Mildura is called an oasis in the middle of the desert for a reason.
Any approach to this bustling regional centre is by flat, dry countryside, and then suddenly about half an hour out, it begins to become lush, productive agricultural land thanks to irrigation.
And thank goodness for that. Before irrigation it was once described as a ‘sea of hissing sands’
It’s the edge of the outback, but offers all the convenience and services of the thriving country centre it is.
What to do
The big, hard-to-miss attraction at Mildura is the Murray River and this should be your focus.
My best advice is to take a paddle steamer tour, and my favourite is the PS Melbourne. It is the last of the original steam-engined paddle steamers on the Murray and thus an engineering nerd fantasy come to life.
However, thankfully I can recommend it for other tourists as well. It has a couple of daily, two-hour cruises as well as an evening dinner cruise. Each cruise includes a comprehensive live commentary of the river and its history, its flora and fauna. Bonus, it regularly travels though Lock 11, one of 13 on the river.
If you want more time on the river there are plenty of houseboats to hire. When I was growing up they were little more than shacks that floated, but they have come a long way since then.
You can hire basic models, but there are also double storey variations with spas, luxury kitchens and solar power.
There’s a lot to be said for a few days on a houseboat. It’s like valium on the water. Life slows down, you sleep better and for some reason the world just seems a better place.
However, if you are booking during a peak season such as summer or Easter, you’d better get started now as they can book out years in advance. I’m not kidding, my sister has a booking for Easter 2025 that she made last year.
Winery on the River
A houseboat is also a good way to visit one of the region’s most popular attractions, Trentham Estate winery, cellar door and restaurant.
You pull up the boat at the moorings, stroll up the lush lawn and enjoy a local wine or a damned fancy meal. If your tastes are a little less formal, you can purchase a charcuterie plate or cheese platter, pull up a chair outdoors and watch the mighty Murray float by.
Mildura and the surrounding towns also do a great line in local markets. The two best are the Sunraysia Farmers Market on the Mildura riverfront every fortnight and the Red Cliffs Country Market, which is held once a month.
If you are going during the warmer months and want to get away from the germ soup that will no doubt be your hotel pool, I can’t recommend the Merbein Swimming Pool enough. It’s just a 15-minute drive from Mildura, is clean, has several beautiful shade trees, a free barbecue and, for reasons that escape me, it is generally near empty.
Take a dip
While we are on the subject of swimming, a major Mildura attraction is Apex Park. It’s a caravan park, but also has a beautiful sand bank ideal for a dip. There is also a very calming walking and cycling path towards Merbein that offers some of the best views of the river going around.
To eat out, the most convenient location is Feast Street, a collection of dining options at the end of Langtree Avenue. For something out of town, there’s Larry’s Piazza in Irymple. If it looks like a converted tin shed, that’s because it is a converted tin shed. Appearances aside, it’s a low-key delight with authentic Italian food from grazing platters to special events.
If you want a bit more depth than is offered here, the Mildura Information Centre on Deakin Avenue is a gem. Unlike most tourism centres that are generally just places where pamphlets go to die, the centre is a hub of helpfulness. As well as general info, it is a fully accredited booking centre.
You can organise accommodation, tours, and tickets to local events and the Mildura Arts Centre, and the staff has plenty of fabulous ideas about the local attractions.
It also has a selection of gifts and local produce if you can’t be bothered shopping for presents and, weirdly, it’s next to a fantastic indoor pool.
Have you ever been to Mildura? What was your favourite experience? Why not share your memories in the comments section below?
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