It was a clear cold night in Swan Hill where we stayed at the Murray Downs Resort on our second last night of this trip. The lack of cloud cover led to very low overnight temperature and the morning temperature was around 2C. However the day brightened up to a pleasant day with a temperature of around 19C.
We spent a comfortable day travelling across mainly irrigated areas with dairy farms and orchards. Our trip took us past some places that we have visited before. One of them was Lake Boga – a large circular lake that was used as a base for repairing Catalina Flying Boats in WW2. It was far enough from major centres to offer safety and because the lake was circular, the planes could take off into the wind no matter which way it was blowing.
The Wetlands around Kerang (The North Victorian Wetlands), comprise an extensive series of over 100 freshwater. These brackish and saline lakes and swamps are on the floodplain of the Loddon River where it enters the Murray valley,. They are important for a variety, and sometimes large numbers, of waterbirds.
On one of the lakes is a substantial Ibis rookery. It’s just off the highway and worth a visit. This Ibis Rookery at Middle Lake, six kilometres north of Kerang, is a popular destination for twitchers. A bird hide offers a good place to watch Strawnecked and White Ibis and other spectacular birds such as Pelicans, Swans, Spoonbills, Egrets and Ducks.
Back on the main road, we could see large mountains of salt. Whenever there is a lot of irrigation, lakes or water close to the surface of the ground, there is a risk of salinity occurring. The salt works near Kerang comprise 113 production bores along a 12 kilometre stretch of Pyramid Creek. They pump saline water from beneath the surface. This water is carried in a three kilometre long transfer pipeline and is used to take the saline groundwater from the production bores to salt harvesting ponds.
The salt harvesting operation consists of 240 Ha of ponds located on a 400 Ha site. All ponds are lined with polyethylene to minimise leakage from the ponds back into the groundwater. There is a buffer zone around the perimeter of these ponds that have been revegetated. Over 36,000 tonnes of salt are recovered each year from this site and it will be used in the production of a range of salt products that include premium and specialty table salt products, swimming pool salt, and other industrial salt products.
Further up the Murray Valley, we stopped at Echuca for lunch. Last year, 2022, this area suffered severe flooding as the Murray River rose to almost unprecedented levels. Levee banks protected part of the town but many properties were inundated. We could see some muddy marks on lamp posts and trees that might have shown the height of the flood. If the waters really rose to those levels it would have been disastrous. Our estimate is that it rose to almost a metre over the normal ground level to the left in this photo.
In the 1870s, Echuca was Australia’s biggest inland port. In those days the river was not controlled by locks and weirs and it had very high levels in times of flood and almost stopped flowing in times of drought. The wharf at Echuca was built to take into account these different levels.
Being at the point with the shortest distance between the Murray River and the major city of Melbourne, Echuca was both a key river port and a railway junction. Paddle steamers would arrive at the 332-metre long redgum Echuca Wharf, to be unloaded by hydraulic crane, and the goods then transported by rail to Melbourne. Wool. wheat, other grains, livestock, and timber were the most common commodities transported from Echuca. The wharf is now a Heritage Place on the Australian National Heritage List.
Some small side-wheel paddle steamers still operate at Echuca but they are all now used for tourism and passenger travel.
We continued on through Shepparton to Benalla for our last night of this trip. In Shepparton, I could not resist stopping at the SPC (Shepparton Preserving Company) outlet store for a few cans of peach halves that our supermarkets don’t seem to sell any more. I have a Jamie Oliver recipe in which a peach halves are used to accompany a pork dish.
Access to irrigation has made Shepparton a prime fruit growing area. Over many generations, large canneries here and Ardmona have processed various fruit products. They, and hundreds of other products, are sold in a large warehouse-style store, with not only SPC and Ardmona fruits (cheapest in unlabelled carton quantities), but heaps of other products. It’s very tempting to completely fill up the car. It rivals Costco for size and variety of available products.
There is nothing much to report about the remainder of our trip home. We followed the Hume Highway south to Euroa and then drove through some scenic hills to Merton on the Maroondah Highway. We stopped for coffee at the Giddy Goat Cafe in Yark which has never really opened up again after Covid. They takes orders and serve coffee in a window that used to be part of the front verandah.
We stopped for lunch at the Yarrawood Winery near Yarra Glen and enjoyed one of their tasting platters and a glass of wine before continuing on to home, less than an hour away.
On this trip, we travelled a total of 5,120 kilometres. On our return home, we dumped our entire suitcases into the washing machine and put the car through the car wash to remove some of the dust. It was a wonderful adventure.