The Echuca paddle steamer experience
Last weekend, my wife and I spent a night in the town of Echuca on the Murray River which forms the border between the states of Victoria and New South Wales.
I experienced two ‘firsts’ in Echuca on this holiday: My first migraine (a story for another time) and my first paddle steamer ride. The paddle steamers are an icon of the town and one of the many reasons that holiday-makers travel to this pleasant district.
Two main companies operate paddle steamers in Echuca: Murray River Cruises (who own the Emmylou, the Pride of the Murray and the Canberra) and Echuca Paddlesteamers (who own the Pevensey and the Alexander Arbuthnot). There’s no doubt that Murray River Cruises have the better marketing department. Their website looks nicer and their paddle steamers fancier. Incredibly they have no online booking mechanism, so we went with Echuca Paddlesteamers instead.
Echuca Paddlesteamers do have an online booking system, albeit a clumsy one. We decided to book a 1-hour cruise at 11:30am and so filled-in the online form only to be told that our reservation application had been submitted and we’d have to wait a day for an invoice and payment link. Clearly there’s a human at the other end reviewing the bookings rather than an integrated electronic booking system, but it worked nevertheless and we collected our tickets on the day.
The gift shop where we had to meet was somewhat difficult to locate (a map would have been useful) but we eventually found the building which sits atop the historic Echuca Wharf. It is from here that we boarded the Pevensey for our hour-long paddle steamer experience.
The tour commenced with an explanation of the history of Echuca’s heritage-listed wharf and paddle steamers. The wharf was constructed in 1865, but two-thirds of it was dismantled and turned into fire wood in the 1930′s. The remainder was pulled-down in 2012 and rebuilt as part of the Echuca Wharf Revitalisation Project. As we proceeded up the Murray River, our captain explained some of the history of each of the vessels moored at the wharf. Some dated back to the 1880′s! I must commend him on his knowledge of the river and the vessels that sail upon it.
Mid-way through the journey we stopped at a small jetty and the majority of passengers alighted for a tour of Morrison’s Winery. This proved to be quite a stroke of good luck as we were left with just a handful of passengers for the return trip. We almost felt like we had the boat to ourselves!
With pleasant weather and little company, sailing down the Murray River on the return trip was most relaxing indeed. It all ended too soon for my liking!
What I found interesting about the Murray River at Echuca was how thin the riparian vegetation is. The bush is dominated by open sclerophyll forest which grows right up to the water’s edge. In some instances, the webbed roots of the mature eucalypts can be seen holding the river bank together. One might expect thicker vegetation to close to a major watercourse.
There are a number of other minor attractions in the area to enjoy. Do look out for the Thong Tree!