The Darling and Murray Rivers are entwined in Wentworth’s story, at what in the early 20th century was the largest inland port in the state.
At the confluence you can climb a tower to see the different tones of the two rivers, while the Murray-Darling region is the traditional land of the Paakantyi and Maraura Aboriginal people.
This gives you much to discover at nearby museums and national parks, while the semi-arid landscape is made up of Martian red sand dunes and ancient lake-beds, but also no shortage of vineyards.
Make sure to book a trip along the Murray River on the P.S. Ruby, a paddle steamer making trips since 1907.
1. Darling River Run
Starting at the place where Australia’s third-longest river flows into the Murray you can follow the course of the Darling back for a true adventure through the Outback.
The Darling River Run is just under 950 kilometres and is a driving route designed to be done in a leisurely four days.
For the simplest summary, on the way to the northern trailhead at Walgett you’ll encounter Indigenous culture, rock art dating back many thousands of years, red dunes, century-old pubs, wineries, majestic groves of mature red gums, remote lakes, historic mines, and much more than we could possibly fit in one paragraph.
2. Old Wentworth Gaol
When Wentworth’s gaol was completed in 1881 it was the first in the country to be Australian built and by the time it closed in 1928 there hadn’t been a single escapee.
This single-storey structure was designed by James Barnet (1827-1804), comprising bricks fired on-site and bluestone dressings transported from Malmsbury, Victoria.
After closing, some of the gaol became a school, but the bulk of the building was left untouched.
So what you get on a tour is a privileged look at an Australian prison in the 19th and early-20th centuries.
You can step inside a cell, take in the creepy atmosphere and dive into the building’s past via well-researched interpretive boards.
3. Junction Park
Where the Darling River arcs round to enter the Murray is a peaceful riverside park.
This is the confluence of two of Australia’s longest rivers, and as well as a place to relax among the eucalyptus stands this is a fine little tourist attraction.
If you come when the Darling River is in full flow, be sure to climb the observation tower to see how the milky textures of the clay-based Darling contrast with the clear blue-green waters of the Murray.
The park’s gazebo meanwhile has information boards recalling the human history of the Darling River, and the role of trade in nascent Wentworth.
After that you can just take it easy with a picnic, and watching the waterfowl idling in the water.
4. Perry Sandhills
Things get pretty Saharan a few kilometres west of Wentworth where there’s a set of shifting red sand dunes covering more than 330 hectares.
Magical around sunset, these rippling slopes were first formed in the wake of the Last Ice Age, and regularly give up the remains of mega fauna and artefacts to show that Aboriginal people hunted and camped here.
One of the stranger sights at the Perry Sandhills is a River Red Gum near the northern entrance that has been totally consumed by the sand, save for the canopy, which continues to bear leaves.
5. Wentworth Pioneer Museum
Woven into Wentworth’s history are tales of ingenuity, bravery and entrepreneurship, which you’ll discover at this museum holding more than 3,000 artefacts.
One of the Wentworth Pioneer Museum’s fortes is its photography collection, specialising in riverboats on the Murray and Darling Rivers and architecture from those early years of colonisation.
As we’ll show later, Wentworth is a gateway to the Mungo National Park, and this museum is a handy primer, displaying fossils and life-sized models of the mega fauna that once frequented the park’s ancient lakes as well as the Perry Sand Hills.
Among these are giant wombats, kangaroos, lions and emus.
There’s well-researched information about river trade and an exhibition on the 1956 Murray River Flood.
6. Australian Inland Botanic Gardens
On the way to Mildura is the only semi-arid botanic garden in the country.
Set in more than 150 hectares, this opened to the public in 1989 and boasts native and exotic plants that do well in Wentworth’s warm and dry climate.
The mallee collection is a real feather in the garden’s cap, with mature eucalyptus specimens that may be as old as 2,400 years.
Also a joy is the rose garden, planted with 1,600 bushes carefully arranged by colour.
For a bit of background and to enjoy the garden with minimal effort there’s a weekly tractor train ride on Saturdays at 11:00. Garnpang Homestead and coffee shop offer hot drinks, snacks and handmade gifts, and lay on a special, homemade breakfast on the fourth Saturday of the month.
7. Lock 10
Floods and dry spells made disrupted trade on the Murray River in the first decades of European colonisation, and this was solved in the 1920s by a system of locks and weirs.
Wentworth is on Lock 10, completed in 1929 and a worthwhile stop, where you can watch the boats making their way along the Murray from a picnic table.
The accompanying weir was built to regulate the water flow, ensuring irrigation during dry periods.
This system disrupted the ecology of the Murray River, but recent steps have been taken to help it recover.
One is a series of interconnected pools, or “fishway” along the lock’s abutments, allowing fish to migrate upstream.
8. P.S. Ruby
It’s thrilling to think that the handsome, 132-foot paddle steamer carrying sightseers for trips along the Murray River has been around since 1907. P.S. Ruby was purposely designed with a shallow draught and was in service in some capacity for the next 30 years.
That was followed by a long period of deterioration, but P.S. Ruby came through an eight-year restoration in 2004, down to its polished brass fittings and woodwork, and has been shuttling along the Murray River with a 1926 20nhb engine ever since.
Schedule details are available from the Wentworth Visitor Information Centre.
9. Wentworth Wharf
At this wooden jetty on the Darling River you can go back to the time when Wentworth was New South Wales’ busiest inland port, and the busiest port of any kind after Sydney and Newcastle.
This is the site of the original Wentworth Wharf, which was built in 1879 but had fallen into disrepair by 1983 and was demolished to be replaced by a replica.
At this now peaceful place, take a moment to imagine the scene when vessels of all sizes crowded the riverfront.
In one busy week there were 31 steamers docked at Wentworth Wharf.
Close by there’s a statue of Captain John Egge (1830-1901), a Chinese immigrant and early Wentworth resident who helped pioneer trade on the Murray Darling and owned property all along the riverbanks.
10. Mungo National Park
Wentworth and Mildura are the nearest large settlements to an otherworldly landscape that sits off to the north-east.
Mungo National Park is often scribed as “lunar”, for its white sculpted sand dunes and dried-up and ancient lakebeds.
It is in this harsh but awe-inspiring environment that the amazingly preserved remains of Mungo Man and Mungo Woman were discovered, both dating back 40,000 years.
Access to the park is limited, as the landscape has been the traditional meeting place for the Nyiampaar, Muthi Muthi and Barkinji Aboriginal Nations for many thousands of years.
But you can explore big sweeps the alien scenery, join a tour for an Aboriginal perspective and learn about the park’s archaeology and natural history at the visitor centre.
11. Wentworth Military Collection
Wentworth has long-running military ties to the military, not least because there was an RAAF base at Mildura Airport, which conducted bombing practice in the surrounding Shire during WWII.
This was a hazardous activity, and some 52 Australians lost their lives during this period.
The collection, including uniforms, weapons, photographs, medals, documents, field equipment, regalia, models and much more, covers every conflict from the First and Second Boer Wars through the ongoing campaign in Afghanistan.
The self-guided tour lasts 70 minutes and calls on up-to-date technology, with automatic trigger points and exhibit scanning for more insight.
12. Riverboat Rod’s Model Paddle Steamer Display
We’ve seen that paddle steamers were integral to Wentworth’s early fortunes, and a local man has paid tribute to these vessels his own way.
Riverboat Rod has designed and assembled dozens of paddle steamer scale models, some requiring up to 700 hours of painstaking work.
The intricacy and level of detail is astounding, and many of his models have found their way to museums around the country.
A collection of over 30 is on permanent display at Rod’s adorable shop.
This can be found by the Murray-Darling junction and opens to visitors Wednesday to Sunday, 10:00 -16:00.
13. Vineyards and Wineries
Wentworth is right in the Murray-Darling Wine Region, the second-largest in Australia.
The first vines were planted in the area in the 1880s, and Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon grown here are often shipped to other wineries around Australia.
While the focus had long been on quantity rather than quality, more than 30 boutique producers have sprung up in recent years, so you can spend days tapping into the area’s viticulture.
A much-loved winery and cellar door is the Trentham Estate, producing Shiraz, Chardonnay, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir varietals whether you want to do a tasting or dine right above the Murray River.
14. O’Donnell Park
There’s another tranquil place to pause by the Murray River, a little way upstream in Curlwaa.
The park is named for one Larry O’Donnell, an early Curlwaa resident who played an important role in local farming and irrigation.
As well as a place to stretch your legs and let children enjoy the playground, this is also a site with a bit of history.
It was at this location that the explorer Major Thomas Mitchell camped in 1836 after confirming the discovery of the Murray-Darling junction made six years before by another explorer Charles Sturt.
There’s a cairn and plaque to mark the spot, as well as a monument marking the 1956 Murray River Flood, described at the time as the “greatest catastrophe in South Australia’s history”.
15. Lake Cullulleraine
There’s a beautiful oasis with a mouthful of a name down the Murray River at Lock 9, and just off the Sturt Highway.
The lake here is natural, but was only filled during floods until it was turned into a reservoir for farms in the area in the 1970s.
Almost all of the Lake Cullulleraine foreshore is protected as parkland, home to two caravan parks, and there’s a walking trail around the perimeter, just over ten kilometres in length.
Also here is a sizeable sporting complex with a range of facilities from footie grounds to tennis courts, while water activities are available in the school holidays.