The pelican is perched on a branch that protrudes from the water. Its webbed feet precariously wrapped around the limb. Suddenly the huge bird spots some picnickers unwrapping their lunch on a nearby bench. Rising effortlessly from its resting place, the bird takes to the air and settles near the family. Luckily, they are wise to the ways of pelicans and do not feed it the human fare that bears no resemblance to its natural diet.
Pelicans, outdoor eating areas and a working paddle steamer, the Murray Princess which berths alongside the embankment, are all part of the old dockside precinct of Mannum. This historic town was integral to the creation of river trade along the Murray in the late 1800s when hundreds of paddle steamers transported goods, crops and travellers throughout the Murray Darling system. Only an hour and a quarter drive from Adelaide through the picturesque hills towns of Gumeracha, Birdwood and Palmer, Mannum is an ideal day trip destination.
Mary Anne park with the paddle steamer Murray Princess berthed
From the rotunda that houses the boiler and information about the first paddle steamer, the Mary Anne, I walk upstream along the grassy embankment towards the ferry. Impressive river gums soar over the park providing shade for tourists and shelter for a variety of birds ranging from raucous lorikeets to watchful cormorants. The patches of reeds and tree roots at the edge of the river provide a habitat for a variety of wildlife including; water skinks, turtles, ducks and Eurasian coots that often venture up onto the grass to feed.
On reaching the Pretoria hotel I break for lunch. The hotel sits right on the river bank with fabulous views across the water from the outdoor balcony. While indulging in one of the best seafood platters in South Australia I watch houseboats, fishing craft and the occasional ski boat cruising along the river.
Sitting on the balcony of the Pretoria hotel watching a purpose built cruising
My car is parked just above the ferry near a riverside bird sanctuary that prohibits the use of powerboats in this network of billabongs and wetlands. As I watch a group of black swans feeding near one of the reed beds I can hear the nervous chatter of smaller birds in the bushes around me. The sound is familiar and usually indicates the presence of a predator. Moments later I catch sight of a nankeen kestrel patrolling the river bank. The raptor flies just above the tree tops periodically hovering in search of mice, nestlings or a water skink that has strayed too far from the reeds. I fire off a couple of frames and hope the kestrel enjoys its lunch as much as I enjoyed mine.
Mannum is a gem of a place...my favourite place on the R.Murray.Suggest make your journey a round trip via Murray Bridge and include ferry/punt crossing into Mannum from Eastern side of river.;if leaving from Adelaide.A great scenic drive either way!