Sunday, September 14, 2014

Riverlands 2014, Part Two: Murray Bridge to Blanchetown

This is where we're headed, as we leave Murray Bridge after lunch on the riverboat Captain Proud; but --
It'll be a long drive as the afternoon shadows begin to lengthen over the roar to Mannum.
Mannum itself -- across the river. We didn't stop -- there's too many miles ahead of us ... the road sign shows. We're booked in a cabin at Blanchetown for the night, 108 K's away.
Foot down on the loud pedal -- headed for Swan Reach now.
Along the road to Swan Reach, you're wanting to stop every few K's,
as the scenery becomes more beautiful along the river --
-- but don't scramble too close to the bank in search of that photo!
The views from Len Kroehn's Lookout are superb.

Lola takes a breather, not far from the tiny town of Nildottie.
A typically South Australian landscape, just a few K's from Nildottie
The Murray River has sustained life in South Australia since the earliest years of the colony.

A houseboat is tucked in at the bank of the Murray River very close to Nildottie.
Now, these guys have the right idea! And you can rent these houseboats. Hmmm...!

Back on the road, we're headed for Blanchetown --
-- more or less following the river and looking forward to dinner!
Houseboats cluster along the riverbank at Blanchetown --
-- as evening light falls over the wetlands. With the car unpacked, we took a stroll...
Swamp hens thrive in these lush wetlands...
A songbird was in full voice as these pictures were taken -- not a bird you'd hear closer to Adelaide,
and we have no idea what it was. Never caught a glimpse of it, sadly.
Photography meets art ... nice. Difficult exposure in the low light ...
and I'd switched to the tiny Nikon CoolPix picket camera.
Evening settles over the river, and we're ready for dinner and some sleep. We'll have a
very early start tomorrow, if we're to stick to schedule.
Dawn breaks over the River Murray at Blanchetown --
And you can tell with one glance at that sky, the weather is changing. It always does on these trips!
Houseboats in the dawn light, under a lowering sky ... and the river is busy with pelicans. You can see
them at lower right -- view this image at full size.
Kookaburras were cackling in the pink of the dawn as we headed back to the cabin...
We had one eye on that sky, wondering what might be coming up!
Sure enough, a weather front headed in as we made tracks for Morgan, in search of breakfast.
Main street Morgan -- and very good bacon and egg rolls!
From Murray Bridge to Blanchetown is a fairly long drive and, admittedly, we stopped numerous times for pictures. The late afternoon light was golden and the silence was profound over a landscape where tiny towns are strung like beads on a necklace, along the river.

The Murray River is quite something ... the third longest navigable river in the world (only the Amazon and Nile are longer), and over 2,500 K's in length, from the point where it rises in the Kosciusco National Park to its outfall at Goolwa -- and over 1,800 K's of this can be navigated. The river provides water to something like a million and a half households, via the third largest catchment system on the planet.

We've wanted to see every part of the river in South Australia, from the point where it crosses the border into this state, to the outfall. Well ... we've seen 95% of it, but the furthest reach, right on the state border, continues to elude us. Another year, for sure.

After the lunch cruise on the Captain Proud we headed out of Murray bridge with the intention of "making the plot up as we went along." Good plan! Evening found us checking into one of the town's two tourist parks. A stroll in the wetlands, dinner ... sleeeep! The night was almost silent, save for the roar of heavy trucks crossing the road bridge over the river, carrying freight to Adelaide.

We'd hoped for a spectacular sunrise, but the pictures above show just what happened. No colors! A flush of faint pink, and then a slow fade up into daylight. Dang. Next time. We packed the car and got out of dodge early, with the object in mind of hunting up breakfast in Morgan, along the river...

And that's where we'll be in the next post.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Riverlands 2014 Part 1: Murray Bridge, Captain Proud and the river

This is where we're headed: South Australia's lovely Riverland ... the "mighty Murray" itself...
...but like any trip it all starts on the road. Early. Here's the South East Freeway with long morning shadows,
and we're headed for Murray Bridge. First stop: lunch on a genuine paddlewheel riverboat!
Being a sensible Mitsubishi Magna, Lola decides to take a pit stop not far out of town --
-- and as you wheel over the crest of the final hill, and leave the freeway, there's the flatlands laid out before you,
and the rural city of Murray Bridge itself.
First priority: stop for a cup of tea at Mobilong Precinct, a lovely park area with a view of the river --
-- and from Mobilong Precinct, you can actually see the riverboat at her moorings.
The Captain Proud is just beginning to take on passengers. But first --
-- being gardening enthusiasts, we couldn't resist photographing some of the gorgeous roses
at the Mobilong Precinct park. They had every kind imaginable...

On the riverfront wharf, where the Captain Proud moors, stands an original steam locomotive,
a relic of the days when the Murray River was a major freight mover.
Today, the Murray River doesn't move freight, but it's busy with recreational vessels of every kind...
...while the sky is just as busy with pelicans, welcome swallows and many other birds.
Water skiing is popular on many parts of the river, especially closer to Murray Bridge. And speaking
of welcome swallows (as in the previous caption), one got into this picture: bottom right corner!
The riverboat Captain Proud is taking on passengers in earnest now, so --
Time to board. Here's the view from the stern; and --
The dining room, where a great lunch will be served in about an hour's time; and --
The Captain Proud's salon, right on the waterline, down below.
The view from the upper deck, where passengers are welcome up beside the wheelhouse...
From a compartment down below, you can look out and see the paddlewheel turning.
And we're off! The Captain Proud has cast off moorings and is heading out into mid-river --
On the way out, you get a closeup view of the supports under the railway bridge. Check out that sign!
The riverbanks throng with houseboats, most of them for rent as holiday homes. Now, there's a thought...
From mid-water, you get an impression of how big the Murray River really is. Okay, it's not in the same
league as the Mississippi, but it's by no means small ... and it's the biggest one we have!
The Captain Proud headed downriver on this trip, toward Goolwa. On other trips, she heads north,
past Murray Bridge and toward Mannum.
Soon enough, she leaves behind the town and the riverbanks become lightly wooded, a little swampy,
a paradise for waterbirds.
Many bridges cross the river. Freight doesn't move on the river any longer, but it sure moves over it!
At this time in 2014 the water levels are pleasantly high. If we'd done this cruise a few years ago, it
would have been a very different story. Due to the drought, the river was dangerously low.
It's difficult to believe, from images like this, that only a couple of years ago South Australia was on
serious water rationing ... and the state was so worried, we built a desalination plant. Then it rained.
The course of the river has moved a little -- as you can tell from the dead, submerged trees.
All parts of the Murray River are paradise for pelicans, cormorants, herons, cranes, ducks, gulls, and more...
...and for humans too. How'd you like to be living in one of these places, with a boat landing right
at the bottom of your driveway? Whoa. That's some serious cash. But --
Right opposite, on the other bank, the river supports wide-scale agriculture...
-- including dairy, which is a thirsty industry indeed, and --
-- someone's having a go at olive growing here, which is a very smart move. This state is
tremendously proud of its olive oil, which is touted as the best in the world.
The wake of the Captain Proud. She's headed back to Murray Bridge now, but --
-- watch out for water skiers and power boats!
In fact, on this trip there was a "near miss", close enough to bring an officer from the river authorities
out to confer with the pilot of our riverboat. Some powerboat drivers are ... insane.
All along the river, thousands of willows were planted. The root masses of these trees stabilize the
riverbank. Without them, the wash from boats -- especially those powerboats -- would destroy
the bank. Willows have been used since the days when the river moved mass cargo.
And here we are back at the Captain Proud's moorings, after a great lunch, and with a long drive
ahead of us this afternoon --
We're headed out of Murray Bridge, next stops Mannum, Swan Reach, and Blanchetown.
The road goes ever on, as Tolkien said!
There are not too many places left in "accessible South Australia" that we haven't visited. Barossa, Clare Valley -- done. Mount Gambier, Keith, the limestone coast? Done. Fleurieu ... well, that's our backyard. But we hadn't "done" the Riverland yet, and we'd been wanting to, for years. So --

We booked a cabin at one of the tourist parks in Blanchetown, for overnight; we knew we'd be arriving very late and leaving very early. And all we needed to do was get a very early start on Saturday, and plan to be home late on Sunday, and we were in business.

On previous trips to Murray Bridge we'd seen (and photographed) the riverboat Captain Proud going by, loaded with passengers for their lunch cruise. Dave had been wanting to do this for some time, and since this was our 15th wedding anniversary trip -- why not? So we had to be in Murray Bridge for a certain time, to meet the riverboat, but after that the schedule was wide open.

Lunch aboard the Captain Proud was very good: traditional food and plenty of it. Roast and veggies, with apple crumble for dessert. Compliments to all the staff for a lovely experience all around. We'd like to do it again some time!

The cruise is three hours, then you're back on dry land -- in the car, in fact, and headed out for the next leg of the trip. This would take us from Murray Bridge in the late(ish) afternoon, to Blanchetown in the gold of the evening ... dawn on the river next morning, and then east, waaay east, into parts of the state we'd never visited.

That's where we'll be going in the next post in this series.

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