A Riverland monochrome photo-essay
Exploring the River Murray’s might across three states.
The great Aussie road trip, especially at Easter as autumn draws in, a last (not really) chance to experience the great outdoors. The roads choke with caravans, campers, 4x4s, boats(!), a convoy of vintage buses, and us. We took a trip through the Murray Riverlands to Mildura in neighbouring Victoria.
The road is long: a thousand kilometres round trip from Adelaide. The geography ever changing: a quick freeway sprint through the lush forestation of the Adelaide Hills into the wide open spaces of the South Australian mallee- not quite outback, but a plain of scrubby vegetation clinging to life amidst the ubiquitous red soil.
From wine lands to waste lands and back.
Once thriving communities like Karoonda (above) – which boasts an annual sheep shearing show- but not much more than a bakery with its solitary petrol pump, a general store and a pub under the unforgiving southern sky, leaving a ghostly echo of pioneer times.
Quarantine bins on the roadside remind you of the delicate Australian ecology and suddenly the landscape transforms again with the appearance of lush vines, orchards, orange groves. And in this antipodean Eden, the neat manicured riverside towns of Loxton, Waikerie, Barmera and Berri nestle along the life-giving Murray which snakes its way ever present around the journey.
Just outside Berri we stumbled upon one of Australia’s “big things” (e.g. Giant Lobster, Big Banana, etc.) Sadly the Big Orange is now defunct, sitting forlornly in a field. Evidently more sophisticated recreation is required nowadays.
Renmark is the last of the SA river towns. A few km further the Victorian border signals the end of the vines and the beginning of a dreary grey plain and a straight, straight road. Across the border we are greeted with rows of signs, informing, instructing, ordering, threatening. A paddock of wild emus and the remains of a few kangaroos roadside proved some relief from the boredom.
Mildura on the banks of the Murray is said to be something of a foodie destination. Unfortunately we neither saw nor experienced any fine dining. Instead the place was more reminiscent of an American plains town- rows of dreary identikit motels and a tired mall. After the characterful Riverland towns this came as something of a shock. All that way for this?
All was not lost however. A hop across the Murray and we were in New South Wales at the Trentham Estate winery. Suddenly, after the enforced seclusion of the road, so many people and bustle. The purchase of some cheap but decent wines and a cook-your-own barbecue whilst watching the annual water-skiing competition in style was the journey’s reward.
Travelling back, the quarantine into South Australia was much more of an event, involving a car search for fruit. Fruit flies or other grape destroying pests are unwelcome- athough they don’t need to travel by car, they could just fly across the border!
Once again it seemed the vines and tidy homesteads sprang up almost immediately and the road got better and more interesting- the eerie Murray flood plains with their marooned lifeless trees like a WW1 no-man’s-land, missing the water (poached and depleted by the upstream states).
Finally the Mount Lofty Ranges loomed ahead and we were into Australia’s premier wine region, the Barossa Valley– a patchwork of vineyards, dotted with quaint market towns, wineries, high end eateries set in a Tuscan-esque landscape. We had travelled a thousand kilometres only to find the best destination right on our doorstep. From wine lands to wastelands and back.