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Published November 21st 2017
Is it time for a Trip Around the Bend ?
What do you get when you combine a rich river history, a low lying swamp, great arable lands and some stunning Australian natives? No less than a 25km circuit around the lower reaches of the River Murray, known simply as the River Bend Heritage Trail.
The Trail, or RBHT as is often seen on signage, is one of several walking or cycling trails that start from that famous railways town of South Australia, Tailem Bend. However, while the others are designed to be completed in less than one hour, the 25km RHBT lends itself to a 3-hour bike ride or perhaps a 6-7 hour walk.
The trail starts at the top of ferry landing alongside the iconic Rhino. A quick trip down the ferry road leads you to the ferry with a short crossing to the western side and Jervois Road. It is here that the trail has an option - turn left and follow the levee bank for 10km to Wellington, or else remain on the bitumen into the nearby small town of Jervois before heading south towards Wellington.
I elect to take the levee bank, a bank which separates the mighty Murray River on its east with the low lying irrigated fields of hay and dairy cattle. At this point, the Murray is over 2,400km from its source in the Australian Alps and has less than 100km to travel, predominantly across the large lake known as Lake Alexandrina, before it despatches into the sea at the Murray Mouth. Today the Murray appears tame with a gentle flow that allows the river birds to nest in the ponds and willows that line the levee bank.
Not surprisingly, the levee bank is flat, and it doesn't take too long before it ends just to the north of the township of Wellington, a town first surveyed in 1840. Here the trail has a slight diversion through the Murrundi Reserve before re-joining the main road into town passing the boat ramp, the old hotel and the old Wellington Courthouse. The Courthouse Cafe sign indicates that our luck is in, and we head inside for a welcome coffee and a light toasted sandwich.
Leaving the cafe and the stunning river views is not easy, but a few steps down the road is the ferry, and then suddenly we are back on the eastern side of the river ready for the trip back to Tailem Bend. A short detour through the Wellington Marina and then across a field to the Pangarinda Botanic Gardens, yet another great display of natives that are maintained by the community.
Leaving the town the old cemetery appears on the left before the junction with the main Princes Highway. Pleasingly my fears of travelling alongside speeding vehicles are allayed as we travel along a side road for a short distance before entering the Mowantjie-Willauwar Conservation Park, another park featuring further natives and some groves of Southern Cyprus Pines. The trail through the path is initially compacted dolomite before becoming sandy and then eventually turning into bitumen, being the former Princes Highway which was re-aligned and re-built many years ago.
The trail continues in a northeast direction interchanging between old bitumen, gravel and sand, but always surrounded by native trees. The Park eventually comes to an end, with the trail then following a short informal track along the river cliffs to the edge of Tailem Bend, past the first series of petrol stations and food outlets, and ultimately to our starting point near the ferry reserve.
The River Bend Heritage Trail is 25km long and ideally suited for walking or cycling in the cooler months or on cooler days. The trail is signposted, albeit perhaps not as often as some other long distance trails. The signs are also bi-directional and occasionally posted sideways, which may confuse if approaching the sign from a different direction. Water en-route and other refreshments or foods are limited to either Tailem Bend or Wellington. Details on the Trail are available from the District Council of the Coorong Office or available online.