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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