Day trips — open fires and Echuca

Winter warmer: There’s nothing like an open fire in the colder months. Photo by Supplied- Getty

We don’t like the cold and are not skiers, so the recent spell of cold and wet weather has not found favour with us.

To get out of the house we have driven to pubs and restaurants with open or wood fires because sitting in front of our gas lookalike is not nearly as rewarding as lunching in front of a proper fire.

Until a couple of years ago we had our own fires but now enjoy going where others chop the wood, clean away the ash and cook for us.

We have eaten at Tallis Winery and the Dookie Pub, enjoyed Baileys Winery with friends surrounded by a large group of vintage car rally drivers and gone further afield to Delatite Winery near Mansfield.

Don’t just set off but check first, as many places have altered opening days, times and menu options.

Each outing has rewarded us with seeing countryside still in autumn colour, and opportunities to make interesting new discoveries.

Last week we decided that for a change we would go to Echuca and drive over the new Murray River bridge.

This has been 50 years in the making after lengthy negotiations with all interested parties. It’s a large concrete bridge and well worth the wait.

It actually crosses both the Murray and Campaspe rivers, and the highest point of its rising arc has you looking into the tree tops.

We could have made this a day trip, eaten a prize-winning pie from the bakery outside Woolies in Moama, had our Thermos of tea and come home. Instead we turned it into a mini holiday.

We also wanted to explore William Cooper's country, which Professor Bain Attwood has written about.

Never liking to travel the predictable route, we chose to go to Tocumwal and take Lower River Rd to Mathoura.

This all-weather road was wet and sloshy and by the time we reached our destination the car looked as though we had travelled from central Australia.

We didn’t care, the properties we passed were lovely. There were lots of black cattle with calves and sheep with lambs to see.

The road took us past the entrance to Murray Valley Regional Park, part of the Murray Valley National Park, which is the largest continuous river red gum forest in the world stretching from Balranald to Howlong.

Together with its Ramsar-listed wetlands it offers a unique ecosystem and history.

We stayed a couple of nights at Rich River Golf Club and found plenty to do including exploring the rebuilt Echuca Port and taking a nostalgic trip on the paddle steamer Pevensey.

It was a working boat from 1911 to 1958 and is still powered by its original steam engine.

Nearby is Twisted Science, which houses interactive experiences for children curious about science.

There is a climbing wall with the 'latest augmented reality technology gaming', which looked great fun. I ate bugs for scientific research.

Our favourite dinner restaurant was Opa. It opened last November and its decor, authentic Greek food and prices would have us there regularly if we lived closer.

To come home we turned off the Deniliquin Rd to Barmah, which curiously is deemed in Victoria but is mostly in NSW because the river twists and turns.

Unless you know, you might not recognise that the long stretch of hills beside the Barmah road are sandhills.

The Barmah National Forest and its wetlands are of significant importance to the Yorta Yorta people.

Until recently, cattle owned by many farmers grazed the forest, and the large cattle yards used for the annual muster are still there.

We wanted to see the Barmah Choke, which is the narrowest section of the Murray, created after an uplift formed a huge lake and the river changed direction.

Recently it has been said that a large sand 'slug' is moving towards the choke and could plug the river.

None could tell us where to go, forest gates were closed and the 10.30am Kingfisher Cruise (03 5855 2855) on Moira Lake was not operating, so we will have to go back.

We love our day trips, every one is different and we learn so much.

– Suzie Pearce.