The first permanent bridge on the lower Murray River was built at this very spot in 1879. Murray Bridge is at the final reaches of a watercourse to rival the Nile or Mississippi.
The river gets to this place after a journey of almost 2,500 kilometres, forming the boundary between Victoria and New South Wales for much of its course.
Murray Bridge is a city with a soft Mediterranean climate, a blissful park by the wide river and one of Australia’s top zoos just out of town.
Starting here, you can hike north into the hilly bush, take a paddle boat cruise upriver and behold the dazzling night sky in a sparsely populated region with low light pollution.
1. Monarto Safari Park
One of the world’s largest open-range zoos is in the bush no more than ten minutes west of Murray Bridge.
This attraction in 1,500 hectares has always had conservation at its heart.
The zoo started out in the 1980s as a breeding facility and sanctuary for endangered species and wasn’t actually opened to the public until 1993. Monsarto Safari Park has had lots of conservation successes, but the biggest of these is the giraffe breeding program, with the largest giraffe herd in Australia roaming here today.
Some other claims to fame are a 360° walk-in lion enclosure, an amazing white rhino habitat and a drive-through cheetah enclosure.
There are more than 500 animals from 50 species, and native Australian creatures like Tasmanian devils and yellow-footed rock wallabies make an appearance.
For up-close views check the daily schedule of feeding times and keeper talks.
2. Sturt Reserve
Murray Bridge’s showpiece is this big tract of public green space on the west bank of the river.
There’s a paved path right on the foreshore where you can observe the river’s multitude of waterbirds and the houseboats tethered to the bank, and think about the epic 2,500-kilometre journey that the Murray has made to get to this point.
Come summer, the riverside is the place to escape the heat, as it’s always a degree or two cooler by the water.
The Sturt Reserve is loaded with facilities, like fenced and covered playgrounds, a range of sports facilities, a skate park, a picnic area and barbecues.
There’s also a boat ramp for water activities, and a resident bunyip, which we’ll talk about next.
3. Murray Bridge Bunyip
Yup, the Sturt Reserve is home to a river-dwelling monster from Aboriginal culture.
To the Ngarrindjeri people of the lower Murray River, this beast is known as the Mulyawonk.
The Mulyawonk Dreaming story varies from clan to clan, but the main thrust is that long ago there was a greedy man who caught too many fish and didn’t respect the Ngarrindjeri’s laws about taking only what he needed.
So the elders turned him into a half-man, half-fish creature and banished him to the river.
Children would be told this legend to teach them not to go swimming alone or catch too many fish, or the Mulyawonk will get them.
Murray Bridge’s mechanical Bunyip was first installed in a manmade cave in the park 1972 and has had several makeovers over the last 50 years.
The most recent has removed the coin-operated system so you can now push a button and see him emerge shrieking from the water for free.
4. Murray Bridge Town Hall
With its grand main frontage on Bridge Street, Murray Bridge’s historic Town Hall is a linchpin for the CBD.
This limestone-built monument was completed in 1911 after just over six months of construction, and has come through a few extensions over the last 110+ years.
The Town Hall has housed an auditorium with a proscenium and stage since it was first built.
And now, following a revamp in 2010, the government chambers have moved out, and the Town Hall is purely a venue for events and performing arts.
On the program is a crowd-pleasing line-up of tribute acts, renowned recording artists, musicals, plays, live comedy, dance and educational shows for children.
5. Murray Bridge Regional Gallery
The region’s platform for contemporary visual arts is in a compact but airy extension at the back of the Town Hall.
The building dates in its current form to 2005 and has three distinct exhibition spaces, as well as a large gift shop selling diverse arts and crafts by people from the area.
As for exhibitions, there’s a blend of national touring shows and thematic or solo exhibitions for artists from South Australia.
The gallery also has a vibrant calendar of workshops and events, from the three-day Murray Fringe festival in late-summer to arts and crafts markets and classes in lino, acrylic and silk printing.
6. Captain’s Cottage Museum
The history of Murray Bridge and its surroundings is captured at this enthralling museum in a 19th-century cottage.
The property was built in 1890 by one Captain Adam Johnstone (1834-1905) for himself, his wife Mary and their nine children.
Johnstone has an important place in the history of the region as when he arrived from Scotland in 1856 he came with the first two paddlesteamers for the River Murray.
This form of transport would become the Murray’s signature.
Along with details about the origins of local industries like dairy, animal farming and river trade, there are all kinds of interesting objects to see inside.
On show are antique toys, artefacts from paddlesteamers, farm machinery, historic engines, black and white photographs a wealth of model boats and trains.
The cottage also sits in extensive grassy gardens, where you can take a picnic on the lawns or under the gazebo.
7. Old Tailem Town Pioneer Village
A 20-kilometre drive along the Princes Highway will bring you to one of the largest pioneer villages in the country.
At Old Tailem Town you’ll go back the early days of European settlement on the lower Murray River, pottering around 14 different streets with 114 buildings.
Many of these structures are original, dating back more than a century, with amenities like a post office, pub, dentist, corner store, hospital, church, hotel, newsagent and police station to check out.
The village is organised into an English and a German settlement, and has lots of hands-on things to get up to.
You can also get acquainted with the local railway history at a historic station and a display of vintage rolling stock including 19 carriages.
8. Lavender Federation Walking Trail
The Sturt Reserve is the southern trailhead for a 325-kilometre walking trail wending its way along the eastern slopes of South Australia’s Mount Lofty Ranges.
Now fully complete, this has been a long-term project, progressing northwards in sections across nearly 20 years up to 2018. After coursing along the riverbank and its neighbouring wetlands, the trail climbs into the range, traversing rocky gullies and passing the remnants of long-forgotten copper mines and farmsteads.
On the trail you’ll walk among native bushland, arable farms, grazing land and picturesque vineyards.
For shorter excursions you could take on a single section, or navigate one of several loops off the main trail, at Point Pass, Moculta, Springton, Eden Valley, Toculta, or on Murray Bridge’s doorstep at Rocky Gully.
9. River Cruises
There can’t be many better places to embark on a trip along the Murray River than Murray Bridge.
On a lazy cruise you can appreciate the big skies and full grandeur of the Murray’s lower reaches, as well as the raw natural scenery on the banks.
The local operator is Captain Proud Paddle Boat Cruises, which has a period-style vessel with a fully-stocked bar, departing seven days a week from the Main Wharf.
There’s a whole range of packages to choose from, including breakfast, lunch, dinner or live music cruises, or special discounted trips on “Cheap Tuesday”. Most trips set a course for the stretch around Mannum, where the river is lined with sensational golden cliffs.
There will be an informative commentary and if you want you can find out what it’s like to steer a paddle boat.
10. Rocky Gully Wetlands
Walking the Lavender Federation Trail you can make a detour to this bird-rich protected space right on the north side of Murray Bridge’s CBD.
The Rocky Gully Wetlands cover 4.5 hectares and can be discovered on the 1.8-kilometre Sanders Loop.
Some 75 bird species have been spotted in this watery environment.
Depending on the season you may catch sight of pelicans, cormorants, a variety of ducks, egrets and a host of other waterbirds.
Take your time and tread quietly, and you may see an echidna poking around the water’s edge, while the waters are known to be inhabited by the critically endangered Murray hardyhead fish.
11. Murray Bridge Round House
In an elevated position above Murray Bridge’s riverfront stands one of the oldest buildings in the city.
Despite its name the Round House (1876) had nothing to do with storing locomotives, but it does have a connection to the region’s early infrastructure.
This was the home of Henry Parker, who supervised the construction of the first bridge over the River Murray, located below, between 1873 and 1879. Down the years this building has been church, post office, school and council chambers, and now holds a local history museum dedicated to this first crossing and Murray Bridge in the Victorian period.
Inside kids can dress up in top hat and tails, write a letter using a quill and ink, sit at an old-time school desk with a slate, play Victorian-era games and try to decipher the purpose of various Victorian household items.
12. Murray Bridge Marketplace
Many of Murray Bridge’s shopping and dining options are confined to a couple of shopping centres, the largest of which opened close to the river in 2011. Murray Bridge Marketplace is a discount regional shopping destination, housing a public library, branches of Woolworths, BIG W, The Reject Shop, Best & Less and The Reject.
On top of that more than 40 smaller speciality stores ad chains, from Millers to Intersport, Specsavers and Lowes.
For casual visitors the best bit has to be the foodcourt, roosted high above the east bank of the Murray where you can get sushi, Vietnamese, pan-Asian, pasta and a cup of coffee.
13. Murray Bridge Golf Club
One of the top country courses in the state can be found among eucalypt woodland, right on the edge of the CBD.
Murray Bridge Golf Club has upwards of 500 members, but welcomes visiting players to it well-designed 18-hole course with immaculate fairways and greens.
The terrain undulates gently and several tees require a powerful drive to clear an unforgiving patch of rough before the start of the fairway.
There are enough challenges to keep you on your toes, and several shorter par-3s add some variety.
Green fees in 2020 were $39 in weekends and public holidays, and $29 Monday to Friday.
14. Lake Alexandrina
The northern shore of this huge sheet of freshwater is barely 20 minutes away from Murray Bridge and can be reached at the town of Wellington.
Here the Murray River opens out into a 65,000-hectare lake, although the official mouth of the river, where it joins the Southern Ocean, is on the far western side of the lake outside the town of Goolwa.
Lake Alexandrina is a destination for waterskiing, boating, windsurfing, swimming and paddleboarding, as well as stargazing thanks to the absence of light pollution.
One of the most charming places on the shore is the old port town of Milang, packed with preserved 19th-century buildings and easily reached south-west of Murray Bridge.
There you can grab something tasty at the famous bakery and stroll down to the grassy foreshore for a picnic.
15. SA Skydiving
The north shore of Lake Alexandrina is home to the Langhorne Creek location for SA Skydiving, which offers a wide range of skydiving packages at this majestic setting.
For first-timers there’s a choice of tandem jumps at 9,000, 12,000 and 15,000 feet.
Depending on the height you’ll freefall for 25, 45 or 75 seconds and then parachute gently back to earth for up to six minutes, all while attached to an expert skydiver.
On your flight you’ll be treated to spellbinding views of Lake Alexandrina and the long barrier island that shields it from the Southern Ocean.
SA Skydiving schedules jumps seven days a week, and for family and friends coming along there’s a cafe, clubhouse, viewing area and playground at the base.