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How to make a holiday out of the Southern 80

Southern 80, Echuca. Image credit: Moama Water Sports Club

27 Feb 2023 by Mel Townsend

How to make a holiday out of the Southern 80

If there’s one thing the Murray River region lives and breathes, it’s the abundance of water-based activities.

From year-round anglers to water skiers, wakeboarders, kayak and paddleboarders, house boating holidaymakers, paddle steamer cruisers, power-boat enthusiasts – you don’t need psychic powers to know a good chunk of your time is going to be spent on the water in The Murray.

With a strong reputation for water-based adventure, it’s with good reason The Murray’s annual Southern 80 Water Ski Race held in Echuca from 24-26 March 2023 is one of the world’s largest ski race.

Celebrating the essence of the region, the race is just as fun for the spectators as it is for the teams competing. Experience the race over two days with not only fantastic on-water entertainment but plenty of activities for the whole family including a jumping castle and waterslide for the kids, live music and a range of food vendors. For the best experience, you'll want a ticket starting from only $30 for a day pass.

Don your 2023 racing merch and head down to the Breakfast with the Stars on Friday morning for your chance to see the boats up close and personal before the racing kicks off.

Saturday is all about the Bakers Blitz to decide the order for the main event. Cheer on your favourites during the boat parade where they’ll take off from Vic Park making their way to the starting line at 5 Mile.

The main event is held on Sunday as the competitors race from Torrumbarry Weir to Vic Park, powering at speeds up to 193kmph as they navigate the 120+ river bends along the 80km course.

Thinking of going? Here’s everything you need to know about making a weekend out of the Southern 80 in Echuca.

How to get there

Located in Echuca Moama, getting to the Southern 80 event is an easy drive from most regional Victorian towns and just under three hour’s drive from Melbourne. Spectators can fly in from Sydney to Melbourne or Bendigo and hit the road for a few hours to Echuca or drive from regional NSW in a couple of hours.

Whether you’re travelling with family, friends, or solo to join the festivities, you’ll find plenty to do before or after the three-day event to extend your trip.

Where to eat

Watching the adrenaline-pumping action during the races is likely to have you working up a healthy appetite in no time. Luckily, you’ll find plenty of places to refuel close by the Murray River in Echuca Moama, meaning you won’t need to travel far.

Better yet, if you’re heading into the region earlier, or planning to stay a little longer after the event, you’ll have plenty of time to visit each of these eateries, making sure to book ahead of time to avoid missing out.

Just a 15-minute drive from Echuca you’ll find yourself at Cape Horn Vineyard & Riverside Bar, a riverside oasis. Perfect for the whole family, including four legged friends. Spend the afternoon with a grazing platter or pizza from their cellar door and a wine in hand while enjoying their sweeping vineyard views or put your thinking to the test with a game on the giant chess board or keep near the playground for the kids.

Swing by Morrisons Riverview Winery & Restaurant, perched right on the edge of the river, perfect for large groups, families with a playground onsite, even the family pooch, stay for a long lunch, a glass of wine.

For a local brew, head to Bandicoot Brewery on a Friday night for craft beers or keep an eye out for their beers on tap at local pubs and bars in the surrounding areas. For a classic pub meal, head to 1895 The Royal and be sure to check out their weeknight specials like pot & parma, wine time, burger night and kids eat free.

You’ll likely be familiar with the American Hotel beer garden by the time the Southern 80 event comes to an end, hosting the official launch on Friday night and streaming the races on the big screen from the beer garden for ticket holders. It’s the ideal spot to order a jug for the table and keep the food coming while watching the teams compete in real time.

If you’re after something more upmarket, Junction Moama will have you dining in style with their delicious devotion to seasonal and local produce, or head to Riverbank Moama, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a tasty menu and cocktail list to pair with each.

Of course, you can’t forget a perky morning caffeine hit or afternoon pick-me-up. You’ll find Hammond Providore, Moama Bakery and Three Black Sheep slinging coffee shots and breakfast food in Moama with Johnny and Lyle, The Sweet Meadow, 7 Beans Coffee and The Black Pudding Café ready to refuel you in Echuca.

If you prefer your coffee on the go, Latte Lane and Busy Bean are the resident drive-through options.

Where to stay (camping is open!)

Riverside camping is available! Public camping along the Murray River is currently being assessed to ensure public safety, with some parts currently accessible and others not. For the latest information on Victorian camping grounds, visit the Parks Victoria website. Roughly half way between Torrumbarry and Moama, Benarca Campground requires a booking through the NSW Parks and Wildlife website. While the Perricoota State Forest near the Torrumbarry start line remains closed as at 19 March, the latest information can be found on the Forestry Corporation website.

For those equipped with a caravan, a tent or are looking for relaxed cabin-style accommodation, the holiday parks in Echuca Moama are plentiful. Discovery Parks Echuca, Moama West and Maidens Inn Moama along with Riverbend Caravan Park and Rich River Tourist Park are all great options to set up for the event weekend or extend a week-long stay.

Ticking all the boxes, Moama on The Murray provides self-contained villas within a bushland setting and loads of family activities from its lagoon-style pool, to the ninja course, pump track, mini golf, pedal cars and water park.

If you’re after accommodation within walking distance from the shops and cafes, Riverboat Lodge Motor Inn and Quest Echuca will have you settled in the heart of Echuca.

For self-contained cottages complete with hot tubs, Murray River Spa Retreat and Perricoota Vines Retreat are sure to be right up your alley. Alternatively, enjoy the comfort and flexibility of a home away from home and book a house with Echuca Holiday Homes.

For a truly memorable experience the very best way to enjoy the river is right on it – aboard a houseboat. Accommodating groups from as small as four all the way up to 12, hiring a houseboat is the perfect way to experience the majestic Murray River. Find all your houseboat questions answered here, keeping in mind that some parts of the Murray River will be closed for the event so make sure you book ahead of time and contact the operator for further details.

Where to play

Eager to keep the good times rolling?

There are few things more iconic than cruising the Murray River on a historic paddle steamer. Enjoy a one-hour sightseeing, lunch, or dinner cruise aboard Murray River Paddlesteamers PS Canberra or bask in the magic of The Murray aboard the dog friendly Echuca Paddlesteamers.

Step back in time before or after your cruise and walk the path of Echuca's river pioneers at the Port of Echuca Discovery Centre. You can even hire bikes for free and explore by pedal power if that’s more your style.

If you’re after a little extra assistance before exploring further, you’ll find Green Pedal E-Bike Hire and Tours at the Echuca Visitor Information Centre hiring two hour, full day or half day E-bikes and E-mountain bikes. Or, if you’d rather a guided tour, book in for their Echuca Scenic Tour, Winery Tour.

You’ll likely spot a couple of curious kangaroos in the bushland lining the Murray River, however, Kyabram Fauna Park is home to over 600 native Australian animals and will get you up close and personal with some very friendly locals. For an extra special experience, booking a dingo, koala, or cassowary encounter is a must do.

Don’t let the animal experiences stop there - trot through the region via horseback with Billabong Ranch’s horse trail experience, or head to their fun park for mini golf, pony rides, animal nursery and rock climbing.

Make a splash and put your balancing skills to the test at Aqua Island, a water-based, inflatable haven. Race your way through the course of inflatable slides, runways, jumping pillows, and bouncers, swings, ramps, jumps, wiggle bridges, and more, all floating in a freshwater lake.

If something indoors is more your idea of fun, head to Gravity Shack for an indoor trampoline wonderland. Pit yourself against each other for some friendly competition with their basketball lanes, dodgeball area and performance foam pits.

Keen to test your swing? Rich River Golf Club features two 18-hole championship Golf courses, a 17-bay driving range, as well a Golfing Simulator and has an 18-hole Mini Golf course perfect for the whole family.

Buy Southern 80 Tickets