The birds were the first to herald in the New Year for me, having slept through all the festivities of New Year’s Eve. Apparently the nearby campers and those on the houseboat moored on the river’s edge were revelling long and loud into the next year, and there was fireworks going off all around despite the absolute fire bans in place and the fact that the fire conditions in the State are currently reported as being extremely dangerous. It was therefore just as well I was dead to the world or I would have been stressed out to the max. Such a worry wart I am, if there is an excuse to be.
In these past eleven and a bit months our long planned dream has materialised on schedule. Since leaving the Sunshine Coast where our friends and mentors, Neil and Pauline, put us on the right track, we have travelled just short of thirty thousand kilometres, from the Sunshine Coast inland through to Newcastle, down the central coast to Sydney, where we spent many weeks soaking in civilization and this wonderful city, then northwest through to the cotton country around Moree. One hundred kilometres north of there, Chris spent a month working on a cotton farm, building cotton modules, until the end of the harvest, and then we set off again, this time seeking warmer temperatures. We hit the coast at Brisbane and followed it northwards all the way to the tip of Cape York that more desolate and remote part being done without the caravan, roughing it in a small tent. From there we crossed to the Gulf of Carpentaria, came down to Mount Isa, then through to the Stuart Highway, turning south to Alice Springs, spent four weeks in Adelaide touring out from there, and then finally after Christmas headed back up to Gawler and east across to the Murray Riverlands.
We have camped in cities, beside billabongs, in the bush, beside dry creeks and beside highways. We have seen most of the wild life that roams free with the exception of echidnas and bilbies. (Those in zoos or similar places do not count in our tally.) We have woken with all kinds of wonderful birds announcing the day from the trees about and have not tired of it all yet, and cannot even imagine doing so.
Our family, three “children” and their partners are all managing successfully without our intervention. Our grandchildren are growing up; five now with another arriving in March. We try to keep in touch regularly and with today’s technology, there is little excuse not to. We did slip back to New Zealand in September to attend to business matters and to make sure the wee one’s were able to remember us, but in the meantime there is Skype.
And so it was this morning that we caught up with everyone, leaving messages where personal contact could not be made, before striking camp and venturing into Loxton, whose swamps and lagoons we had camped beside overnight. Loxton was clean and tidy and still deserted mid-morning except for the friendly staff in the local Foodland where we purchased fresh bread and the day’s newspaper.
We felt there was little point in lingering longer and headed west toward Swan’s Reach. The ninety five kilometre road crosses an expansive plain, most of it cropped for cereal and some grazed with sheep. But where there is not intensive application and irrigation, the land is the same arid salt bush land of northern South Australia.
Swan Reach was settled as late as 1899, when the station owner, one Paul Hasse, subdivided a portion of his land. The first half of last century was spent fighting flood, most of all the Great Flood of 1956, which washed most of the main street away and of course has been a historical highlight of every settlement we have passed through on this mighty Murray River.
Apart from the lovely views, there was a notice board giving a few important facts about the Murray River, which are worth reprinting here, even if some of them have been noted in my earlier postings:
- The Murray River is the third longest navigable river in the world, after the Amazon and the Nile.
- Its total length is 2,656 kilometres from its source in the Upper Murray and the Kosciusko National Park.
- The Murray River is continuously navigable for 1986 kilometres from Goolwa to Yarrawonga.
- It spans three states: Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia.
- The river has 4 major dams, 16 storage weirs and 15 navigable locks.
- Is the major domestic water supply for over 1.5 million households.
- Along with its tributaries, the Murray is part of the third largest water catchment on earth.
After absorbing these facts once more, we moved on to a reserve at Purnong, listed in the Camps 5 Bible, right next to the ferry. It was indeed a charming spot, the grass green which is always a bonus, right beside the river with its busy recreational activities to keep the laziest busy, but twenty others had found it before us and didn’t look like moving in a hurry. So again we moved on.
Here we passed bags of onions for sale, good value at $4. We were momentarily tempted but the thought of ten kilos of pungent vegetables in the 40 degree heat of the caravan, day after day, was too much. The road continued to follow the river, then cut east, through rolling hills of grain growing. Finally we came down toward the river again, to the ferry crossing for Mannum and found this reserve, again listed in our Camps 5 bible. It is busy with day trippers, some of whom have their car radios at 20 decibels, however they will be gone in a while if their alcohol intake allows. A few other campers will be left but it will, I think, be one of the quieter camps apart from the last minute travellers for the ferry.