Travelling Australia - Journal 2012
2 May 2012 - Gunbower to Mildura
We had some overnight rain as a forecast front passed over Victoria but we were near the northern edge and there wasn't much more than enough rain to wake us up. By morning the rain had gone leaving a cloudy, dull, cold and windy morning as we connected Pathfinder and caravan and drove out of Gunbower on the Murray Valley Highway with Mildura as destination for the day. The road had a good width bitumen surface and long, straight, flat stretches between irrigated paddocks used to graze cattle and some sheep. Irrigation feeder channels were brim-full of water. Traffic was moderate, mostly sedans but there was a surprising number of caravans going in the opposite direction. There were some heavy transports but not enough to be noticeable.

The gusty wind was strong enough to move the van a little and also to affect Pathfinder fuel consumption. Whenever the road turned to head westward (into the wind) fuel consumption increased but when the road turned northward the fuel consumption gradually declined. Fortunately the road was more northerly than westerly at this stage.

The Murray Valley Highway passes through Cohuna and Kerang, both attractive looking townships in the irrigation area extending from Torrumbarry Weir near Gunbower along the Victorian side of the Murray River up to Swan Hill. We regularly passed irrigation feeder channel but the nature of land use was changing and flood-irrigated paddocks growing pasture became less common. The land was no longer completely flat, making flood-irrigation less practicable. Past Kerang we occasionally passed gently sloping paddocks growing crops without irrigation of any form.

After Kerang we heard a truck driver on the UHF radio warning another driver heading towards Kerang that a policeman had set up in the Honda dealership with his speed gun pointing through the window along the road. We had passed that spot but had not seen the speed gun; but then it's not usual to look for speed traps inside buildings along the road. Of course the driver chose his words carefully.

Between Kerang and Swan Hill irrigated pasture became unusual; grapevines and orchards became the usual irrigated crop using underground drips to supply water. There was a variety of land use activities around here with grape vines widespread but with some dryland crops and olives. Interestingly, there were some paddocks which had been levelled for irrigation but were no longer being watered; they were brown.

Just past Swan Hill we stopped on the side of the road for a hot drink. Although Murray Valley authorities make grand claims to be a tourist destination there are very few rest areas along the Murray Valley Highway where drivers can take a break and driving through the area can be unpleasant. Around Swan Hill the surface of the Murray Valley Highway became degraded and rough and I had to slow down for a while, but once away from Swan Hill the road surface recovered to its previously high standard. The gusty wind continued very cold. The amount of traffic on the road declined after Swan Hill although there were still a number of caravans going the other way.

Beyond Swan Hill the land changed more quickly as we drew closer to the mallee country. Now we passed many vineyards and stone fruit orchards using drip irrigation but the roadside vegetation was four metre high mallee trees with healthy ground cover of bluebush and saltbush shrubs.

The fairly light traffic on the highway included a couple of B-double heavy transports which caught up as we followed a bright yellow mobile crane along the highway. The crane was travelling a bit slower than we preferred but not slow enough to overtake so we just followed along behind at 75 to 80 kph. When the B-doubles caught up we heard the leading driver whingeing on the radio about being behind a caravan (us) and a crane. Then crane and B-doubles turned off the Murray Valley Highway onto the road to Ouyen while we continued along the Murray Valley Highway. So the trucks were still stuck behind the crane which had earlier said he was going to Ouyen.

After passing this turn-off to Ouyen the Murray Valley Highway continued as a good, flat, two-lane bitumen road with a good surface; the previously strong and gusty wind was not quite as strong (but just as cold), the sky was a bit overcast but sun shone through in patches. Quite good conditions for travelling. Traffic was now just about non-existent. To see a single vehicle travelling in either direction was unusual; those we did see were sedans. This was nearly all mallee country but there were several irrigated vineyards and fruit orchards along the road, presumably pumping water directly from the Murray River a few kilometres away to the east. We also passed two paddocks covered in pumpkins ready for harvesting, one Queensland Blue, the other Butternuts.

One noteworthy sign we passed in front of a plantation of partly-grown trees proclaimed this as a plantation of cricket bat willows which would be used to make outstanding cricket bats.

In the middle of this increasingly unpopulated region of mallee scrub we came upon extensive sections of olive trees lined up along the road; this area was now slightly hilly and the tree-lines were mostly down the slope with drip-irrigation fittings visible at the end of the rows. We could see thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of olive trees extending for several kilometres at a time, sometimes on both sides of the road, without any signage apart from a large, fairly new, warehouse type building with the name Boundary Bend Estate and the sub-title of Extra Virgin Olive Oil on the front. A little research on the internet revealed that the Boundary Bend olive oil plantation we drove past extended for 2,632 hectares and included 1.4 million olive trees.

We stopped briefly in the township of Boundary Bend for a hot drink. The Murrumbidgee River enters the Murray near here but the junction is not visible from the Murray Valley Highway. Weather remained good although the wind had strengthened and stayed just as cold; it had swung around to be behind us now so the fuel consumption remained good.

Past Boundary Bend, still on the Murray Valley Highway with Robinvale as the immediate destination, we passed more mallee scrub but with pockets of agricultural activity where scrub had been cleared sometimes over such a large area that large-scale, centre-pivot spray rigs were in use. Approaching Robinvale we encountered a large number of grape vines with vineyards extending to five kilometres from the town itself. Growing grapes is Robinvales primary economic activity.

After refuelling in Robinvale we crossed the Murray River into New South Wales on a series of three new concrete bridges across the river and its floodplain. Once in New South Wales the Murray Valley Highway ended in a junction with the Sturt Highway where we turned left to pass through Euston then on towards Mildura. Euston was also the centre of grape growing but not on the scale around Robinvale.

Euston to the edge of Mildura is about 80 kilometres, more than half of this distance is too far from the Murray for irrigation from the river to be practicable so there has been no development and mallee scrub is the only vegetation. The Sturt Highway is quite good but the surface is a little rippled, no doubt because of the heavy trucks using it. This is the main Adelaide to Sydney highway used by many heavy transports; some of them passed us.

Approaching Mildura we passed citrus orchards on the city outskirts then crossed the Murray River back into Victoria and made our way to the chosen caravan park. We have been to Mildura several times before and regularly use the same caravan park conveniently located across the Calder Highway from a Centro shopping centre. On arrival we checked in for a week (later extended) and set up on a large concrete slab.

This had been one of our more interesting travelling days as we drove 335 kilometres moving from fairly intensive irrigated pasture around Gunbower extending through Kyabran, Cohuna and Swan Hill with variation in agricultural activity (such as grapes and orchards around Swan Hill) but with irrigation dominating. Then through the less settled, and less developed, land from Swan Hill to Robinvale; this stretch of road was memorable for hundreds of thousands of olive trees lined up along kilometres of road around Boundary Bend; finding this was part of a plantation of more than a million olive trees made the sight more memorable. Robinvale's hectares of grape vines was another contrast, then we were into undeveloped mallee along the Sturt Highway giving way to citrus orchards around Mildura. The unifying theme of nearly all we saw today was water from the Murray River. Water is the foundation of agricultural activity in Northern Victoria and of the tourist industry thriving along here.

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