Warmth in the Riverlands

Well it’s not quite warm enough to take the puffer jacket off in the evenings but the temperature has improved significantly which can only mean one thing. We’ve moved North!

Our drive out of Mount Gambier was a wet one and the rain chased us 200km up the road. It’s unbelievable the amount of water around, fields that look like lakes, parks where the path leads into a river, and some quite put out looking sheep. We got to Naracoorte caves at 10:30 unfortunately missing out on the fossil cave tour by 15 minutes but consoled ourselves by exploring the discovery centre (just awful, think poorly designed robot animals) and Stick-Tomato Cave (very enjoyable self guided tour through dry limestone caverns). The area the caves are located in was also beautiful with wattle and grey kangaroos. We popped into town for a pie and then drove to Bordertown for Matt to do a case conference to work while I lay in the back of the van and had a nap. Before we departed town Matt spotted a house with a sign that we’d parked across the road from. It turned out to be the childhood home of Bob Hawk!

Because there was still light in the day instead of stopping near Bordertown as we’d intended we decided to press on and visit Ngarkat Conservation Area. The manager of the caravan park in Mount Gambier had told us there was “nothing out there” but we prefer camping in the bush to camping in a show ground so it was an easy decision to keep on heading up the road. It turned out to be a good one as Ngarkat was just beautiful. It is situated in the Mallee, an environment I heard way too much about in year 11 science. Along with the beauty of the area we met another couple, Lee and Neil, who offered us their fire and company. We had a wonderful night chatting away, went for a walk with them in the morning and as we parted ways they shared their contact information with us so we could come and visit them.

We spent the rest of Friday exploring Ngarkat in the van particularly the Centre Track which was a soft sandy dune drive through the scrub. Around halfway along we met a bloke on a fat bike who was going for a ride because he had lost his job and wanted something to do. We wished him all the best and watched as he disappeared into the distance. It was quite a long drive so we got into Renmark just as the sun was going down, parking up in a beautiful little spot right next to the river.

The next morning we made our way out of town and northwards to visit an amazing Murray River look out and to have lunch at a brewery called The Woolshed that everyone we chatted to has informed us was the thing to do in Renmark. The view at the lookout across the cliffs and river made me reflect on how different this dry and wild part of the world was compared to my expectations of in retrospect what was probably an English or European river system. At the brewery we put on our masks and checked in (a requirement for all of SA), found a table, and ordered some Italian food off the van in the beer garden for lunch. Matt grabbed a tasting paddle of dark beers and I sampled a small amount of each as it was my turn to be designated driver. On the way back into town we decided to continue our little booze tour and swung by 23 Degrees Distillery where we sampled a flight of brandy and a delicious wood fired garlic pizza.

On Sunday Matt suggested that we go kayaking so I booked a two person kayak from a place called Canoe the Riverlands. The lady that runs it showed us the ropes, gave us a map and suggested route then sent us on our way. I made Matt promise not to tip us over because last time we were in a kayak (in Vanuatu) he took great pleasure in capsizing the boat on multiple occasions. I didn’t think that the Murray River would be as pleasant to swim in as a tropical ocean. We had a wonderful day through the creeks and across the river, occasionally stopping to look at the abundance of wildlife and eventually to have cheese and biscuits for lunch. In total we paddled around 12km in 3h at a price of $60 for both of us it was a bargain! As we departed Renmark we made one more stop to get yet more alcohol at the vineyard that produces Stones Green Ginger Wine. Again, we left with 2 bottles which I think brings the total amount of booze purchase in Renmark up to about 6L. We won’t be needing any more for the outback that’s for sure!

We made the short 60km journey to our next campground just outside Waikerie in good time. Ken (the owner) greeted us and showed us around his beautiful farm while we helped out with a few jobs like feeding the horses and putting the alpacas away. That night we had a roaring fire complete with marshmallows which was particularly useful as Matt was able to start a fire the next morning so I could attempt to make us damper for breakfast in the camp oven. It wasn’t a huge success with the outside crispy and the inside woefully underdone but I learnt from it and hopefully will be able to make a better one next time.

Campsite Reviews

Ngarkat Conservation Park – Another one of those weird places with an average Wikicamp review that turns out to be great. I am starting to wonder about the expectations of the people that write things like “over priced” for a beautiful campgrounds in a national park with clean facilities, flat sites, and fire pits. $13.50pn – 8/10.

Plushy’s Bend – We made a bit of an error with this one as I missed that it was “self contained vehicles only” but we were very mindful with our waste water and picked a site close to the toilets. It was a very peaceful place with whistling kites soaring overhead and pelicans gliding past in the afternoon. We also saw a spectacular sunrise. $10pn – 7/10.

Farmstay – So it looks like our limit for no showers is 3 nights which forced our hand to stay at…. and we are so glad we did. Our host Ken showed us around the farm and we helped out with a few jobs. In return we had access to all the free wood we could dream of for our fire that night. Warm showers, beautiful animals and heaps of birdlife. Definitely worth the money. $25pn – 8/10.

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