In Mildura -- Mildura is one of Australia's most important fruit-growing areas, but it also has the reputation as a hot spot for food and wine and the arts. There was a time, however, when this was semi-arid red-dust country. The area bloomed because of a little ingenuity and, of course, the Murray. The original irrigation system consisted of two English water pumps and the manual labor of hundreds of immigrants, who worked clearing scrub and digging channels through the new fields.
Several paddle steamers leave from Mildura wharf to cruise the Murray. One of the nicest boats is the PS Melbourne (tel. 03/5023 2200; www.paddlesteamers.com.au), which was built in 1912 and is still powered by steam. It offers 2-hour trips leaving at 10:50am and 1:50pm daily. The fare is A$27 for adults and A$17 for children 14 to 17 or A$12 for children 5 to 13, free for children under 5. The Melbourne's sister ship, the Rothbury, was built in 1881; a conventional engine has replaced its steam engine. It offers a winery cruise every Thursday from 10:30am to 3:30pm, stopping at a winery for tastings and a barbecue lunch, and dinner cruises Thursdays from 7 to 10pm. Both these trips cost A$62 for adults, A$50 children 14 to 17, and A$26 for children 5 to 13. It also runs a Tuesday lunch cruise which costs A$29 adults, A$17 children 14 to 17, and A$13 children 5 to 13. It leaves at 11:30am and returns at 3pm. You buy your own lunch at the historic Gol Gol Hotel, with special rates for Rothbury passengers.
In Echuca -- The paddle steamer Emmylou (tel. 03/5480 2237; fax 03/5480 2927; www.emmylou.com.au) operates out of Echuca. The Emmylou offers short trips costing A$25 for adults and A$12 for kids ages 1 to 15, or A$68 for a family of four for 1 hour, leaving at 10am and 3pm; and 90-minute lunch cruises costing A$30 for adults, A$14 for kids, or A$78 for families, leaving at 11:15am and 1pm. Three-hour dinner cruises cost A$110 adults and A$55 children. Emmylou also has an overnight cruise, leaving at 6pm and returning at 9:30am the next day (check sailings beforehand). It costs A$205 to A$265 per person, including breakfast and dinner. A 2-day, 2-night cruise leaves Wednesday at 6pm and returns at noon on Friday. The cruise includes (depending on river levels) a visit to the Barmah, an area famous for its wetlands and the largest red gum trees in the world, or a stop at Perricoota Station. The trip costs A$425 to A$525 per person, including meals. Three-night cruises are also available.
The Port of Echuca (tel. 03/5482 4248; www.portofechuca.org.au) is definitely worth a look. The three-level red-gum wharf was built in 1865 and is still in use by paddle steamers. You can take a one-hour cruise on PS Pevensey (1911) or PS Alexander Arbuthnot (1923). Cruises run daily at 10:15 and 11:30am, and 1:15 and 2:30pm, with an extra tour at 3:45pm on weekends and public and school holidays. They cost A$21 for adults, A$9 for children 4 to 14, and A$54 for families. You can look around the wharf on a guided tour, priced at A$12 for adults and A$8.50 for children, and A$36 for a family. A combined cruise/tour ticket makes it cheaper. Outside the Port, the Echuca Port Precinct offers various things to do, including carriage rides and old penny arcade machines in Sharpes Magic Movies, in an old riverboat warehouse.
A Trip Into the Outback
Mungo National Park is a unique arid region 110km (68 miles) northeast of Mildura, off the Sturt Highway, in New South Wales. The park is famous for its red dunes and shifting sands (so it's best to have a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get around it). The most famous feature of the park is the Walls of China, a moonscape of weathered red sand. The walls edge Lake Mungo, once a huge freshwater lake during the last Ice Age, now dry. A 60km (37-mile) driving tour starting at the visitor center at the park's entrance takes you across the lake bed to the Walls of China. You must pay an A$7 per car entry fee at the visitors center at the park entrance. Several short walks also begin here. Just outside the park, the newly renovated Mungo Lodge (tel. 03/5029 7297; fax 03/5029 7296; www.mungolodge.com.au) offers 17 air-conditioned, contemporary cabins with luxury touches such as bathrobes, slippers, and hairdryers. Each has a small deck to sit out on. Rates are A$500 double or A$780 double for a self-contained cabin (sleeps four). Extra person A$65. The lodge has a good restaurant and a smart lounge area with a bar and two fireplaces. For visitors on a budget, the Shearers Quarters (tel. 03/5021 8900 for bookings), near the visitors center, has five rooms with combinations of double, twin, and bunk beds, sleeping up to 26 people, but you will need your own bedding (sleeping bags and so on). Only four rooms have air-conditioning. There is a fully equipped communal kitchen/dining room, and barbecues, as well as a toilet block and hot showers. Rates are A$30 per adult per night (16 years and over), A$10 per child per night (5-15 years); children under 5 years free. Minimum charge of A$50 per night. There are also two camping grounds in the park. Fees are A$5 per adult and A$3 per child per night. Contact the National Parks & Wildlife Service NSW (tel. 1300/361 967 in Australia; www.environment.nsw.gov.au/nationalparks) for more information.
Ned kelly Country
The bushranger Ned Kelly is an Australian icon. His story is a legend, and Kelly is a folk hero to many people. Opinion can be divided, but there's no question that his tale still resonates 125 years after the events that made him famous. Now, the area of Victoria in which he lived is called "Kelly Country," and in 2005, to mark the anniversary of his death, the government created the Ned Kelly Touring Route (www.nedkellytouringroute.com.au), linking important sites in the story.
Ned Kelly was the eldest of eight children born to Irish parents in Victoria in 1854. When Ned was 12, his father died and the family moved to be near relatives at Greta, 240km (150 miles) northeast of Melbourne. Like many poor families, the Kellys took up the government's offer of cheap land and battled to clear the bushland, build a house, and plant crops. More often than not, the land parcels were too small and the soil too poor for them to make a living.
At 16, Ned was convicted of horse-rustling and sentenced to 3 years in jail. A few years later, his mother was imprisoned for attacking a police officer named Fitzpatrick, who was accused of attacking Ned's sister first. During the scuffle, Ned shot Fitzpatrick through the wrist. Ned escaped -- with a bounty on his head.
On October 26, 1878, together with friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, Ned and his brother Dan came across police camped at Stringy Bark Creek. Ned believed the police intended to kill him, so he called on them to surrender. Three officers resisted, and in the fight that followed Ned Kelly shot them dead.
In the years that followed, the Kelly Gang avoided capture with the help of sympathetic locals. They robbed two banks, and during each robbery Ned gave his hostages a letter, explaining to the government how he'd been persecuted by police.
In June 1880, police surrounded the Kelly Gang at the Glenrowan Hotel. Prepared for the fight, the four bushrangers put on homemade suits of armor. It was no use -- Ned's body took 28 bullets, and the others were all killed. Ned was hanged in Old Melbourne Gaol on November 11, 1880. He was 25 years old.
Historic Beechworth, one of Victoria's best-preserved gold-rush towns, is a good base for exploring this region. There are more than 30 buildings listed by the National Trust here, from pubs, churches, and government offices to miners' cottages and the jail where Ned Kelly was imprisoned. For stylish self-contained accommodations, the charming Stone Cottage, 6 Taswell St. (tel. 03/5728 2857 or 0411/324 797 mobile phone; www.stonecottagebeechworth.com.au), is ideal for two people. The cottage has a roomy attic bedroom with a queen-size bed and windows overlooking the garden. Downstairs is a cozy sitting room (with a roaring log fire on those chilly nights), a dining area, and a kitchen. It costs A$175 double. For a little pampering, check out the Spa at Beechworth (tel. 03/5728 3033; www.thespaatbeechworth.com.au), a day spa located in the gorgeous Birches Building on Albert Road, which was once -- let's not mince words -- a lunatic asylum.
You can also visit Glenrowan, a quiet little town surrounded by wineries and orchards. Here you'll find a 6m-high (20-ft.) outdoor statue of Ned Kelly clad in his homemade armor and helmet, with rifle in hand, as well as a couple of small museums full of Kelly memorabilia -- and much more besides.
Other towns on the route include Avenel, Benalla, Mansfield, and Jerilderie in southern New South Wales. You can pick up a touring route brochure from the Old Melbourne Gaol before setting out, or from the Beechworth Visitor Information Centre, in the town hall, Ford Street (tel. 1300/366 321 in Australia, or 03/5728 8065; www.beechworthonline.com.au). It is open 9am to 5pm daily (except Christmas Day). Other information centers will also have them.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.