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.
Subsequently 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.
Therefore eco adventures on the Murray are becoming increasingly more popular and a rising number of operators are offering unique experiences to help you get a little closer to nature. With this in mind, we based ourselves in Moama and spent a weekend exploring some new and exciting experiences that truly capture the spirit of this special destination.
Eco Adventure on the Murray - Cohuna
Our eco adventure on the Murray 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.
The double kayaks are new and comfortable and their knowledgeable guides reassure me that my camera and I are safe from falling in! Understandably, I’m still a little doubtful and slightly worried about making an unglamorous entry into my vessel.
Thankfully it’s surprisingly easy to get into the kayak and my paddle mate Meg is an experienced paddler, which is reassuring. Luckily, it only takes a few minutes to feel at home in the boat. Next we gather around to hear a run down of our morning from our guide.
First, we’ll be taking a leisurely pace, paddling for about one and a half hours. Then we will stop for some morning tea and return to Cohuna. This sounds very doable, even for a novice like myself.
READ | Our guide to knowing when you need slow travel
Murray Eco Adventure - Exploring Gunbower Creek
Within a minute of setting off we are 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 and delight at spotting birds flitting between the trees. Gunbower Creek is the perfect place for a beginner, or an experienced paddler to kayak the Murray.
Enjoying the diverse scenery around 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. Gunbower 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, however 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. A hot drink is very welcome and before long we’re back in the boats ready to explore a little more before finally heading back to Cohuna.
The importance of supporting local producers
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.
Therefore, although Cohuna is only a relatively small town, a visit and a paddle in Gunbower creek are essential to your Moama eco adventure
Kayak The Murray - The Edward River
Navigating the Edward River
Next we set course up river. 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.
Consequently, it takes about 10 minutes to feel steady and comfortable enough to take some photos. Kingfishers are in abundance. 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.
A challenging paddle on The Edward River
You’ll need to have your wits about you in parts, with eddies calling you towards the shore. For instance, there are submerged branches and logs and a little steering is required to make it through several narrow passes.
Edward river is strong, which makes for a challenge and also a team effort. You can take a break by grabbing on to a partially submerged log. Be aware if you stop paddling without holding on, you will lose some ground!
Today’s paddle is shorter (1.5-2 hours). It is more intense and without a morning tea break. Before long my arms are aching and I’m beginning to lose a little co-ordination. Thankfully our guide calls out that it is time to turn around. The opportunity for the current to carry me more easily down the river is exciting. Some paddling is still required to navigate the narrow passes and overhanging branches.
Since the current is strong, a lapse of concentration, laughing at a joke, and my paddle mate and I nearly end up caught in an overhanging tree. Consequently, 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 exhilarating 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.
Where to Stay - Moama on Murray
Accommodation styles at Moama on Murray
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.
Conveniently our bathroom was super sized. It featured a deep, long bath as well as a separate shower. A well sized kitchen also had a washing machine which would be handy for longer stays. Comfort is key, and a spacious lounge area featuring a full sized couch allows for down time.
Cabins are adorned with a full length verandahs to sit outdoors and enjoy the wildlife. A special treat was being able to watch the kangaroos hop and play nearby.
There are a large range of facilites at Moama on Murray
More Things to do in Moama and Echuca
When you’re not paddling, of course 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 exercise.
Great food in the region
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.
Exploring more of the Murray region
Walking trails are in abudance in the region, 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. Aboriginal history is rich in this area and the Barmah in particular provides an excellent opportunity to see evidence of Indigenous living as well as European settlement.
Why we loved paddling on the Murray River
In conclusion, 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, enthusiastic 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, locals are significantly reframing how we can explore this beautiful part of the world. Above all, how we can keep small townships and proprietors thriving.
In addition to 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.
Finally, 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.