Warrumbungles

We are now at the Warrumbungles National Park for four nights. The weather is clearing up for us and is promising three days of no rain, but cloudy skies with sunshine from time to time.

Whitecloud lookout
Whitegum Lookout, Bungles on the horizon

Leaving Coonamble we had to back track a little, on sealed roads, through Baradine, then Coonabarabran and finally the Bungles. We still had water over the road on this route, nothing dramatic, half wheel height at most and not flowing. Our original route was to take us to the Bungles on some gravel. However, the wet weather has closed all the gravel roads in the shire.
The National Park has also been closed, but opened in time for our arrival. It seems the water over the small causeway into the park had to drop before opening up. Timing is everything it seems.

Warrumbungles campsite

Had some snags on the BBQ for dinner, watched on by a cunning Currawong.

Bird’s eye view j

We have not been to the Bungles before, apart from driving through them a year or so after the big fire of 2013. The park has recovered significantly since then. Many species have made a come back and indeed some new ones, previously not identified, have appeared. Unlike the fire, this sort of news doesn’t make the 6 O’clock news.

Allthego has a bucket list objective in the Bungles and that is to complete the Grand High Tops walk. Unfortunately, the complete circuit of 14.5 km is closed for maintenance of part of the track.

Fellow walker

The 6km section that takes one to ‘the top’ with views of the Breadknife and other features is open, just have to go back the same way. It took Allthego just on 7 hours, Homealone remained at home.

Allthego returned somewhat stiff and foot sore, but some amazing scenery compensated. Wildflowers were out in abundance, particularly the wattle. Unfortunately, there are some goats in the park that are difficult to eliminate.

Wattles were out in brilliant yellow against a wet green bush, this area was burnt to the ground 10 or so years ago.


An onlooker, there were a few of these along the track

The cloudy day made photos a bit moody, sun and blue sky can make things a bit chocolate boxy. Unable to use a drone here as well without permission and then only in one place, a little disappointing for drone people. Apparently, a reason is that eagles attack them and quite a number have been lost as a consequence. National Park bureaucracy perhaps another, drones probably frighten wildlife , except eagles of course.

Spirey Creek

The track follows a creek for a couple of kilometres before starting to rise, there is a long section of brick pavers making the onwards and ever upwards easier. Then the steel steps start. Ten or twelve flights of them, upwards of twenty steps a flight, Allthego lost count. Seemingly, near the top there are more steps but only 600 metres to go. In parts this was a bit of a scramble, but the top was eventually reached.

Looking down from the Grand High Tops on the Breadknife


Top section of Belougerie Spire from on top, wildflowers all over the place up here on the exposed ridge.


Like being on top of the world, gazing out over the remnants of the great old shield volcano that was active 13-18 million years ago. Awe inspiring!

Another view from the top towards the other side of the ridge line.

The walk back down was a little easier on the heart rate, more pressure on the knees though! The sun came out with some patches of blue sky, gave a different perspective to the vegetation and landforms.

Belougerie Spire, on the way back down.

Upon return to camp it was straight into a hot shower to sooth the muscles and sore feet. An earlier than usual night too!

Coonamble

We are now at Coonamble after coming down from Lightning Ridge through Walgett. Between Walgett and Coonamble we encountered some water over the road in a few places, the deepest about half wheel height. Paddocks awash with water. Lake like in places.

Emus welcoming us to Coonamble

Arrived at the camp for a late lunch after setting up. Put our feet up for the afternoon. Rain came down in buckets for about an hour at around 4pm, caravan park with great pools of water. We are on slightly higher ground so spared the puddles and mud.

Castlereagh River

The camp ground is beside the Castlereagh River, protected by a levee. The river is flowing at a great rate, well below the top of its banks so no worries flood wise for the town. The river is reported as actually the fasted flowing river in NSW. After rising in the Warrumbungles it flows more or less south and the west to Gilgandra before doing a loop ( looks like a fish hook) and then going north west to join the Macquarie River not far from that river’s junction with the Barwon River, which ends up in the Darling River near Bourke. For most of the time the Castlereagh is a dry sandy river bed and only flows after rains in the Warrumbungles area.

Warrena Creek, somewhere under here is a small weir


We waked the next morning to clear sunny blue skies, quite a pleasant contrast with the past few days of clouds and on and off rain. So we got out and about for a look around town. Being a Sunday it is very quiet, everything in the Main Street is shut apart from one cafe where we have morning tea. Low and behold they are selling Portuguese tarts. For my blog readers you may recall that these are a version of the famous custard tarts that we sampled along the Murray River a few months back. Allthego hasn’t tried them before so just had to have a go! They are warmed up a bit and are quite tasty, the pastry was a little flabby and not flaky…. not sure what it is meant to be, so will need to check.

Portuguese tart

A couple of the towns big old pubs along the main street appear to have recently closed their doors, there are threats of reopening apparently, but the cob webs are taking over.

The big old Commercial Hotel is closed

The ‘Sons of the Soil’ looking particularly derelict , one suspects it was a wild place in its hey day.

Sons of the Soil

The Coonamble Cup race meeting was scheduled for Sunday afternoon. But the weather has caused its postponement to next Wednesday. Our afternoon at the races has been stymied! We had a sure fire tip as well from Homealone’s sister Sandra. We will have to check out what we missed out on later.

Coonamble water tower

The town has a water tower and of course a mural has been painted on it, by the John Murray from Lightning Ridge. The base has an indigenous story line to add ‘country’ to the overall design. Quite impressive.

Back at the van we have a pleasant afternoon in the sunshine with the feet up reading a book and doing some craft of course.

Apostle bird having a rest


Next stop is the Wurrumbungle National Park for some bush walking. The sunshine, with a bit of cloud, looks like holding for the next few days.

Lightning Ridge

We have based ourselves for three nights at the Outback Resort & Caravan Park which is on the main drag just before entering the town proper. Good big sites, albeit on red gravel but there is not a lot of green grass in these parts. The football field opposite is very lush and green, priorities.

At rest on the red stuff, bit of water too…

Lightning Ridge is a quirky place. The township is surrounded by opal mining activities, largely conducted by sole or family operators. Not something for large scale company outfits. The miners tend to live on their claim in what can best be described as shanty type accomodation. Old caravans and tin sheds, containers. Yesterdays ‘Tiny Houses’ that are currently the vogue among some! There are a few more substantial shacks made of local rock. Old equipment lies around rusting, old cars seem to have been left where they have stopped. Some of the miners come to their claims to mine during the winter months, gets very hot here in summer.

Miners claim and accomodation
A local

There are a number of self guided tours of the opal fields marked out with old car doors that are colour coded. We went off on the yellow door tour that took us along what is known as the 3 Mile field to the Lunatic Lookout. This area has been one of the richest mining areas in the town. From the lookout you gaze down into a big open cut hole, a huge area that has been mined out over 100 years of operations by all and sundry.

Not far from Lunatic Hill, there is a tour of an underground mine that we ventured on. It was not so much to see mining operations but rather hundreds of carvings down the mine by an old timer.

Steps down into the Chambers of the Black Hand mine, and the carvings.


Simply amazing work! Here at Lightning Ridge opals are found in the soft rocks underlying a bed of also soft sandstones. The opal level is 20 metres plus down. So shafts are dug down to this level and then horizontal drives go out in search of the opal. The whole of the Ridge is a labyrinth of shafts and drives, honeycomb like. The old miner carver did his carvings in the upper sandstone level, not the opal level, and cut drives just to get more wall space for the carvings.

Star Wars


Super Heros



Some birds

He did all this work after he retired at 66! He is now 80 plus and returns each year to add more, recently did one of Shane Warne.

Shane Warne carving, well almost a look alike!


Back in town we had a look around the street art, mostly done by the local John Murray. He has a gallery in town, specialises it seems on emus. Lots of other works that all tend to be of a humorous nature.

A John Murray painting, ‘Are we nearly there?’


More emus

Allthego was tempted by the Artesian water baths and had a couple of dips in the 40’ pool, interspersed with a cold shower. Very therapeutic it is claimed and did loosen the limbs for a while. The pool is open 24/7. It was tempting to go back in the dark to have a look up at the night sky through the steam coming off the water. But the weather has not been favourable for star gazing, cloudy with scattered showers.

Artesian baths

Allthego, after another plunge in the pool, charged off for a sunset shot over the opal fields. Alas, the sunset was a fizzer but there were lots of people there trying to get the shot. Allthego took a shot of them instead!

Photographers waiting for a sunset shot over the plains! This is better than the sunset.

The following day we took off for Grawin, another opal field about 65 km from Lightning Ridge. Now if Lightning Ridge is quirky then the Grawin field, together with nearby Glengarry and Sheepyards, is positively like a clip from a Mad Max film. The area is quite remote and very basic. There are two rustic pubs out there, the Glengarry Hilton and the Sheepyard Inn. Rusty old equipment and abandoned trucks everywhere. Even the miners seem rusty.

Car yard at Sheepyards
Old timer going nowhere now!

The highlight though was having a burger at the Club in the Scrub, a licensed premises and even had to sign in. A few local characters were in residence, a recently retired grandma miner held centre stage among a group of ‘drive in ‘ workers who were there for the day to do something. She was in her element, colourful language too! The burgers were good, everything on them, bacon, egg, beetroot even a slice of pineapple and as a consequence we had an omelette for dinner.

Club in the Scrub


Burger at the Club in the Scrub


Grawin golf course

Back at the van we readied for the move on to Coonamble in the morning. Hitched up the truck and packed up as much as we could as heavy rain had been forecast for the morning. Not good to do these tasks in the rain!

‘Stanley’ is an 18m high emu made from scrap metal and a car body. Stands on the Highway welcoming you to Lightning Ridge.

Stanley farewelled us on the way to Coonamble.

On the way to Lightning Ridge

From Nindigully we made the short hop to Thallon, a big wheat and grazing area. Not a lot at Thallon these days. The main building is the Francis Hotel which is also the Post Office, Information Centre and the agent for a few other services.
The hotel also has two murals of the Northern Hairy Nosed Wombat on their water tanks. These icons are critically endangered but were once common around here.

Water tanks at Thallon


Now we are seeing a few murals on this trip, but we enjoy them nonetheless. I suppose they can get a bit tedious though! So here, just for a change is Thallon’s big thing…..a big hairy nosed wombat!

Big Wombat at Thallon

The big mural in Thallon is on the GrainCorp Silos. The mural is easily seen coming into town, dominating the skyline.It depicts the Moonie River, a sunset background with sheep grazing. Pretty spectacular.

Silos at Thallon

Next town along the way and further west is Dirranbandi. Stopped here for morning tea and had a look around their attractions. These included a great cut out of horses of the Australian Light Horse brigade, which made the last cavalry charge at Beersheba towards the end of the First World War. The General that lead the charge later acquired a property at Dirranbandi and grazed here until he died in 1939. Our towns out west certainly search far and wide to pick up and promote historical slices for their tourist propaganda!

Charge of the Light Brigade, Beersheba

Further along was a lunch stop at Hebel, right on the border with NSW. Few live here, but there is an old historic hotel/motel and opposite a general store and caravan park. Homealone enjoyed the ‘home cooked pie’ whilst Allthego settled for the Border Burger.

Hebel General Store

From Hebel it is 65 km or so to Lightning Ridge down the Castlereagh Highway. All day we have been travelling in a light sporadic spitty drizzle, enough to hassle the windscreen wipers. So it is good to finally see the welcome to Lightning Ridge display of the Barrel of Dreams, I think that is what it is called!

We have arrived!

Nindigully

Nindigully is 160km west of Goondiwindi beside the Moonie River, 50km south east of St George. This area in southwest Queensland is known as the Maranoa. It is pretty flat country with many creeks and rivers criss crossing the landscape. Plenty of agricultural pursuits here, wheat fields very green after the recent rains and the cotton fields in fallow pending planting out for the next crop.

We left Millmerran in fine sunny weather, Allthego had an early morning walk down to Back Creek which flanks the town and floods low lying areas in the town. It was running strongly under the road bridge.

On the way to Goondiwindi we took a back road to check out the Millmerran Power Station. An impressive enterprise that provides 15% of Queensland’s power needs. There is an evil coal mine next door that supplies the fuel to produce the power. Water for the station comes from recycling Toowoomba’s sewage plant output via a 58 km pipeline from the plant. It is apparently quite an efficient and clean technology coal fired power station. Not sure what the future holds for it in the age of renewables.

Eventually , we get back onto the Gore Highway and reach Goondiwindi a little later than planned. This is normal for us though and we hasten west to the Pub, stopping for some tuna on crackers beside an old railway station at Toobeah (“two-beer”). There is one pub and a general store here, it would be a good spot to free camp for a night on another western trip in the future.

The pub at Nindigully is a Queensland icon. It was established in 1864 and is the longest continually licensed pub in the State. It sits perched above the Moonie River, free camping sites stretching out between the river and the pub. Several hundred people could camp here, particularly for the annual pig races. The river is full of water and cascading over the weir below the hotel.


The pub is also known for its Road Train burger, 5.5 kg beef patty and all the trimmings plus chips. Only $100 but we did see it feed a table of 6 with left overs. Seemed like a meat loaf in a big bread roll. Another option is a 1.5 kg steak sandwich, more than enough for the two we saw dive into it.

Homealone and Allthego avoided these and each settled for a more manageable rib steak. Service was unashamedly slow, it was about an hour and half before the food arrived! There was quite a crowd.

Nindigully’s other claim to fame is as the location for the 1999 film Paperback Hero, the big boomerangs from the film remain perched in the grounds. It was one of Hugh Jackman’s first film roles.


After the excitement at the Pub it was back to the van for a relatively early night and to prepare for moving on in the morning to Lightning Ridge. There was general concern around about approaching storms and whether the road further to the south will be open. We will see what happens in the morning!

On the way south, sort of.

After the Eels devastating loss in the 2022 GF Allthego and Homeslone are setting off on a short trip out west to Nindigully, then down to Lightning Ridge in NSW and back to Brisbane via the Wurrumbungles.

Allthego has consigned his Eels guernsey to the back of the cupboard and is hoping that they will get another shot at the Premiership inside the next ten years or so!
We have chosen a somewhat different route south this time, rather than going via Warwick to Goondiwindi we have headed out past Toowoomba on the Gore Highway. This takes us past Pittsworth and Millmerran on the way to Goondiwindi. Some great murals on the Moore transport terminals near Pittsworth, an elderly Indigenous mural the standout!


Murals galore in Millmerran, the water tank particularly good.


Bit of angst out this way about the Inland Rail project. This area of the Darling Downs is a floodplain of the Condamine River, a tributary of the Darling River. The line is in the course of early earthworks that cross about 19km of floodplain on banks several feet high. Billboards say a 19 km dam, some locals want it moved to someone else’s backyard. Doesn’t look likely!

One of the attractions out this way is a bi annual Camp Oven Cooking Festival, plus C&W music and other things country. Plenty of food it seems, demonstrations etc. This could be a future must do, next one is 2024.

We are holed up for the night in a free camp on the outskirts of Millmerran, seems to be a truck route. Head off tomorrow for Nindigully.


Red Rock, last stop

Homealone and Allthego are lying back at the moment after a hectic couple of days camping here at Red Rock with the family. Gillian and the McCononchies had made there way down from Brisbane as a surprise for Mitchell and Piper. He has not seen his sisters and the family for nearly three years. He was a little suspicious because of message flows that were intercepted before he could see them. It has been a pleasant couple of days roaming around the park and the inaugural Finska playoff. Won by Shane, deservedly, with honorable mentions for the oldies who put in good performances.

Family at Red Rock camp
On the beach at Red Rock
Shane, winner of the Finska trophy for 2022

Prior to Red Rock we had moved on from Cootamundra and spent a couple of nights in Queanbeyan with Homealone’s siblings and families, not seen for nearly three years. Mitchell, several years more! Great reunion and chat over lunch and dinners.

The Big Ram

It was then on to Sydney for two nights staying out Camden way. The Big Ram a must see along the way in Goulburn. Caught the second State of Origin game on the TV in Mitchell and Piper’s cabin. Qld going down in a bit of a blood bath, less said the better. There is always the decider!

River Cat coming into the Parramatta wharf.
Leaving Parramatta for Circular Quay in Sydney

Purpose in staying in Sydney was to go into Circular Quay. Piper wanted to see the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. So we drove to Parramatta to catch the ferry down the Parramatta River to the city. Parramatta is Allthego’s old home town. He lived in Westmead, adjacent to Parramatta, as a child and went to high school at Parramatta High. A bit later in life he worked in Parramatta for a couple of years before the family moved to Queensalnd in 1984. So, Allthego is an Eels supporter from wayback! But Parramatta has changed, the city somewhat unrecognizable in all the development that has gone on. We found our way around to the ferry terminal ok though. These ferries didn’t exist in Allthego’s day. The Parramatta River back then, particularly the section down stream to Silverwater was an ecological disaster. Extremely polluted by riverside factories, including a since closed oil refinery. The river now seems much cleaner, mangroves thriving and water birds on the banks. We are still warned though not to eat the fish if you are fishing and lucky enough to catch one!

Endeavour replica at the Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour.
Sydney skyline

Great views from the ferry as it makes it’s way down stream past Cockatoo Island, under the Harbour Bridge into Circular Quay, with the Opera House in full view. A P & O Cruise ship is docked at the Quay. A great way to see the city! It takes an hour and half for the journey. After a bit of a look around, including cartwheels on the Opera House forecourt we have lunch and then head back to Parramatta by train. Not nearly as relaxing as the ferry! A long day.

The Bridge
Under the Bridge

Next stop on the way home is Wingham, another Homealone relo stop for the night with the Guttersons. More catching up chat with family, Mitchell hasn’t seem them for many years. A great night reminicing. Elise, one of his cousins back down in Queanbeyan has just delivered up this day a new family member, Archer James. Congratulations!

One of the first Big Things, at Coffs Harbour
This one didn’t get away

So here we are at Red Rock just north of Coffs Harbour. The gang have all gone back to Brisbane, a day early. Jordan has caught a couple of smallish bream in the river and is well pleased, although needing to release them. There is the threat of some pretty crook weather coming overnight. We have stayed behind to face the temptest and return home in a more leisurely manner in the morning. We have been away now for a little over 10 weeks and Allthego is looking forward to getting back and mowing the lawn.

Bradman calls

The road now leads us onwards towards Hay for the night, along the Murrumbidgee. We have not spent a lot time in this particular part of NSW. It is a region nomads seem to ‘pass through’ on their way either north or south. On reflection it is a pity because the environment is quite special. The famous Hay plain is really the bottom of the ancient sea that covered this area many moons ago. Now the irrigated farmlands of the Murrumbidgee are part of Australia’s great food and fibre bowl. Cotton is being ‘picked’ as we pass along. The roadside is scattered with tufts of the white stuff and cotton trucks fly past loaded to the brim. It seems to have been a good season. Sheep are everywhere, packed into green paddocks up to their knees in grass!

Big open skies
Cotton

In Hay we stay at a pleasant little van park for the night. Beforehand we had caught some of the latest silo art, celebrating the roles of local WW11 veterans in large as life portraits. A bit different to seeing another Murray Cod! Down at Sandy Point the Murrumbidgee is submerging the shelter sheds along its grassy banks. We have camped here for a night on a previous trip, bit wet now and there are not many vans in residence!

Homealone pitching in a game of Finska
Murrumbidgee River at Hay
Hay silos

Next morning we hit the road for Cootamundra, another longish drive passing through Junee. Now, I am sure dear readers that you would all know why one would want to divert a bit off a more direct path and travel through Junee? It is certainly the home town of Laurie Daly, famous NRL player. But it is also the hometown of Ray Warren, NRL broadcaster, horse race and Olympic swimming caller for absolutley ages. He has recently retired and I think is nearly 80? One either loves ‘Rabs’ or not, but he is certainly an icon. There is a bronze statue of him just off the the main street in Junee, unfortunately some pidgeons appear to have come past recently and left their mark. We stop for the required photograph.

Ray Warren statue at Junee

Into Cootamundra eventually after driving through more magnificient countryside. It is cold and has been wet in Cootamundra. At Hay Mitchell and Piper started living it up in cabins instead of pulling out the tent for these one night stands. Unfortunately, there is only one caravan park in Cootamundra and their cabins were all booked out. The tent was thought about but Allthego weakened and lashed out for a motel for them after hearing that some puddles of water in the campground had frozen over the night before. On seeing the motel it crossed Homealone’s mind that we should all stay in it for the night! But, no the olds headed back to the van and the campground for the night.

Bradman’s birthplace
Statue ‘The Final Salute’ issued on Bradman’s death in 2001.
At Cootamundra

Cootamundra is the birth place of Sir Donald Bradman, without question Australia’s greatest cricketer. Most people have heard of him even if they dont know of his accomplisments in any detail. I think one of our old Prime Ministers wanted to have a question in the Australian citizenship test about him. His birthplace (in 1908) was actually an early small maternity hospital. We were able to stand in the small room in which he was born surrounded by oodles of memorabillia of the great sportsman. Down the road a bit is Bradman Oval, a somewhat understated place except for the giant stumps near the boundary line.

Sir Donald Bradman
Bill Lawry, got the nose right!
Alan Border

Cootamundra has another cricket must see, the ‘Captains Walk’. Bronze busts of each of the men who were captains of the Australian cricket team, referred to sometimes as Australia’s second most important job after that of the Prime Minister. It starts with the Captain of the Indigenous team that went to England in 1868 and everyone of them since. A great walk down memory lane, Allthego remembers most of them from the early 1920s on (not that he saw them all play of course!), names and records from history.

Yass Valley

Now to Queanbeyan, through the Yass Valley, and the Hayes/Bernard mob, Homealone’s sibling relos!

On the way back

We have moved on from Goolwa having completed our journey along the Murray, the new objective was to get to Windsor Gardens a suburb of north eastern Adelaide, via the McClaren Vale wine region. Not a long drive from Goolwa. We were going there to pick up Mitchell and Piper who had flown in from the US and were joining us on the trip back home to Brisbane via Queanbeyan, a few relos there to catch up with after about three years of COVID hassles.

Guess who?

After settling in from the US flight we headed off the next day to Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills for some German fare. Allthego quite likes Hahndorf, in particular the pork schnitzels. Back to Windsor Gardens for the return trip to Brisbane. We then retraced the Murray back through Murray Bridge (saw that Bunyip again), Mannum, Walkers Flat and Big Bend at Swan Reach. Paused briefly at Waikerie to catch the Silo Art before landing in Renmark for a couple of nights. Long days drive, all the River views were as good as they were a few weeks earlier!

Renmark cliffs



Renmark saw us check out some food options around town including the Woolshed Brewery, a bit further afield, in an old shearing shed beside the River. Houseboats can tie up here and stay overnight. A great spot!

Woolshed Brewery

Mildura calls though a little further along the road and we had three nights there, not doing much apart from some putt putt golf and catching the new release movie Jurrasic World Dominon, the latest instalment in the dinosaur saga starring the mob from the first one. Allthego thought it was a bit so so story line wise, a few subtle gags and throw backs to the first movie, it did have one on edge a couple of times when the beasts were allthego. Also one must say some very good fish n chips at the Mildura Rowing Club cafe.

We took off back up the River for the morning to Wentworth and the junction of the Murray with the Darling River. The Darling is absolutely flush with water pouring into the Murray and collectively cascading over the weir just below the junction. The brown Darling water mixing with the bluer Murray, a great sight. The Perry sandhills were nearby and we went out for a climb up and wander around the ancient landscape. Piper greatly enjoyed the experience, particularly rolling down the steep sandhills.

Murray Darling junction
Water pouring over the Wentworth weir
Piper atop the Perry sandhills

Allthego has been remiss in not filing a final report on the custard tarts. Our last tart was from Strathalbyn on the way to Goolwa, very disappointing example of the art. Pastry was half full! Allthego’s conclusion about custard tarts is that it was a waste of time and effort reviewing them. They were pretty much all the same! Need to think of something else for next time, maybe chocolate eclairs!

Balranald campground
Murrumbidgee River at Balranald

We are now at Balranald beside the Murrumbidgee River, a tributary of the Murray. It is in flood and the Park manager has told us it is on the rise. A nice sunny day on the road but it is chilly as the sun sets. Allthego’s beef stew by the fire! I suspect we will survive the night as we continue east in the morning to Hay.

Goolwa

Allthego has had some time to reflect on a map of the journey from the headwaters of the Murray to where we now are, Goolwa. In a simple over view the River flows more or less north from Tom Groggin in the Snowy Mountains before looping around and heading west towards Albury and on to Echuca. From there it is north west up to Mildura and Wentworth, where it is joined by the Darling River whose source lies far to the north in Queensland. At Wentworth the River starts to track west towards Renmark and Waikerie, well to the north of Adelaide. The River then kicks up a bit to Morgan and then abruptly turns south for about 300 km to the sea at Goolwa. Why has it suddenly done this abrupt plunge south? Has it run out of energy, no longer seeking the arid interior and decides instead to take the easy route south down to the sea? A theory is that about 50 m years ago the rise of the Lofty Ranges to the east of present day Adelaide changed the course of the Murray which at that time flowed into Spencers Gulf, well to the north of Adelaide. Seems an interesting concept that explains the abrupt shift in its course.

At Weliington the River disappeared into Lake Alexandrina, this is a big lake by any stretch of the imagination. When it is full a reliable measurement seems to suggets that it is around 650 sq kilometres, only a few metres deep at the deepest points. In dry seasons it shrinks, during the millenium drought it became very sluggish and the mouth of the river threatened to close, only dredging kept it open. The system of barrages between islands keeps the Lake fresh and the Coorong salty.

Hindmarsh Island bridge

The inland port of Goolwa lies several hundred metres up stream from the barrage known as the Goolwa Barrage, there is a small lock on it. We set off on a short cruise aboard the Spirit of the Coorong to the Murray mouth, descending from the Lake through the lock into the Coorong. The barrage was releasing absolutely oddles of fresh water into the Coorong. Pelicans and sea gulls were having a great time feeding on small fish as they came over the sluices, the boat captain suggesting they were mostly carp. Black swans are all about, these birds are apparantly a good indicator of the health of the River. It seems to be good at the moment!

The Goolwa barrage, photo taken near the lock about half its length.
Approaching the small lock on the Goolwa barrage.
Our boat coming into the lock, presently the Lake is about half a metre higher than the Coorong.
Seals at the lock
Catching a ride

The water in the Lake and Coorong is quite brown from the floodwaters, not clear blue here! Similarly down at the mouth the water is very discoloured. About 70% of the Murray’s discharge into the Lake flows past Goolwa and along the channel and out through the Murray mouth. The other 30 % flows through another channel and one of the other barrages.

The Murray Mouth

Now aboard the boat and after nearly seven weeks following the great River from near its source in the Snowy Mountains it is a bit of a thrill seeing the water surging through the wave breaks and over the bar into the Southern Ocean!

PV Oscar off on a cruise
Black Swans in abundance
A regatta was in full swing on the lake and our boat had to carefully wend it’s way through the flotilla.

Goolwa is a very pleasant lakeside town, some nice old buildings and view points of the Lake. The bridge to Hindmarsh Island a prominent landmark. The bridge was once a major point of confrontation with our indigenous peoples, its construction, replacing a ferry, was a major impositionon on an area of the island that was reserved for ‘secret women’s business’. One has to cross over onto Hindmarsh Island to get to the river mouth. Things seem to have calmed down now and Hindmarsh Island is having a building boom with a big canal estate and numerous other developments taking place. Prior to the Bridge Allthego suspects it was a sleepy old place, protected by the inefficiencies and transport delays of the ferry operation.

The Goolwa town cryer was in full voice welcoming people to the best street markets in the world.
Rose Eden

The Cockle Train leaving Goolwa for Victor Harbor.
Victor Harbour railway station

Our last day at Goolwa was spent on the Cockle Train, a heritage tourist railway that rattles down to Victor Harbor taking about half an hour. Whilst the paddle steamers where quite effective in managing the river trade, the Murray mouth was a difficult and dangerous passage to navigate and get product to market. Goolwa was never able to become a sea port. The solution was to construct down to Victor Harbor Australia’s first railway, where a sea port was established on Encounter Bay. The tourist railway basically follows the route of this old railway line, at times running through sandhills along the beach. Interesting journey, rattling along in an old restored ‘Red Hen’ rail car. We enjoyed the few hours we had in Victor, mostly spent in a very good pizza place!

By the way, the ‘Harbor’ in Victor Harbor is spelt without the ‘u’. There are a few other place names in SA also missing the ‘u’. This is due to spelling errors made by an early Surveyor General of South Australia. Victor Harbour Railway Station though is correctly spelt with a ‘u’. Isn’t that fascinating!

Back in Goolwa we packed up and headed for a van park on the fringe of Adelaide in the shadow of the Adelaide Hills. Our time along the Murray is at an end, but a new adventure is to begin. MItchell and Piper have flown into Adelaide from the US and are joining us for the journey back to Brisbane. We are stopping at a few spots along the River to show them some highlights before dropping in on on some relatives further east on the way home.

The Blog has caught up with real time! It will now go a little quite with perhaps a couple of updates before we get back to Brisbane, and some warmer weather we hope, in about two weeks time!