Driving the Lower Darling River
The Lower Murray River RunTM:
Lower Darling River Tour - There are ways to drive from Wentworth to Adelaide, or vice versa, but a trip along the lower Murray River would have the most beautiful ways to go. Add to that, adding something special like the 'road less traveled', makes it an even more exquisite experience.
The upstream point of this adventure is Wentworth at the Murray-Darling confluence and a town described by Charles Sturt as "Magnificent trees droop like willows to the water's edge with evening's mildest radiance in their foliage, throwing a soft haze over the distance..."
The downstream point of this touring route is Lake Alexandrina, a huge body of fresh water at 37 km long and 21 km wide, and in the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime, the lake was inhabited by a monster known as the Muldjewangk.
Wentworth to Lake Alexandrina
Distance: 548 km
This 'road less traveled' route is suitable for all types of vehicles and perfect for caravans and RVs.
For those in a hurry, the direct route between Wentworth and Wellington East near the mouth of the Murray as it enters Lake Alexandrina is 341 km, but where is the fun in that?
The adventure route is 200 km further, but the extra distance enables a greater experience of the towns and landscapes of the lower Murray River which includes the more majestic vistas synonymous with the long wide reaches of the Murray River and the sandstone cliffs that have been worked by the river over eons.
Famous inland explorer Charles Sturt described the area of the Murray Darling confluence, the site which would become Wentworth, "Magnificent trees droop like willows to the water's edge with evening's mildest radiance in their foliage, throwing a soft haze over the distance..." Wentworth has certainly not lost any of that ethereal beauty and has to be a place to visit.
Wentworth was originally named Hawdon's Ford, before being surveyed in 1858 and named Wentworth in 1859 after the Australian explorer, journalist and politician William Charles Wentworth.
Before the inland and the Darling River was opened up, Wentworth was the hub to which much of the wool clip was brought for shipment to either Echuca (for transport to Melbourne) or Morgan (for transport to Adelaide).
Due to the efforts of the early river pioneers in the late 1850's, William Randell (PS Mary Ann) and Francis Cadell (PS Lady Augusta), the Darling River was opened-up for trade and Wentworth became the first river port of the Darling - although its early development can also be attributed to the river trade already being developed along the Murray.
By the late 1880's Wentworth was Australia's busiest inland port. In 1895, 485 vessels were recorded as passing through the Customs House (31 in one week alone).
Today, Wentworth is a large and prosperous township with lots for the traveler to see and experience and is an ideal base to explore some amazing experiences in the area.
Wentworth to Renmark
Wentworth to Renmark (165 km)
- Renmark Rd
- Rufus River Road
Normally, a drive from Wentworth to Renmark would join up with the Sturt Highway south of Mildura, while quicker, there is no adventure or great experience in that.
This adventure route heads west from Wentworth, across the Great Darling River Anabranch, past Lake Victoria and follows the Murray River on its western/northern bank to Renmark.
The Great Darling Anabranch
The Great Darling Anabranch is the original course of the Darling River from south of Menindee to the Murray River west of today’s confluence with the Murray River at Wentworth.
The Darling Anabranch spits from the Darling River south of Menindee and heads south to the Murray River which it joins 20 km west of Wentworth passing through several large lakes along the way. It ceased to be a river about 11,000 years ago. The Anabranch was an important area for Aboriginal people for about 27,000 years.
The Great Darling Anabranch is also connected to the Menindee Lakes' Lake Tandou & Lake Cawndilla via Redbank Creek - which feeds the Anabranch during environmental/high river flows.
Menindee Lakes, known by the name ‘Wontanella' by the First Nation Barkindji meaning 'many waters' and Laidley's Chain of Ponds was its first European name.
Following the 1960s construction of the Menindee Lakes scheme, an annual replenishment flow was made available from Lake Cawndilla to the landholders along the Anabranch. This release of 50,000ML/year was released over 100 days, until the flow had reached the end of the Anabranch, then was retained in 17 weir pools along the Anabranch stream. Anabranch landholders would then pump their stock and domestic requirements from these weir pools.
Droughts proved this solution unsustainable as Lake Cawndilla has had no capacity to supply a release of water to the Darling Anabranch since 2003. In 2005 the Darling Anabranch Pipeline was proposed and would provide a more efficient way to distribute water along the Anabranch.
Today the Anabranch flows as a result of environmental releases (the last one in 2017 and also three years prior) and in times of very high Darling River flows (last seen around 2022/23)
The Murray River town of Renmark is synonymous with fruit production, and set beautifully along Australia’s longest river and is characterized by wide streets and riverbank parklands.
Limes, Olives, oranges, plums, apricots, and grapes flourish in the area today but that was only made possible by the efforts of the Chaffey brothers (George and William), who, in 1887 signed an agreement with the South Australian government to create an irrigation scheme in the area; a first for Australia. But it was short-lived and really only became successful after it was agreed that the distribution channels be moved underground (1959).
The name Renmark is attributed to the First Nation’s word meaning Red Mud.
Today, the town is a popular tourist destination where it is possible to enjoy the majesty of the Murray by hiring a bicycle and cycling along the riverbank; hiring a canoe or kayak and paddling along the river, or visiting the historic PS Industry and Argo Barge moored at the river's edge.
Five Interesting Facts:
- In the 1890s 'Breaker' Morant worked in the local area on the Paringa Station. When Paringa Station went broke Morant and two of the boys from the station joined the Bushveld Carbineers and served in the Boer War. He was subsequently executed by the British.
- In 1897 the Renmark Community Hotel became the first community-owned hotel in the British Empire.
- The explorer Captain Charles Sturt rowed a whaleboat down the Murrumbidgee in late 1829 and reached the junction with the Murray River on 14 January 1830. He passed the present site of Renmark in late January and reached Lake Alexandrina on 9 February 1830.
- In 1901 the Chaffey Brothers started building the town wharf. It was completed in 1905.
- The town was decimated by the infamous 1956 flood.
Renmark to Overland Corner
Renmark to Overland Corner (103 km)
- Sturt Highway
- Kingston Rd
- Sturt Highway
- Morgan Rd
Looking at a map, it is easy to why the overlanders chose to ignore the route of the Murray River south from Renmark to Loxton, then North the Overland Corner as it is only 32km as the crow flies.
Our route is intended to provide an insight into how the lower Murray River flows to Lake Alexandrina and this section is quite amazing as the river heads south for 37km to Loxton then northwest for 39km to the Corner.
The route crosses back over the north/west side of the Murray River (downstream perspective)
A short distance from the Overland Corner, the route goes past Loch Luna and Lake Bonney. Lake Bonney was named after Charles Bonney, who with Joseph Hawdon, plotted to first overlander route to Adelaide from the NSW colony.
Loxton is a wonderful Murray River service town with set beautifully on the southern bank of the Murray River; affording the opportunity of picturesque grassy parks overlooking the river.
The town itself boasts first-class accommodation, unique attractions, a nationally recognized golf course, thriving retail and business centre, wine tasting, numerous festivals and events, beautifully maintained gardens, and a variety of nature-based activities such as swimming, boating, canoeing, fishing, and bushwalking.
Named after a Bookpurnong Station boundary rider William Charles Loxton, who lived in a hut from 1878 to 1881 beside the river.
A ‘not to be missed’ attraction of Loxton, is ‘The Village’ which is a wonderful, educational, experience of yesteryear. A step-back-in-time to the pioneering days of the mid-1800 complete with over 45 buildings and exhibits providing a great insight into the lives of early settlers and their families.
The Overland Corner
The Overland Corner is a tiny settlement on the Murray River in the Riverland area of South Australia, west of Renmark. The Murray from Renmark travels southwest to Loxton then heads northwest to the Overland Corner. The Corner is located near Barmera and Cobdogla.
Traditionally, the area had been used by First Nation people for thousands of years having camped, built wurlies and lived on the resources provided by the river; many artifacts have been found in the area as well as burial grounds and canoe trees.
The term ‘Overlander’ refers to the method of moving stock overland, especially between the colonies of NSW and the colony of Adelaide during the early-mid 1800s. Prior to that, the stock would need to be transported via ship which would take a lot longer and result in a large number perishing during the voyage.
Drovers would rest their stock and let them graze on the extensive and lush river flats before continuing the journey to Adelaide.
When the Murray River trade started, the Overland Corner was Overland Corner developed as a point where timber was supplied to fuel paddle steamers.
In 1859 the Overland Hotel was built, and by the 1870's it was the recognized overnight camping spot. Sometimes up to 30,000 sheep grazed the river flats near the hotel.
Situated 680 metres from the Murray River and 21 kilometres from Barmera off the Goyder Highway, the hotel boasts the biggest beer garden in the Riverland. The Hotel is a fully licensed venue, with an amazing collection of memorabilia showcasing its history and that of the area.
Overland Corner to Morgan
Overland Corner to Morgan (68 km)
- Goyder Hwy
From the Overland Corner, the route follows the Murray River west as far as Waikerie at which point it crosses the river back to the south/east side. The crossing is not by a bridge, but by car ferry (the first of several from here).
Waikerie is a small, pleasant town sitting on the cliffs (30 metres above sea level) above the Murray River in the heart of South Australia's rich Riverland district. It is surrounded by citrus orchards and extensive stands of apricots, peaches, pears, and plums. The cliffs at this point in the Murray are so high that water from the river has to be pumped up to provide the orchards with water.
It is believed that the Ngawait Aborigines, who inhabited the area before the arrival of Europeans, called the giant swift moth, "wei kari" meaning "many wings'. It is from their language that the town's name is derived with some sources believing that it means 'many wings or birds' or 'anything that flies'.
From Waikerie, it is a lovely drive up to Cadell, on the south side of the Murray River. Cadell is a name synonymous with the Murray River due to the exploits of an early riverboat captain who not only explored the Murray River but proved, receiving a hefty reward for doing so, that the Murray River was navigable and a viable option for the wool trade to get the wool clip to Adelaide for export to Britain. A remarkable achievement.
The township of Morgan was surveyed in 1878 and named after the, twice, Governor of South Australia, Sir William Morgan, and has played an integral part in the history of the Murray River. The local indigenous population referred to the area as `Koerabko’, meaning a place for good honey and a meeting place of the tribes.
As for its role in the history of the river, NSW and Victoria held claim to certain rights and commercial advantages over the Murray and Darling rivers, as NSW had a railhead at Bourke on the Darling, while Victoria had it is at Echuca on the Murray. Both provided a way to connect the opening interior of the country with river transport that could be linked to their capital cities via rail. The South Australian government of the time also wanted to secure a similar link to their capital, Adelaide, and its port.
Morgan became a major hub of the country’s growing pastoral development, bringing the wool clip from outlying areas to the Port of Adelaide for shipping back to England. The growth of Morgan was rapid and was soon servicing six trains a day to Adelaide with the five steam-operated cranes on the wharf operating 24hrs a day unloading boats and barges.
Morgan grew as the river transport businesses boomed. The booms also led to the inevitable oversupply of river vessels, and with the advent of increased efficiency and coverage of the rail network, this was the beginning of the end of the rail/river era.
Its swansong came with the amalgamation of all the riverboat companies to form the Murray Shipping Ltd, which was bolstered by the business to supply materials needed for the building of the locks and weirs of the Murray River.
The decline of the river trade after the ’20s meant the regression of towns like Morgan. Fortunately, the importance of its rich history is being realized and preserved by facilitating ways for future generations to appreciate that the river is an integral part of our history and who we are as a nation.
Morgan to Murray Bridge
Morgan to Murray Bridge (125 km)
- Murraylands Rd
- Hunter Rd
- Burdett Rd
After Morgan, the Murray River heads south and most of the route follows the east bank as it provides the best view of the wonderful sandstone cliffs on the west bank.
Crossing over the Murray to visit Blanchetown then following Murraylands Rd down to Swan Reach at which point cross back over to the east bank (ferry).
It is then a run down to Bowhill, the point at which the Murray River heads west again. Sticking close to the river for a great vantage, take the East Front Rd at Younghusband and then back onto Hunter Rd before reaching Bolto for the ferry crossing to Mannum.
Then it is a nice run down to Murray Bridge.
Long before famous explorer Charles Sturt camped in the area in February 1830 to determine a reason why the eastern rivers of NSW flowed west (in the belief of an inland sea) to a boat down the Murrumbidgee River and all the way along the Murray River, the First Nation Ngarrindjeri people inhabited the area. The Ngarrindjeri people referred to the area as Pomberuk.
Formerly known as Edwards Cross, then Mobilong, Murray Bridge was proclaimed a city in 1993 and is today home to 16,000 people.
In 1879, the first road bridge across the lower Murray was built at Edwards Crossing and was named ‘The Murray Bridge’. In 1886, the bridge became a shared road/rail bridge and in 1925 a separate rail bridge was built.
In 1979 the Swanport Bridge, which incorporates the South Eastern Freeway across the Murray River was completed five kilometres downstream, removing most through traffic from the historic Murray Bridge.
Today the city is the centre of a major agricultural district and is a major tourist attraction within South Australia, with Murray Bridge identified as the "crown" of the Murray Region, containing many attractions for people of all ages.
The Murray River is a picturesque site of houseboats, paddle steamers and happy, relaxed people. Sit back and relax while observing the beauty of this natural wonder.
Although many of the Murray Bridge attractions are water-based, such as skiing and swimming, there are many exciting land attractions that are also well worth a visit.
Just out of Murray Bridge there is a new open-range zoo and breeding ground for arid and grassland animals at the Monarto Zoological Park. Many species of animals can roam this 1000 hectare site. Tourists have the opportunity to take a Safari Bus around the park with a personal guide.
Murray Bridge to Lake Alexandrina
Murray Bridge to Lake Alexandrina (42 km)
- Princes Hwy
The magnificent Lake Alexandrina is primarily sourced from the Murray River (with a lesser contribution by Bremer, Angas, and Finniss Rivers) and is a huge body of fresh water at 37 km long and 21 km wide, and has a total surface area of 570 square km.
In the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime, the lake was inhabited by a monster known as the Muldjewangk; names associated with the lake by the First Nations include Mungkuli, Parnka, and Kayinga.
Explorer Charles Sturt is attributed with its ‘discovery’ in 1830, although it is documented that sealers had been visiting Lake Alexandrina before this. The lake was so named by Charles Sturt in honour of Princess Alexandrina (who became Queen Victoria). In fact, when she did become Queen Victoria, there was a discussion to rename the lake Lake Victoria.
Due to the lake’s shallow depth (1.5-4.5 metres) and a treacherous sandbar to the ocean, early thoughts on its maritime potential were short-lived.
Though Lake Alexandrina is connected to the ocean, historically the fresh and saltwater flow mixed very little, with the lake area remaining fresh over 95% of the time with normal river inflow.
The lake empties into the sea via a channel known as the Murray Mouth south-east of the town of Goolwa, but when the river flow is low the mouth is often blocked by a sandbar. During these times, caused by droughts throughout the Murray Darling Basin, the soils on the lake beds which are naturally rich in iron sulphides, are exposed and the sulphides oxidise producing toxic sulphuric acid.
Originally subjected to tidal and storm inflows of seawater, the lake is now maintained as freshwater by a series of barrages known as the Goolwa Barrages which cross five channels between the mainland and three islands near the Murray Mouth. These barrages now prevent seawater inflows that have prevented this phenomenon in every drought since the last ice age
It is a majestic place, and to visit it is to get some understanding of the influence the Murray Darling Basin has on it as the Murray-Darling is more than just a river, it is part of a much larger system, whose health must be ensured for the future.