Mmmm. The great Aussie steak pie. It was exactly what the doctor ordered this morning for breakfast. Well, I’m not sure any doctor in their right mind would be happy with me eating a steak pie for breakfast. But hey, fantasy island is a lovely place to live sometimes. Anyway, I could have done crackers with cheese or two-minute noodles with tuna or even bought a bread roll. But the blokes outside the bakery seemed to be enjoying their meat pies so much I couldn’t resist. I retraced my steps of a few weeks ago by cycling from Morgan towards Cadell. This was the road where I had such strong headwinds on my last tour. And would you believe it, the wind has turned and is now blowing strongly from the south-east so I had headwinds again. Not gale force winds like last time but still a stiff breeze that forced me to get my quads cranking.
As I’ve probably mentioned way too often, I love this open saltbush country. While it would be nice to have something to block the wind, being able to see for miles is awesome. I rode about 15km from town then stopped, took this obligatory jumping for joy photo then sat down between the saltbush to read my book.
Farther down the road the landscape changes. The soil turns red and mallee scrub springs up around me. I stop at a rest area. Stuart and Barb from Packenham in Victoria stop there too. They have been traveling Western Australia in their caravan for the past three months. They boil the kettle and invite me to join them for a cup of tea and some cake. They tell me about where they’ve been and ask me where I’m headed. I enjoy the yarn before we set off again on our separate adventures.
Not far from where I met Stuart and Barb is Lock 2. This is the second Lock from the Murray’s mouth. The water is flowing quickly over the weir and there are no boats waiting to use the lock. The lock has a fish ramp to allow fish to travel up and down the river. I don’t know how many fish make it successfully through the ramp though, what with all the pelicans and commerants waiting to eat them. The pelicans fly up close to the weir, dropping into the turbulent water before drifting downstream a short distance and then repeating the process. Some are braver than others; flying right up to the weir wall. A couple of pelicans are more like me – they look too scared to enter the turbulent water and instead bob outside the safety rope.
Lock 2 also signals another change in the landscape. I leave the mallee behind and enter the Riverlands fruit and wine region. Huge vineyards battle with massive citrus farms for prime real estate. The vines here are different to those in the Barossa, Clare and Fleurieu. They look wilder, taller and more gnarly. Perhaps it’s the variety or just a reflection on how harsh this river country is. The citrus is in the middle of being picked. Everywhere there are signs saying “No work” and many of the trees are just green blobs. But others are beautiful with their branches heaving with great orange globes. They grow it all here: oranges, mandarins and grapefruit.
And then I arrive at the river itself. A short ferry ride takes me into Waikerie. It’s a larger town than most with two supermarkets (Woolworths and Foodland), two bottle shops, a petrol station, a good number of houses spread around and a public library. The citrus and wine must be ensuring this town is still flourishing while so many of the river towns I passed on my earlier trip are dying. There’s a commercial caravan park but it doesn’t look attractive. The free (and legal) riverside camping, on the other hand, is wonderful. I pull up an cook toasted ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch in the afternoon sun before pitching my room with a view.
As the sun sets I feel content. Though I don’t enjoy the sounds of local yobs doing donuts in their cars. Fortunatley, by around 10:30pm the hoons seems to have left (they didn’t hang around – they’d just come down, do some donuts and leave). Tomorrow I will probably stay here. I have a university assignment that I need to start writing. Hopefully the sun is out though so I can charge my devices.
I spend a rest day at Waikerie. But after listeining to hoons doing donuts outside my tent late into the night, I woke to gray skies and cold weather. With a couple of university assignments due in mid-September I decided the best option for the day was to try to find somewhere warm and dry to do some work instead of moving on. I had heard from the visitor centre in Morgan that Waikerie was a very nice town. Personally, I found the town a bit rough and unfriendly compared to river towns in the Murraylands. But at least there was a powerpoint outside the library in the cold where I could plub in to work (without sun I couldn’t charge my devices any other way) with my fingers slowly turning blue. The council officer I spoke with said that they don’t like backpackers hanging out inside the public library so they have opted to cover all indoor powerpoints and only allow charging of devices outside.
After a long day behind the keyboard (and making good progress on my university studies) I changed camp to stay along the river on the other side of town. The camp was okay and there were no hoons overnight. But before I bedded down I unpacked my packraft and spent a lovely half hour unwinding on the River Murray, just drifting around and dipping in the paddles every now and then for some very slow propulsion. It was the highlight of an otherwise businesslike day. If you are traveling the Murray, I would recommend against bothering with Waikerie. Stop in Morgan or at any town down in the Muraylands instead. They are much more beautiful and friendly.