Welcome to the historic river port town of Goolwa in South Australia, on the shores of the Murray River. Like many South Australian towns, Goolwa has many beautifully maintained sandstone buildings from its colonial days.
The region is also noted for its proximity to the Murray Mouth, where the 2,508km-long Murray finally meets the Southern Ocean, and the remote Coorong waterways, beaches and birdlife. The Coorong is the rugged setting for Colin Thiele’s wonderful Australian children’s classic, Storm Boy, and the beautiful location where the two subsequent movies of the same name were filmed. Goolwa’s town is framed by the bridge across to nearby Hindmarsh Island – many readers may recall its controversial construction in the 1990s.
We arrived in town in time to join in all the fun of the 16th biennial South Australian Wooden Boat Festival, and what a spectacle it was! The festival celebrates SA’s history of wooden boat construction, with over 150 wooden craft of all shapes, sizes and ages on display.
The old paddle steamers were particularly beautiful, all lovingly restored and still in working order. We took a cruise on the PS Marion, one of the last-remaining steam-driven, wood-fired side paddle steamers still operating. PS Marion has been plying the waters of the Murray for over 120 years and sailed down to the festival from her usual home in Mannum, 100km further up the river.
In keeping with our experiences of bumping into friends in far-flung places on our travels (including in the Italian lakes district and in a crowded square in Shanghai), we unexpectedly caught up with old friends from Canberra at the festival, who joined us for a coffee and then the cruise on the PS Marion. They just happened to be in town for the weekend for a family function – and were pleasantly surprised to find it coincided with the Wooden Boat Festival (as well as our visit, naturally!).
We walked out on the Goolwa Barrage, one of a series of five Sea Walls and Locks in the channels separating the Murray river and nearby Lake Alexandrina from the salt water near the mouth of the Murray River. The barrages are used to help control salinity levels in the waters of the Murray and nearby wetlands and lakes, as well as assisting to stabilise river levels. We drove out to view the mouth of the mighty Murray and beaches either side, and it was amazing to see it given the flow starts more than 2,500 kms away. Truly a great river system.
Our two nights stay in Goolwa was at Crabtree Farm, which was very memorable – in many ways! Before checking in, we noticed a funny little icon on the Wikicamps entry … oops, clothing was optional at the farm! An honest booking mistake, or maybe one of us is more adventurous than previously thought?! Mercifully, there was a bit of a chilly south-westerly wind blowing on our arrival, ensuring that everything was kept under wraps! As it turned out, Crabtree Farm was a wonderful stay, with a quirky collection of rustic ‘stuff’ and fabulous hosts. Mind you, the full-length window in the shower was ‘interesting’! The owners, Vicky and Mick (who also run the local bakery) fostered a great sense of community and camaraderie around the pizza oven, which also doubled as the fire on the cool evenings. We were treated with the best pizzas on Saturday night, as well as piping hot fresh bread on Sunday morning. We certainly recommend Crabtree Farm.