On the Murray River, the inland Port of Echuca is one of Australia’s great heritage icons, capturing the spirit of the country’s 19th-century pioneers like few other places.
The old timber wharf in Echuca is frozen in time in the late-1800s, and moored here is the largest fleet of paddlesteamers in the world.
The Discovery Centre on the water shows how these vessels powered the fledgling colony in the 19th century, and you can inspect preserved riverside industry and take a trip on a paddlesteamer dating back to 1912. Echuca is a tourist-oriented place, and has museums, wineries, a craft brewery and family-friendly rural attractions to keep you in town for at least a weekend.
1. Port of Echuca Discovery Centre
Granting entry to a small world of indoor and outdoor attractions, the Port of Echuca Discovery Centre is the starting point for any visit to Echuca.
Your journey begins with the Discovery Centre itself, full of artefacts and interactive displays recounting inland navigation in Australia and how paddlesteamers connected the growing colony to the rest of the world in the 19th century.
Afterwards you’ll get to inspect the preserved riverfront industry.
There’s the working Evans’ Sawmill from the 1900s, vital for the shipbuilding trade, as well as a display of working steam engines and pumps.
We’ll talk more about the wharf next, but the Cargo Shed Museum goes into depth on the working life of the wharf and the paddlesteamers.
And finally, just behind is the rail siding, where you can explore a genuine breakdown and guard’s van, and learn how the wharf was tied to Australia by rail in the 1870s.
2. Echuca Wharf and Murray Esplanade
Echuca’s heritage-listed wharf, lifted over the Murray River on a rickety timber scaffold, is as evocative as it gets.
Pause here to contemplate the muddy Murray, the river red gums on the banks, the old cranes and the fine old paddlesteamers berthed below or chugging past on the opaque waters.
There are photo opportunities in every direction, not least along the Murray Esplanade, flanked by restored port structures and going back to the time when Echuca was the second-largest inland port in the state.
These have been put to use as museums, hotels, restaurants and a variety of tourist attractions, many of which appear on this list.
Check out Shackell’s Bond Store, dating to 1859, now home to the old-timey Sharps Magic Movie House & Penny Arcade.
3. Murray River Paddlesteamers
You can’t visit Echuca and not board one of the paddlesteamers for a trip along the Murray River.
The basic package is a one-hour trip on the PS Canberra, which was built at Goolwa, at the mouth of the Murray in 1912 and was originally part of a fishing fleet before joining the tourist fleet in 1944. All kids will get the chance to steer the boat, and you can see the engineer stoking the steam engine with red gum wood.
Throughout the trip the skipper will give you an informative commentary about the historic port and its paddlesteamers.
If you want to spend a little more time on the water, you can book a lunch or dinner cruise aboard the PS Emmylou.
While the body of this vessel is modern, from 1980, it is powered by a restored wood-fired Marshall & Sons steam engine from 1906.
4. National Holden Motor Museum
If you had to pick a national car for Australia, it would surely be the trusty Holden.
In the 1950s and early-1960 this brand controlled half of the entire national market.
Echuca lays claim to the oldest Holden museum in the world, opened in 1993 and with a fleet that has grown to more than 50 vehicles.
The National Holden Museum sits a couple of streets in from the historic wharf and is the largest single-brand car museum in the country.
You can find out about the origins of the marque as a saddler business in the mid-19th century, and track its evolution through the 20th century to the present.
There are plenty of exciting rarities awaiting you, like a factory 350 Statesman, an FC Hearse, an HR X2 Premier, an EH Standard Sedan and the very first Monaro to roll off the production line.
5. The Great Aussie Beer Shed
Just the kind of eccentric attraction you hope to come across in rural towns, the Great Aussie Beer Shed can best be described as a giant shrine to iconic Aussie brands and appliances.
The major draw is a mindboggling collection of more than 17,000 beer cans gathered across Australia and the world.
These are accompanied by a trove of beer paraphernalia, including vintage signs, barrels, bottles, brewery equipment, handles and tap tops.
The museum branches out in surprising ways, collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia, old petrol bowsers, kitchen and washing appliances and tons of other items that will give Australians a warm nostalgic glow.
6. Billabong Ranch
This family-friendly activity centre is a little way out of Echuca and caters to all comers.
We don’t have space to tell you everything you can get up to at Billabong Ranch, but to breeze through the highlights there’s 18 holes of indoor mini-golf, a climbing wall, a lake for pedal boats, a frisbee golf course and a bungee trampoline.
Not to forget that this is a working ranch, so children will get to meet baby animals at the nursery and take pony rides, while there’s an interesting museum devoted to horse-drawn machinery and transport.
You can also saddle up for a horse trail ride, and there’s a choice of 1, 2 or 3-hour experiences along a local creek or the Goulburn and Murray Rivers.
7. TwistEd Science
This company provides stealthily educational fun for schools and children’s parties around Victoria, but has a head office and permanent attraction right here in Echuca.
TwistED Science’s big talent is expressing complex scientific concepts with hands-on activities.
At a line-up of award-winning stations, kids can build flying machines, find out about the food of the future, design a ball run, test their reaction speeds, construct a virtual river and much, much more.
One thrilling new installation is an augmented reality climbing wall, mixing video-gaming with healthy physical activity.
TwistED Science also has a live bug collection ready to be handled, while Bee Curious lets you peer inside a working bee hive.
8. Echuca Historical Society Museum
In the shade of ancient Moreton Bay fig trees, the old Echuca Police Station and Lock Up from 1869 now houses a superb little local history museum.
This is open seven days a week and run by volunteers, and has an emphasis on the pioneer days and early settlement along the Murray River.
You’ll see historical objects bring to life the riverboat days, the advent of the railways and the development of the timber industry.
The society also runs the archive here, which has an extensive library of photographs, newspapers and documents like flood records, river charts and details about the paddlesteamers that navigated the Murray in the 19th century.
9. St Anne’s Winery
This winemaker has a shopfront right on the Murray Esplanade, close to the Port of Echuca Discovery Centre.
St Anne’s maintains vineyards at nine locations in Victoria, producing a herby Sauvignon Blanc, a crisp and toasty Chardonnay, a spice-forward Shiraz, a lush Muscat and a selection of Tawny Ports.
The cellar door in Echuca is in a converted former carriage-builder’s shed, now housing century-old heritage barrels holding 3k litres of Port.
The building is air-conditioned in summer, and you can sip wine by the fireplace in winter.
St Anne’s runs another riverside cellar door in Moama, ten minutes out of Echuca and couched amongst the vines.
There you can pair those reds and whites with a platter from Echuca Farmhouse Cheeses.
10. The Strawberry Pick
Berry season in these parts runs from around October through to late-May.
So if you’re in town during this time there’s a pick-your-own strawberry farm just off the Murray Valley Highway.
One neat thing about the Strawberry Pick is that you pay an admission fee and for your punnets on arrival, so this one of the rare farms where you can try a strawberry of three as you go.
In fact you’ll be encouraged to sample each of the four varieties (Albion, Cabrillo, Monterey and San Andreas), you find out which one takes your fancy.
Strawberry Pick’s friendly staff will point you to the ripest berries and even coach you on optimal picking technique.
11. Bandicoot Brewing
Another 100% family-owned business, Bandicoot Brewing occupies a converted factory on the Northern Highway, south of Echuca.
This craft brewery was put together without a big financial backer.
But instead its brewers bring years of knowhow and passion to the table, with the finest details of the operation pre-planned, and nothing left to chance.
The result is a large menu of 13 award-winning beers, running the gamut from a smooth Blonde Ale (Barbed Wire Blonde) to the potent Southern Courage, a 10%ABV Russian Imperial Stout.
The brewery is open Thursday, Friday and select Saturdays, there’s something on tap for all palates at the tasting room, whether you’re into hoppy, fruity or malty beers, or want to try something new, like a Scotch ale aged for three years in Shiraz barrels (Saint). Bandicoot Brewing is BYO food, and there’s no shortage of places nearby where you can pick up something, from fish and chips, to pizza or Chinese.
12. Five Mile Picnic Area
On the NSW bank of the Murray there’s a spot a few short minutes from Echuca where you can pass a carefree hour or two lazing by the river.
The Five Mile Picnic Area is surrounded by beautiful stands of river red gums, and as it belongs to the Murray Valley Regional Park, dogs are permitted here.
In February there’s no better place to watch the Southern 80 kick off (more below), and there’s a boat ramp for those who want to launch their canoe, kayak or rowboat.
Anglers can try their luck during the annual fishing classic, while on land the highly-rated Five Mile Mountain Bike Trail passes close by.
13. Whistle Stop Studio Gallery
Just in from the wharf is a working studio and gallery in a cute, heritage-listed railway station dating to the 1880s.
This used to be in the village of Strathmerton, about 90 kilometres to the east, but was relocated to Echuca’s waterfront in 2002. The business inside belongs to artist Glenda Cornell, who works in a range of media, and you can pay a visit to see what she’s creating.
Occurring frequently in her art are abstract forms, as well as depictions of wildlife and paddlesteamers along the Murray River.
Everything on show is for sale, and the gallery also stocks hand-felting and ceramics by artists from the area.
14. Echuca Moama Visitor Information Centre
There’s a lot to digest when you get to Echuca, and one way to avoid being overwhelmed and stay ahead of the crowd is to pop into the visitor information centre on Murray Esplanade.
As well as friendly and helpful staff, there’s a touchscreen information terminal and all the usual leaflets, brochures and local souvenirs.
But maybe the biggest advantage is that you can book tickets for tours and paddlesteamer cruises without having to queue.
On top of all this, the building is an attraction in its own right.
This is a former pumping station, built for the Victorian Railways Department way back in 1877.
15. Southern 80
Water activities are a way of life on the Murray in the Echuca-Moama region.
And on the second weekend of February there’s one event above all others that seems to sum up this part of Australia.
The Southern 80 is a water ski race, generally for teams of four (a driver, observer and two skiers), and attracting hundreds of competitors and tens of thousands of spectators.
The Five Mile Boat Ramp is exactly 20 kilometres by water from the finish line at Victoria Park in Echuca.
On the Saturday teams from 39 different categories set off from the ramp to Victoria Park, while on the Sunday they take on the full 80-kilometre course downriver from Torrumbarry Weir to the same finish line.
The elite, Super Class teams are able to reach speeds of 200km/h on the longer straights.
But around Echuca the Murray meanders so much that the race is more about technique than pure speed.