Its a beautiful morning as I sit here along side the Murray at a lovely little spot called Moorook, about 40kms out of Renmark. Chris and Bob have gone to play golf and its probably their last game before we split up and go our separate ways. Our trip together is sadly coming to an end as Bob and Ellen are going to the Barossa Valley catching up with family and friends while we continue along the Murray to its end at Goolwa and the ocean. It's eight weeks today since we met up to start this journey together and yes, we are still good friends!
I left my last blog with our expectation of a great night at the laser show in Swan Hill. I have to say, while we all enjoyed the experience it didn't have much of a wow factor for any of us. We all came out saying "well, that was ok" sorry Swan Hill, but that is our honest opinion. We did enjoyed our stroll along the Swan Hill River Walk though, smiling at the metal birds placed high in the branches above us and listening to all the frogs as their loud croaking sounds echoed in the hollow trees they call home.
On leaving Swan Hill we headed to Tooleybuc golf club where we stayed one night. The boys got their game of golf and then we had dinner at the club in the evening. A good stop for one night before we left for a free camp at Euston. This popular spot was beside the huge Lake Benanee where the locals from Euston, Robinvale and travellers alike all enjoy the water in what is a very dry area. As we follow the Murray down we are seeing such dry landscape and surprisingly to us, it's so much like the Northern Territory, red dusty soil and Mallee scrubland. In among this though are lots of vineyards and orchards. Grapes,(wine and table) stone fruit, olives, almonds, pistachio mandarins and oranges are the main crops, all obviously well suited to this type of soil.
As we left the free camp at Euston Chris noticed the oil light flash on in the car so when we got back into Robinvale he checked and found oil leaking out underneath, Not a good sight but after a quick phone call to Swan Hill Toyota where we had just had the car serviced, we headed straight to their local repair agent. The guy there couldn't have been more helpful, even loaning us his own ute to go back into town with while the repair was carried out. The problem was that the "O" ring had worked loose from the oil filter. This may or may not have been the result of the service but Toyota covered the cost anyway so thank you to Swan Hill Toyota and also Krasna Motors, Robinvale for your great service. We hope the mechanics at Krasna's enjoyed all the chocolate we left them!
Another good spot at Euston, beside the Murray this time, was next to the Sports Club. We spent a couple of nights there and on one of the days we took a long, hot walk through the bush to find the Lock lookout. We followed the river instead of the walking path and it was obviously much further that way, so hot and tired, we turned back. We never did find the lookout!
After our time around Robinvale and Euston we headed on to Wentworth, where the Darling meets the Murray, 2 mighty rivers giving so much life to this huge country that is Australia.
We stayed at a free camp just down from Lock 10 and watched as the lock was opened to allow boats to go through. A process of about 20 minutes which raises and lowers the water level in the lock allowing boats to go uphill against the flow of the river easier.
We visited the old museum and learnt of the floods of 1956, a huge disaster where much of the Murray Darling basin was under water (a vast area of more than a million square kms and 14% of Australia 's total surface area) but went practically unnoticed by the rest of the country due to the Olympic Games being held in Melbourne at the time. It's hard to believe such a flood is possible but the DVD we watched in the museum brought it all to life for us.
Next stop, the old gaol which was still in it's original condition and was remarkably well preserved. The prison was only used for around 45 years and although overcrowded then, we are led to believe that there is a greater need for prisons now, to house all our unsavories.
We explored the PS Ruby which had been restored by dedicated locals and still goes out on the occasional trip. The large stacks of wood, on and around the boat we saw would only have been enough to get her to Mildura and back, a distance of about 40+ kms by river.
We took the leisurely informative bush walk out to the point overlooking where the Murray and the Darling rivers meet and we spent a while in the local cemetery wandering around reading the headstones while watching kangaroos feeding around the graves.
Our last stop before leaving Wentworth was the Perri Sandhills, a short drive out of town. We only walked a small part of the hills, finding the "God Tree" a large red gum of over 500 years in age, and watching youngsters sliding down the sand hills on anything from plastic trays to sheets of cardboard.
We next head out to Merbein Common, about 12 kms out of Mildura. We used this as our base for a few days to explore the area and made use of the local launderette, a great price of $2.00 per load for a wash and driers plus fee wifi so our time and money were well spent there!
Merbein Common is a popular camping ground covering a large area with lots of little places to pull into beside the Murray and still feel like you are on your own. We walked from our spot along the river to the lookout only to find the stairway closed due to recent damage. We later drove up around to the lookout and there we saw many markers with the names of the first settlers to the area.
We did a day tour leaving from Mildura out to Mungo National Park and apart from the driver Darrell, we were the only 4 people on the bus. We had morning tea at the Mungo Lodge before driving out to the huge dried up lake where the dunes around it are said to shift further out because of the winds by about 1 metre a year. We walked out to parts of the park where not everyone sees, finding small bones, fossils, petrified wood and surprisingly, the odd small clump of flowers. We visited the beautiful old sheering shed built from Cyprus pine by the Chinese in 1869 and then the museum on site learning about the pioneers and their families and also the pre historic animals that roamed from a much earlier age. Then it was lunch back at the lodge before the 2 hour bumpy bus ride home.
We explored the Botanical Gardens at Buronga, over the bridge from Mildura in NSW and we strolled around the Mildura town market, admiring the beautiful local grown fruit and veg, knowing we couldn't buy any as we were soon to cross the border into South Australia.
We visited "Woodsie's Gems" and it was a gem of a place! We listened as Chris Woods described the making of some of their products and found the ring tree particularly interesting as we didn't know that most rings start from a wax mould. We wandered around the shop, looking at all the display cabinets before being shown around the "Gem Cave" by the original Mr Woods (Chris's Dad) who had started this collection so many years earlier. We saw an amazing array of natural gems, stones and fossils. Chris and I then went through the old maze outside which took us over an hour to find our way out and even then we came out the wrong gate! With a restaurant as well, Woodsie's Gems certainly has something for everyone.
As we left Merbein and Mildura we travelled perhaps our longest distance of this trip, going around 150 kms into SA and our next camp at Berri, just out of Renmark. We thought we would stay for 2 nights before moving to Renmark but enjoyed Martin's Bend at Berri so much we decided to stay longer driving into Renmark from there. We explored Berri, Renmark and Paringa from Martin's Bend, enjoying Renmark's annual "Rose Festival" and it's Op Shop selling large paperbacks for 50c each. The very large slice of a Black Stump, said to be 600 years old, and cut by Frank Turton, ("The Chook Man" of Daley Waters NT fame") at Paringa. We went to the Saturday Farmer's Market at Berri where we thought we would stock up on the fruit and veg after crossing the border only to discover there was no fruit or veg to be seen, plenty of eggs, homemade cakes, jams and pickles but no fruit and veg, not really a farmer's market. We had a good bacon and egg roll and coffee for breakfast though!
After our few days at Berri we left to go to Paringa and board the houseboat that we had booked nearly a year earlier when we were planning for this Murray trip.(What would the Murray be without a stay on a houseboat?) We boarded the Aqua Leisure, from Riverfun Houseboats at Paringa, our home for the next 4 days and made ourselves comfortable while we waited for Graham to come and instruct us on all we needed to know for a pleasant, relaxing and uneventful trip. Simple, 3 gears, forward, backward and neutral. Keep to 3000 revs for optimum fuel usage and remember to charge the houseboat batteries twice a day. We managed to use all the power the first night meaning nothing worked in the morning so the generator had to go on early and on our last evening we got stuck in the mud trying to moor up. The water was shallower than we thought and a strong gust of wind swung the back of the boat around. We were going nowhere! Luckily we were not far from base as we were preparing for the 9.30 opening of the bridge in the morning. It was a quick phone call to Graham who drove down to find us. He was on the other side of the river and instructed Chris by phone how to get unstuck, turning the wheel to left lock then right and going into reverse and forward until we eventually came unstuck. Graham says this is quite a regular event and he has to rescue about one houseboat a fortnight. Oh well, these are the things we will laugh about in the future. Memories in the making! Graham is also the guy that operates the bridge, opening it up twice a day for the larger water crafts to pass through.
On the houseboat we travelled about 6 kms an hour and only a distance of 52 kms for the whole trip. We enjoyed beautiful scenery of large river front homes, ghostly trees and bushland with small inlets, magnificent cliffs and glorious sunrises and sunsets. We again saw evidence of the chook man with his highly decorated houseboat moored just out of Paringa. We saw wildlife from water rats to snakes, black swans, kangaroos, cattle and an abundance of bird life. Unfortunately we didn't see much fish! Bob has been hopeful all along this trip to catch the elusive Murray Cod but this was not to be. He snagged a large carp (the one that got away) and caught a catfish and a few yabbies and shrimp. We made fish cakes with the catfish and cooked the yabby in garlic butter.
We took way too much food and clothing on board for such a short stay but Ellen is like me and we felt the need to cover for all eventualities. The weather was good to us with hot sunny days and we couldn't have asked for more from our houseboat experience. Another one ticked off the bucket list!
*Note the photo of the workers! Ron from Kerang golf club from my last blog, forward this on for the boys.