Around Australia Week 45 – Albury, Swan Hill, Echuca

For this part of our trip, we made our way along the Murray River to Albury via Robinvale, Swan Hill and Echuca, staying at lovely riverside parks at both Robinvale and Swan Hill. Robinvale Riverside Caravan Park was serenity itself… we just loved this place. So did a whole lot of other people who were staying there on a semi-permanent basis while they did seasonal work related to olives. (They apparently employ a lot of retirees on the circuit each year, so you might want to enquire if you’re looking for a bit of work to eke out the budget on the road.) We talked to Barry Green, who said with a laugh that he had retired at 50 – which was 22 years ago – and hadn’t stopped working since!

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We called in at the historic Robinswood Homestead to take a look, and found a meeting in progress with some of the local ladies. That’s one of the primary uses for this homestead now; apparently another group was due in at 6.00. We had to hustle to view the homestead before it was taken over again.

A couple of the ladies present were happy to show us around and tell us a bit about the homestead, which was the retirement home of the founder of Robinvale. He named the town after his son Robin, who was killed in action in World War I.

The next day we moved on to Swan Hill, and ended up staying for hours at the Pioneer Settlement there. Caravanners who have seen a lot of Australia will know that there are many, many historic homesteads, museums and recreations of townships all over the country. It can get to the stage where you feel a bit blasé about it all… but the Settlement at Swan Hill really is a first-rate reconstruction of a pioneer village. Not only do the shopfronts look authentic, but inside you’ll find volunteers busy acting the part and willing to tell you all about it… to really ‘live it’ with you. You can wander for ages here and really enjoy yourself (as can the whole family). Go for rides in the restored Dodge or the horse and cart; watch the blacksmith at work (this is quite mesmerising… we were intrigued by the bellows in action, and watching how a railroad spike was hammered and twisted into shape. It took forever!); watch a series of pulleys and engines in action; haul on a rope to blow an ear-splitting steam whistle; watch restored tractors buzzing about… it’s all terrific. Oh, and of course you can get a good meal and a drink there, too!

We were fortunate enough to visit when the Inaugural Food and Wine Festival was on, so there were extra things to enjoy: various stalls and even the Morris Dancers.

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We returned to the Swan Hill Riverside Park after our visit to the Settlement, and met up with a friendly bunch of caravanners: Les & Cheryl Dean; John & Joanne Dean; and Ray & Christine Ivey. Happy Hour went all too quickly as we found out all about where everyone was from, where they’d been, and where they were going next!

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Since the Murray is so rich in history, we lined up for more of the same the next day… but different enough to make it interesting and fun!

We made our way to the Port of Echuca, and were steered around with Eleanor, who is one of the regular guides and who loves to tell stories about the Port’s colourful past… and colourful characters. She led us through the tunnel to the Secret Bar (a measure put in place by innovative locals who wanted to defy the police decree against public drinking after a few too many street brawls) and around the Port to the museum and the section where they are restoring boats. Rob had a shot at caulking the old-fashioned way (but failed to distinguish himself, I’m afraid).

We finished up the afternoon by taking a relaxing cruise on the PS Pevensey, a working paddle steamer that now carries tourists around instead of hay bales. (We still got to sit on hay bales, but after a short stint I decided to leave them to the younger set and opt for the boring but comfortable chairs on the other deck!) Man, it was hot going past the centre of the vessel where the steam engine was at work. There are a lot of houseboats on the river, and a few are for sale… but one of the locals told us that although the actual houseboats weren’t that expensive, there could be an issue with securing a mooring. Anyway, maybe living on the river could get a bit cold and wet… nah, we’ll stick to caravans!

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We hit the road the next morning and went on to Lake Hume, stopping in at The Great Aussie Beer Shed for an entertaining tour with Neil (who is a real character, as well as having dozens of stories on instant recall – he knows an incredible amount about not only beer cans, but all kinds of memorabilia).

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While we were there we met up with two different pairs of caravanners… Neil says it’s a popular destination for our tribe.

From the Great Aussie Beer Shed we drove on to The Big Strawberry for lunch (we’d heard enough about those pancakes to want to stop there! And it’s really convenient, on the Goulburn Valley Highway at Koonoomoo – with plenty of parking for big rigs).

Finally, we stopped at the Lake Hume Tourist Park, and set up on a site overlooking beautiful Lake Hume itself. From here we went on some lovely scenic drives around the lake, near the Wymah Ferry Loop and the Kurrajong Gap Lookout.

All in all, the Murray stretch was a totally pleasurable experience: from where we started off in Mildura, seeing the junction of the Darling and the Murray (and the effects of the flood!) to Albury/Wodonga and Lake Hume. We recommend it highly, and we confess we can’t wait to go back ourselves and explore it again at a more leisurely pace – visiting all the places we missed the first time!

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