Swan Hill

Before we left Cohuna Allthego had the bright idea of doing a bit of a drive on Gunbower Island, it seemed a good idea to go for a drive on Australia’s largest inland island. We had a map of sorts but it became somewhat confusing as the physical features of the Island we were passing by did not seem to match their locations on the map or the way we were going. It became apparant after a while that we were semi lost and going round in circles a bit. We eventually found our way back to the main road, not on the Island, and ultimately back to our camp at Cohuna.

Free camp at Cohuna
Cohuna irrigation canal running off Gunbower Creek beside weir.

Frustrating, time consuming and unproductive. We had seen much of the farming activity that takes place there, but nothing of the River or forests. It turns out that the Island is much bigger than one might think from looking at a map and not reading the scale properly! The lady at Information said the Island was a destination in itself, full of hiking, canoing and wildlife watching activities etc. A week could be absorbed for those so inclined. We hitched up the van and headed off for Swan Hill.

This is where the Bin Bird parks itself for a few months each year without fail.

Along the way we discovered an interesting spot that is the world’s largest Ibis hatchery, the Bin Bird as we call them in Queensland. It was not the hatching season and the birds were in other places. This particular section of the road passes by a number wet lands and lakes where there are small settlements catering to fishing and boating people.

Bridge across the Murray at Swan Hill
Wharf at Swan Hill

In Swan Hill we are at the Big 4 campground which is more or less adjacent to the Pioneer Settlement. It is on the banks of the Murray where an anna branch, known as the Little Murray, rejoins the main stream. A very pleasant spot. Various boats going up and down the river from the wharf. Allthego found the Pioneer Settlement quite an interesting area to wander around.

Pioneer Village at Swan Hill.
PS Gem at rest in a wet dock

He is normally suspicious of these theme park places and displays of times past. Many are just great collections of old stuff that are repeated from town to town across the country. This place is different, quite organised and not overdone with explanatory notice boards about things one might be looking at. Good ride in a coach behind a Clydesdale. The old 1876 PS Gem floating in a pond shows just how big these old paddle steamers were.

The PYAP makes its way back past our camp site after a daily cruise.

The Pioneer Settlement is also the spot where one can board the PV PYAP for a one hour cruise up and back to the wharf. PV (Paddle Vessel) is distingwished from a PS (Paddle Steamer). The PYAP was originally built in 1896 as a barge but was converted in 1897 to a paddle steamer (PS). In 1970 the steam engine was replaced by a diesel engine and she became a PV! Draws less than a metre of water and worked as floating general store for riverside communities. Howzat! Just thought you might like to know that, as well as some information about the flag that is flying on the boat.

PYAP heading downstream, flying the historical Upper Murray River Flag.

The flag is known as the Upper Murray Flag. It is one of the oldest Australian flags having been designed in 1853, a year before the Eureka Flag. Prior to Federation the Australian colonies flew the Union Jack. The Union Jack is represented on the Murray River flag in the left corner. The red cross to the right has five stars, representing the then colonies. The dark blue horizontal stripes represent the Murray and the three main rivers that flow into it-the Darling, the Murrumbidgee and the Lachlan (which first joins the Murrumbidgee). When used in the Lower Murray River (mostly in S.A.) the stripes on the flag are a pale blue, reflecting the lighter coloured waters compared to the darker waters of the Upper Murray in Victoria/NSW, where the darker blue stripes prevail. At Swan Hill we are still in the Upper Murray. It is the only flag in the world named in honour of a river. Allthego will have examples of the flag(s) on display at Bedwell Place, Homealone will not be greatly enthused about this so they may not be up for long.

The Post Office at the Pioneer Settlement

In the evening there is a laser light show using a sprayed water screen out of the river. It is a time series on the River from it’s geological and indigenous past through to the days of European settlement and then onwards to the present day. Quite impressive, goes for half an hour. We then headed off to Quo Vadis, a recommended Italian restaurant in town. This was really good Italian food, we can highly recommend it if you are in this part of the world, had a local red to go with it too. Andrew Peace 2015 Shiraz, very nice soft red. More about this vineyard later.

Burke and Wills tree

Swan Hill is also famous for Burke & Wills, what places arn’t when you criss cross these chaps route on their south to north crossing of the continent. B & W used Swan Hill as a staging post to get their personnel and supplies finalised for the trek north. They had also stopped earlier at the Ibis breeding place we had pulled into on our way up to Swan Hill from Cohuna. The locals planted a Moreton Bay Fig to celebrate the expeditions departure in 1860. It is still at the spot today, an enormous tree that has had to be been heavily pruned.

The lady at the Info Centre thought that Swan Hill had the biggest Cod! Suspect she was right!

The must see in town is the giant Murray Cod, 15 m long and 5 m wide. Readers may recall the giant Murray Cod at Tocumwal in a previous blog. Tocumwal residents believe their Cod is the real thing and that the Swan Hill Cod is really a Murray Trout. Well, who is Allthego to argue?

We now head onwards down the River to Robinvale.

A special piece of the Murray

On our last day in Echuca we set off for the Barmah Red Gum region which is up into NSW along the Cobb Highway, something like 60 km all up. It is a bit of a twisting drive and the road comes back on itself such that the small township of Barmah (in NSW) actually has Victoria more or less to the north of it.

The Barmah Red Gum region is a special area because it is the largest red gum forest in Australia. The area was logged during the paddlesteamer days and the trees taken down the river to Echuca to the saw mills there. The forests are starting to recover. The flood plain of the Murray is quite extensive in this area and that is why the red gums flourish here. Red gums need to be periodically flooded and can withstand their feet being in water for several months, the flooding also enables the seed of the trees to germinate.

As we drove along an interesting geological feature appeared beside the road. It was a ridge line 10-15 metres high running away beside the road, almost like a big flood levee. At one point the road went through a cutting to the other side , the land was considerably higher than on the side we had come from. Allthego climbed up for a photo of the fault line.

The cutting through the Cadell fault. The land at right is higher that that on the left.

We had stumbled over the Cadell fault line! So what you might say! This fault is particularly important in the geological history of the Murray River. Now, if I am losing any of my dear readers here then I am sorry. Allthego likes a bit of geology and geography! I have had a brief look at Wikipedia to check up on this stuff. After all we are following the river and a little bit of geology want hurt, I hope. The Murray is about 130 million years old, having formed when the great inland seas receded from the interior. Some 25 million years ago there was a great continental uplift that gave rise to the fault and ridge line. The fault line runs from Deniliquin in NSW down to Echuca in Victoria. It cut right through the Murray and the river’s course was diverted into a number of channels and lake systems, creating the flood plain. Almost like an inland delta. The perfect habitat for the red gums!

This is the boat we went up the Barmah choke in. Four of us only. The River Red Gum trunk was massive.
Entering the choke.

Now, we have come up here to do an eco boat trip on the river. The 2 hour journey takes us up and back along a section of the Murray known as ‘the Narrows’ or the ‘Barmah choke’. At either end of the ‘narrows’ the Murray is much wider. In the narrows it is about 10 -15 metres or so wide but is lined by red gums, a number have fallen into the river and stick out into the stream, the boat navigates around these, the water is a couple of metres deep. Because of the fault line, the river is also flowing down a steeper gradient and is doing about 7-9 km an hour compared to the normal Murray pace pf 3-4 km. Coming back, the current assisted and we did the journey much quicker. The intiguing thing is that this section of river is thought to be geologically very young. Evidence suggesting the river having had another course change in the mid 1500s. The banks are quite straight up and down and the river’s channel is perched above the plain either side. Apparantly, it is one of the world’s best examples of fault induced river course changes. Enough!

A fallen Red Gum accross the river. Permission is required to clear fallen trees that block the passage. May take a while. We had a narrow passage in one spot between two fallen giants.
A victim of paddle steamer times logging.
Along the choke

It was a great journey on the river, bird life abundant. We saw many azure kingfishers in the reeds and branches dangling riverside. A few people fishing and canoing along as well. The overcast weather an actual advantage as glare and shadows did not hinder the experience. The big red river gums were quite special. Some grotesque shapes. Also, stumps left behind from the logging days were dangling in the river and in other cases had sprouted again sending new growth out. An interesting place to camp and experience the river environment.

Canoeists, going the right way with the current!

We returned to Echuca to ready for the onward journey. A short note though on custard tarts. Glenrowan and Tocumwal had been devoid of tarts, couldn’t get one at all. So in Echuca we thought we needed to find some as a matter of importance. Two specimens were acquired one from a bakery based in Moama (on the NSW side of the river) and one in Echuca, in fact a branch of the Beechworth Bakery.

The Beechworth tart at top and Moama at bottom.

They were not overly inspiring. However, the Beechworth one had an innovative design by using a stencil to create a nutmeg star rather than just a pile of dust. They also did a spirally stencil swirl. Looked a bit like a flat white coffee topping. Our vote went to the Beechworth tart because of the initiative of the stencil pattern. Look forward to more tarts at our next stop!

Torrumbarry weir

The next morning we packed up and left Echuca for Swan Hill. It is about 150 km. But we have a couple of stops in mind along the way. The first is at Torrumbarry about 30 km along the road. By river, through all the twists and turns it is 80 km. Torrumbarry is where Lock 26 and a weir is on the Murray. It is 1628 km to the rivers’s mouth over in S.A. The river flows slowly here, it is only 86 metres above sea level.

Another boat
Race boat

Boats warming up for a start.

When we arrive at the weir there is a large jam of cars and speed boats on the road into the river. The delayed, due to Covid, Southern 80 water ski race is on today. How could we not avoid it? There are numerous classes of entries. Some powerful jet boats indeed. The race leaves the weir and heads 80 km upstream back to Echuca. The fastest boats and skiers do it in 40 miniutes, or thereabouts. There are two skiers behind each boat, on one ski each. The water was a mass of colour and throbbing motors as boats messed around before moving to the start point. We had morning tea and lunch here watching the action.

These fellows had a chat with Allthego
Gunblower Hotel

Time moved on though and we continued on our way passing through the small town of Gunbower at the southern end of Gunbower Island. The island is the largest inland island in Australia, 26,400 hectares formed by an anna branch of the Murray (Gunbower Creek) and the Murray itself. An anna branch is a section of the river that diverts from the main channel and then rejoins the main stream further downstream. The local hotel has a splendid mural that has recently been completed by the same fellow who did the ones at Rochester.

Sunset over the lake at Cohuna free camp.

Further along we decide to stop the night at a free camp beside Gunbower Creek at Cohuna, it is a great free camp opposite the town. It is Sunday and Allthego was hoping to catch the Eels playing at the local hotel over dinner. But alas the pub is closed for food and there is only AFL on the big screen. We stopped in for a drink and are entertained by a couple of old timers bemoaning how times have changed in the town, they had a limited vocabulary and descibed most things as ” ….. this and …. that”. We moved on and picked up some fish ‘n chips at the local cafe for dinner. First fish ‘n chips for nearly a month! Great sunset at the freecamp. We will make it to Swan Hill in the morning!

Echuca

We are at Echuca, albeit down by the Goulburn River about 20 km out of town. The sun has come out a bit and we have decided to head off on a regional drive to take in some of the scenery away from the town. We seem to be between planting seasons, many of the paddocks are either fallow or have recently been ploughed, not sure what they grow around these parts. The irrigation ditches are full of water though and criss cross the countryside. Plenty of dairy cattle and some sheep are around. We stopped off in Tongala, a milk place, to check out the towns murals and street art. Murals are a thing here and they have an annual festival to promote the action. Despite being a small town they not running out of walls to adorn.

Mural in Tongala
Tongala mural sign post

There is an interesting war memorial in the town that connects the WW1 campaigns of the Light Horse Brigade with the Vietnam campaign. Apparantly, the Light Horse brigade morphed over the years into one of the regiments that first set foot in Vietnem during that campaign. So Tongala has a memorial connecting the horseman of WW1 via a pathway to the Vietnam memorial. Quite involved but effective, as is their walk of honour of trees recently planted and plaques for 24 Vietnam veterans who didn’t return.

The ‘walk’ from the light horseman to Vietnam.

From Tongala we moved on to Rochester to see some some silo art, quite impressive work. Three silos have been painted up, the most recent with a platypus. It actually looks wet and its eyes stare out at you. A great attarction for the town.

Platypus mural at Rochester
Possum and Azure Kingfisher at Rochester

Old bridge over the creek at Rochester, this scene is the focus of the azure kingfisher silo painting.

Back in Echuca we have made it down to the historical wharf precinct to look around and join an afternoon cruise on the PS Alexander Arbuthnot up the Murray for about half an hour and then back to the wharf. Allthego took control of the wheel at one point but was not able to execute a turn despite his past experience on such a manoeuvre.

PS Alexander Arbuthnot coming into the wharf.
PS Alexander Arbuthnot approaching the wharf at Echuca,
In control, maybe!

There are a few other restored paddle wheelers tied up at the wharf and it is an interesting spot to wander around soaking in a bit of history. One of the old boats used to tow three barges behind it loaded with timber from the red gum forests upstream destined for the timber mills in the town. Quite an impressive feat.

This is the PS Adelaide. Oldest of the vessels at Echuca, but one of the most powerful in its day, could tow three timber laden barges.

So, after a full day of wandering around Echuca and its surrounds we returned to Riverbend. Avoided that bridge ! We next head off for an eco cruise along a special section of the river, but more of that next time !

Heading to Echuca

Allthego has had great trouble spelling Euchcuca, no it is Echuca. Postcards that he has sent have had errors in them. But he is getting on in years. We are headed for Echuca after leaving Rutherglen and stopping overnight at Tocumwal. By the way Allthego only sends postcards to himself and Homealone on these trips, no one else does, so why not? At least we know where we have been when we eventually get home and read them! There is a great pile of them back at Bedwell Place with interesting stamps!

Who is that Mexican?

We are trying to do that Farm Gate Trail. Success is almost immediate when we pull into Cactus World. You walk through the gate and think you are in southern US or Mexico, Cactus everywhere, or is that Cacti? Great walk around in an unusual attraction. We had a coffee/tea after checking out the cactusss (plural?) and tried a piece of cactus cake, based on carrot cake but having a slab of prickly pear substituted for the carrot. Not unpleasant but the honey treacle and a dash of creamy stuff helped indeed!

Cactus fruits desitined for some delicacy
Cactus cake

We dithered around at the Cactus place a bit long before heading off trying to find some of the other Farm Gate Trail places as we headed towards Echuca. We wandered down side roads and beside irrigation canals on the lookout for these establishments but it was so frustrating, not many to be found. Or they were at the back of beyond and people were not home. The interesting dairy and cheese place was not open, closed for some work on the facilities. Ah! Ah! It was back to the main road and on to Echuca.

It was getting late in the afternoon and the chosen booked van park was at Riverbend Echuca. Now Allthego sometimes reads things and takes them at face value. He is a reasonable sort of chap in this regard. Somehow, he thought this place was about 6 km out of town, Echuca that is. Now this was an error. This campground was 20 km out of town and actually beside the Goulburn River, Victoria’s longest river that joins the Murray somehere in the scrub where we are to stay. But, it was a pretty good van park, devoid of guests and very quiet. Still a bumpy 20 km drive into town to check out the sites and sights.

The only issue though was the road in, for 10 km it is sealed but the last 10 km or so it is potholes and corroguted dirt. The major drama was crossing the Goulburn River, the bridge had suffered some recent flood damage and Allthego was reluctant to take the single lane crossing to get to the campground. The bridge seemed to have seen better days.

The road into Riverbend
A tircky crossing, the railings not secure!

So, we decided to take the adjacent relatively new concrete bridge instead! No worries there.

Camp site at Riverbend, the sun is out after a day of rain
Goulburn River, Riverbend’s beach!

The weather turned here at Echuca and our first day at River Bend was declared a day of rest by Homealone. It rained on and off most of the time and we holed up in the van. The sun came out the next morning and a vital load of washing was done before we headed off to see some Echuca sites and sights.

Tocumwal

Leaving Rutherglen we headed back up through Corowa to Tocumwal, situated right on the Murray River. Along the way we passed through Yarrawonga and Lake Mulwala. The Lake is quite full and we stopped there to have lunch and watched a number of people joining a luncheon cruise on the Lake. Quite an interesting process as the stream of grey nomads (and the like) hopped on board the boat for a cruise around the foreshore and then up amongst the ‘sticks’ sticking out of the water, an old drowned Red Gum forest.

Lunch cruise liner on Lake Mulwala.

Jungle in Lake Mulwala.

Some found the step on board easier than others, much help and frivolity involved. Looked a nice afternoon of cruising around. Apparantly, the Lake (held back by a weir) is to be emptied to try to rid it of thick weed, the waters will recede back to the river course of the Murray and things will be allowed to dry out before the Lake level is restored. This is like a 3-4 month project, so there will be reduced luncheon cruises while all this happens. It would be interesting to see the bottom of the lake and the old Murray’s course, I suppose it means that water will not be let down from the Hume Dam. The Ovens River, from the Victorian Highlands joins the Murray here at the Lake, so water from that will have to be dealt with as well somehow. Leave that to others to worry about! We are moving on to Tocumwal.

River Beach near Cobram.

Another Murray Cod beside the Murray near Cobram.

It is a one night stop here beside the River at the free camp down at Town Beach, not quite free as it is $10 the night plus $10 for some wood for a fire. A very pleasant spot as the sun went down, time for some spaghetti bog in front of the flames. it would have been nice to have enjoyed a custard tart here, but they have been scarce along this part of the drive.

Fire going at Town Beach campsite Tocumwal.

Town Beach at Tocumwal

Followers may have noticed that various depictions of the ‘Murray Cod’ adorn the River banks at almost every stop we have made. There seem to be more of these than actual fish in the water. Catching the elusive cod is heavily controlled (NSW) by way way of bag limit (two a day) and size (between 55 and 75 cm only can be kept). There are possession limits too and rules differ between States and whether you catch them in streams or dams etc. All very confusing. There are closed seasons too to contend with. A 50 cm fish, considered a mature fish, may be anywhere between 3 and 6 years old. The biggest cod recorded was 1.8 m long and weighed 113 kg, a 50 cm Cod might be 2-3 kg. It is triuly an iconic fish!

Another Murray cod at Tocumwal
Old bridge over the Murray at Tocumwal.

Next morning it was off down the road to Echuca and the chance to get into some of the Farm Gate Trail places, as it was Wednesday and they should be open. And maybe some custard tarts!

Rutherglen

After returning to Howlong from Brockelsby we turned off the Riverina Hwy and away from the river and headed off to Rutherglen. Allthego viewed Rutherglen as a compulsory stop in order to sample some of the famous reds, ports and muscats the region is known for, it is not unlike Glenrowan (home of Baileys where we often drop in on the way further south along the Hume Hwy) in this regard. Rutherglen is not shy about its famous ports and reds.

Well, how else could you put it?

Rutherglen bottle, apt use of the old water tower!

It was also Mothers Day weekend and the town had been swamped by Melbournians escaping to the country after the long period of COVID imprisonment. We were lucky to get into the caravan park, took an unpowered site for one night and then moved onto power the following morning for a further two nights. The caravan park is quite small and overlooks the town lake and is a street back from the centre of town.

The Lake at our campground, Van is in the middle background behind tree.

All the motels/hotels and other accommodations were booked out and many of the eating establishments , including those at several of the vineyards, were booked out for Sunday lunches. The town’s main street is littered with eating places of all sorts, operating from the old shop fronts of businesses long closed. The streetscape is well preserved.

Rutherglen streetscape

Two ladies enjoying a light lunch, tempting place to go but we didn’t.
Star Hotel

That pork cutlet for Homealone

So we decided to have Mothers Day sunday lunch early on Saturday night at the Poachers Hotel, very nice steak and pork cutlet. Can be recommended if you are ever there, as is their pizza. In the course of the couple of days we managed to get to a couple of old famous vineyards. Morris and All Saints. They both do the reds well, not to mention the muscat and port. Joined mailing lists and have some bottles being sent home towards the end of the trip. Allthego likes to be home when these arrive so that he can keep track of them. Wouldn’t like for them to get into the wrong hands if left on doorsteps by delivery people.

Morris barrels
The row of elms at All Saints
All Saints gardens and castle

The vineyards are also looking great at the moment with the leaves on the vines turning from green to orange as autumn advances. All Saints is particularly well groomed. A long avenue of elm trees well over hundred years old line the driveway into the vineyard castle built in 1864.

Vineyard at All Saints

While here we have also slipped up to Corowa, a nearby sister town, which is astride the Murray. There just happens to be a tempting whisky and gin distillery here. Interesting place in an old flour mill or something like that, they also do chocolates. This establishment is one of those on the Murray Farm Gate Trail.

Federation Bridge over the Murray at Corowa. Corowa hosted a Federation conference in 1893. The main issue decided was for the people to elect people to further conferences and not just have nominees of governments. Arguably, the birthplace of federation.
There are two sets of AFL posts on either side of the highway near Corowa. They mark the Ron Barassi Line, south is AFL land north is Rugby League/Rugby Union land.

The Farm gate Trail winds around the area highlighting various foody places. Problem was, we were doing this on a Monday and then were to continue along its path when we left the next day for Tocumwal. Many of the places were closed on Monday and Tuesday! A bit disappointing and frustrating driving around discovering this, more research required next time! So maybe after our one night stay at Tocumwal we will catch some on Wednesday!

Albury

We are staying at the Van Park beside the Hume Weir about 10 km from town. The internet isn’t great, down by the water, around a corner looking out over the dam. Few other people here. This is one of those caravan parks that is being consumed by huts, eating up caravan spots and taking good locations. Building work in full swing. If not careful it will become a little gulag by the dam. For a hut they get three times what a caravan spot is and I suppose this is the attraction for the operator. Annoys the grey nomads though! The dam spill way is spectacular at the moment, oddles of water being let go.

Hume Weir discharge
A big splash

Have had a day wandering around Albury town, looked into the Botanical Gardens, plenty of autumn colours. Some hundred year old plus trees in the park, an enormous Kauri bears down on the grass. Later we head down to the river for lunch, as I recall it the ‘Top Deck’ cafe. we decided to try some Murray Crayfish croquets, quite nice but the flavour seemed to get lost in the accompanying sauce. One of Allthego’s bug bears; water food (fish, crabs etc) is best just grilled or pan fried with a little salt and lemon juice. Avoid fancy coatings and sauces. Having said that fish in a beer batter is not bad, with some chips of course, and by the sea. Forget about vinegar though.

Botanic Gardens
The big Kauri pine tree

Down by the river with that Murray crayfish croquet.

We have also set out along the other side of the river back towards Corryong, along the Murray Valley Hwy to Tallangatta, a new town that grew up in the 1950s when ‘Old’ Tallangatta was moved to higher ground to accomodate the expansion of the Hume Weir. Further on we reached Koetong a stop along an old rail line from Albury. There are still a number of remnants of the line, which is now a rail trail, along the way. Allthego wandered down the trail for a short distance to catch an early 1900s trestle bridge across a gully two stories high. Steam trains used to ply this route and in the 1950s it was used to transport materials for the Snowy Scheme into the highlands.

Pelican in a park

Trestle bridge

Whilst in Tallangatta we paused for a short break and managed to find a custard tart. this was an interesting specimen because it appeared to have been cooked differently to the ones we have had to date. The egg custard appears to have been put into an uncooked casing and then all baked at once! Result, soggy pastry! Allthego and Homealone think the pastry has to be cooked first and then the cusrtard added, to keep it all nice and crunchy. A short distance from the Hume Weir we had found another bakery, next door to a Woolies, its custrad tart was unimpressssive, lacked flavour, although a reasonable yellow eggy colour. We are no closer to the great custard tart! But they are starting to look the same. Why no variety? Why not some stewed apple under the custard?

The Tallangatta tart
The Albury custard tart, spilled out of it’s casing a bit too!

We head back to the Dam via ‘Old ‘ Tallangatta, a narrow winding road with a lengthy gravel stretch, but through green farmland and great views of the lake.

Looking down onto the lake from the road beyond Old Tallangatta

Albury is a large town and it is hard to get a grip on it in a couple of days, perhaps loosing touristy flavour to the urban sprawl and business life. We leave for Howlong a little further west and a diversion to Brockelsby, about 20 km north. This is where in the early 1950s Homealone’s father was posted as a minister at the local Presbyterian Church. Homealone, unlike an elder sister never lived here, but visited from time to time. Much seemed to have changed, Homealone can’t place terribly much about the small town. However, we did manage to track down the old church hall, which apparantly was used as the church after the old church was burnt down some years earlier.

Old UC hall at Brockelsby

Is this the old manse at Brockelsby?
Perhaps an old corner store at Brock?

The old church hall now seems to be a transport depot for a local resident who filled us in on this detail. He bought the hall six years ago. He did think that the house next door was the old manse, perhaps where the family lived back in the early 50s? Maybe some of my readers can add to this tale by way of comment. We couldn’t find the old garage business owned by the family friends of that time.

So it was back on the road to Rutherglen.

The great big swing west

We are now heading off down the Murray along the Great River Road along its great arc west. The River leaves the Snowy Mountains in a northwest directon before swinging west towards Albury. One could drive this in a day, but miss many of the twists and turns along the way.

Murray Valley
Murray Cod sculpture at Tintaldra
Toowong Turf Club grandstand, circa 1912

The drive is just that, not a lot to talk about just great scenery and a bit of history. There is a sculpture trail at the small towns along the way showcasing aspects of the natural river environment. We are fortunate in that the weather is basically clear, clouds and sunshine. Not too cold!

More Murray valley
Bogong Moth sculpture at Jim Newman lookout near Tintaldra.
Murray Valley

The views of the Murray Valley are great. In these parts the river is still wild and flows quite quickly. At some point along this section of the river the gradient starts to ease as it flows towards Lake Hume. I need to check the statistics but I believe that between Lake Hume (where we will be staying in a day or two) and the sea over in South Australia there is only a 250 metre drop over about 2000 km of flow. Will check this out, would hate to tell a porky or mislead readers of the blog. The River becomes sluggish and lanquid, well some of us become sluggish too, not sure about lanquid! At times.

Bridge Hotel at Jingellic
The Murray from the campground below the Jingellic pub.
Rather large steak and pork chop at the Bridge Hotel.

We stop about half way along the route at Jingellic in a free camp on the river, below the Bridge Hotel. This is a great spot beside the river and a short walk to the hotel for a country meal of steak and pork chops. The pub seems to thrive off the grey nomads camped by the river. Grey nomads love to hunt out a free camp, but are then happy to lash out at the nearby pub on steaks and other stuff! One of the great ironies of travelling in the van!

Wedge tail eagle sculpture at Mt Alfred Gap lookout.

Beside backwaters of Hume Dam
Bridge over the Hume Dam , 750 m approx long.

The Great River Road drive ends at the outskirts of Albury. The Hume Dam holds the Murray back in a vast catchment, it seems that there is currently an abundance of water in the system as the water catchment stretches back a long way along the road as we come into the Lake Hume Dam wall area. We are here for a few nights to explore the delights of Albury.

The Great River Road

This is the name that the travel consultants have given to the drive from Khancoban to where the Murray banks up against the Hume Dam about 15 km from Albury. Goodness knows what they were paid for the fancy logo! But it is not a bad one.

We have left Tom Groggin and headed back down the Alpine Way to Khancoban, getting used to this drive. It has been a chilly couple of days in the mountains, no internet. Solar power and gas keeps us going and the tanks hold enough water for sparten hot showers. Isolated from the daily news barrage, have not missed the political classes struggle on the hustings and the media drivel that follows them.

After topping up with water and emptying the potty at the dump point at Khancoban we move on . I don’t have any pictures of the dump point process but will take some at the next available opportunity to share them with my dear readers, who may not be familiar with the activity.

Murray River crossing at Bringenbrong Bridge
Murray River Crayfish

We cross the Murray and enter Victoria for the first time on our journey at the Bringenbrong Bridge. It is a great little spot showcasing the Murray as it continues the rush downstream. Along The Great River Road a number of sculptures have been placed highlighting aspects of river life. Here it is the Murray River Crayfish, a sort of big yabbie. It is I believe the second largest fresh water crayfish in the world, it can be caught (subject to seasonal and bag limits) and features on regional menues along the river.

Stockman on way into Corryong, the brumbies are in the distance on the other side of the road.

Further along we take a side trip off the road and drop into Corryong, The Man from Snowy River (MFSR for short) Bush Festival takes place here each year. Corryong is the MFSR capital of north east Victoria. it has a stranglehold on the poem written by Banjo Patterson, ‘The Man from Snowy River’ not to be confused with ‘Clancy of the Overflow’. Allthego struggles with this not being a student of the poem(s), or perhaps ‘tales’ is a better description. There are a few sculptures, murals and other oblisques around the town commemorating the story and its central character.

The famous painting of ‘The Man’ on which the sculpture is based.
Sculpture outside the Info Centre in Corryong.

Even our $10 note has Banjo’s tale immortalised behind his portrait.

We headed off up to the local cemetery to see the grave of Jack Riley. Riley was a mountain recluse and lived in the high country, a tough old coger who died while being brought down to a doctor in terrible conditions. Patterson had visited Riley at his hut on Tom Groggin Station in 1890 and it is thought that one of Riley’s stories was the inspiration for the famous poem. Prior to his death Riley said that ‘Yes , he was the man, but Clancy wasn’t there’. Well who knows. It is a good tale!

Jack Riley’s grave in the Corryong cemetery.

But, we have to move on for lunch at the Bottom Hotel, this establishment is at the bottom end of the town. We didn’t check if there is a Top Hotel at the other end of town. At the Bottom Hotel though Allthego enjoyed a Rainbow Trout and Homealone a chicken parmie. Allthego last had a Rainbow trout something like 50 years ago when he was camping with an old mate, Robert Ebert, at Jindabyne. Caught one way back then and had it grilled. It really is a sweet fish, great with a bit of salt and lemon.

Rainbow trout for lunch at the Bottom Pub.

So it was then back on the road and we will see where that takes us next time.

At the spot, but not quite, but close enough.

We have made it to Tom Groggin Campground. A pleasant enough drive along the Alpine Way from Khancoban, 52 km or so. It is another 58 km onto Thredbo. The road was fine, steep and a bit narrow in sections. Some great views out over the ranges and valleys below.

Camp at Tom Groggin

Big Kooka was a campsite fixture
King Parrot

We had the campground at Tom Groggin mostly to ourselves, a couple of other campers were there, but they came and went after a night stopover. The campground is the most accesable point to the Murray River from its source which is more than several km further upstream in the vicinity of ‘The Pilot’, a 1580m peak that sits out on its own. One can drive up a bit closer on mountain tracks but then face an overnight hike to the source at what is known as the ‘Indi’ spring.

Murray River upstream from camp site

Murray below our campsite

The river at Tom Groggin is swift flowing and only a metre or so deep, but it is a great spot, smoother flowing waters upstream and some mini rapids below the campground. All very tame though.

We have used Tom Groggin as a base to head further along the Alpine way to Thredbo, ultimately going down to Jindabyne to get fuel, Sundays are not a good day for fuel at Thredbo. Along the way we passed the ‘Pilot’ lookout, we felt no desire to pursue the source of the Murray further in its direction. Coming into Thredbo the road passes through Dead Horse Gap, requisite photo taken on the log looking down into the valley below. We retraced our steps to Tom Groggin, these sort of testing drives always seem easier on the return, one knows the bends I suppose!

The Pilot
At the Gap, looks down into the Thredbo Valley.

We have no power or water at the campground so are reliant on the sun to top up our batteries and the water tanks to last. Renewables have proven a boon for campers but you do really hope the sun shines. We don’t have one of those diesal generators as support or for that matter a EV battery charger point to rely upon. Oh, well, lets rely on the sun for the time being others seem willing to do!

Along the Alpine Way there are a number of lay by points which allow views over the ranges and valleys below. A number of side tracks take one to lookouts, Scammels Spur and Olsens Lookout provide great views of the main range, Mt Kosciuszko albiet hidden behind another peak on the right. The Swampy Plains River is crossed at the Geehi Camping area, a great riverside camp spot.

The Main Range mountains
Swampy Plains River

A couple of days before we set off on this journey it was the time of our wedding anniversary. The old romantic had picked up some flowers to help celebrate the occasion. The flowers proved resiliant and Allthego thought it appropriate to take them on the road. As might be expected thay withered and at Tom Groggin it was acknowledged that their time had come. So Allthego tossed them into the Murray and they set off on a long passage to the sea in South Australia. Maybe they would wash onto a bank along the way and we would stumble upon them?

You know who!
The flower tosser
Away they go! Crystal clear waters.

We have taken the opportunity at Tom Groggin to have some fires, in part to keep warm but also to experience that great outdoors feeling of heat and a bit of smoke. Had some steak one night over the fire and the other a freshly made meat lovers pizza in the Weber and then enjoyed by the fire. It was a pretty cool night; doona, blanket and rug keep the chills at bay! Some brumbys charged through the campimg ground during the early night hours, they lingered it seems and left tell tale signs of their passage.

Some brumbies on the common
Clear evidence of brumbies

Tom Groggin is the start of our Murray River passage, but we need to head back the way we have come to Khancoban and then continue along what is known as “The Great River Road’ beside the Upper Murray.