Surprise package: four ways to explore the unexpected in The Murray
Mention the Murray and you might picture paddle-steamers, houseboats and splashing about. For good reason – the mighty river doesn’t disappoint when it comes to watery pursuits. But there’s so much more for you to discover in this vast catchment of southern New South Wales, spanning 650 kilometres from Holbrook in the east (near the Albury airport) to Wentworth in the west (near the Mildura airport).
From national parks spiked with soaring redgums to manicured golf greens and grape vines, here are some of the unexpected delights awaiting you in this postcard-perfect part of the state.
Travel 30km north-east of Albury to be transported to the largest patch of protected forest west of the Great Dividing Range. Welcome to Woomargama National Park, where echidnas, wombats and wallabies roam wild through box woodlands and rare phantom wattles colour the countryside golden yellow in spring. Come for a picnic, stay for a bushwalk or linger overnight in campgrounds.
Follow the river west to the Murray Valley National Park, 41,600 hectares of nature writ large. This is part of the largest continuous red gum forest in the world; alongside its Ramsar-listed wetlands, the important ecosystem is a haven for threatened native flora and fauna – 60 animal and 40 plant species, in fact. Wander the Gulpa Creek track, throw in a line, paddle along the river in a canoe or head to the bird hide to spot yellow rosellas.
Further northwest still you’ll discover the ethereal dry lakebeds and distinctive red sand dunes that characterise Mungo National Park. This World Heritage-listed expanse shows evidence of Aboriginal communities dating back more than 50,000 years. Exploring the shore of ancient Lake Mungo or gazing over the Walls of China – its sand and clay dunes carved over thousands of years of erosion – is a humbling experience. It’s even more life changing when you realise you’re standing amid the bones of megafauna, unearthed both here and at nearby Perry Sandhills, 333 hectares of constantly moving dunes.
There’s man-made culture, too. MAMA (Murray Art Museum Albury), houses a well-curated collection of 2,400 photographs, paintings, ceramics, woodcarvings and Aboriginal artefacts. You can glimpse the Murray’s indigenous cultural heritage and creativity along the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk, just a couple of kilometres outside of town. The 11 installations here, all created by Aboriginal artists, come with interpretive signs revealing their significance. You’ll find them scattered along a section of the longer riverside Wagirra Trail, which eventually leads you to the Murray’s bird-rich Wonga Wetlands.
Sip, swill, savour
Inside a horizon-searing 1920s flourmill is Corowa Whisky and Chocolate, where you’ll find a combination of two of the world’s greatest culinary companions. Distillers here create delicious drops with notes of ripe cherries and burnt caramel – the perfect complement to the fine Belgian chocolate blocks, bonbons and bars you’ll no doubt want to indulge in.
Still thirsty? Head to the small grape-growing region of Perricoota, just northwest of the border twin town Echuca Moama, which is becoming known for its shiraz, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay varietals. You can sip in the cellar door at Morrisons Riverview Winery, also home to a standout restaurant and brewery. Not far north, Restdown Wines pours organic merlot and semillon (among other varietals) at its cellar door; order a bottle and a charcuterie platter for an alfresco meal overlooking wetlands dotted with significant indigenous sites. The estate is just one of the recommended stops on the Backroads Trail, a self-guided route linking purveyors and historical attractions.
Back in Moama, check out the Junction, a cafe with an aesthetic that wouldn’t look out of place in New York: all recycled bricks, leather and custom copper lighting in design. But you’ll find the food focus to be very local indeed, spotlighting a dynamic rollcall of regional producers, whether Mansfield Coffee Merchants or Pacdon Park pork. Discover a similar story at Ten Mile in Holbrook. Inspired as its vibe is – set within a century old mechanic’s workshop – the real eye-candy lies on your plate: think seasonal dishes made using scene-stealing Holbrook Paddock eggs, wines from Borambola and Bicycle Baker breads.
And in Albury, Bistro Selle creates modern-European food that wouldn’t look out of place in a five-star city eatery. Savour smoked beef tartare with horseradish cream and pickled shallots, and a delectable selection of desserts – peanut butter, plum, rosewater and brioche, anyone?
Greens with envy
Golfers, pack your clubs and your stamina – the Murray region has more than 15 courses to choose from. You’ll find delightful locals-loved greens that you’ll likely share with a few kangaroos; case in point the Cobram Barooga Golf Club, its 36 holes offering endless tee time options. And then there are the big-hitting names that consistently take home Australian awards, like the Murray Downs Golf & Country Club; meander the 18-hole championship course, or enjoy floodlit bowling greens surrounded by vast Mallee plains.
Another 18 holes await at Howlong Golf Resort, and yet more lawn bowls, croquet, tennis and multiple restaurants. You’ll find it hard to fit everything into a day; thankfully, on-site accommodation is on offer so you can linger overnight. Likewise, Corowa Golf Club invites you to play then stay: enjoy a day on the 27-hole championship golf course before checking into the hotel or settling in for a blockbuster screening at the cinema.
The self-proclaimed ‘golf mecca of the Murray’ – at least as far as facilities go – is the Yarrawonga Mulwala Golf Club Resort, which comes with just about every trimming imaginable. Choose to tee off at three different courses: The Murray, situated beside the river; The Lake, with views of Lake Mulwala; and the shorter Executive, ideal for beginners. Then book in for a massage, dine at the bistro or bar, freestyle in the pool, wander around wetlands rich with wildlife, bed down in slick apartments, and repeat…
There’s something romantic about drifting off to sleep on a houseboat, but if you prefer to keep your feet firmly on dry land, try the next most glamorous stay, Talo Retreat. This enclave of Mongolian-style yurts within the Moama on Murray Resort is pitch perfect, from its secluded bush setting to each tent’s private kitchenette and spa. Alternatively, travel just north to Perricoota Vines Retreat and relax in one of the one- to three-bedroom timber villas overlooking vineyards and a lake.
Head north again to reach Mathoura’s Moira Station, its 1866 homestead revealing tales of the early pioneers, bushrangers and indigenous communities who have all called it home over the decades. There’s only space for eight guests in the individually designed rooms – surrounded by 600 hectares, you’ll feel like you have the entire Australian Outback to yourself. Splendid isolation also awaits at Mungo Lodge, your base for adventures in Mungo National Park. The rooms come with every comfort imaginable, but the real reason you come is for the lunar-like vistas that await you outdoors.
Back east in Albury, the design-driven Circa 1928 doesn’t disappoint in its attention to detail with pop art on the walls, dramatic stained-glass windows or copper tubs for a deep soak. The spa also offers opportunities for pampering.