DJ (weekends only), then pop in and say g’day.
Mildura Brewery Pub, 20 Langtree Avenue
Have a drink with the locals at Setts (aka the Black Stump;www.theblackstump.com.au, on the corner of Eighth St and Orange Avenue, which has Backpacker Fridays with free entry, drink specials, prizes and giveaways, live music, DJ’s and a beer garden. The Mildura Brewery (16 Langtree Ave) runs tours and you can buy tasting trays to go alongside a hearty meal.
Gol Gol Hotel, Sturt Hwy Gol Gol 2738 NSW
Sip on a cold beer in the 1877 bar enjoying tranquil views across the expansive lawns to the Mighty Murray River. They offer a great selection of wines and on-tap beers and a sensational bistro for dinner.