By the Places We Go team
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.
Panoramic vistas of ancient landscapes fringed with gumtrees welcomed us, and we couldn’t help but be dazzled by how the Murray River cut through the environment like an oasis.
Renmark was born out of an historic irrigation project in the late 1880s, headed by the Chaffey Brothers who were invited from Canada to lead the project. Today, they are lauded as the town’s founders, 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. Today, the legacy lives on with wineries and fruit orchards thriving throughout the district.
The pioneering spirit remains intact, and locals are passionately making the town an alluring place to visit.
Take Callum from Arrosto Coffee. A former builder, Callum turned his hand to coffee roasting in 2011 when he noticed that in Renmark, “finding freshly roasted specialty coffee was like finding truffles in a desert”.
Today, the roastery sources coffee beans across the globe and is located at the back of their newly opened café, housed in the town’s old fire station. Both the coffee blends and the décor pay tribute to the building’s origin, such as ‘Firehouse Blend’ and ‘Ladder 59’.
"In Renmark, finding freshly roasted specialty coffee was like finding truffles in a desert."
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 soon we were introduced 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.
Once fully fuelled, a wander around town along the heritage walk was a great way to get a lay of the town. On the scenic stroll along the banks of the river, we passed many landmarks representing the history of the town.
Among them are the PS Industry, an historic paddlesteamer that used to ply the river transporting local produce; and the beautiful art deco Remark Hotel, Australia’s first and oldest community pub.
And just up the river, the path leads to BIG4 Renmark Riverfront Holiday Park. It’s situated along a 1km stretch of the river, and guests were making the most of the location and cruising away from the riverbank in their boats to water-ski or hiring canoes from the park for a paddle.
Before long, friendly fellow holidaymakers invited us for a ski. As we took off in the boat with them, we learned they had been coming to Renmark and the holiday park for decades. We could certainly see why. There were riverfront cabins, shady and spacious campsites, an incredible waterpark and pool, pedal carts and much more.
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.
We jumped on board for a two-hour cruise that followed one of the most popular routes along the river to a favourite local highlight: The Woolshed Brewery.
We passed town and headed up the river where the scenery around us changed from fringing green to red sandstone cliffs that 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 owns 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 to enjoy on the expansive deck along the river. There is even a collaborative beer between Arrosto Coffee and Woolshed: The Firehouse Coffee Stout.
This is the perfect place for a Sunday session, and things were in full swing when we arrived. In the shade of the gumtrees, and with the spectacular view of the Murray in front of us and the 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 myriad birdlife and wildlife congregates – we were able to launch kayaks directly into the river and begin paddling on the serene, beginner-friendly waters.
"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. 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, which passed too quickly between viewing the scenery and a fascinating chat with Rirresistibleuth.
Back in town later that day, the Murray River Queen was the place to be. A paddlesteamer 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 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 Renmark locals. The pioneering spirit of the Chaffey brothers and the original irrigation project seems to have lingered on throughout the generations. For this reason, it stands out from the crowd. And we’re already keen on a return.
Have you visited Renmark? If so, what are your memories of it? We’d love to read your thoughts, so please leave a comment below.
Isn’t it time you had a riverside escape? Book your next BIG4 break now.