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Mathoura gateway to a nature wonderland or ancient origins

Mathoura - Gateway to a nature wonderland that still bears the traces of ancient origins.

Mathoura is a great little town surrounded by the forest and the waterways of the Murray and Edward Rivers. Mathoura was settled in the 1840s and became a staging and resting point for Cobb & Co Coaches. Since the early days the nearby river red gum forests were harvested to supply the paddle steamer trade and later the railways for the supply of sleepers.

A popular picnic spot south-east of Mathoura is Picnic Point, on the Murray, 11 km from Mathoura, where the banks are low and lined with river red gums. Access is via the Tocumwal and Picnic Point roads 5.5 km from Mathoura. It is a popular camping and fishing area. Picnic Point Road provides access to the Moira Forest Walkway and Observation Mound, and a Bicentennial Walking Path to Poverty Point. Barbecue facilities are located at the start of the walkway.

East of the Cobb Highway between Echuca Moama and Deniliquin, extending towards Tocumwal are over 35 000 hectares of the Mathoura State Forest with their magnificent river red gum Eucalyptus camaldulensis. When combined with the Barmah Forest on the southern side of the river they give a total of 65 000 hectares, the largest river red gum ecosystem in the world and its preservation is of national importance.

The forests were used for grazing early last century, as the waterways acted as fences for cattle being moved from eastern New South Wales to Adelaide. During the paddle steamer days the forests were extensively cut for firewood which was stacked on the Murray River bank for collection, and larger trees were cut to service the Echuca sawmills. Logs were pulled to the river bank where they were loaded onto barges and floated downstream with the current. The forests are situated in wetlands which in past years (before the river regulation) experienced frequent flooding and dry periods, conditions which the river red gum needs for regeneration.

With river flows being regulated many parts of the forest suffered and die-back occurred as many hectares of the forest were under stress from lack of flood water for prolonged periods. But now the New South Wales Forestry Commission is conducting trials of flood watering areas of the forest with startling and encouraging results. The flood waters provide a healthier environment for regeneration, help control insect attack, reduce potential of fire and enhance conditions for fish and birdlife at billabongs.

The extensive swamps in the forest provide an excellent habitat for waterfowl, Australian pelicans, black swans, cormorant, ibis, spoonbills and a variety of duck, as well as sulphur-crested and white cockatoos, galahs and many species of parrots. The odd emu is always present; kangaroos are common. Occasionally, at early morning or at dusk, a platypus and water rats can be spotted on the river banks. Within the forest is evidence of the Aborigines through their surviving middens and canoe trees.

To the east of the Cobb Highway is an earth fault scarp dropping towards the river red gum forest, know as the Cadell Tilt. During the pre- history time of the Aborigines (25 000 years before present) land west of the tilt rose some 8–10 m, blocking the westwards passage of the Old Murray River. The waters then split, some flowing south towards Echuca, the other (Edward River) heading north to Deniliquin, only to meet again to the west some 200 km downstream. The area was named after Captain Francis Cadell, one of the first Europeans to navigate the Murray River from Mannum to Swan Hill.

Another geological feature, even older than man’s existence in Australia, is a series of sand-dunes found in places throughout the forest. These were formed along the banks of the ancient river. One sand-dune, over 19 km long, lies parallel with Barmah Road, near the Murray River, and once formed the northern shore line of a large lake. The dunes can be identified by the different vegetation growing on them such as white cypress pine and yellow box.

Three self-guide drives have been developed to help the visitor enjoy the forest. Drive with caution as tracks are of formed earth and can become slippery after wet weather, or develop rough patches in the dry.

Gulpa Island Forest Drive

Distance: 15 km. From Mathoura proceed across Poley’s Bridge on the Tocumwal Road and turn left just past the bridge. Features along the way are Cadell Tilt, canoe tree, massive old stumps, sand-dunes and cypress pines. The drive exits onto the Cobb Highway 13 km from Mathoura.

Millewa Forest Drive

Distance: 21 km. The drive begins off the Tocumwal Road, a short distance from the Edward River bridge 11 km from Mathoura. It features the river red gum forests, swamps, flood regulators, the Murray River and points on the river such as Thistle Bend, Nestrons Bend and Fishermans Bend. It rejoins the Tocumwal Road 14 km from Mathoura.

Moira Forest Drive

Distance: 20 km. Turn off the Cobb Highway 6 km south of Mathoura. Like the other drives it features river red gum forest, Cadell Tilt, Murray River, Poverty Point and King’s Log Landing. At Poverty Point there is access to the Moira Forest Walkway which leads to an Observation Mound and Waterbird Observatory. There is also a barbecue site at the point. The drive rejoins the entrance track and retraces back to the Cobb Highway.

Towns close by: Echuca Moama (Down river) | Tocumwal | Barmah (Up river) | North Deniliquin


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