For an introduction to the historic South Australian river port town of Goolwa, and to experience a unique view of the naturally beautiful environment of the Coorong, this local cruise is not to be missed.
Spirit of the Coorong
We embark on a comfortable 14 metre boat powered by twin engines, which seats up to 50 passengers both inside and on the outdoor upper deck. There are a few steps to negotiate entering the boat from the wharf and steep, narrow steps lead to the top deck, but from here we have uninterrupted views, with the sun on our faces and wind in the hair.
As we cruise downstream we are taken through the Goolwa Barrage and then continue towards the Murray Mouth where the river meets the Southern Ocean. The captain provides interesting and informative commentary as we cruise, and soon the beauty of the natural environment speaks for itself, with a multitude of birdlife and other wildlife to see as we glide along this calm and peaceful waterway.
The commentary begins with a brief history of Goolwa, including its time as a busy river port town, when paddle steamers traded along the Murray. Some of the earliest stone houses that once belonged to river captains are pointed out as we pass by. We then cruise past the local yacht club and aquatic club before heading through the Goolwa Barrage.
This lock is the last one on the Murray River and the smallest we are told, at 20 feet (6 metres) wide, and 100 feet (30 metres) long. As the boat enters the lock, one gate closes and the water level is lowered to that on the ocean side, before we pass through the lock leaving the last of the Murray Darling Basin freshwater behind, and motor into the Coorong National Park.
The barrage structure is draped with New Zealand fur seals which are frequent visitors here, lounging around sunning themselves or waiting outside the barrage gate for an easy feed of fish as they wash through. Soon after we see pelicans, black swans, ducks, Cape Barren geese and many more species of birds. The Coorong is a wetland of international importance as a breeding area, and more than 200 species of birds have been recorded in the park, both Australian and migratory species.
As we motor on we pass river shacks on Hindmarsh Island and soon the Murray Mouth comes into view on the opposite side. A series of huge white sand dunes line the peninsula either side of the mouth, and on the Goolwa side, cars can drive to this point.
Working in the mouth are dredges that continue nonstop to keep sand from building up during times of low river flow, ensuring that the river, ocean and Coorong all remain connected, and this important ecosystem is maintained. When tides are high enough, the boat will venture closer to the ocean but low tide didn’t permit it on this day and in fact, fishers could be seen standing in the water on sand bars, waiting to catch big mulloway on the incoming tide.
The cruise continues into the Coorong channel and we’re alerted to a signpost further south where the Murray Mouth used to be. It is now at its closest point to Goolwa that has ever been recorded. We pass fisherman’s shacks on the Coorong side of the peninsula and a dolphin surfaces while feeding in the channel. There is even more wildlife to be spotted on the shore and in the dunes, with kangaroos and emus roaming in this pristine national park.
With a brief and tantalising taste of the Coorong, it is time for our cruise to turn around and head back through the lock and return to the wharf. For those looking for more of an adventure there are longer cruises that can be taken. The 90 minute Murray Mouth cruise departs at 10.30am, every Monday, Thursday and Saturday all year round and costs $40 per head for Adults, and $25 for children.
A half day cruise lasts three and a half hours and includes lunch and a stop in the Coorong for an optional guided walk through the dunes. On this walk you will see the local indigenous Ngarrindjeri shell middens, a bush tucker trail and end up on the ocean side of the peninsula which is known as 90 mile beach. These cruises also depart on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 1pm and cost $99 for Adults and $73 per child.
The longest of the cruises takes six hours and includes lunch, a taste of freshly cooked Goolwa cockles (Pipis) and deeper exploration into the Coorong, as well as a second stop and another guided walk through the sand dunes. This cruise departs at 10am every Wednesday and Sunday from October through to May. Spirit Australia Cruises also offer other extended and specialty experiences throughout the year.