Horsepower and mullets

Cars. Boats. Trains. And a tram pulled by a horse.

Our Murray River journey continues with a drive to Goolwa, a river port that once handled paddle steamers up the river system. Past the McLaren Vale vineyards and through bucolic hills and towns. 

Confused by the GPs we drive over the steep Hindmarsh Island Bridge and back, before finding the Goolwa Wharf.

We are here for the Cockle Train, a half hour heritage steam train ride from Goolwa to Victor Harbour. Whistles sound and handsome locomotive 621 arrives at the station towing wooden heritage cars.

This line was once horsedrawn and runs along the beach for the second half of its journey. It was popular with the fisherman who dug up the cockles from the beach sands, hence the name. 

The old seats are not always the most comfortable, dependant on the state of their springs. But the windows open, letting in the scent and the soot of the steam engine while hopefully diluting any covid air from the white Australian males who struggle with mask wearing. 

Clouds of grey smoke dance over the yellow farmlands with sheep, alpacas and horses. We pass classic South Australian sandstone buildings and more modern beach homes. 

There are fantastic views back along the coast and then of the beaches of the Southern Oceanas we head to Victor Harbour. 

It is a real steam train experience and very scenic. 

The seaside port of Victor Harbour is a tourist town now. There are fairground rides by the beach and a horse drawn tram across the causeway to Granite Island. 

We walk across the old wooden causeway as rain spits down. The umbrellas that were in the car are both a bit broken and not much use. 

Beneath us a dense field of seagrass waves in the current. 

A path follows the circumference of the island, which is a nesting site for penguins and other birds, hiding in the low shrubs and golden grasses, or beneath the huge granite boulders that give the island its name. 

It is an easy and spectacular walk past the eroded and lichen covered boulders. We don’t spot any penguin chicks, but we do watch the incredible sight of a pod of dolphins skimming through the waves. 

We catch the tram back to the mainland, enjoying the leisurely pace from the top level. The engine is running at exactly one horsepower, a big Clydesdale named Albert.

The Cockle Train returns us to Goolwa, a more relaxing way to travel than the car ride that awaits.

From Goolwa we follow the edge of the lakes Alexandrina and Albert that make up the mouth of the Murray. Rather than take the recommended route to Murray Bridge, we cross the river at Wellington on a small car ferry.

The frequently flat landscape is beautiful in a desolate way. Grasslands to one side, salty wetlands of low shrubs to the other.

Our destination is Meningie, on the eastern shores of Lake Albert. 

I have a fondness for this town. It is one of my dead towns, very quiet and lonely, with few shops and services. We eat a dinner of locally caught fried mullet (fish, not hair) by the side of the lake.

The wind rustles the reeds and waves lap gently against a jetty claimed by a flock of seagulls. 

There is a peacefulness here that I find attractive, especially after the stress of the city and its traffic. I could spend hours just staring across the lake, letting the water, wind and light tell its stories of times past and future. 

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