The Coorong and the Mouth of the Murray

Big tick of our bucket list today. We cruised past the mouth of the Murray. We left home 19 days ago with the objective of following the Murray River from Albury in NSW to the mouth of the Murray in South Australia. Today we achieved that objective on a cruise with Spirit of the Coorong. We had booked the cruise online and it departed from the historic Wharf at Goolwa at 10.00am.

We stayed on grassy flat powered site at the Hindmarsh Island Caravan Park ($25 pn for Seniors) and were up bright and early to drive across the Hindmarsh Island Bridge to the wharf precinct. There is parking there for long vehicles so we parked the MH, left the fridge running on gas so nothing would thaw out, and went to check in.

Spirit of the Coorong was moored up and a group of people were gathering ready to board. Promptly at 9.45am boarding was announced and we were introduced to our skipper, Rupert, and crew, Jack. It was a quick boarding process and once everyone was on board we headed off down river towards the Goolwa Barrage and Lock.

We were blessed with a gorgeous sunny day for our cruise especially after the last few cold and windy days.

I love going through locks and this one was no exception. We had to be lowered from the fresh water river level to the sea water Coorong level. There was water flowing through one of the gates in the barrage and this is letting fresh water out into the Coorong. There was a group of sea lions at the lock hanging out on the wooden structure or playing in the water. They are funny to watch.

Once through the lock we cruised southwards alongside Hindmarsh Island on one side and the long thin peninsula separating us from the Southern Ocean until we reach the mouth of the Murray. The dredges were working dredging sand to keep the mouth of the Murray open to the sea.

Our first stop was at Barker’s Knoll where we went for a walk in the Coorong National Park and our guide Jack showed us the abundance of bush tucker that the Ngarrindjeri people made good use of. No wonder they lived there for thousands of years. Everything they needed was right there.

Our walk took us across the sand dunes and onto Ninety Mile Beach with the bright blue waters of the Southern Ocean crashing onto the beach. Ninety Mile Beach is the longest beach in Australia and seems to go on forever. Jake gave a demonstration of the ‘Goolwa Shuffle’ and showed us how to catch Pipis or Cockles by putting your feet firmly on the sand and twisting from side to side as the waves come in and out. The pipis rise and you can catch them as the waves retreat. To keep them they must be of commercial size. This area of the beach is for commercial pipi fishermen only so Jack threw back the ones he’d caught to show us.

Back on board and we had a treat waiting for us. Skipper Rupert had cooked up a big pan of Pipis in a delicious coconut milk, onion and garlic sauce. Everyone got to try them and they were scrumptious.

We continued our cruise down the Coorong and Jack served our lunch. Lunch was a delicious Bento Box lunch with a lovely variety of cold meats and salads. You could purchase drinks so we enjoyed a tiny bottle of wine with our yummy lunch.

Our cruise took us past the ‘shacks’ built on a point opposite Bird Island. Some of these shacks have been there for a very long time. Most from before the Coorong was made a National Park. They have now been put on leases and will eventually be removed from the park.

Our next stop was at Cattle Point where our guide this time was Skipper Rupert. We crossed the very high sand dunes and came to a huge wide area covered in broken shells. It is an Ngarrindjeri midden site and has obviously been used by them for thousands of years. We found blackened rocks that are not local to the area and these would have been traded for by the Ngarrindjeri to use for their fires. They were particularly good at basket weaving and would probably have traded baskets for these rocks. The local rocks are no good for fires as they just disintegrate.

Rupert pulled a spade from out of the bushes that he’d left here previously and began to dig a hole in the sand. He only dug down about 600mm when the bottom began to fill up with water. Surprise surprise, the water is fresh. Here we were on sand dunes between the Southern Ocean on one side and the salty waters of the Coorong on the other and here was fresh water. Under the sand dunes is what’s called a lens. This is a water storage area for rainfall and it’s fresh water. So the Ngarrindjeri people really did have all they needed right there. Plenty of food in abundance and fresh water too.

We found lots of animal tracks across the sand but the most disturbing ones were deer tracks. Wild deer have invaded the park and their numbers are increasing as they have no natural predators. They are becoming such a feral pest all across our country.

On our walk across the sand dunes at one point all you could see was sand and I thought I’d been transported to Egypt!

Back on board and we’d earn our afternoon tea all prepared for us by Jack while we were on our walk. A delicious slice and a cuppa was much appreciated by all.

It was a quieter trip on the way back to Goolwa with less chatter from the passengers. The walk had tired out quite a few. Back past the mouth of the Murray, back through the lock at Goolwa Barrage and eventually back to the wharf in Goolwa.

What a fabulous day out. We thoroughly recommend this tour if anyone is down this way. We felt it was great value for money at $118 per person for Seniors. The Skipper, Rupert and Crew, Jack, were friendly, knowledgeable and aimed to please. The Spirit of the Coorong is a comfortable boat with lots of seating inside and some seating upstairs outside. The only thing to be wary of is there are steps and stairs so for anyone with limited mobility it might be a challenge. You also need to be able to walk in sand up and down sand dunes. Good walking shoes are essential.


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