I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published February 9th 2020
The road to Renmark SA
South Australia's Riverland region spans a 360-Kilometre stretch of the Murray River from the Victoria/New South Wales border downstream to Blanchetown. With a Mediterranean type climate of predominantly warm, dry summers and relatively mild winters the regions fertile soil produces a diverse range of crops and livestock. Home to Australia's largest wine region the Riverland grows about 25% all Australian wine grape production. Other crops include citrus & stone fruits, wheat, wool and almond & pistachio nuts.
Renmark is a tourist hotspot on the Murray River at the heart of South Australia's Riverland Region. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The heart of the Riverland is Renmark, a modern multi-cultural town that was established as Australia's first irrigation settlement in 1887 by Canadian brothers George and William Chaffey.
Initially, the irrigation colony prospered but the good times were short-lived. In 1893 a major bank crash sent the Chaffey's broke. At the same time lack of agricultural skills, the use of inappropriate farming methods and various crop diseases combined to make life on the land extremely difficult with many families abandoning their holdings.
The Renmark Hotel circa 1897, the first community owned hotel in the British Empire. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
In 1892 the Renmark Irrigation Trust was established, taking over the Chaffey's rights and charged with delivering water efficiently and at low cost to the district's growers. Today the Trust serves over 600 irrigation members farming about 5,000 hectares in the Renmark district.
Present day Renmark with its wide streets, expansive river frontage, water-borne activities, history aplenty, good shopping and some great camping and caravanning options is a tourism hot-spot on this ruggedly beautiful stretch of the mighty Murray. Here you can swim, fish, canoe & kayak, cruise and water-ski, hire a houseboat or take a stroll along the town's 5-Kilometre long riverfront interpretive walk.
PS INDUSTRY was built in 1911 and was one of the last steamers to operate commercially on the Murray River. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
There's plenty to see and do in town and the best place to start is at the Renmark-Paringa Visitor Information Centre in Murray Avenue. Here you can find maps and all the information you'll need on the district. Berthed next door is the historic paddle steamer PS INDUSTRY, one of the last steamers to operate commercially on the river and retired in 1969. During catastrophic floods in 1956 INDUSTRY was placed on standby with a full head of steam, ready to assist in the evacuation of Renmark if that became necessary.
Right next door is the ARGO barge, the largest barge ever to operate on the Murray, used mainly in the construction of weirs and locks during the 1920s.
The Port of Renmark played a major role in the Murray-Darling river trade throughout the latter half of the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
There's the imposing Renmark Hotel, the first community-owned hotel in the British Empire opened in 1897. It's still owned by the community today with profits going to local charities and events.
You won't want to miss Twenty Third Street Distillery with its tasty range of whiskies, gin, vodka and brandy. My favourite was the Hybrid Old Fashioned, 50ml of whisky, 20 ml of sugar syrup and 3 dashes of bitters. Yum.
The Murray River viewed from the Heading Cliffs Lookout near Renmark. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Nearby you'll find Angove Family Winemakers at 271 Bookmark Avenue. The first winery established in the Riverland Angove's Renmark facility opened in 1910. They began planting their own vines at Paringa in 1968 and by 1986 their Nanya Vineyard had become the largest single vineyard in Australia. Visit the Cellar Door for a great selection of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Chardonnay among others.
For a complete change of pace make your way to Ruston's Roses, Café & Function Centre at 70 Moorna Street. Here you'll find Australia's largest rose garden, home to the National Rose Collection of Australia. There are 40,000 rose bushes here along with a gift shop, local artworks and a classic car display.
For some great views of the Murray head out of town to Headings Cliffs Lookout, on the edge of the Murtho Forest Reserve. From up here, you'll frequently see luxury houseboats glide up and down the river, fitting given that the first houseboats on the Murray were built and launched at Renmark in 1964.
Houseboating is a major industry and very popular form of relaxation along the Riverland stretch of the Murray River. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Nearby Paringa is virtually a suburb of Renmark these days. It was at the centre of a failed irrigation scheme in 1892, another joint venture between the SA Government and the Chaffey brothers.
Around that time too it was home to Harry Harbord 'Breaker' Morant, a stockman on Paringa Station. When the station went broke Morant and two mates headed off to South Africa to join the Bushveld Carbineers and the rest is history.
Angove Family winemakers was the first winery established in the Riverland. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
The Paringa Suspension Bridge opened in January 1927 as a road-rail bridge accommodating the Sturt Highway and the Barmera rail line. The last train crossed the bridge in 1982 and the tracks were removed in 1986, making way for a shared pedestrian and cycle path.
Comprised of five fixed spans and one movable, the second span in from the Paringa end of the bridge is a 23.7-Meter long counterbalanced lift-span capable of rising 9-Metres vertically to provide a 13.5-Metre clearance above the river level. The bridge still opens twice a day at 9.30 AM and 2.30 PM Monday to Friday to allow the passage of large vessels.
Nearby Paringa's Lock 5 is one of six Locks along the Riverland stretch of the Murray and was built in the 1920s, not long after the first was completed at nearby Blanchetown in 1922.
Lock 5 is also home to the 80-Ton retired river barge BUNYIP. Built at Morgan and launched in 1962 BUNYIP served for more than 40 years on the river maintaining infrastructure and clearing snags & debris. She was put on show at Lock 5 in 2013.
The base for our Renmark adventure was the BIG4 Renmark Riverfront Holiday Park. Nearby attractions include the towns of Berri, Mannum and Loxton or Lyrup with its cable ferry. There's the Banrock Station Winery & Wetlands experience or the historic Overland Corner Hotel.
For something a little different take a tour and tasting at Twenty Third Street Distillery. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Best Time to Visit
For me spring and/or autumn are the best times to visit Renmark when you'll experience average daytime temperatures of about 23 degrees and cool evenings of around 9 or 10 degrees. Both seasons experience e about 30mm of rain annually.
Summers are hot. The average maximum temperature is 29 degrees but there are frequent spells in the high '30s and '40s.
Winters, although mild by comparison to the southeast of the nation, generally bring frosty days and cold nights with average daily temps ranging from 6 to 17 degrees.
The Paringa lift-bridge is raised twice a day Monday to Friday to allow the passage of large vessels. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
There are several excellent caravan parks in both Renmark and nearby Paringa.
Our choice was the Big4 Renmark Riverfront Holiday Park, an outstanding facility on the edge of town and right on the river. Probably one of the best all-round parks I've stayed at.
Featuring a kilometre of park-like river frontage within easy walking distance of town the immaculate layout and facilities deliver everything the discerning holidaymaker could wish for. With its games room, TV & movie rooms, tennis court, adventure playground, swimming pool and waterpark it's a huge
hit with young families.
Free camping is available at Murtho Forest Landing, 16-Kilometres north of Renmark and Plushs Bend just 10-minutes out of town. Both sites allow pets and Plushs Bend has the added convenience of toilets.
Lock 5 at Paringa was built in the 1920's, one of six Riverland weirs & locks. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Taste-testing your way around the Twenty Third Street Distillery in the heart of Renmark.
Enjoy a craft-beer at the Woolshed Brewery, part of the historic Wilkadene Homestead, about a 15-minute drive north of Renmark.
See the historic Paringa lift-bridge open at either 9.30 AM or 2.30 PM daily Monday to Friday.
Take a cruise on PS INDUSTRY. She sails on the first Sunday of each month and other occasions throughout the year. Check at the Visitor Information Centre for details.
If you're in Renmark in October don't miss the blaze of colour at the annual Rose Festival.
BUNYIP is a retired river barge on display at Lock 5, Paringa. Photo: Copyright Ian Gill / Footloose Media
Getting There ..
Renmark is at the heart of South Australia's magnificent Riverland region, 257-Kilometres northeast of Adelaide, 679-Kilometres northwest of Melbourne and 141-Kilometres west of Mildura.
Why? You won't be disappointed on a visit to Renmark with its wide streets, expansive river frontage, water-borne activities, history aplenty, good shopping and some great camping and caravanning options.
When:Spring and or autumn are the best times to visit Renmark when you'll experience average daytime temperatures of about 23 degrees and cool evenings of around 9 or 10 degress.
Phone:Renmark/Paringa Visitor Information Centre 1300 661 704