It is a serene drive from Adelaide to the Riverland region of South Australia. In only three hours, passing through the spectacular Barossa Valley and then along the mighty Murray River, we arrived in the riverside town of Renmark, close to not only the border with Victoria, but also New South Wales.
Panoramic vistas of ancient landscapes fringed with gumtrees had welcomed us to this part of the state and we couldn’t help but be dazzled by how the Murray River cut through the environment like an oasis. Renmark itself had been born out of an historic irrigation project in the late 1880’s headed by the Chaffey Brothers who were invited from Canada to head the project. Today, they are lauded as the founders of the town and you can visit their original home, Olivewood Estate, which is now a National Trust Museum.
The irrigation colony turned Renmark into a food bowl, and today, the legacy lives on with wineries and fruit orchards thriving in the district. The pioneering spirit also remains intact in the region, and locals are passionately creating more and more reasons for tourists to visit.
Such as Callum from Arrosto Coffee. A former builder, he decided to turn his hand to coffee roasting in 2011 when he noticed that “finding freshly-roasted specialty coffee was like finding truffles in a desert” in Renmark. Today, the roastery sources coffee beans from all over the world and is located at the back of their newly opened café which is housed in the towns old fire station. Both the coffee blends and the décor pay tribute to the buildings origin, such as ‘Firehouse Blend’ and ‘Ladder 59’.
Getting a good coffee is always a priority for us when we are on the road so it didn’t take long after arriving before we dropped in for a caffeine fix. Callum welcomed us and it wasn’t long before he was introducing us to his current speciality, Cold Drip coffee which he bottles as a concentrate.
Mixed with cold milk as an iced latte, or simply with some cold water for a straight iced coffee, it was one of the best and most refreshing coffees we could have asked for.
Fully fuelled, a wander around town and along the heritage walk which follows the river was a great way to get a lay of the town. On the scenic walk along the banks of the river, we passed many landmarks representing the history of the town. From the PS Industry, an historic paddlesteamer that used to ply the river transporting local produce, to the Remark Hotel – Australia’s first and oldest community pub that has been serving the community since 1897 and the beautiful art deco building still looks like it is popular with the locals.
And just up the river, the path will lead you to the BIG4 Renmark Riverfront Holiday Park, our home away from home while we are in the area. Situated along a 1km stretch of the river, guests were making the most of the location and cruising away from the riverbank in their boats for a waterski or hiring canoes from the Holiday Park for a paddle.
Before long, some friendly fellow holidaymakers invited us for a ski, and as we took off in the boat with them, learned they had been coming to Renmark and this Holiday Park for decades. We could certainly see why. With riverfront cabins, shady and spacious campsites, an incredible waterpark (perfect for the Renmark temperatures) and pool, pedal carts and more, both kids and adults were settled in and enjoying themselves.
The next morning, our new friends invited us for a pancake breakfast, cooked on the barbecue next to the river. With the rising sun glistening on the water, the gumtrees fringing the riverbanks and the sounds of the birds waking up all around us, it was the perfect way to start a new day.
Soon after breakfast, we were ‘picked up’ on the shore by our next ride. Rob and Jenna from River Murray Houseboats are pioneering the latest trend on the river – the ‘BBQ Boat’. A comfortable ‘party’ boat that you only need a car licence to drive, complete with an on-board barbie to cook up your snags! We jumped on board and were told we were going to take one of the most popular routes along the river to a favourite local highlight. A two-hour cruise to the Woolshed Brewery.
We passed town and headed up the river, the scenery around us changed from fringing green to red sandstone cliffs which bordered the river in parts, and glowed against the brilliant blue sky. It was a spectacular journey – peaceful, still, and scenic. We could definitely imagine bringing a crew of friends on board and sitting back to enjoy the ride, along with a barbecue lunch.
We soon pulled in to historic Wilkadene Station, home to the Woolshed Brewery which has been set up by the Freeman family who own the station. When shearing ceased at the property in 1996, the shearing shed doors were closed. But the family saw the need to diversify and under the watch of Tom Freeman, a craft brewery was soon born in the old Woolshed.
Today, brewer Jackson Beavis brews a range of craft beers, ciders and even a hard lemonade, for locals and visitors to enjoy on the expansive deck along the river. There is even a collaborative beer between Arrosto Coffee and Woolshed to try – the Firehouse Coffee Stout.
It is the perfect place for a Sunday session and things are in full swing when we arrive. In the shade of the gumtrees, and with the spectacular view of the Murray in front of us and historic woolshed behind us, we could see why the brewery is the talk of the town.
The next morning, we rose with the sun and met Ruth and Jim Roberts from Canoe the Riverland at their property near Murtho, just out of Renmark. Spectacularly located adjacent to the Woolenook Wetlands – the backwaters of the Murray River and a protected creek system where a myriad of birdlife and wildlife congregate – we were able to launch kayaks directly into the river and begin paddling on the serene, beginner friendly waters.
Ruth began kayaking when she courageously took on the ‘Source to Sea’ route from one end of the Murray River to the other. Being the third longest navigable river in the world, this is quite an achievement and now it is her objective to get more people paddling, particularly women who might doubt they can do it.
With the wetlands coming to life around us in the growing light of the day, it was an easy paddle surrounded by nature at its finest. The pristine beauty in this protected reserve is hard to take your eyes off, so the focus is actually on the environment around you, not the physical act of paddling. It was a glorious couple of hours on the water that passed too quickly between viewing the scenery and a fascinating chat with Ruth and we were sorry when it ended.
Back in town later that day, and the Murray River Queen was the place to be. A paddlesteamer that was originally built between 1972-74 to cruise with passengers up and down the Murray, she is now permanently docked in Renmark and has been restored by owner Matthew Major to offer accommodation, a regional cellar door, a wine bar and even a locally renowned Thai Restaurant.
We visited before the sun went down to sample the local regional wines represented on board with a perfect view of the water in front of us. We could see why locals enjoyed the boat so much. Celebrating local producers, and with an ambient deck directly on the water, this was definitely another highlight of the town.
It was hard not to remark upon the ingenuity of the locals in Renmark. The pioneering spirit of the Chaffey brothers and the original irrigation project seems to have lingered on throughout the generations and the town is far from just ‘another country town on the Murray’. It has plenty of reasons to visit, and plenty of reasons to come back again. Which is just what we will do.
Have you explored the Riverland region of South Australia? We’d love to know if you have, or if it’s on your bucket list! Tell us in the comments!