Mildura is a fruitful stop for pleasant camping and touring near the mighty Murray River. It really has it all. And the Sunraysia climate is sublime. The orange trees love this place and I stocked up on locally-produced marmalade and olive oil.
I rolled up here in March for a few nights of discovery, pedalling, geocaching, bushwalking and roaming around the back-blocks. It’s surprising how much there is to do. Or you can simply relax near the river. The bike paths through the bush are clearly marked. The paddle steamers are also worth a look ‘tho this wasn’t on my itinerary. Heaps still to do, and I can go back now the borders are open.
The caravanning and camping options are numerous. Stay at a free reserve or hook-up on the river. I wanted power and chose to stay at a pet-happy park just over the border at Buronga (NSW). You can cycle into town on a purpose-built bike path. But this is not a review of accommodation and there’s something to suit everyone at Mildura. Take your pick!
Mildura is on the Victorian side of the river and I crossed the bridge frequently. It’s worth knowing there are spots on either side of the water and under the bridge where you can take photos of the structure at jaunty angles. For the tech-photo junkies. The rusty remnants of the old lift span bridge constructed in 1924 are close to free camping on the NSW side of the Murray. Geocachers can find it at GC1ZZRB — A Piece of History. I warn you, it’s not a park and grab.
So, what’s so great about Mildura and surrounds? Most things, really. Sure, there are shops and manicured parks and I was able to stock up on supplies and get repairs done. However it’s also a hub for sights and activities within spitting distance. Some are short hops, others will take a day to explore properly. Contentment can also be had lolling about under a shady tree near the water.
Mildura has grown-up but it’s not the least bit pretentious. Think of it as a country town on steroids.
Here are my top picks for those who want to target the Mildura region over a few days.
- The Australian Inland Botanic Gardens is an oasis planted with flowers, trees and shrubs from all across Australia. My favourite wildflower is Sturt’s desert pea and they were blooming when I rolled up here. I logged the geocache at the gate, parked, and took off on foot with a hat and water bottle. I chose a cooler day and that’s my best advice for a walk around the gardens. Even spotted a Queensland bunya pine (Araucaria bidwillii). The gardeners are up for banter and I was directed to a specimen Mallee tree that has stood in place for 2,500 years — imagine that! It’s not far from the seed pod ceiling which provided shade while we talked. I spied a few old things along the nature trails that have stood undisturbed as the gardens expanded around them. I think it’s clever to leave these items in place, both for interest, and as a reminder of how this land was used in past times. There’s a child friendly garden with giant crayon fenceposts. Capped off my adventure with coffee and chat with a local volunteer. Bought some Sturt’s desert pea seeds. Of course I did.
- Kings Billabong is a huge wildlife and wetlands reserve. Sure, it’s accessible for everyone whether on road, bike, kayak or foot. Do the circuit and scoop up all the puzzle geocaches. But if you have a 4WD, my tip is to head into the trails on the periphery. On a dry day. This is amazing country of indescribable beauty. Now I’m gushing! Most visitors will only take in the parklands and miss the best bits — I’ve posted a feature photo so you can see what I mean. Kings Billabong was another initiative of the Canadian Chaffey Brothers. Camping is available at several spots in the reserve for up to a week.
- Psyche Bend is the site of a 19th Century pumphouse, part of an irrigation system designed by the Chaffey Brothers to divert water from the Murray River to King’s Billabong. The huge pump remains operational. Check for opening times on the Psyche Pump Facebook page. Of course, there are geocaches at Psyche Bend and I wandered down the bush trails in search of smileys.
- The Murray-Darling confluence is at Wentworth, and I went straight to the viewing lookout in the reserve. Only a few stairs so climbed up top. The difference in water colour is startling as the Darling River flows over clay, and is a murky green. You can easily see the line where the mighty Murray meets the Darling. The two rivers merge to create one of the largest river systems in the world — it drains all the way from southern Queensland. A beaut spot and heaps of birdlife on the river trees. Aside from looking and snapping photos there are BBQs, shady trees and loos here.
- Perry Sandhills was formed around 10,000 years ago by wind erosion, according to those in the scientific know. These inland sand dunes cover a whopping 333 hectares. The dunes are shaped and re-formed constantly by the wind. With a keen eye, you may even spy an old animal skeleton or artefact during a visit. The slog up the dunes is tough going but promises gob-smacking scenery. But mind the plants as they may not be well anchored. I haven’t seen anything like this outside of coastal areas. And shoes with grip work better on sand than flip-flops.
- Woodsie’s Gem Shop is well-known around the Mildura traps. There are machines on display out front including the purple rock muncher. Inside, rocks, rocks, and more rocks! It’s free to browse and worth a look. And there’s a multicache here.
- Orange World is an orchard not far from the botanic gardens, if you’re out that way. You can hop a train around the orchards, however the tour only runs at certain times of the day. I arrived in between times, but satisfied with my purchases from the wee shop.
- The paddle steamers are located at Lock 11 and Mildura Weir. Definitely worth a visit even if you’re not going for a boat ride. Lovely parklands, heaps of parking also. Steaming down the Murray River is still on my to-do list.
- Much more to see in Mildura including an art gallery and historic buildings.
I stayed on a Murray River trajectory for a few weeks until Easter when the lockdown sent me scurrying back to south-east Queensland as my alleged home state. Mulwala-Yarrawonga is a bit further east and there is plenty of free and paid camping on the water. And the lake is as peaceful as it gets. When Victoria banned outdoor activities all the coffee drinkers and dog-walkers could be found on the NSW banks of the river.
This is the soft sell on Sunraysia as I didn’t get around to doing everything I could have done on this trip. The plan was to attend a Mega geocaching event in South Australia at Easter. That gathering has been deferred to October 2021 — all going well for us as a nation, and across the world. Fingers and toes crossed.
These are my experiences and hot spots. As always, happy to hear about places you really liked in the region? Check out http://www.visitmildura.com.au for opening times and so on.