Ex­plore river and sea in Storm Boy coun­try



The wa­ters of the mighty Mur­ray River have trick­led more than 2500km to get here, flow­ing ever so slowly past Goolwa’s his­toric town wharf as they come to the end of their jour­ney on South Aus­tralia’s south coast. Be­fore long the river widens and curves to­wards its exit into the South­ern Ocean, but be­fore it does it has one last man­made ob­sta­cle to tra­verse, a bank-to­bank bar­rage of gates sep­a­rat­ing its land-fed fresh wa­ter from the salt sealinked fi­nal few kilo­me­tres that spill in and out of the mouth.

There’s one more se­cret con­nected to the river and sea, an­other far-flung world to the south­east, the mes­meris­ingly wild, 150km-long neck of in­ter­na­tion­ally sig­nif­i­cant wet­land known as the Coorong.

This is Storm Boy coun­try, recog­nis­able as the ro­man­ti­cally pris­tine lo­ca­tion for the much loved, orig­i­nal 1976 Aus­tralian movie and now its re­make in cin­e­mas this month. It’s a place which ex­ists in na­ture’s slow lane, much like the river that is its life-giv­ing artery.

Back at the old wharf and ac­com­pa­ny­ing her­itage build­ings, cen­tury-plus-old pad­dle steamer Os­car W moors qui­etly as its al­lvol­un­teer crew read­ies for a leisurely hour-long tour down­river to the Goolwa Bar­rage. Once the wood is stacked and the en­gine hum­ming, the Os­car too­tles its way gen­tly out into mid-chan­nel – and back in time – its de­voted vol­un­teer deck hands dressed in white shirt and black vest guid­ing you to the sa­loon for a sim­ple cuppa, while down be­low two over­alled fel­lows stoke the chug­ging steam ma­chin­ery to turn two huge pad­dle­wheels through the lazy pond.

It’s just a taste of lower Mur­ray life, but enough to sense how strong the river’s con­nec­tion to the daily com­ings and go­ings in Goolwa has been since it was pro­claimed a river port in 1857.

Right next to the his­toric wharf, at the old-world Goolwa rail­way sta­tion, stay in the steam age for a bit longer and hop onto a train ride like no other. The Cockle Train plies a half-hour trip back and forth to Vic­tor Har­bor through farm­land and then right along the coast, lit­er­ally in the sand dunes be­side En­counter Bay. The ocean views are hyp­notic – per­haps a south­ern right whale will roll in the wa­ters dur­ing win­ter – and the ex­pe­ri­ence of a steam en­gine ride be­hind a range of quaint lit­tle lo­co­mo­tives, pulls at a nos­tal­gic thread in ev­ery­one, kids es­pe­cially.

Hop off and on at a cou­ple of coastal towns along the way; def­i­nitely take a break to wan­der the streets of Port El­liot, where many Storm Boy scenes were shot around the Na­tional Trust train sta­tion precinct.

You can’t miss the his­toric feel of the old town­ship and main street, The Strand, and if you are on your own timetable rather than the train’s, head down to the safe swim­ming beach at Horse­shoe Bay, grab a cone of fish and chips, walk around the head­lands and you’ll soon be hit by the sense that the Great South­ern Ocean is a wild and beau­ti­ful in­flu­ence on the way this coast­line lives and breathes.

You can take in this sec­tion of the coast more ac­tively as well, the En­counter Bike­way link­ing Goolwa and Vic­tor Har­bor via ex­clu­sive path and shared roads, through wet­lands, along beach es­planades, past surfers and an ex­cit­ing par­al­lel sand-dune sec­tion where you could eas­ily be rid­ing neck and neck with The Cockle Train. A great day combo is to ride one way and catch the train back – there’s plenty of room in the bag­gage car for your bikes.

You can con­tinue your trip­ping back in time in Vic­tor as well. Jump on the draught horse-pulled tram across the cause­way to Gran­ite Is­land, walk around the path to the wild ocean side, keep an eye out for fairy pen­guins in lit­tle nooks and cran­nies, or fur seals lolling about in the wa­ter or on the rock plat­forms.

You’ll get closer to the sea and bird life back at Goolwa Bar­rage, where you can walk out across the river to a lock, mid­way, for boats to trans­fer be­tween fresh and salt wa­ter river sec­tions. Here you’ll see squadrons of na­ture’s lo­cal icons in full flight, the pel­i­cans that were made fa­mous in the Storm Boy book and movie feed­ing fu­ri­ously, land­ing and tak­ing off ma­jes­ti­cally.

Boat tours out of the Goolwa wharf will take you even fur­ther into this wild won­der­land. The six-hour Ad­ven­ture Cruise on Spirit of the Coorong goes through the lock, past the mouth, stops twice for walks over sand dunes to take in bush tucker and Ngar­rind­jeri cul­tural ex­plo­rations. Kan­ga­roo and emu tracks, birdlife spot­ting, sea­sonal berry tast­ings, a dig and drink for fresh wa­ter all trans­port you into an­other world.

Ca­noe the Coorong tours will guide you on kayak deep into this wildlife coun­try, with closer con­tact to the birds and fish, a dune walk to go cock­ling for pipis on Ninety Mile Beach, and lo­cally caught and cooked fish burg­ers for lunch.

Na­ture and his­tory link ef­fort­lessly on this stretch of coast. Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy novella and the movies tell their sto­ries, and you can walk on, ride and pad­dle your own way into the world they’ve brought to life.

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