LIFE IN THE FLOW LANE
Explore river and sea in Storm Boy country
IT’S A PLACE WHICH EXISTS IN NATURE’S SLOW LANE, LIKE THE RIVER THAT IS ITS LIFE-GIVING ARTERY
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.