Mildura may be one of the most remote regional centres in Victoria, but you certainly wouldn't know it. This oasis on the edge of the outback grows a good percentage of Australia's fresh produce, and attracts plenty of visitors with its gourmet food and wine scene and historic connection to the Murray River. Dixie Lamers checks in with an inspiring list of top things to see and do...
Mildura has standout appeal in its setting on the banks of the mighty Murray River.
The largest city in Victoria’s Mallee, Mildura is located on the border with New South Wales (six hours’ drive northwest of Melbourne), and just a stone’s throw from South Australia. The Murray is the backbone of the region, and despite the semi-arid landscape, agriculture thrives — largely thanks to pioneering Canadian brothers William Benjamin (WB) and George Chaffey, who established an innovative irrigation system here in the 1880s.
Today Mildura is a paradise for those who love the great outdoors and provides an irresistible choice of leisure activities. The city streets are dotted with period architecture, historical sites and public sculptures, and local restaurants and cafes provide a cosmopolitan ambience. With an abundance of fresh produce to play with, the city has built a solid reputation as a foodie hotspot; and wine lovers will also find plenty to write home about.
Here are ten top things to do in Mildura.
1. Learn some local history
Mildura has quite the backstory to share with visitors, so devote some time to delving into the past. The Chaffey Trail shares the overarching narrative of how the Chaffey brothers came to Australia and built what is said to be Australia’s first irrigated settlement (Mildura). Start at the Visitor Information Centre, where you can watch several very informative videos. Armed with that knowledge, set off and follow your choice of the walking or self-drive tour itineraries that take in various Chaffey-era landmarks — including the heritage-listed Rio Vista homestead — once the home of WB and his family.
2. Enjoy a riverside stroll
The Murray is front and centre in Mildura life, and the city’s wonderful riverfront walk features parks and a water play park for the kids. Keep walking towards the Mildura wharf, which has been a vital part of the inland river transport system since the the late 19th century. Today it’s the boarding point for paddle steamer cruises. The Café de Caravan is a great spot to take the weight off and watch the passing parade of paddle steamers and luxury houseboats, while enjoying a coffee or a bite to eat.
3. Cruise the Murray River
What better way to get to know the Murray than by taking a cruise on an original steam-driven paddle boat? The PS Melbourne is one option. The former work and logging boat was built back in 1912 and has carried passengers since 1966. A daily two-hour cruise takes guests through Lock 11 at Mildura Weir, while the running commentary provides an insight into what life was like in the region in the pioneering days.
Alternatively, propel yourself on a stand-up paddle board adventure. It’s great exercise and good fun too. You can hire a board from Mildura Dockside Cafe, and enjoy lunch and a coffee right on the Murray foreshore on your return.
4. Step back in time in Wentworth
It’s an easy 30-minute drive from Mildura to the heritage village of Wentworth, which sits at the junction of the Murray and Darling Rivers — the longest and third longest rivers in the country respectively. The best vantage point is the viewing tower at Junction Park. Soak up the old-world charm of the village, explore the Old Wentworth Gaol, and stop in at the quirky Curly Tree gift store. In the heat of summer, a cold beverage at the Crown Hotel Wentworth (circa 1861) goes down a treat.
5. Walk in ancient footsteps in Mungo
World Heritage-listed Mungo National Park lies 100 kilometres northeast of Mildura, and is a must-visit. Mungo Guided Tours will pick you up from your accommodation and take you on a day trip to remember in this lunar-like landscape. See the epic Walls of China rock formations, walk in the footsteps of over two thousand generations of Aboriginal people, and learn the story of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man — believed to have lived here around 42,000 years ago.
6. Savour a selection of local tastes…
It’s time to get your foodie on! With so much amazing produce grown in and around Mildura, it’s not surprising that the region is often referred to as ‘Australia’s food bowl’. Table grapes, almonds, pistachios, carrots, asparagus, melons and citrus are all cultivated here. For a broad introduction to the fresh food scene, check out the Sunraysia Farmers Market at Jaycee Park on the riverfront. It’s held on the first and third Sundays of the month.
The town’s dining scene is centred around Langtree Avenue (aka ‘Feast Street’). With a diverse selection of eateries and cafes, you’ll find something here to please everyone. Feel like a flame grilled steak? Head to the stylish Spanish Grill. For delicious, authentic Italian/Mediterranean cuisine, book a table at iconic Stefano’s — situated in the cellar of the opulent Grand Hotel. For a more relaxed dining option, you can’t go wrong with a wood fired pizza at Pizza Café at the Grand.
7. … matched with top drops
All that fabulous food needs some liquid accompaniment and Mildura has a long history of winemaking. You don’t even have to leave town to visit the Sunraysia Cellar Door. At this one location you can sample over 250 wines from 22 Murray Darling wine producers.
Chateau Mildura is located just a short drive from the city centre. It was established by the Chaffey brothers in 1888 and in addition to wine tasting and sales, the property is home to the Chaffey Wine and Horticultural Museum.
On the far side of the river (although you’ll have to take the long way around) is Trentham Cliffs. Here you’ll find Trentham Estate winery, cellar door and restaurant — a boutique family-owned property that produces premium award-winning wines. The cellar door is open seven days a week. After sampling a selection of the vintages, stay and enjoy a bottle and a gourmet share platter served overlooking the meandering Murray.
Beer lovers, you’re also well catered for. Mildura Brewery has a dozen or so craft beers on tap, which are brewed on site in a very impressive refurbished Art Deco-era building. The state-of-the-art brewery is on full display to patrons and meals are also available.
8. Explore the local arts scene
Mildura has a thriving arts scene and is a regional hub for artistic talent in many forms. Drop by the Mildura Arts Centre, which stages live performances, exhibitions and workshops. It stands alongside Rio Vista. Over in the centre of town, The Art Vault has three exhibition spaces and often hosts artists in residence. It’s a privately funded arts facility.
9. Admire some classic motoring bling
If classic cars get your motor running, you’ll want to visit the fabulous Mildura Holden Motor Museum. Take a drive down memory lane and enjoy the spectacular private collection of classic and modern Holdens. Any car enthusiast will love this experience. There’s a cafe, and you can peruse the extensive array of collectables and merch on sale in the gift shop.
10. See blooming peas and roses
It’s hard to believe that there could be something as beautiful as the Australian Inland Botanic Gardens on the edge of the desert. There are plants here from many regions around the world, and plenty of natives unique to the arid Mallee and beyond. If you visit at the right time of year (between July and March, depending on rainfall), you can enjoy the flowering splendour of Sturt’s Desert Pea. The gardens also boast a spectacular display of roses from October through to June.