If you’ve spent time in Mannum before, then you’ll understand why this historic town feels like “a whole world away” from the city (even though it’s really only 87 kilometres from Adelaide).
It comes down the appeal of the laidback, knockabout nature of being by the Murray River, and the slow pace required to just get yourself lost in the town’s magnificent paddle boat history.
Along with being a great base for day trips to the many natural wonders nearby, Mannum just happens to be one of those towns that has all-ages riverside recreation (so whether you’re 9 or 90 years old, you’ll find some fun here).
Sounds like a great place for a local staycation, right? No aeroplanes, no long boring road trips with screaming kids in the back of the car. Just a 90-minute drive from Adelaide.
So whether you’re returning to the river or looking to discover something new – how about testing out Mannum as place to recharge?
To help get you started on planning your stay, we’ve mapped out our top things to do and see in and around Mannum.
Dive into our Murray River history
Above: Mannum Dock Museum providing entertainment for all ages.
As the birthplace of the Australian paddle steamer, Mannum preserves significant remnants of the town’s past as a river port. A visit to the Mannum Dock Museum is like taking a step back in time (but with a difference). Here you could easily spend an hour or two being immersed in the interactive displays, learning about the Murray River system and the 1956 flood, browsing a historic photo collection, and viewing the fully restored Keys Beam Engine and geological displays. Children will even love it, with the interactive displays allowing their imagination to run wild as the captain and crew of their chosen river vessel!
Located alongside the Museum, exists the heritage-listed Randell Dry Dock, formerly used to service the fleets of paddle steamers which used the river system, and is now the only remaining example left.
Above: Jump aboard the PS Marion for a leisurely cruise along the Murray River.
You can even experience what a real paddle steamer is like by jumping aboard one of the last few woodburning passenger paddle steamers, the 1897 PS Marion. Also part of the heritage fleet is the PW Mayflower – another great short cruise option along our riverside.
If exploring on foot is more of your thing, there are three historic walking routes (of varying difficulty and distances) that take you throughout the township, with a guide of key landmarks and local attractions to give you a glimpse into the past (and sneak a peek through the antique stores in the main street).
Tip: If you can’t bring your own bike, you can hire a bike from the Visitor Information Centre (same building as the Mannum Dock Museum) and cycle through the town.
An all-ages playground
Above: Hop out of the car and enjoy the river scenery as you stretch your legs on the ferry at Mannum.
Of course you can’t visit Mannum without a trip across the ferry! And if you love getting active, incorporate a free ferry ride to kick-off your journey along Mannum’s section of the Murray Coorong Trail. It’s family-friendly, right on the river’s edge and great for both walking and cycling. This 9km route takes you from the ferries by Arnold Park, past Haythorpe Reserve, through to a river levee and out on a quiet stretch, free from vehicle access via East Front Rd towards Kia Marina. See more here.
Whether you’re an avid paddler or just looking to leisurely float the day away, this stretch of the river has some great opportunities to get up close and personal with the riverine environment via canoe, kayak or paddleboard. Try an easy paddle around Mary Ann Reserve or the Hermann Gass Bird Sanctuary. For more of a challenge, head downstream towards the Mannum Waters Marina and enjoy the views (and start dreaming of your future riverfront property or your next houseboat holiday with the Unforgettable Houseboats fleet) along the way.
Tip: If the river is low, you can see two exposed wrecks along the Mannum Canoe Trail.
When you’re not busy being active, chances are you’re finding a way to relax. If there’s one thing the river is popular for, it’s the simplicity and slow pace that its visitors are rewarded with. The team at Four Knots Cruises know all about relaxation and will take you on a journey with their variety of morning, lunch and sunset cruises down the mighty Murray.
Above: Check out the variety of birdlife that the picturesque Hermann Gass Bird Sanctuary has to offer.
Are you a Twitcher? A well-known spot for birdwatching is the Hermann Gass Bird Sanctuary. Located next to the Mannum Caravan Park, these wetlands are protected from the main river by gum trees and reeds making it an attractive home to a variety of birdlife. Grab your binoculars, bring your camera, and set off down the boardwalk viewing platform. You could even tuck into a picnic lunch and enjoy the surrounding scenery and wildlife by the water.
Above: Mary Ann Reserve at Mannum provides the perfect spot for a picnic with the family along the Murray River.
Speaking of enjoying the scenery, Mary Ann Reserve is a popular riverside hub for all ages. With a playground, undercover BBQ area, rotundas, boat ramp and lots of open lawn space, you’re sure to find a spot to set up for the afternoon and enjoy the river at its best. Often, you can admire the award-winning Proud Mary and PS Murray Princess moored at the wharf.
Throw in a line, look at the birdlife and watch paddle steamers and houseboats cruise past while you tuck into something tasty from the nearby bakery, deli or café. For a nice sit down meal or quiet drinks right on the river, the nearby Pretoria Hotel is a great option which boasts uninterrupted river views.
And just because you’re on holidays, doesn’t mean you have to take a break from having a hit on the fairway. Head over to the nine-hole course at the Mannum Golf Club which has a mix of river valley views, flat and undulating land and a few bunkers.
Across the road from the golf course is the Mannum Showgrounds with a huge grassy oval, tennis/netball court and a skatepark – giving you and the family plenty of options to get a little sporty.
The natural wonders you should add to your day trip itinerary
One of the fantastic aspects of Mannum is that it’s an ideal base location for day trips. Our nearby river communities are only a short distance away and offer some of our region’s iconic landmarks and experiences.
But before you set off to discover our neighbouring towns, you must check out the Mannum Waterfalls.
Slip on your walking shoes, set off from the bottom or top carpark and take in the scenic views and wildlife (you might see wedge-tailed eagles, frogs, lizards, and sometimes kangaroos) as you navigate around the huge granite rocks. Fido can come too – just as long as he stays on a lead!
Above: Endless hours of fun to be had for the whole family while exploring the Mannum Waterfalls.
Tip: Visit during the winter months to see free flowing water and waterfalls (depending on the amount of rain). Be cautious of snakes during the warmer months.
15 minutes from Mannum is another set of fantastic natural rock formations spread out over a vista which can be viewed from the Palmer Lookout. Keep an eye out for the colourful ‘Bear Rock’ (pictured below) – aptly named because of its polar bear shape.
Above: "Bear Rock" is well known to locals and can be found to change colours throughout the year. Photo by- @row_an_james.
Heading upstream, a great place for fishing is Bowhill. Hug the cliffs in your tinny or kayak and try your luck. If you plan to dedicate a couple hours out on the water, the Bowhill General Store has a great takeaway menu, and is well stocked with essentials like fuel, gas, ice, groceries, fishing gear and more.
In case you haven’t already heard, the Mid Murray has some of the darkest skies in the world. In fact, the area rates towards the end of the darkness scale at 21.97 (22 being total darkness). This has led to the recent accreditation of the River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve – Australia’s first Dark Sky Reserve where you can enjoy a spot of star gazing, astro-photography and various group tours. It just so happens that one of our region’s top iconic landmarks, the Big Bend Lookout (pictured below, falls within the Dark Sky Reserve’s list of astro hot spots so you can enjoy the wonders of the ancient ochre cliffs day and night.
View more info about the accreditation, astro hot spots, ideal star viewing areas and details to know before you visit, here.
Not far from Big Bend is the Ngaut Ngaut Conservation Park – a wonderful place to learn about Aboriginal history with a guided boardwalk tour of the significant archaeological site. For more information and bookings, contact the Mannum Visitor Information Centre.
Wake up to river views
Conveniently located right across from the only set of dual ferries in Australia, the Mannum Motel is a fantastic accommodation option that’s affordable, quiet and keeps you central to the fun. There’s even a café (Café Mannum) on site which upholds a fresh seasonal menu using local produce and wine. Unique items to its menu are wood-fired pizzas, a huge breakfast menu and even (dare we write it) Salt and Pepper Carp (the newest freshwater delicacy, can you believe it!?).
Here you can dine outside (or inside and oggle at the regional photography display) and soak up the calm views of the Murray River, watch the dual ferries crossing the river hundreds of times a day, or catch the regal (and much-loved) PS Murray Princess depart and arrive on a Friday or Monday.
Just about everything is within a 5 to 10-minute walking distance from the Motel, which means exploring the area has never been easier. And if you're into photography (or can't turn down a snap to show off on the 'gram), ask if you can speak to the owner, Dave - he'll happily clue you in on a couple good photography locations and opportunities in the area!
Above: A preview of what's on the fantastic breakfast menu at Cafe Mannum.
With 27 rooms available to suit your tastes and budget, you’ll have no trouble finding somewhere for the whole gang to lay their head. There’s even a conference room available – often used by recreational craft, quilters and photography groups (and most recently, a German film crew and the Mortal Combat film crew has stayed here!). And we hear big families like to use the motel as a haven for the grandparents to get away from their often busy little grandkids at the neighbouring caravan park (those sleep-ins sound like a smart idea to us!).
Although if you’re into the idea of stepping out on the first or second-storey deck for a cuppa and letting the morning sun energise you, then we’d suggest choosing from the highly accredited Unforgettable Houseboat fleet.
A great option for groups who plan to spend their days out on the water is to try River Shack Rentals. You’ll be able to find the perfect premium river shack that has everything you need to live it up by the water. Bring your boat or jet ski along, take off from your own private beach and securely tie up to a jetty at the end of the day.
Above: River Shack Rentals providing the "home away from home" experience- class, comfort and convenience all in one stop.
Planning to haul your home on wheels? Your best bet is to set up at the Mannum Riverside Caravan Park (with over 60 powered sites available – some with direct river views). If getting back to nature is what you’re all about the Bolto Reserve and Haythorpe Reserve (at $10 per vehicle, per night) are fantastic riverside camp spots, located on each side of the ferries.
Now that you have all these suggestions, it’s just a matter of locking in some dates and booking your stay. Come out to Mannum and soak up the river lifestyle on your next (close-to-home) getaway.