The video of our Murray River trip can be seen here http://youtu.be/rq77qnXywNE
We launched Sandpiper on Tuesday 13 May upstream of Lock 1, giving us only one lock between Blanchetown and Waikerie, our final destination. Although the trip is 108km long, Waikerie is only 42km down the Sturt Highway from Blanchetown, a measure of just how much the river twists and meanders around. Our plan was to reach Waikerie by Friday, when an afternoon bus runs back through Blanchetown so we can retrieve the car and trailer which is being stored at the caravan park in secure circumstances.
On the water and underway, we found the outboard to be once again misbehaving. It does not like to idle or go slow but runs fine under load. This suggests that the low speed jets are gummed up again. I am rather put out because I was careful to clear all fuel when storing it in Port Lincoln. While the engine pushes us along the river with no problems, slow manoeuvring into beaches, jetties or locks will be a hassle.
The first day, we covered a mere 20km, overnighting on the bank opposite Crook’s Landing. The beauty of the river is hard to describe, it needs to be experienced. The vista changes at every turn, with peaceful wetlands, rolling pastures and farmlands, holiday homes and moored houseboats or spectacular towering cliffs. The river seems to maintain a good depth in most places with between 15 and 20 feet in most areas then down to 65 feet under the shadow of the sandstone cliffs. The only other river traffic consisted of a lone long distance kayaker and a beautiful modern houseboat heading downstream.
We used a book called “Murray River Pilot” to ensure that we avoided nasty things in the water and to read about all the rich history of sites along the way. It was easy to picture ourselves chugging along in a stern wheel paddle steamer in the middle of the 19th Century delivering goods to the hardy settlers along the wonderful river.
Tied up to the bank for the night, we put out a yabby trap but the yabbies weren’t playing the game. We used the wrong bait (red meat), the water is too cold, the full moon put them off or we should have been here yesterday. We had more luck with the fish, catching one nice European Carp and losing another bigger on near the boat. While the carp are said to be edible if treated well, we didn’t bother. Returning them to the water is illegal so Mr Carp spent the evening on the river bank.
The next day we covered about 35km through Morgan and on towards the small hamlet of Cadell. As we neared Morgan, the density of “shacks” and houseboats tied up on the banks increased remarkably. Some of the shacks would not look out of place in Mindarie Quays and many of the houseboats were bigger than our Dowerin house, with three decks and spas.
Morgan itself is a very historical town. When the rail head arrived in 1878, Morgan became a major centre with more than 25 boats a week delivering goods along the river. Later, when the rail pushed on to Waikerie and Renmark, the importance of Morgan fell away.
We tied up to some river bank moorings and walked up the steep hill to the little town. The main street is a quaint collection of National Trust buildings, with two hotels facing each other. We chose one for its cheaper menu and enjoyed an excellent lunch and pint. Then it was back to the boat and onwards. We had to negotiate a ferry crossing and were a little anxious that we did the right thing. In the end, it was easy, just waiting for the ferry to reach one bank then heading through. Cutting to close to the ferry while it is underway risks fouling the steel cable strung across the river.
Our path took us past the famous Morgan wharf, built as a towering timber structure to cater for the huge range in river levels in the days before weirs and locks. A lazy trip along the river took us to a pleasant sandy landing where we set up for the night. The wind dropped to nothing on sunset, creating a glorious display with the trees mirrored on the surface. The scenery proved better than the fishing.
The next day took us upstream through Cadell, on the 322km mark. Distances are all taken from the mouth of the river and marked on trees with blue signs every 2km. The small locality of Cadell is about 11km upstream of Morgan. There is little on the river itself and a small village about a kilometre away. There is a lovely picnic area with some houseboat moorings near the ferry crossing and a small launching ramp. We stopped in to the ramp to assess its suitability for retrieving Sandpiper, having decided not to navigate through Lock 2 to Waikerie because of the difficulty working with the motor. However, the ramp proved unsuitable, or at least not as good as the one at Morgan, and we had enough time to motor back to Morgan.
We continued on past Cadell for about 12km, noting that the bush becomes drier and more open than further downstream. There is the usual series of creeks and lagoons that would be so much fun to explore in a kayak. Eventually, we found a really lovely sandy beach on a sand bar at the 345km mark, opposite some stunning cliffs. I spent the afternoon fishing, catching two very large carp. If they had been any other species I’d have been over the moon, but the carp are sluggish when hooked and not much to get excited about in the kitchen. Since it is illegal to release carp, a waiting group of pelicans benefitted from my efforts, after I’d cut the big fish into small pieces so they could be shared around. A couple of brown hawks also circled overhead and snatched a couple of morsels for themselves.
The night was unseasonably warm and we found ourselves shedding blankets. The usual dew was also absent so we didn’t sleep in as late as we have been doing. By 8:30, we’d had breakfast, done the dishes and some housework and were underway again headed back to Morgan.
Christine phoned the driver of the local bus that runs a Friday service to tell him of our changed plans. We had initially organised to be picked up in Waikerie but he was happy to pick me up at the ferry crossing in Morgan on his way back to Blanchetown. This way, I could get the car and trailer and use the ramp at Morgan to retrieve.
We arrived in Morgan by 11am and tied up at the 24hour moorings on the bank just downstream of the ferry crossing. We had plenty of time to tour the Morgan Museum and pop into the local for a pint and meal. The museum is an old store shed. It contains many very interesting displays depicting significant events in the history of Morgan. The huge wharf that still stands today is actually less than a third of what once existed. The Commercial Hotel provided a wonderful lunch of braised chops on mash and crumbed chops, chips and salad for the very reasonable $15 and $12 respectively.
We have thoroughly enjoyed our short time on the river and are determined to do some other stretches later in our trip, probably late in the year on our return from Queensland. The changing vistas, the birdlife, the history and the moments of utter peace and tranquillity all works together to make the experience a “must do”. A small group sharing one of the many palatial houseboats could be a memorable holiday.