The Murray River, divides the states of Victoria and New South Wales and is a holiday destination close to Australians' hearts. Just 3 hours from Melbourne, it has been long favoured as a weekend holiday spot, as well as a staple location for those who love to water ski, meander in a houseboat or enjoy riverside camping.
There is a common misconception when it comes to the Murray and that is that it is the heart of motorised water sports and whilst it is a mecca for these, the Murray has been blessed with many quieter tributaries that are incredible when explored at a slower pace.
Ecotourism holidays are a growing attraction along the Murray and an increasing number of operators are offering unique experiences to help you get a little closer to nature. Basing ourselves in Moama, the centre of the Murray, we spent a weekend exploring some new and exciting experiences that truly capture the spirit of this special destination.
Our Murray eco adventure beings on Gunbower Creek. It's around 40 minutes drive from Echuca along well sealed main roads. Our starting point is in the quaint township of Cohuna. Sydney Harbour Kayaks are our guides. Their double kayaks are new and comfortable and their knowledgeable guides reassure me that my camera and I are safe from falling in! At this point, I'm still a little doubtful and slightly worried about making an unglamorous entry into my vessel.
It's surprisingly easy to get into the kayak and my paddle mate Meg is an experienced paddler, which reassures me. It only takes a few minutes to feel at home in the boat and we gather around to hear a run down of our morning from our guide. We'll be taking a leisurely pace, paddling for about one and a half hours before stopping for some morning tea and return to Cohuna. For someone like me who hasn't been on the water since she was in school this sounds very doable.
It doesn't take long to see why our guides have chosen Gunbower Creek. It's smooth paddling and within a minute of setting off we're greeted with the sight of a giant eagle's nest perched high in the trees. A tributary of the Murray, the region is rich in bird life and our guide knowledgeable. I keep my eyes out for the pelicans, a personal favourite, and delight at spotting birds flitting between the trees. It's the perfect place for a beginner, or an experienced paddler, to kayak the Murray.
Our pace is comfortable and despite a few co-ordination mishaps with my paddle mate, we're moving forwards and I'm feeling comfortable enough to get my DSLR out and take a few shots. The creek is extremely scenic, with dead trees and logs punctuating the river. There is a channel that is deep and clear that you can paddle, but half the fun is navigating in and around the trees.
Be prepared to wriggle if you choose the logged route - branches lie beneath the surface in parts and it can be hard to judge their depth. A bit of a wiggle and push with your paddle and you'll be free. It makes for a few laughs and is a great bonding activity with your paddle mate as you work together to free yourself.
Morning tea provides a welcome stop for untrained arms. I'm left a little cross eyed trying to spot birds through the binoculars, however others have more luck. I've already seem some pelicans, so I'm happy. The chance to enjoy a hot drink is very welcome and before long we're back in the boats ready to explore a little more before heading back to Cohuna.
It's obvious that Gunbower Creek and Cohuna are precious to the locals as our guide, a local, speaks of the area in both a knowledgeable and fond manner. Leaving no trace behind us, this eco adventure is not only beautiful, it also provides an interesting insight to what regions that can no longer rely on irrigation from the Murray are doing to diversify and keep their townships thriving. Although small, Cohuna and a paddle in Gunbower creek are essential to your Moama eco adventure.
Kayak the Murray - The Edward River
Day two sees us heading 45 minutes north of Echuca towards Denilliquin. The Edward River is another tributary of the Murray and unlike Gunbower Creek, it is much faster moving and narrower. One of the features of this river is that there is a dedicated ski and non ski area which is fantastic for those looking for a slower pace and to avoid the wake of motorised boats. We launch at Edward River Bridge picnic ground, a nifty boat launcher making the entry into the water a breeze. Our guides today are Adventours.
It's a completely different feel on the Edward River. There are a lot more trees and their close proximity to the bank gives a cosy feel. Over time many of the branches have leant towards the river creating beautiful canopies in places. Our guide decides to take us upstream first. There is a definite current on the Edward River, which is quite different to the very still Gunbower Creek. The boats are a little heavier and it takes a little longer to find a coordinated pace.
I feel steady after about 10 minutes and comfortable to stop and take some photos. Kingfishers are in abundance and a variety of small birds dart and weave between the overhanging branches. Today's adventure is a little more about the paddle and there's less talk about birds.
You'll need to have your wits about you in parts, with eddies calling you towards the shore. There are submerged branches and logs and a little steering is required to make it through several narrow passes. The river is strong, which makes for a challenge and also a team effort. Logs provide some respite if you need a break from paddling, but stopping on the open river means losing some ground if you both stop paddling at once!
Today's paddle is shorter (1.5-2 hours) but more intense, and without a morning tea break. My arms are aching and I'm beginning to lose a little co-ordination when our guide calls out that it is time to turn around. I'm excited by the opportunity for the current to carry me more easily down the river, however a little paddling is still required to navigate the narrow passes and overhanging branches. A lapse of concentration, laughing at a joke, and my paddle mate and I nearly end up caught in an overhanging tree. There's a lot of laughs as the co-ordinated and uncoordinated battle against the current to stave off the shore. It's tiring but exciting work.
The contrast between the two rivers makes for an exciting adventure. Again our guide is a local and passionate about the region, leaving us with a zest to return. For someone who hasn't really paddled before, these two days on the water have whet my appetite for the kayak, ecotourism holidays and the Murray River region itself.
The twin cities of Echuca and Moama are the best place to base yourself when planning your Murray eco adventure. Moama on the Murray, located in Moama is the perfect base. There are a large range of accommodation options including 1,2 and 3 bedroom cabins with various outlooks, a cottage, luxury yurts and houseboats.
We travelled as a family of 3, with a 19 month old child, so a cabin was the perfect choice for us. The bedroom was spacious, with plenty of space for a portable cot and the queen sized bed very comfortable. Our outlook was the bushland with enough trees to shelter us from surrounding cabins.
Our bathroom was super sized featuring a lovely long bath as well as a separate shower. The kitchen also had a washing machine which would be handy for longer stays. The couch and lounge area were spacious and comfortable and we enjoyed sitting out on the verandah.
A special treat was being able to watch the kangaroos hop and play nearby.
The resort backs onto the river and features plenty of bushland and open spaces. The yurts are secluded and private, perfect for a Moama eco adventure that truly immerses you in your environment. There's plenty to do for all ages, with the resort featuring pools, playgrounds, bikes, a daily petting zoo and tractor ride. Rooms are serviced weekly, allowing for a more sustainable model of housekeeping.
When you're not paddling, there is plenty to do in the region. The Long Paddock Food Store in Koondrook is an excellent place to stop for lunch after your paddle along Gunbower Creek. It's around an hour from Moama, so you'll want to visit as part of your paddling adventure. The food is fresh, generously portioned and delicious. Just what you want after all of that excercise!
More locally, Henry's Bridge Hotel in Echuca is centrally located and a lovely spot for a drink or a meal. The brick paved courtyard features festoon lighting and fire pits in the cooler months, which adds to the warm vibe. There's a varied menu, with slow cooked meat their speciality. It was a hit with our travelling party.
The are is rich with walking trails, so why not explore a little by foot. Some local favourites are the Echuca Heritage walk, Horseshoe Lagoon wetlands walk and the Tongala heritage walk. The region is rich in Aboriginal history and the Barmah in particular provides an excellent opportunity to see evidence of Indigenous living as well as European settlement.
Murray Eco Adventures - The Round Up
The need to diversify from a primarily agricultural, irrigation based economy to one that uses the river for a completely different purpose is an exciting transformation for locals and visitors to the region. Local tour operators are knowledgeable, enthusastic and dedicated to showing the region that they love to visitors and one of the best and least impactful ways that is emerging within the region is through ecotourism.
By harnessing their greatest asset, the river, they are reframing how we can explore this beautiful part of the world and how we can keep small townships and proprietors thriving. As well as ecotourism, the region has amazing food, accommodation and a rich, diverse history to offer. You can immerse yourself as deeply into the ecotourism holiday as you like with the option of only participating in eco friendly activities a real option.
Within easy reach from Melbourne (3 hours) and Canberra (6 hours), the Echuca / Moama region of the Murray is set to play a pivotal role in ecotourism and tourism itself for the region. So, if you were like me and thought that the Murray is just for water-skiers and houseboats, pay a visit and change your mind, because it is so much more.
Whilst we were guests of the region, all views are our own.
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