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The Coorong National Park is one our most beautiful parks, yet one of the more difficult to get access to. This thin sliver of water and dunes stretches for around 140km from the mouth of the Murray River in a southeast direction towards the township of Kingston.
The Cruise the Coorong company has been operating Coorong Highlights Cruises from Goolwa for many years now, and on my recent trip south I jumped onboard with the owner, Michael Veenstra, and 12 others for a taste of Australia's largest saltwater national park.
The Coorong Highlights Cruise departs the freshwaters around Goolwa Wharf at 10am (and 130pm) and heads southeast towards the Goolwa Barrage where a friendly toot of the horn entices the Lockmaster to leave the comfort of his small office and make his way to the Lock to let us in for the transfer to the other side.
While waiting for the lock our eyes wander to the large lumps lying over parts of the Barrage, and Michael explains the story behind this Seal Colony, and why they love bathing and basking around the barrage. As any keen fisherman would tell you, it is easier to catch fish when you locate yourself right next to them!
Once through the Barrage, we enter mixed waters as the Murray River and the sea combine to produce a water whose salinity varies in accordance with the volume of flows from both sources. Over the last few months, the Murray River has been high and pushing strongly out to sea, thus keeping salinity levels low.
One of the other impacts of the high Murray River flows has been the two dredges that are located at the Murray Mouth. For a number of years now these dredges have been operating daily to clear the sand from the Murray Mouth but in recent times they have lay idle as the fast running Murray River has done the clearing job for them.
A quick trip around a sandbar, and then across for a close up viewing of the Murray Mouth, and then we are formally into the saltwaters known as the Coorong National Park. We continue southeast for another 15 minutes before we reach our destination being Barker's Knoll, a boat-only campground named after Captain Collett Barker who disappeared near this area in 1831 while discovering and mapping the area.
After docking the boat, we disembark and then commence a short walk along a path through plants and bushes where Michael grabs at random bushes and pulls leaves, seeds and berries, and the proceeds to offer some of this "bush tucker" to us all. Surprisingly much of the bush tucker has some good taste and texture about it.
Back at the boat we are treated to some bush tucker muffins to have with our coffee and tea before we start the trip back to Goolwa. Along the return trip a slideshow is shown on the large screen highlighting some of the early days of life on the Coorong, the trials and tribulations of the Murray Mouth, and the project to build the Goolwa Barrage.
The Coorong Highlights Cruise operates Fridays during school holidays at a cost of $60 for adults and $50 for kids. The longer Coorong Ultimate Cruise operates Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays between September and May. Further details, including bookings, are available on the Cruise the Coorong website or via their facebook page.