The straight line of bitumen between Broken Hill and Merbein along the Silver City Highway, is not what you’d call a busy road. While it does travel through some classic outback countryside – think endless red-dust plains studded with saltbush and mulga, kangaroos, emus and ‘ever chattering’ galahs – it could be a monotonous 280km haul if you are not easily entertained. We made a couple of rest stops over the 280km and we would have to say that the Silver City Highway flies were the most friendly and affectionate we have come across!! They caress you all over as soon as you stepped outside of the motorhome.
260km south of Broken Hill we came into Wentworth, the first major town down the Highway. The town is perched on the banks of the merging Murray and Darling Rivers and on the edge of the Perry Sandhills, a vast expanse of continuously shifting dunes that appear mysteriously out of nowhere, in sharp contrast to surrounding farmlands. The sandhills were used as a bombing range during World War II. Now they are a popular film location and it’s easy to see why – climb to the top of the first dune and all you can see is red, rippling dunes that could be any desert, anywhere.
An icon in Wentworth is the local Royal Hotel. Built in 1866 it is believed that the hotel has a series of underground rooms and tunnels that go down to the river bank, about 50m from the hotel itself. These rooms and tunnels are thought to have been used for smuggling goods into Wentworth so that duty did not have to be paid at the Customs House. While the front of the hotel has a ‘relatively new 100 year old’ brick face, the rear of the hotel is still in its original form. Unfortunately the rooms and tunnels cannot be explored for safety reasons.
From Wentworth we drove a further 20km to the little village of Merbain. Merbain, on the Murray River, was established as an irrigation settlement in 1909 and is a major producer of dried vine fruits and citrus. The district has diversified into the growing of wine and table grapes, asparagus, almonds, mushrooms and vegetables. It has also developed as a regional transport hub for the export of district products.
Our destination was Merbain Common approximately 2km from Merbain village itself. The Common runs alongside the Murray River and is a river flat area of semi water logged land covered with river red gums and other scrubby plants. The local Borough have built dirt roadways through the Common to a number a free bush camps on the river’s edge. We have made our home for past five nights at the Common on the Merbein Sandbar. We had a great flat spot about 10 metres from the waters edge with a wonderful view of the bird life, water skiers, speedboats and fisher people doing their best to catch dinner. While we saw a few caught, there were none that were edible.
We also caught up with our friends Herman and Di – last seen at Alice Springs in May of this year. They were camped about a kilometre from us up the River at Horseshoe Bend. While we are generally heading in the same direction, they are making their way toward the York Peninsula while we are making our way toward Adelaide. It was great to see them again and be able to swap travel notes at our evening 5 o’clockers.
For those following us, our advice is not come onto the Common if it is threatening rain. On Wednesday day, and some of the night, it bucketed down accompanied by high winds and hail. There was no way we could have got off the Common either with the 4WD or the motorhome if we wanted to. A number of people moved when it started to rain as they knew of the Common’s history i.e. turns to deep mud in the wet. We were blissfully unaware so stayed put. We were on hard gravel ground, away from trees and high enough from the waters edge not to have any real concern. We had no plans to move until Sunday anyway so we were quite happy with our position.
Another ‘Plan B’ this morning tho’. When we awoke the sky was looking really dark and the wind had come up again. We went online and looked at the 24 hour forecast for this area and rain was predicted for this afternoon and this evening. After a quick pack up we shifted off the Common and are now a few kilometres further down the River at a much drier area. Getting bogged in at the Common was never going to be a joyous occassion and we need to be on our way on Sunday.
We are heading into ‘town’ tonight to have a meal at the local RSL Club. They have a seafood special night on a Saturday night and for $28 you can feast on just about any seafood you can think of. Having learned from past experiences at RSL’s and Clubs, one main meal is quite large enough for both of us. Not a bad way to finish our Merbein visit.
Tomorrow (Sunday) we move on. We will drive into Mildura in the morning, top up with water and groceries and go south. The plan is to continue south along the Murray River for a few more days but as of today, we are not quite sure where on the River. It will be a surprise to us all tomorrow morning when the navigator comes up with the new course.