Riverside retreat


Nestled on the banks of the Murray River, surrounded by rolling vineyards and gourmet delights, Mildura is the perfect holiday destination to explore by bike, discovers Margot McGovern.

Mildura, in my mind, has always been linked with lush vineyards, dried fruit and bike rides. My great-grandparents grew sultanas on a property just outside nearby Merbein and I grew up listening to my nanna’s childhood stories of laying out fruit from the orchid on drying racks, groaning at the thought of more homegrown fruit and ice cream for dessert and travelling everywhere on her Malvern Star fixed-gear step-through. From these stories, I’d always imagined Mildura as a fertile, bucolic paradise on the banks of the Murray, and in September last year, I finally made the trip to see it for myself.

Photo by Margot McGovern

Located in Victoria’s north-west on the NSW border, it’s a bustling regional centre with a population of more than 50,000. The fertile land along the riverbank was once popular among indigenous tribes before European settlers arrived in 1857 and established the Mildura sheep station. In 1886, Canadian brothers George and William Chaffey re-established Mildura as an irrigation settlement. These days, Mildura and the surrounding Riverland and Riviera now produce a large percentage of Australia’s wine (as well as fruits and nuts), and has become a foodie paradise. From the Italian doughnuts at 27 Deakin Café, to the burgeoning Asian restaurants to the locally sourced degustation menu at Jim McDougall in Stefano’s Cellar, Mildura has gourmet delights to suit every palate.

Mildura’s riverside location, with the nearby Kings Billabong and the beach at Apex Park makes it a popular family holiday destination, and the riverfront is currently undergoing an $18 million upgrade that, when completed, will link the city’s lively Langtree Avenue, or ‘Feast Street’ as it’s locally known, to the waterfront. Part of the first stage of the project, which is expected to be complete mid-year, is a major upgrade to the 5km of shared use path running from the Chaffey Bridge to Apex Park.

In fact, this is just one of the ways Mildura is is rapidly developing its bike friendly image. There has also been $600,000 funding approved to extend the path along the riverfront to Merbein (some sections already exist but don’t link up), and since I visited with a colleague in September, Mildura Tourism has established criteria for identifying ‘cycle-friendly’ businesses with a growing number of cafes, attractions and accommodation providers now proudly displaying the cycle-friendly business logo in their windows. What can riders expect at a cycle friendly business? Among other things, verified cafes and eateries have puncture repair kits (including a pump) on hand and offer bike parking, information, maps (when available) and complimentary water, while cycle-friendly accommodation providers also offer secure bike storage (undercover with 24hr access) and all businesses displaying the cycle-friendly logo are welcoming to riders and actively promote cycling. For more information about Mildura’s cycle-friendly businesses, see Visit Mildura’s cycling page (www.visitmildura.com.au/cycling.html).

Map by Wayne Murphy
Map by Wayne Murphy

So what is the cycling scene like in and around Mildura? The largely flat terrain, the city’s bikeable size and the spectacular, unique landscape make it a great place to ride with the family, and this year Mildura is hosting the family-friendly Tour de Depot on 19 April. For those keen for an off-road adventure there are networks of dirt tracks along the river and around the nearby Kings Billabong, and the Coomella Mildura Mountainless Bike Club has its own purpose-built course behind the Coomella Golf Club, a 20 minute drive away. Mungo National Park, one of the region’s most popular attractions, rich in indigenous history, is also set to open 30–40km of (mountainless) MTB trails early this year. There’s also plenty of fast, flat riding on offer for roadies and the local Sunraysia BUG (SUNBUG) has produced a detailed guide (including maps) of some of the top routes, available for download from Visit Mildura’s cycling page.

SUNBUG hosts Ride On

We were keen to sample a little of all the kinds of riding on offer, and rather than lugging our own steeds from Melbourne, we hired bikes from Bicycle Centre Mildura, which has a range of bikes available, including kids’ bikes, though you’ll need to book ahead. Hire bikes are also available from Wild Side Outdoors.

To get our bearings, we began with a leisurely cruise along the river front’s shared-use path, heading east to the Marina before looping back west along to Lock 11 where were gathered with a small crowd of onlookers to watch the lock in action as a pair of houseboats passed through. We also made a brief exploration of Lock Island, which makes for a scenic picnic spot with plenty of room for kids to run around, and saw one of the historic paddle steamers chugging up the river. Convincing ourselves we’d earned a good meal (or at least would earn one over the coming days of riding) we sojourned to The Verdict for wine and tapas.

The next morning we were up with the birds to join riders from SUNBUG for one of their regular weekly road rides, which took us out to Kings Billabong and the vineyards and orchards beyond. Coming from Melbourne, which at that time of year was still struggling to shrug off the winter chill and drizzle, we marveled at the clear skies and steadily climbing temperature as we rolled out of town along Cureton Avenue, a popular road for cyclists that winds its way out to Kings Billabong.

The 2154ha billabong is home to many species of water birds, including whistling kites, swamp harriers, black swans and pelicans. There’s much to explore around the banks of the billabong and, if your bike is up to the task, you can head off road onto one of the trails that ribbon around the water’s edge. For those keen to keep rolling, a road-side lookout on Cureton Avenue offers spectacular, panoramic views and information boards about the billabong’s history and wildlife.

In SUNBUG’s guide to Mildura’s best road rides, the trip out to the billabong is part of ‘The Spider’s Web’ route (ride 3 in the guide)—a 38km loop extending to the neighbouring town of Red Cliffs. Unfortunately, our group didn’t have time to complete the whole ride that morning, so we took a shortcut through quiet back roads past sprawling vineyards back to town.

Photo by Margot McGovern
Photo by Margot McGovern

Back in Mildura we cycled down to Jaycee Park to soak up the waterfront view and relax with a post-ride latte from the Grinders Coffee Caravan. On selected Saturdays the park is also home to the Sunraysia Farmers Market. We were lucky enough to be in town on a market weekend, and spent a happy morning sampling local produce from the stalls, mingling with the friendly locals and tucking into a cooked breakfast.

We spent the rest of the afternoon pedaling around the city itself, which is the perfect size to explore by bike; there’s minimal on-road cycling infrastructure, but there’s also little traffic (or so it seemed to us city slickers). There’s a smattering of bike parking around the city, including in Langtree Mall and outside the Woolworths and Visitor Information Centre (located on the corner of Deakin Avenue and Twelfth Street). While exploring the town, history buffs should follow the Chaffey Trail, which is not so much a formal trail, but a series of historic sites dotted around the city and riverbank, while wine connoisseurs must stop by the Sunraysia Cellar Door on Lime Avenue where the sommelier pours a wine for every day of the week (selected from the 22 local wineries). The city is also a regional arts hub, with its strong local arts community attracting a steady flow of visiting writers, visual artists and performers. An absolute must for any out-of-towner is a visit to the Art Vault—a unique, world-class arts facility featuring exhibition spaces, studios and apartments in the art deco building of the city’s former bank. Also worth a visit is the Mildura Arts Centre, located close to the riverbank in the historic Rio Vista homestead built for William Chaffey. And, of course, you can’t go past a meal on ‘Feast Street’. There’s the degustation menu at Jim McDougall, but if something more relaxed is your style, head upstairs to the Mildura Brewery in the dramatic setting of the former Astor Theatre, or for a family-friendly vibe try Pizza Café at The Grand.

Having dined at all of the aforementioned (in the name of diligent research, of course) we were in sore need of a long ride. The next morning, keen to see the Murray Darling Junction we set out for Wentworth via Curlwaa—a ~70km round trip when returning via Merbein.

Leaving from our accommodation, the Commodore Motel on Deakin Avenue, we headed along Seventh Avenue and across the Chaffey Bridge on the Sturt Highway into NSW. After a brief stint on the Silver City Highway, we took the quieter River Road, where aside from the occasional car and river view, we might have been riding through the arid heart of nowhere, rather than a few kilometres out of a bustling regional centre.

Photo by Margot McGovern
Photo by Margot McGovern

We broke up the journey with a side trip to the Australian Inland Botanic Gardens, accessible via River Road. The gardens are a real outback gem showing off an abundance of native Australian flora and fauna, particularly birdlife. We stopped to admire a carpet of Sturt’s Desert Pea and marvelled at the WOW Tree—a 2,500 year old eucalyptus oleosa, also known as a bull mallee—before taking a break from the sun in the garden’s café.

Back on the bitumen we continued on the gently undulating River Road before rejoining the Silver City Highway in Curlwaa and following it all the way into Wentworth. While the terrain was pleasingly flat, offering sweeping views of the surrounding vineyards and orchards, a strong tailwind hinted that the return trip would not be so easy.

Arriving at Wentworth we stopped to refuel at the Artback Café, a large, airy eatery boasting delicious chocolate milkshakes, a robust menu showcasing local produce (including veggies grown by the local school) and exhibitions by local artists. It’s a bike friendly space, with plenty of outdoor seating on the wide verandah and courtyard, and owners Steve and Anne Hederics are your go-to gurus for historical events and current happenings around the town.

Duly sated, we pedalled on to the nearby Junction Park to admire the meeting of Australia’s longest rivers. If a picnic is more your style than a café lunch, the shady lawns of Junction Park are an idyllic spot to unpack a hamper. If you have the time, history buffs should pop around the corner for a tour of the Old Wentworth Gaol—the first Australian-designed gaol.

Photo by Bart Sbeghen
The confluence of the Darling and Murray rivers. Photo by Bart Sbeghen

We returned to Mildura on the Victorian side of the river, battling a strong headwind on the Calder Highway to Merbein, then following Ranfurly Way out of town and flying down Pump Hill—the region’s most notorious climb measuring 0.3km with an average 6% gradient. While it’s possible to continue on road back to Mildura, we took the shady, scenic route along the shared-use path on the riverbank, which also provided some relief from the wind. If you take this route be aware that the path is incomplete in places and you’ll need to cut back onto the road for short sections, but the river views are well worth the adventure. This route will also take you via a wide stretch of sandy beach at Apex Park where you can stop for a dip or grab a cool drink before heading back into Mildura for more food and wine.

For more information on what to see and do in and around Mildura: www.visitmildura.com.au

For more information on cycling in Mildura: www.visitmildura.com.au/cycling.html

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One thought on “1”

  1. Hi,
    We are riding there from Qld in August.

    What would be the smallest tyre size you would ride from Qld to Mildura in August?

    Is a carbon road bike with slightly larger tyres ok? (Nieve question I know, but one rider did ask it).
    Or is it strictly touring bike or mountain bike country.

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