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Barmera Bound: driving the Old Mail Road

May 16, 2019

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move.” These words resonate with me as sometimes it’s the journey that holds all the wonderment, not just the destination.


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Stevenson's sentiments rang true on my recent drive from Mildura to Barmera. The journey offers so much to the traveller that upon arrival at Barmera my thirst for experiences was almost quenched. “How can that be?” you ask, it’s a boring drive along the Sturt Highway. That’s why I took a different route, and this is what I found.


The Old Mail Run

The Old Mail Road runs from Meridian Road in Merbein South to Paringa in South Australia and is chalk and cheese to the Sturt Highway. Being a dry weather-only road, you’ll need to keep an eye on the weather; a drop of rain will turn sections into a skating rink.

An off-road caravan would eat this type of road up, but it’d be high risk and slow going if you’re thinking of driving a 2WD towing an onroad van. The corrugations are rattling in sections and the obvious low points on the track have the occasional washout or deep wheel ruts.


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Some sections are private land so you must stick to the track


The track provides access to Lochs 9 and 7 as well as numerous free riverside campsites. You’ll also pass through northern sections of Murray-Sunset National Park, Wallpolla Island and Lindsay Island. The track also crosses freehold land but being a public road, if you come across a gate, leave it as you find it.

Western Grey and Red kangaroos and emus roam the dry plains, blending well with the low desert shrubs and saltbush. Wedge-tailed eagles hover in the air, searching for their prey. The River Red Gums show the path of the Murray River and you’ll find many free campsites where the river runs near the road.


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Check out this for a great free campsite


Surprises on the way

Closing in on the South Australian border, the soil changes from grey floodplains to burnt orange sand dunes. Upon the Old Mail Road reaching bitumen, you’re greeted by rows of almond trees. Having reached the end of the road, there are a couple of spots I recommend you check out north of Paringa.

The first is at the end of Murtho Road where an old customs house sits on the banks of the Murray. It was built in the 1900s to serve as an excise collection point for goods crossing the river between South Australia and Victoria. These days there’s a café with shady grounds to enjoy a relaxing coffee and cake.


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The Old Customs House is now a café


Nearby is Wilkadene Woolshed Brewery, a popular spot on most days. I had a good chat with the brewer as he finalised a batch of Aaam ber Ale before taking a walk around the property. Situated on the banks of the Murray River, it’s a truly beautiful spot.

You can sample of few of the brews and on the weekend, food trucks in the car park offer all-day lunches while you kick back on the deck.


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Wilkadene Woolshed Brewery is the only brewery in the Riverland


By chance, I stumbled upon Headings Cliff lookout. Not far from the brewery, there’s a lookout tower that offers stunning views of the river and along the colourful cliffs. Keep an eye out for the sign to turn off Murtho Road, you don’t want to miss those views.


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I was blown away by the stunning colours


My destination was Barmera, but before getting there, I visited the Twenty Third Street Distillery. Situated in a century-old distillery that’s been modernised and revitalised to produce a range of gin, brandy, vodka and whisk (e)y. Yep, it’s named Hybrid Whisk(e)y as it’s a blend of Scotch and Bourbon.

Unfortunately, I was too late for a tour, they conduct them at 11am, 1pm and 2pm daily for $15. You can also select a tour & tasting for $25 or just a tasting for $15.


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I was looking forward to viewing the restored copper stills, but I was too late


What’s About Barmera?

On arriving at Barmera, I was amazed by the position of the Discovery Parks Lake Bonney Holiday and Caravan Park, right on the shoreline of the lake. Lake Bonney is famous for its sunrises and sunsets with landscape photographers, but they were a fizzer during my stay.


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Photographers love Lake Bonney


Next morning, I began to explore the area around Barmera and along the Murray River. First stop was Banrock Station Winery, one of my favourite places not just because of the wine, but for the ongoing works to regenerate and reintroduce species of flora on the property. The improvement to the natural environment has been ongoing since 1994 with a relationship between Banrock Station and Wetland Care Australia.


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Banrock Station is famous for its wine, but it is also doing great things for the environment


I enjoyed lunch at Loch Luna Game Reserve, watching the waterbirds squawk at each other as a whistling kite circled above. One of my favourite old hotels is the nearby Overland Corner Hotel. Established in 1860, it’s been an important watering hole since being built.

With a mighty dust storm blowing, it was the perfect place to hide out until it passed. It’s alleged Captain Moonlight and his gang spent a night here, riding his horse into the old bar.


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The old Overland Corner Hotel is a popular spot with travellers


With just enough time before meeting up with Canoe Adventures Riverland in Berri, I detoured to Monash and checked out its famous Adventure Park. If you have kids, this is a fantastic place to wear them out.

The guided canoe tour was scheduled to be a sunset tour, but with strong winds making the water choppy we returned to base. I still recommend you give these guys a try when you are out this way.


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I really enjoyed canoeing at Berri, even if it was cut short. Image credit: Canoe Adventures


Best Place To Stay

Discovery Parks Lake Bonney Holiday and Caravan Park is the place to stay. Its positioning couldn’t be better and being so close to the lake, there are lots of opportunities to stay and play.

The kids are catered for with a jumping pillow, swimming pool, playground and waterpark. Then there’s the buggies, canoes, kayaks and other water toys. Lake Bonney is also perfect for water skiing, jet skiing, boating and fishing.


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Waterfront campsites are popular, as are the Deluxe Sunset Cabins and Superior Balcony Cabins. There are several other accommodation options within the park to suit everybody.

Check out more of Glenn's adventures at 4wdadventureoz.com


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