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Published August 18th 2016
How was this all possible ?
We are all aware of the mighty and majestic Murray River, and we probably all have our own favourite spots and activities along the river. But for many locals, the Murray is more than a tourism destination - it is a crucial component of a sustainable environment that stretches from the Ranges to the Plains. A self-drive tour of the Mid Murray provides some insights into this environment.
The Mid Murray Self Drive Eco Tour is a new created opportunity to enjoy a great drive through the ever-changing scenery of the Murraylands and Murray Plains while visiting parks, waterfalls, farming communities, historic landmarks, reserves and some of the more unusual and iconic items and features that are associated with country life.
The tour starts from the Visitor Information Centre in Mannum in the heart of paddle steamer country. Heading south-west the tour passes the iconic (former) John Shearer factory and the world class Rivapak factory, highlighting the changing dynamics of industry and the continuance of innovation in regional South Australia.
Mannum waterfalls are around 10km from Mannum, and in the midst of winter are fed by the rains on the eastern ranges as they make their way down the slopes and into the Murray. These seasonal waterfalls are a must-see between May and October with picnic and bathroom facilities making them an ideal spot for a short break.
Plants and wildflowers, and in some cases weeds, are also popular viewing on the drive. From fields of crops to the invasive Prickly Pear cacti to the rare Silver Daisy Bush which is now protected and supported within the TP Bellchambers Reserve, there is much flora to observe, and with different views in every season.
In days gone by the railway network extended along the eastern side of the Mt Lofty Ranges, and remnants of its past are visible between Sanderston and Cambrai. Sanderston is also home to the magnificent homestead of Glenroy and the nearby Saunders Gorge Sanctuary with its restaurant, walking trails and camping facilities.
The changing face of industry is matched by the changing face of farming, and the area around Cambrai sees numerous example of olive groves, including those from Marne River Olives, as well as the growing industry of turf farms. The flat lands, coupled with good soils and water flow in the Marne River valley provide a perfect environment for the growth of good quality turf, much of which is supplied to Adelaide ovals and greens.
The Marne River flows for around 6 months of the year inside an enormous floodplain that clearly is a result of rains many thousands of years ago. The eco tour takes visitors through the centre of the Marne Valley, offering different perspectives of a landscape that changes from rich farming land near Cambrai to limestones, spinifex and mallee as the Marne gets close to its exit point into the Murray near Wongulla.
But before it gets there, it passes through the once thriving small village of Black Hill before stopping at the historically significant Shell Hill Reserve. Black Hill served the locals, with their small farms, well for many years through its location on the Marne River and midway between the Murray and Cambrai, while Shell Hill remains a 5 million-year-old South Australian geological treat.
The Marne River spills out into the Murray River near Wongulla, where the cliffs bordering each river join into one. With its new boat ramp and picnic facilities, Wongulla has become a popular destination for boaties whom are looking for a quieter spot to launch their boats and have some river fun.
The trail heads south towards Walker Flat, another small town that plays host to a ferry, shops and a series of different accommodation options. The wide reaches of the Murray against the red cliffs and green lawns provide many great spots to stop and appreciate how big this river must have been many thousands of years ago.
The trail now continues south-west past some boat landings, reserves and wide river flats before reaching Mannum. The Mid Murray Self Drive Eco Tour is 130km long and will take 4-5 hours dependent upon stops and exploration. A brochure on the tour is available from the Mannum Visitor Information Centre or available online.