Think meerkats and chimps, superslides and skateparks, waterfalls and nature playgrounds, frisbee golf and strawberry-covered waffles, bunyips and bird hides, interactive exhibits and kayak hire, plus all-ages boat rides. The list goes on…
When you ask any experienced parent about the key to a good family holiday, they’ll tell you the first rule is to keep the kids ‘entertained’, so that YOU (the parents) have a moment to relax. For some, this might mean throwing in an extra BMX, barbie doll, boogie board or iPad - BUT in the Murray River, Lakes and Coorong, we’ve already done the hard work for you. So leave the trailer at home, pack the bare essentials, and we’ll look after the rest.
Above: families enjoying some time at Sturt Reserve (home of Bertha the Bunyip).
We’re pretty damn great at putting on a family adventure over here – but it’s not just the facilities either - our local operators want to make sure every member of the family will remember their stay in our region. With a growing list of incredible experiences for all ages; and importantly - great places for everyone to eat and drink – it’s perfect for a day trip, short stay, or full-on school holiday getaway! The added bonus - our emerging cafes can fuel a parent’s sleep-deprived daily coffee addiction, plus our family-friendly wine region in Langhorne Creek has some of the best drops known to South Australia (yes, yes and YES!).
So - whether it’s a quick day trip from Adelaide (just over 40 minutes along the South Eastern Freeway), or a longer stay with friends amongst some of our family-friendly waterfront rentals, we think this might just be the perfect place for your family to visit next!
Above: Kids soaking up the sun at Murray Bridge's water park.
And because we want to make sure your trip is hassle free, we’ve planned out some itineraries for short and long stays. Below is the first release of our family-friendly itineraries which will give you plenty of ideas for an action-packed weekend – helping to keep your rowdy carload at bay; and your busy mind at ease. We’ll be releasing some bigger itineraries for you soon as well for those keen on a longer stay - so stay tuned for more (or just use this guide as your inspiration).
On your way:
Let’s imagine you head up on a Friday after work. This is of course possible, because we’re only 40 minutes up the freeway. Drop your gear off at the accommodation and let’s get started with some twilight activities! There’s a few options on the first night – and in summer we’ve got a few extra hours up our sleeve (depending on the age of your kids) to soak up the fun.
On the first night, why not coordinate dinner with a trip to the banks of the river at Murray Bridge's Sturt Reserve. This is home to an incredible new skate park, giant playground with multi-level challenges for kids from 0-12 years, multi-sport rage cage, and of course, the famous Murray Bridge Bunyip (a mechanical mythical monster of the deep which with the simple press of a button - emerges every five minutes to scare the pants of little kids and give everyone else a good laugh.
Above: Kids scoot along the riverfront at Murray Bridge's Sturt Reserve, nearby the local Skate Park.
The bonus of visiting this spot, is that right alongside all these facilities – perched on the banks of the Murray is the Riverscape restaurant and café. These guys are great at putting on a spread for the whole family with their milkshakes and wood-fired pizzas, plus gourmet dining if you have the time. There’s plenty of space to either dine-in as you look out across the late night boats cutting patterns through the River – or simple gaze back at the historic Murray Bridge itself. [Or, if you’ve got little ones and it’s getting close to the ‘witching hour’, just grab yourself some take-away and head off to set up for the night.
If you’ve managed to knock off Sturt Reserve on a Friday night, then your first full day should be all about adventure and exploring some of our best assets close to town.
Morning: Grab your early morning coffee and/or brekky from favourite local haunt The Davery Establishment. Not only do these guys serve up the best coffee in town, but they’re open from 7am with a range of grab and go goodies to get your day off to the right start. Better still, if someone’s awake early, why not head in for a quick dine-in coffee and croissant (or try the house-made granola) and browse the cute little gift shop (Home on West) and florist (Beautiful Chaos Flower Studio) next door.
Mid-morning: Once you’re all fed and caffeinated, pack the car up and head over to Mannum for a few hours.
Known as the historic home of the paddlesteamer in Australia – Mannum boasts a swag of things to do for the whole tribe. For little kids and nature lovers, the Herman Gass Reserve and bird hide on the northern end of town will be a treat - with beautiful birdlife on show all year round (a twitchers paradise!).
Head back towards the centre of town from here, and you come to the Mannum Dock Museum – and while many of you might not think this is the ideal place to take kids – on this occasion you’d be wrong! Local volunteers have turned this place in to an interactive and intriguing space for youngsters, including a chance for little ones to ‘steer’ their own paddlesteamer along the ‘All Steamed Up Interactive Display’. There’s also miniature boats to look at and play in, plus plenty more to do and see. From here, you can also jump aboard the beautiful PS Marion or PS Mayflower (depending on which one is running) and head out for a cruise along the River (check availability here.)
Above: kids having fun at the interactive Mannum Dock Museum.
Or – if that’s not for you – and depending on how you’re going for time, a couple of extra adventures in Mannum are to take a 90-minute cruise along some of the best parts of the River with Four Knots Cruises (offering special kids cruise rates and packages). Or – for an ever faster on-water experience, park the car and jump on board one of the Mannum ferries for a trip across the River and back (for the locals, this is a part of daily travel, but for kids from out of town, it’s a fun boat ride!). If your kids are a little older, you might also have time to sneak in to the Mannum Waterfalls too – they’re often quite dry in summer depending on recent weather events, but still have great places to climb and hike if you need to burn some energy.
Above: explore the Mannum Waterfalls.
Lunch: If you stay in Mannum, you can either grab something quick and easy from one of the local bakeries or cafes along the main drag – OR – head down to the Pretoria Hotel. This venue has been made famous for its grassy river frontage – perfect for the whole family to relax and recharge.
Afternoon: If you’ve still got the energy (and let’s face it, most kids do) then make sure you get back to the Murray Bridge Swimming Centre and Water Play Park for the afternoon!
Not only is there a huge Olympic-sized heated pool, but there’s also two large/shaded kids paddling pools, plus a new water park featuring six slides, giant bucket-tipper and mushroom water squirters!
The water park is open until 5pm and the pool until 6pm (but if the weather is super-warm, then the manager may even keep it open an extra hour).
Evening: Now, if you’ve managed to get ALL of this in, you’re probably exhausted and ready for an evening tipple, so we’d suggest grabbing takeaway or the essentials from one of the local grocery stores and heading back to your camp/accommodation for the night so you can rest up for what’s in store tomorrow. In terms of takeaway – Murray Bridge has some great local places, which serve up a variety of pizza and pasta, fish and chips, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and Thai foods. [If per chance you have older kids who are still keen to get out at night, then you can always send them off to Cameo Cinema for a few hours before bed].
After an action-packed day yesterday, we’d suggest a slow journey home on day two . BUT – just because the journey might be slow, it doesn’t mean the experience won’t be WILD via one of the country’s most amazing tourism icons – Monarto Zoo.
Morning: However, before you go wild (and if you’re a family of foodies), it’s worth jumping in the car and making a quick 15 minute detour to Tailem Bend on your way home.
This place has one of the coolest and quirkiest playgrounds around (think old vs new play-sets, a giant train carriage and colourful ‘Where is the Green Sheep’ sculptures), plus it’s also home to the award-winning Little Local Co Kitchen.
Affectionately known to the locals as LLC, this place serves up some of the best food in the region, and arguably the best coffee too. Its fridge is always stocked with takeaway treats, so grab your bacon rolls and zeppoles or cannolis and head over the playground on your last morning in the region.
Lunch and afternoon: From Tailem, you’ll want to start the journey home.
But fear not, we’ve saved the best for last. The multi award-winning Monarto Zoo is pure magic! It’s the largest open-range zoo in the southern hemisphere. If you’ve got the time, budget and will – you need to book in for one of the animal experiences (we love the Giraffe Safari and Lions 360).
Above: feeding giraffes on the Giraffe Safari at Monarto Zoo.
But, if you’d prefer your visit to be less structured, then simply roll through the gates after 9.30am and follow your nose. From the Zoo’s main carpark, you can grab a map and easily (even with prams) walk your way to see the busy meerkats, cheeky chimps, shy rock wallabies, plus a playground and café! If you’re keen to stretch your legs, a good 30-40 minute walk is out to the giraffe platform (where you’ll likely pass a rhino and ostrich along the way). Or just jump on one of the Zu-loop buses that run all the time to check-out the lot. You can hop on and off as it pleases you, and the volunteer guides on the buses will fill you in on everything along the way. You’d want to give yourself at least two hours at the zoo, but be prepared, you can easily spend a whole day here!
The best part - from Monarto Zoo, it’s only a 35-minute drive to the Adelaide tollgate, so you’re almost home (no epic road trip with tired kids – hooray!) If you’ve ticked off most of the bits and pieces on this list, you’re probably ready to call it a weekend. So get home, unpack, crack a bottle of Langhorne Creek wine and start planning the next visit!
Oh – and if there’s anything here that doesn’t tickle your fancy – why not just spend a day on the water!? Paddling, kayaking, speedboat, dingy, swimming, fishing – whatever you like! A full weekend of just hanging out along edge of SA’s best stretch of the Murray River might be just what the doctor ordered for the whole family!!
Above: girls kayaking at the Murray River.
Where to stay for a quick trip:
If you’re basing yourself in Murray Bridge, why not try the Murray Bridge Marina, Camping and Caravan Park. They have great little cabins (sleeping up to 6 people) which overlook the River. Or, if you’ve got older kids who can swim, you could even opt to rent on of their ‘floating cabins’ – now that sounds cool!
Otherwise, if you want to live-it-up in something a bit bigger, with space and more privacy (perhaps you’re are travelling with 2-3 families) – why not check out the huge number of holiday homes with River Shack Rentals. These guys have a spectacular range of homes stretching from Murray Bridge all the way up to Mannum, Swan Reach and beyond – and there’s plenty with a two-night minimum stay for those after a quick break (and suits a range of high to low budgets).
Above: kids jumping into the river at a River Shack Rental property. Photo: David Hartley of River Shack Rentals.
Other places we recommend close to Adelaide are the Mannum Riverside Caravan Park, Mannum Motel or the Murray Bridge Oval Motel which sits along a town reserve with oval, netball courts and new playground.
2019 summer holidays tip: Murray Bridge Splash Festival
Above: the inflatable Slip 'N' Dip at the Murray Bridge Splash Fest.
If you manage to head to the region before 28 January – make sure you check out the Murray Bridge Splash Festival! This epic event for kids is being held on the banks of the Murray at Sturt Reserve, and includes everything from a giant inflatable splash park, to a land-based obstacle course for kids. There will also been moonlight cinemas, nature play activities, face-painting and more. Find out more here.
About the author
Originally hailing from the city, Julie Bates now resides with her family in the heart of the Murray River, Lakes and Coorong region, with property only metres from the world-famous Monarto Zoo. Julie has fallen in love with the region, and has been lucky enough to combine her experience in tourism, with her passion for bringing more people to the region she now calls home. Julie knows every stretch of the region, and the characters who live and work along it. If you ever meet her, she’ll tell you about the great places to eat, play and explore; the magical scenery she gets to see every day at work; AND with her tribe of three kids, she can fill you in on the most family-friendly itineraries for a weekend (or week) away.