Overnight stays: Merbein Common, Merbein (3 nights); Mungo Shearers Quarters, Mungo; BIG4 Riverside, Swan Hill; Discovery Parks, Echuca
When you’re doing a lap of Oz, there is a pretty standard route you can follow in each state. In NSW and Qld you hug the coast, in the NT you split your time between The Red Centre and The Top End, in WA you hug the coast again after The Kimberley, and in SA you can pick and choose your peninsulas and The Outback. Victoria is different. There a million ways to get anywhere, and no real set tourist route. This makes planning your trip both simple and complex at the same time. There are a bunch of areas deemed visitable, but there’s no simple way to tie them all together.
Having driven past the Great Ocean Road to follow it back towards SA, then migrating north to The Grampians, we figured the next logical to-do was The Murray, beginning around Mildura and working our way upstream from there with Stroms in-tow.
The first thing we noticed was how the weather started to (finally) warm to a nice consistent temperature, enough to comfortably pack the jumpers away for the time being.
We found a ripping campsite just out of the small town of Merbein, bang on the river overlooking NSW. Plenty of room for the Stroms and us to settle in for a few days and setup a nice little fire. We had nothing planned but figured we’d base ourselves and then work out what to do from there.
Mungo National Park
I remember last year, when I was telling someone about our then pending trip, they said there are two places not to be missed (although they had never been to either themself): Montague Island and The Great Walls of China.
At this stage I assumed we had already seen the Great Wall of China when we visited China in 2011, but it turns out there were apparently a bunch of them in our own backyard, in Mungo National Park in south-west NSW.
We were but a Mongolian swordlength from Mungo, so decided it was now or never, and booked a 4WD and a night’s accommodation in the Shearer’s Quarters – if we were going to see authentic China, we might as well do it like the Chinese would, in bunk beds with air-conditioning, a nice clean kitchen and plenty of space 😂.
The drive in was about as interesting as Angela Merkel thought ScoMo was at G20; flat fairly uninteresting, and very likely misunderstood.
The accommodation was bloody terrific for a measly $60 per room. If it wasn’t so far from pretty much anywhere it’s the kind of place you’d book out for a big group on a weekend away. Totally isolated from the world, with good rooms, shade (in an otherwise sparse and hot area), a big fireplace, and perfect starry nights.
Over several million years sand dunes have formed around what was once a lake in Mungo National Park. Because of the consistent direction of wind the dunes have formed in the shape of a quarter moon, which is why they call the dunes lunettes.
With the lake now drier than your mouth after a d’Arenburg Cabernet, they’ve built a loop road right across and through it, and over the lunette, allowing punters to get amongst the land where some of the world’s first known humans once inhabited (The Mungo Man was only recently discovered, and is estimated to be 42,000 years old – enough time for me to grow an unembarrassing beard).
The accompanying brochure, read out by Deb in the backseat, provides a modern history of the area, focussing on the farming days in the past few hundred years. Some of the facts and ‘highlights’ were even less newsworthy than removing gender from birth certificates. But there were some cool things along the way…
The Great Walls of China, despite looking nothing like the actual wall, are pretty cool sand structures blown together over Millenia, reminding us of the bunch of rocks sticking out of the ground near Cervantes in WA (The Pinnacles), and some of the sand-dunes are perfect for sliding on whatever apparatus available (sadly we left the esky lid in the boot).
We closed out the drive with a sunset bbq overlooking the ‘walls’, which was pretty special, with only a handful of people around (most likely Mongolians still trying to breakdown the walls), as another ripping outback sunset delivered. The only unwelcome guests (apart from the Mongolians) were the thousands of flies trying to stake a claim on the land. I reckon they might have a case too, possibly pre-dating The Mungo Man.
Back on The Murray, Liv, Stu and I sweated our holes off while Loz and Deb reboarded the bingo train, expecting to clean Mildura out of their riches. No bacon this time, as I guess they were out of practice.
Having spent a few days lazing by The Murray we were starting to get a good feel for the appeal. So much so that we had planned to charter a houseboat for a few days to feel the water between our toes. But circumstances instead lead us further up the river to the cute town of Swan Hill.
After a couple of >30’C days on an unpowered campsite (i.e. no a/c) with no appealing swimming options around, I dug my heels in at Swan Hill, plotting us at the BIG4 right on the water for the night. This was another place we would’ve loved to have lazed for a few days, but we were due on a flight from Wagga Wagga, so had to keep on keepin’ on, naturally after a good pool and jumping pillow session.
There’s a semi-famous business book based on Beechworth Bakery. Loz had read it years ago and wanted to see what the fuss was about, so when we left Bright (we left Swan Hill for Wagga, flew to Tamworth and back, then hit the Snowies followed by Bright) we took the slight detour towards Beechworth before hitting Echuca.
When we rolled into the quaint and stunning town we felt like we were already doing it no justice, knowing we had run out of time and were merely tourists passing through. It’s a beautiful place, I assume built around the riches of gold mining during the rush, with buildings beautifully restored.
And right amongst it is the original Beechworth Bakery. We wandered in to be completely surrounded by bee stings, which we were almost obliged to buy, accompanied by the Ned Kelly bacon, egg, cheese and steak pie. This is 100% the best pie I’ve ever had – insanely good. And the bee sting was better than when NapiSan is on special at Woolies, completely indulgent.
Victoria became all about socialising for us. We were excited to see my sister and family in Melbourne; had been travelling with Loz’s parents on and off; reconnected with the Clohesies; and were pumped to say our last travelling hurrah to the Coles, whom we had missed by a matter of days and even hours since South-West WA.
They had been in Echuca for almost a week when we arrived, and were almost finished their lap. We slotted into the site next door and while Liv and Sam rekindled their sibling-like relationship, we had a wonderful time catching up with James and Brigette, sharing stories, laughs, and a few Great Northerns. At this point I realised I bought that particular carton of beer in Exmouth, wowsers, that’s how little beer I had drunk since July (if you discount the complete excess in Bali, of course).
The caravan park was an absolute ripper, equipped with jumping pillow, tennis courts, mini golf and an indoor heated pool. Seeing Sam dominate the water gave Liv renewed confidence in her swimming ability, now trying her darntest to duck-dive, which was entertaining to watch.
You can’t go to Echuca and not ride a paddlesteamer, so the following morning we boarded one of the few remaining authentic steam-powered paddle boats, that took us down The Murray, past a hoard of houseboats and houses on the water, on a cracking sunny morning.
So after a number of days on The Murray, but not quite as many as we would have liked, we finally got on the water on the day we left 🤔.
Another delicious Ned Kelly Pie and Bee Sting later at the Beechworth Bakery, and we were set to go, Melbourne-bound for some more socialising.
Murray in a hurry
Our fragmented Murray journey was good fun. Had we had more time we would have loved to pick some ripping campsites on the water, and spending more time on and in the water, house-boating and canoeing. But you can’t have everything, and there was still far too much to see and do, and such precious little time left to do it before our Wombatical comes to a grinding halt.