The Historic Port of Echuca

There are many river towns to be found along the Murray as it meanders through New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. One of the best is the historic port of Echuca where you can learn why these towns exist.

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Why Echuca

Entrance sign reading "Welcome to the Port of Echuca" with trees, historic buildings, and an old train in the background on a sunny day.

Of all the towns along the river, why is Echuca the one to visit? (Although you should visit the others too!)

Echuca holds a special place in Australia’s history books. Established in the 1850s, it rapidly became the largest inland port in Australia, thanks to its strategic position on the Murray River.

This bustling port was a crucial hub for trade, connecting the vast agricultural interior of Australia with the coastal cities and international markets.

The mighty paddle steamers that navigated the Murray became the lifelines, transporting wool, timber, and other goods, playing a pivotal role in the economic development of the country.

Today you can learn all about the history of the area and enjoy the vibe of days gone past with Ye Olde shops and restored attractions.

Port of Echuca Discovery Centre

Entrance to the Port of Echuca Discovery Centre with a sign reading "Enter Here to Step Back in Time" and a glass facade showcasing the interior and bicycles.

A simplified description of the Port of Echuca Discovery Centre is that it is a museum. It does contain historical displays, tourist information and a gift shop like many museums, but it is more than that.

Before you even get to building, you will feel like you have stepped back in time as you walk down a street that could have come straight out of the 1800s.

On either side are buildings preserved in the old style – but filled with fun businesses, like a photography studio where you can dress in period costume and walk away with a sepia photo of you looking like you just walked off a paddle boat.

A small shopfront with signs for "Paddlesteamers," "Tickets," and "Souvenirs." The building has a rustic, old-fashioned appearance with various posters and flyers on display.

Once inside, wander through the interpretive displays before making your way outside onto the wharf, where you can get views of the paddle boats, where they were built, some of the warehouses, the railway station and more.

A museum exhibit showcases historical photographs, information panels, and artifacts in glass cases. The wooden floor and ceiling create a warm, inviting atmosphere for visitors.

It’s interesting to discover that half of the wharf is in NSW, and the other half is in Victoria, as the state border sits at the high water mark on this southern side of the river – which is underneath the wharf!

Guided Walking Tours

While walking around the Discovery Centre can give you a good start with the history of Echuca, to get even more in-depth, take one of the walking tours they offer.

Not all tours are available on all days, but we were able to take the standard one-hour guided tour that runs three times on most days (not Monday or Friday) throughout the week.

We were greeted – and then guided – by a local in period costume (and it was 40+ degrees that day!) who was so passionate about Echuca’s history.

While the tour covered much of the area we had already seen, it’s the stories and interesting tidbits that make it interesting.

A person in period costume and sun hat stands by a wooden railing next to a river, lined with trees, under a clear blue sky.

We also got to see the steam engines in operation and were able to go in and get a little closer to the machines to see what was going on. As someone who is not at all interested in engines, I found this surprisingly interesting.

On Wednesday and Saturday nights there is a “Port after dark” tour. Explore the wharf by lantern, and hear tales of ghosts and unexplained happenings.

On some evenings during school holidays, kids can join in on a twilight adventure tour just for them.

All the walking tours can be booked on their website, or you can book in person on the day (but be aware that sometimes the tours sell out)

River Cruises

A boat named "Adelaide" is docked beside a wooden boardwalk along a river with a forested area in the background.
This is the Adelaide – PS Pevensey was out on the river during my visit

To really get the feel of the life here on the Murray River, just about one of the river cruises offered by the Port of Echuca Discovery Centre.

There are usually multiple one-hour cruises run every day on the PS Pevensey, from the wharf right outside the centre.

This paddle steamer was originally built in 1911 and was used to carry cargo up and down the river until the river trade stopped in the 1950s.

PS Pevensy is special though. Many Australians will remember a TV series from the 1980s called “All the Rivers Run”, starring John Waters and Sigrid Thornton.

Well, this is the paddle steamer “Philadelphia” from the show. This is the perfect opportunity to live out those secret river boat dreams.

You can book your cruise tickets on the website, or get them in person at the Discovery Centre.

Nearby attractions

Two glass decanters labeled "Echuca Chocolate Company," one containing white chocolate liqueur and the other classic chocolate liqueur, displayed on a wooden surface with backdrop of bottles and glass.

After you have learned all about the history of the Port of Echuca and why it was so important to the European settlement in Australia, you should take a walk down the main street nearby (High Street) and browse through all the delightful shops.

These are all well set up for the visitor, and include things like wine and spirit tasting opportunities, chocolate, tea, old-style sweets, candles, craft shops and so many more.

Two of my favourites were the Read Heeler Second Hand Bookshop which has the largest collection of Australiana books I have seen anywhere. I am always looking for something unique for my Dad, and I found a few gems here.

Sign for "Read Heeler Book Seller" advertising antique and secondhand books, displayed in front of a bookstore with bookshelves and various other items visible inside.

The other one was a Christmas Shop. They have so many cool bits and pieces, and I just had to pick up a new bauble for my daughter, who loves all things Christmas. They do close down for some of the year, but they were still open at the end of January when I visited.

There are also plenty of options for eating along the street too. We ate at the Star Hotel and got icecream next door at The Port Ice Creamery – yum.

If you like art, pop into the Customs House Art Gallery too.

Other Things to Do

Two large grain silos feature detailed murals of a possum and a bird perched on branches, with a vivid blue sky in the background. Industrial elements are also visible.

There are a few other attractions around the area to keep you entertained if you have more time. Take a look at these:

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