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How to spend 7 days road tripping The Murray

Mungo National Park

13 Sep 2022 by Kate Hunter

How to spend 7 days road tripping The Murray

You’ve got an entire week of freedom, where you can sleep a little late, go to bed early or flip the script to witness the dawn and watch the stars.

Whatever your thing is, there’s seven days of doing exactly as you like ahead, with waterways, roads and meandering bush tracks waiting for you to explore.

There’s so much to see and even more to do, so this itinerary is a good framework for planning your road trip; it’ll take you from Melbourne all the way up to Wentworth via Mildura before a relaxed trip following the river downstream back towards home.

Day 1: Melbourne - Mildura

The car’s packed, the playlist is loaded and you’re off, heading north to Mildura. It’s a long-ish drive (542km) but once you’ve cleared the city traffic, you’ll feel the stress will leave your body as the road opens ahead of you.

There’s no shortage of pretty places to stop to stretch your legs but be sure to take a longer break at Lake Tyrrell where you can check out the selfie-worthy silo art and maybe even treat yourself to a scenic flight over the stunning salt lake system – a breathtaking welcome to the region.

Peter McDonald, a fifth-generation farmer and owner and pilot of Murray Darling Scenic Flights shares his knowledge, expertise and passion for the land with personalised flights from Sea Lake and Swan Hill airports.

Back on the road to Mildura for a solid night’s sleep before the adventures begin in earnest. For your accommodation, a couple of well-located, comfortable places to check in are the Quality Hotel Mildura Grand, Rivergardens Holiday Park, and Big 4 Holiday Getaway Park.

Day 2: Wentworth

Start the day with coffee and breakfast from one of Mildura’s many cafes then back in the car for the short drive north to Wentworth, where the Darling and Murray rivers meet. There’s a lot to love about the town and the area surrounding it, especially the extraordinary Mungo National Park to the north. It was home to Mungo Woman and Mungo Man, whose remains are believed to be amongst the oldest ever discovered. It’s a place of harsh beauty and profound historical significance.

To deepen your understanding of Aboriginal culture, stop by Barkindji Wiimpatya Murra Centre (Bmeet) in Dareton. They offer a wide range of artwork painted kangaroo skins and emu eggs; Jewellery; Didgeridoos/boomerangs; burnt wood art; fridge magnets, ornaments and bookmarks. It’s also home to the Ridgy Didge Record Breaker, the largest known playable didgeridoo in Australia.

For a real taste of the Riverina, swing by Orange World, a working citrus farm just south of Wentworth. Tour the property by tractor train to learn how oranges, mandarins, grapefruit and avocados are grown and packed before kicking back in the kiosk with a fresh juice. Tours run three times a day and take around an hour.

There’s no shortage of places to eat and drink; Trentham Estate Winery is the perfect choice if you want to sample fine wines and lunch created from fresh local ingredients elegantly prepared and served with a view of the vines. For something simpler, try the Crown Hotel; opened in 1861, they offer classic and modern pub favourites for lunch and dinner. To taste wines, you won’t find in your suburban bottle-o, drop by Monak Wine Co, meet the winemaker and sample their small-batch hand-crafted wines.

If you’ve ventured to Mungo, finish the day by watching the sunset behind the Perry Sandhills. For 40,000 years, the dunes have been continuously shifting to create fascinating sand formations. Of great significance to Indigenous people, the dunes were once home to pre-historic mega-fauna - you can see replicas of these giants at the Pioneer Museum in Wentworth.

There are plenty of accommodation options in the Wentworth area. The Wentworth Grand Resort offers luxurious suites close to town, while the comfortable cabins at Mungo Lodge put you right on the edge of the national park; there are also a number of campgrounds in Mungo.

Day 3: Mildura

On a bend in the river, on the edge of the outback, Mildura is all about food, wine and sunshine. There’s no end of things to do in, on and around the water.

Most visitors to The Murray want to experience a Paddle Steamer for good reason - they’re a beautiful, historic way to explore the river and you can enjoy a drink in the sunshine while you do it. Cruises aboard P.S. Melbourne and P.V Rothbury depart Mildura every day.

If you love the colours of nature, you’ll want to see the Pink Lakes of Murray Sunset National Park. It’s Victoria’s largest national park, so you might want more than a day to explore it, but the Pink Lakes are day trip-able from Mildura and there are some short, easy walks to enjoy.

There’s plenty to do close to town too; Woodsies Gem Shop is more than a great place to buy locally sourced gems and handmade jewellery, you can also watch craftspeople cutting grinding and polishing gemstones and check out the family’s collection of fossils and carvings. Beside the river, Mildura’s Powerhouse Precinct is undergoing an exciting redevelopment to create a cultural and community hub. There are already a couple of cafes dotted through the parklands, so grab a properly made coffee before you set off on your day’s exploring. Coffee, breakfast and lunch options in town include Nash Lane and Brother Chris. Or try Soluna, which focuses on biodynamically grown local produce – be sure to ask about their take-home meals, packed for travellers.

Stefani di Pieri put his adopted hometown of Mildura on the culinary map in 1991 when his book, ‘A Gondola On The Murray,’ brought the traditions of Venice together with the produce of The Murray. Today, Stefano’s Restaurant continues the story, with a set menu that reflects the seasons and the Italian belief that simple, thoughtful cooking creates the most memorable meals. Another fine dining option is The Province where chef and owner Matt de Angelo creates innovative Italian dishes, perfect for a romantic dinner.

For something more relaxed, ditch the car and spend an afternoon or evening at Fossey’s Ginporium and Distillery in the heart of town. If you’re there on a Thursday, don’t miss the live ‘Distillation’ experience.

Day 4: Swan Hill

On the banks of the Murray in the heart of Victoria’s food bowl, Swan Hill is where you’ll experience some of the most unspoilt and rugged sections of the river as well as the area’s rich history and fine wine making traditions. There’s also plenty of fish in the river waiting to be caught.

So, what to do? A great way to start is to see the river from the decks of the 105-year-old paddle steamer Pyap, which departs from the popular Pioneer Settlement where you can also take a complimentary vintage car or horse and carriage ride past cottages built in the 1800s. If time allows, end your day with Heartbeat Of The Murray, a visual spectacular bringing together laser, fire and water.

If a holiday without golf doesn’t seem like a holiday at all, make like a local and head for Murray Downs where visitors are welcome to play and even stay. If you’re looking for something iconic for your Insta, you (literally) can’t miss the Giant Murray Cod outside the Swan Hill station.

Also in town is the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery, and there’s often live theatre and music at the historic Swan Hill Town Hall. There’s an adventure playground at Riverside Park and a Japanese garden near the Pioneer settlement.

Thinking of somewhere to eat? Family-owned Colombo’s Café and Pasta Bar is well-known for its homestyle cooking, while Peachy’s Bar as a fun choice – treat yourself to a cocktail and try their Murray cod tacos. Other great places are Java Spice, Niko Niko, Quo-Vadis and At FortyOne (which insiders know has a see-it-to-believe-it lolly bar), so check out their socials.

For accommodation, BIG 4 Riverside is great for couples and groups, only 1km from the town centre, and you can book an amazing glamping tent or choose from a range of cabins and campsites. There’s also the more family-oriented BIG4 Swan Hill Holiday Park.

Day 5: Lake Boga

You might be heading south, but the holiday’s far from over. There’s plenty to do on or around the lovely Lake Boga. But if all the outdoorsy-ness of the last few days has you hankering for a little culture, Fine Edge Art showcases the work of local painters, ceramicists and glassware makers, or pay a visit to the Flying Boat Museum for an insight into the wartime history of the area.

When it comes to Indigenous history, you’ll find a story wall on the edge of the lake, one of six national symbols of reconciliation. Wildlife enthusiasts can search for long-neck tortoises in Turtle Lagoon and search the skies trees and water for the many rare and threatened bird species that visit Lake Boga.

Hungry? Boo’s Place Lakeside serves fresh, tasty breakfasts, lunches, morning and afternoon teas. It’s also a great place to buy gifts. The Commercial Hotel is the spot for a classic pub lunch or dinner, with an excellent range of craft beers and local wines.

A great place to stay is Lake Boga Caravan Park. Enjoy a cold beer or chilled local white from the deck of a cabin and watch the sun set over the lake and ask, ‘how’s the serenity?’

Day 6: The Gannawarra

A stunning landscape of lakes, rivers and forests, the Gannawarra region has lots of welcoming towns and charming villages you’ll promise yourself you’ll visit again.

If you want to breathe your fill of fresh air, pull on your boots and explore the walking trails of the area, including Koondrook State Forest, Red Gum Forest Walk, Barham Redgum Statue River Walk or the Goanna Walking Track.

For something delicious to fuel all that walking, be sure to call into the Long Paddock Food Store in the heritage heart of Koondrook where you’ll find great coffee, a seasonal menu, and friendly service (open for breakfast and lunch).

For a real country feed there’s nowhere better than Mates Royal Hotel in Koondrook. Welcoming travellers since 1880, it’s a short walk from the river, and the place locals head for a cold beer and a proper pub meal. Relax in the beer garden or join in the banter at the bar.

There’s also The Coach House Hotel, which has motel-style accommodation as well as a relaxed bar and restaurant, while the Long Table Café, and The Crossing Café are popular for tasty meals made with fantastic local ingredients.

For somewhere to stay, consider the eco-glamour of Koondrook Retreat. From under the canvas of your luxurious self-contained tent, soak up uninterrupted creek views and listen to the sounds of the bush.

In town you’ll find the spacious rooms at Murray Waters Motor Inn have everything you need to spend the last night of your road trip in comfort – including Wi-Fi, so you can share your pics to #visitthemurray.

Day 7: The Gannawarra – Gunbower

The drive to Gunbower from Kondrook takes a little over half an hour, just enough time to contemplate what to order for breakfast from The Workshop Café where the coffee’s great and savoury and sweet pies, tarts and muffins are made fresh daily.

If you don’t linger too long, there should be time for a walk in the Gunbower State Forest or to enjoy the Gunbower Island Forest Drive (check weather and road conditions first), or if you made an especially early start, the Gunbower Canoe Trail is a wonderful way to finish a fabulous trip.

Before hitting the highway for the final run home, stop for lunch at the Gunbower Hotel, the best-kept secret of the region cooking up artisan aged beef along with classic county pub favourites.