Exploring the Riverina area of NSW during the Deni Ute Muster

The Deni Ute Muster has been a regular drawcard for car enthusiasts for almost twenty years. With a range of activities including car demonstrations, a rodeo challenge, plenty of live music, helicopter joy rides, food, drink and sideshows, there is plenty to keep the whole family amused.

Deni is also host to the Rhythm, Blues and Jazz festival, the Deni Truck Show and Industry Expo, the XXXX Gold Fishing Classic with a $70,000 prize pool and Horse racing days on Anzac Day and Caulfield Cup Day.

For the bird watchers, Willoughy Beach is a dog friendly bush camping area. The visitor information centre in George Street has a great list of attractions to see including the famous ‘Ute on a Pole’ which of course was a Ute Muster project.

But there is a whole lot more to see in the area. Destination NSW invited this writer to take some time to explore some of the surrounding towns and see what else is on offer.

The Hay plains have long been considered as the boring part of the trip between Adelaide and Sydney. At a full day’s drive from either, it’s worth planning a stopover along the way to get deep into the heart of this region.

Deniliquin is just north of Echuca in the Riverina region of New South Wales, and if you head north for around two hours the towns of Hay and Balranald are familiar to those making the Adelaide – Sydney trek.

Hay is a quaint town amidst some of the flattest country on earth. There is an easy walking trail around town which can also be done on bike with free bike hire available or in a car.

My first stop was at the studio shop of hyper-realistic artist Chris McClelland. He spends hundreds of hours on drawing collages of Australian life and also creates stunning images of elephants from his time in South Africa. His prints are sought after by collectors around the world.

The Hay gaol museum was my next stop. The $4.00 entry fee is an honor system as it’s not generally staffed, but there is plenty to see. Most of the cells have been converted into displays of early life. It makes you appreciate the advances in medical technology looking at some of the early equipment that was used.

The trail winds through the Sandy Point picnic area, with free camping also available. It’s very relaxing strolling amongst the gum trees along the river and there are several areas to stop and have a picnic.

Other attractions in town include the free community swimming pool and the Dunera Museum at the Hay Railway Station. Just on the outskirts of town is a museum dedicated to the history of the shearer, appropriately named Shear Outback – Australian shearers hall of fame.

Heading back west is Balranald, known for being home to five rivers; the Murrumbidgee, Murray, Wakool, Edward and Lachlan Rivers. This means that there is plenty of opportunity for water sports such as kayaking and fishing.

I had accommodation booked at a Riverview Cabin at Balranald Caravan Park, which was very clean and tidy and had everything needed for a restful night’s stay including cooking facilities. However, it was time to meet my tour guide, German Ugarte from Outback Geo Adventures for a Yanga National Park Sunset Tour. German grew up in South America before coming to Australia and working for council. Falling in love with the Australian outback, he ditched his day job and his enthusiasm for the land is palpable.

First stop was a guided view of the Yanga Woolshed. The Woolshed was one of the largest in the region and steamers would come up the river to collect the completed wool bales. The Woolshed has been closed down and turned into an interpretative museum by the National Parks department. It’s easy to get an appreciation of the hard work the shearers did by watching some video screens that have been installed, which include some of the sounds recorded near the closing of the shed.

After a short break by a billabong with cake and coffee, we headed to the Yanga Lake and a guided tour to Teepee Tree, known for ancient fertility rites. Our final stop was an exclusive after-hours access to the Yanga Homestead to watch the sunset over Yanga Lake. The Yanga Homestead was one of the best known homesteads in its time and was used for many parties for visiting dignitaries. In 1974 it was sold to the NSW Parks and Wildlife and is open for tours by appointment.

 

In the morning it was a trip to Balranald Discovery Centre and Café to collect some more information about the area over coffee and eggs and bacon.

A couple of fun things for the kids to do is the Funky Frog trail, larger than life frogs in humorous poses around town and a walk across the Balranald Swing Bridge and as part of the Bidgee Nature Walk. For mums and dads there are antique shops in town which have plenty of interesting wares.

 

 

I ran out of time to visit Lake Mungo, two hours north of Balranald, but this is home to Mungo Man, the oldest aboriginal remains known, dated as 40,000 years old. Mungo Man, discovered by geologist Jim Bowler in 1974, is set to return home to Willandra World Heritage Area in November.

Overall I had a much better appreciation of the Riverina area of NSW after my visit and feel that a few days is enough to get a taste of what is on offer, but there is much more to do than simply stopping at a bakery on the way through. Well worth extending a visit if you are planning on going to the Deni Ute Muster or one of the many other events on in the area.

For more about the Deni Ute Muster, head to their official website.

Photos by the author, who visited the region as a guest of Destination NSW.