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4-DAY EXPLORING THE MIGHTY MURRAY

The 3750km Murray-Darling system starts as streams in NSW, Victoria and Queensland. By the time it crosses into South Australia, it’s become a magnificent 'old man river' that in the 19th century served as a major trade route for paddle steamers carrying grain and wool to the Murray Mouth. There, ocean-going clippers would load up and take it to the far corners of Empire – and it's there you start your journey.

Coorong National Park

Coorong Beach shells

Fleurieu Peninsula

The Australasian Circa 1858

Fleurieu Peninsula

The Australasian Circa 1858

The Australasian

Chef-prepared, local-produce grazing platter

DAY ONE

Collect your car from Adelaide Airport and head for the Adelaide Hills and Mt Barker via the South Eastern Freeway. Here you branch south heading to Goolwa and, just beyond it, Hindmarsh Island at the Murray Mouth. It's about 85km and takes roughly 90 minutes.

Here you can canoe the Coorong for the ultimate in environmentally aware kayaking experiences, ranging from a short two-hour kayak exploring the Coorong and Murray River Mouth, including a bush tucker walk through the sand dunes, to a four-day expedition covering almost 100km.

The extraordinary Coorong comprises 100km of ocean-facing dunes that protect one of the most significant freshwater ecosystems in Australia. It's also the country made famous by the novel and movie Storm Boy.

Canoe the Coorong is a true eco-tourism operation led by guide Brenton Carle, an eco tourism graduate with years of experience in the Coorong. The tour involves some leisurely paddling – with numerous stops along the way to see the sights and to take in the natural wonders and wildlife that the Coorong has to offer.

STAY

If you're not camping on the Coorong with your fellow kayakers, there's a much more comfortable bed at The Australasian Circa 1858, a small, luxury private hotel. For a real sense of river character try the retreats at Birks Harbour Marina.

DINE

Canoe the Coorong provides a simple lunch and bush food tastings – the local mulloway is a specialty. Nearby Goolwa provides more sophisticated dining opportunities. It was the first Australian town to become a 'Cittaslow town', bestowed by the Italian Cittaslow movement, which believes life is best lived slowly and food is best sourced locally. Try The Whistle Stop Restaurant or the set menu dining at The Australasian Circa 1858.

Murray Bridge Canoe Trail

Murray Bridge Canoe Trail

Sandergrove Methodist Church and cemetery near Strathalbyn. Opened in 1867.

Monarto Zoo

Tasmanian Devil

Monarto Zoo

Southern White Rhinoceros

Murray River

Houseboat at Headings Cliffs

DAY TWO

Explore Goolwa, a remarkable little town that was once a thriving river port for paddle steamers bringing cargo from all points upriver. There’s lots of history here – and the famous Cockle Train, which each day starts its run from Goolwa's wharf precinct alongside the River Murray along the oldest steel railway in Australia, dating back to 1887. It takes you along the coast to Port Elliot taking in some of the most spectacular coastal scenery on the Fleurieu Peninsula with a perfect view of the Southern Ocean - in winter the home of Southern Right Whale.

Now head to Murray Bridge, passing through another stunning country town Strathalbyn, where you can fossick through its many antique and secondhand stores.

Murray Bridge has canoe and ski boat hire – as well as a terrific canoe trail in and around the prominent railway bridge. Nearby Monarto Zoo is the largest open range zoo in Australia and home to whopper Southern White rhinos.

It's a short drive on to Mannum. Built into the side of steep river cliffs, much of the town enjoys views over the river and has a distinct holiday flavour.

It's the headquarters of several houseboat rental companies, including a few that offer well-appointed luxury craft with top-deck spas. It's also the departure point for the Murray River Princess paddle wheeler, offering week-long river cruises.

The Mannum Dock Museum presents the river’s history at its best and is home to the fully restored paddle steamer Marion, built in 1897 and one of the last operational, heritage, steam driven, wood fired, overnight passenger-carrying side paddle steamers in the world.

STAY

Houseboat rentals are popular around Mannum owing to the long stretches of beautiful scenery and the open cruising waters. Depending on the level of luxury you require, count on paying from around $400-$600 a night for a boat that sleeps eight.

This includes just about everything except fuel and food - and there's usually a fishing rod to help with that.

Otherwise there's the fine Pretoria Hotel in the heart of Mannum, with a garden that goes right to the water’s edge.

DINE

There's riverside dining both at the Pretoria Hotel and the Mannum Motel.

Wool farmer, Rob McBride, on his property, Tolarno Station, which is situated along the Murray River

DAY THREE

Head north-east to Walker Flat, one of the most spectacular spots on the river with tall, ochre-coloured cliffs and a superb lookout. A popular mooring spot for houseboats, there's also a free 24-hour cable ferry to cross the Murray to continue your journey north to the charming town of Swan Reach.

First settled in the 1850s, Swan Reach was originally the largest of five sheep and cattle stations in the area. It soon became one of the first riverboat ports in South Australia and was a loading port for grain and wool. The historic Swan Reach cable ferry provides another crossing point for the river.

Some of the most widely photographed river cliffs are here courtesy of an operation that's being going for over a decade – the Big Bend at Night Tour. Based on a farm not far from Swan Reach, it's all about nocturnal wildlife and the Big Bend cliffs lighting up at sunset – the tallest cliffs on the entire Murray.

By the time you reach Blanchetown you’re now 275km from the Murray Mouth. This was one of the first river settlements in South Australia, dating from 1855, and became an important riverbank terminal. Here you’ll find the first of a series of seven locks on the Murray in South Australia – the William Randell Lock, in honour of a pioneer of river navigation in the 1800s, built in 1922.

Today Blanchetown presents a fascinating mix of historic buildings and a motley cluster of riverside weekenders fashioned largely from corrugated iron, fibro and driftwood. Over the years, 'shacktown' has gathered a certain celebrity and the owners have formed their own association to look after their properties and interests.

A short drive brings you to Morgan, where the mighty river changes direction and swings 90 degrees to the east, and once home to hundreds of paddle-steamers, as evidenced by the remains of wrecks up and down the river.

The former glory days of riverboat captains and valuable river trade don't seem so far away in the restored Wharf Precinct and the Landseer Building, a shipping agent's storehouse now housing a collection of old engines and wagons.

STAY

Morgan's two hotels, both of which date from the late 1800s, overlook the huge lawned riverfront, while houseboat hire is also available.

DINE

Lunch at the Swan Reach Hotel, built around the original 1860s Swan Reach Station homestead, whose dining room and shaded beer garden offer unsurpassed views of the Murray River and local wildlife. In Morgan there's country-style dining at the local hotels.

Murray River Mannum

Fishing off the Jetty at Sunset

Murray River Mannum

Fishing off the Jetty at Sunset

A Murray cod

Banrock Station

Wetland Walking Trails

Banrock Station

Wetland Walking Trails

Banrock Station

Wine and Wetland Centre

Discover the tastes of the Riverland - Banrock Station Wine and Wetland Centre.

Banrock Lagoon

The Renmark Hotel sits majestically on a long sweeping bend of the Murray River in the heart of the township

The Renmark Hotel sits majestically on a long sweeping bend of the Murray River in the heart of the township

DAY FOUR

This is the most intense part of your journey, with several busy Riverland towns to explore. This region is home of the Ngarrindjeri people who lived on and along the lands around the Murray; look out for 'canoe trees' – old river gums showing scars where bark has been taken to make canoes. Today, the Ngarrindjeri remain South Australia's largest Aboriginal community.

First stop is Waikerie, an agricultural centre for surrounding vineyards and citrus orchards, with long stretches of accessible riverbank and a wide river, making it popular for water sports and fishing. Waikerie is home to art galleries, cliff-top walks, a well-regarded golf course and a purveyor of fine breads/pies/cakes, satisfyingly called the Waikerie Bakery.

Kingston-on-Murray is where you'll find Banrock Station, a successful international wine brand that still returns profits to its wetland operation: walk the 8km boardwalk trail then repair to the elevated restaurant deck for a wine tasting.

The towns of Berri and Barmera are important fruit and wine growing towns with plenty of both on sale at farm gates and cellar doors. Both offers cruises and canoe trails. Loxton is home to The Village, a recreation of mid-1800s riverbank life using mostly original buildings.

Renmark is a substantial centre in the Riverland serving the huge fruit and wine-growing district. Along with nearby towns Paringa and Murtho, it sits in a section of convoluted meanders surrounded by substantial nature-filled creeks and backwaters.

One of Renmark's main attractions is the nearby Ruston's Rose Garden, with more than 50,000 bushes and 4000 varieties, making it one of the largest and most diverse rose gardens in the world.

One of the best ways to explore the river here is by kayak. Canoe the Riverland hires craft and leads tours, including a tour under the full moon. Meanwhile there's possum magic on the lawns of the Renmark riverfront, opposite the Renmark Hotel, when the local critters come down from the trees.

STAY

The Renmark Hotel has been owned by the community since 1897, the first of its kind in the British Empire. Nearby Paringa has one of South Australia's newest luxury retreats, The Frames.

DINE

Both the Renmark Club and Renmark Hotel provide top quality pub tucker.