4x4 Adventure: Murray River Road, Victoria

The meandering Murray River Road traces the mighty river of its name in to the majestic Victorian High Country and the Snowies beyond

Murray River Road

You’d never know it today but back in its heyday Tintaldra was a thriving metropolis, the hub of the Upper Murray with a ferry punt crossing, customs house, blacksmith and a police sergeant doing the rounds. It was one of the few places you could cross the river from Victoria into NSW.

Fast forward to 2021 and the punt has been replaced by a bridge, but we have no plans to cross the river. We’re content to stay on the Victorian side, making friendly conversation with the four relaxed-looking police officers stationed there. Restrictions and quarantine measures are still in place for those crossing the border, but for us, the tiny hamlet of Tintaldra and its nearby iconic river offers all we need.

This area has been hit hard, first by the devastating fires of late-2019 and then from months of closures and lost tourism from COVID. We’ve come from Melbourne, a drive of five-plus hours which becomes more scenic once we turn off the Hume Highway and head towards Tallangatta and the Murray River Road. This road links two of Australia’s most iconic landscapes, the Murray River and the Snowy Mountains, and our destination for the next few days is a campsite somewhere in between.

Fortunately, there are plenty of them, and as we drive through Tallangatta and the steep and windy Shelley-Walwa Road, the regrowth and regeneration in the forests from the bushfires of a year ago is prevalent. The road weaves through extensive pine plantations and descends on to the Murray River Road where the river twists its way through a mix of grazing land and forest.

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Walwa is a great pit stop with a well-stocked and friendly general store, a pub, caravan park and a dump point at the recreation reserve on O’Halloran Street. Seven kilometres east of town we check out Neils Reserve which has loads of dispersed camp spots along the Murray.

We continue on with plenty of opportunities to stop and take in those big views. A few kilometres before Tintaldra, the Jim Newman Lookout offers spectacular views of the Murray River winding through the valley with the Alps in the background. It features a giant bogong moth structure with an interpretative panel explaining the significance of the moths to the indigenous groups, who came to the region to feast during the spring and summer months on the plentiful moths. The hunters collected them in their thousands, roasted them over hot ashes and grew fat on the rich, sweet nut-like flavour of the moths. Give me a beef camp roast any day.

Finally, we arrive at Clarkes Reserve, our picture-perfect campsite for the next few days. Although there’s no facilities here, Clarkes Lagoon has absolute river frontage, it’s perfect to throw in a line or canoe, the grass is lush and there’s plenty of room for our rigs. We’re only 6km drive to Tintaldra, the first pioneer settlement of the Upper Murray established in 1837 and it’s here we head, after settling into camp. The tiny town is quiet with the only traffic a couple of police cars stationed on the border patrol. After some friendly banter we head to the historic general store, the one and only shop in town, where we meet its caretaker Robin Walton.

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Built in 1864, stepping inside the heritage listed general store is like stepping back in time. The interior is lined with patterned tin and the walls constructed with rough-hewn river red gum beams, supporting rafters made from vertical slabs of stringybark timber. When it operated as a supply store and local post office it had two weekly deliveries from Melbourne and was the longest horseback delivery in Victoria. The store is still the post office, as well as a museum and it’s a great place to find some true alpine hospitality.

Robin tells us the Tintaldra Store has been in her family for nearly 50 years. The store turned 110 years old when her mother, Betty Walton, arrived with her husband and six children to face their first cold winter. Losing her husband early on, Betty worked hard to keep the store going. She was a master of alpine hospitality, a colourful character and published bush poet and historian, and her passing last year was hugely felt in the community.

Robin takes us around the back to show us the historic bakery and bread oven which operated from 1927 but closed due to lack of manpower in WWII. Behind the property are sweeping views of the river and the bridge which leads to Tooma. The general store, bakery and accompanying bed-and-breakfast next door are all for sale.

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Across the road is the historic Tintaldra Hotel built in 1870 and the local watering hole for many years. Back when the punt service was the only one on the Upper Murray, the town, and pub, drew loads of traffic. However, as other local centres developed nearby, hotel trade eventually died and in 2017, the hotel closed its doors.

Fortunately, it was bought in 2018 and today is open again. Inside you’ll find remnants of the past, old photographs, a fireplace, as well as modern comforts, excellent pub grub and cold beer. On the veranda you can soak up the views of the pylons from the 1891 river red gum bridge which leads across the border. With no traffic coming through, the young cops are taking time out to kick a footy. Not far away, at the entrance to the picnic area, on the site of the blacksmith’s hut, is a monument to early pioneers, the Vogel family.

Christian Vogel established a punt across the river and was, according to the bronze plaque, a “blacksmith, wheelwright, carpenter, dentist, punt builder and operator”. The area is full of plaques and sculptures and down in the river, standing tall on a pylon, a large Murray cod sculpture graces the waterway. Tintaldra makes a great base for those who enjoy their Murray cod fishing, as well as those seeking more action.

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BURROWA-PINE Mountain National Park stretches between Walwa Creek in the northwest and Cudgewa Creek in the southeast, both tributaries of the Murray River. The area is a bushwalking and four-wheel driver’s playground with extensive tracks leading to rugged mountain peaks and rocky outcrops, Mount Burrowa the highest peak in the park. Since the bushfires a year ago the tracks remain closed to undergo hazardous-tree assessment and treatment to make them safe.

Pine Mountain is one of the largest monoliths in the Southern Hemisphere, reputedly 1.5 times the size of Uluru and, although the popular walking track to the summit is still closed, ranger Scott Thomson from Parks Victoria says the aim is for the track to be opened, hopefully by the end of this year.

One of the most popular spots in the Pine National Park is the Cudgewa Bluff Falls. This spectacular waterfall thunders down to a tranquil grotto at the bottom where you can cool down on a hot day. Steps, walking paths and infrastructure were destroyed in the fires of 2019, however Scott says rebuilding is underway and will reopen by either the end of 2021 or early 2022 with new and improved walking facilities, including additional access for the disabled.

Mt Mittamatite Regional Park is a striking feature in the landscape and our aim was to drive to the summit, at Embery Lookout, the highest point in the park. From the top are views of Corryong with the Australian Alps as your backdrop. It’s a windy, spectacular 16km drive uphill and our only traffic are the four-legged variety, however, with only a few kilometres to go, we’re stopped by a closed gate. Though we didn’t quite reach the summit, the views were mind blowing. Mt Mittamatite and Embery Lookout should be open by mid-2021.

The Murray River Road continues towards Corryong, where the Man from Snowy River legend lives on with the festival in April planned to go ahead in 2021. En route we pass the historic Towong Racecourse where scenes from Phar Lap were filmed as well as the iconic Farrans Lookout with its big views.

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TUCKED in amongst the scenic roads and tracks of the Upper Murray are small country pubs that offer a great opportunity to enjoy a cold beer and hospitality. Whether it’s the Walwa Pub smack bang in the middle of town, the Cudgewa Pub renowned for its Friday night happy hour or the remote Koetong Hotel you won’t be caught short of a drop.

At Koetong the beer garden is a top place to stop after a morning exploring the back tracks and trestle bridges in the area. We’d been told about the pub’s great food and huge servings by our daughter who works in the pine plantation at nearby Shelley, but we’re still gobsmacked by the massive steak sandwiches that come out. Patronising these country pubs will help the economic recovery of the Upper Murray.

Nearby at Shelley, the track to Lawrence Lookout can get rough in wet weather but on a clear day, has unforgettable 360-degree views of the surrounding pine plantations and mountain landscape. Koetong provides access to the Mount Lawson State Park which covers 13,150 hectares and is known for its steep slopes and rocky bluffs. Inside the park are more bushwalking and four-wheel drive tracks to discover.

It’s within the Mount Lawson State Park and Mount Granya State Park you’ll find the nearest 4WD tracks along the Murray River. The iconic Mt Pinnibar Track was reopened in late February as was Mt Gibbo, both remote, popular tracks near the Alpine National Park near Tom Groggin, which form part of the Davies Plain iconic 4WD route. This unforgettable route offers some of the highest tracks in Victoria and is an epic trip in itself.

Back at camp the river is a perfect backdrop as we swim, relax and enjoy a night of serenity around the fire. We’re heading home in the morning, via Corryong, but one thing’s for sure … With more than 155 kilometres of high country to explore along the Murray River Road, there’s no shortage of views, side trips and brilliant riverside camp sites in this magnificent part of Victoria.

Miriam Blaker


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