Mannum sits on the banks of the Murray River and is known as the Houseboat Capital of Australia. It’s a great location for a day out of the city and even better for a weekend away. Here are all the things to do in Mannum during your stay.
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- 1 Where is Mannum?
- 2 A Little About Mannum
- 3 Things to do in Mannum
- 4 Things to do Around Mannum
- 5 Where to Eat in Mannum
- 6 Where to Stay in Mannum
Where is Mannum?
Mannum is located around 85km directly east of Adelaide. The best way to get there from the city is to take the South Eastern Freeway to Murray Bridge and north from there. Alternatively, Mannum can be reached by going through Gumeracha and Birdwood. It will take around 90 minutes to drive.
While it is possible to get to Mannum by bus, it is not at all practical since the bus runs only once a week and you would have to wait until the next week to get back to the city. A car is also recommended so that you can see the places that are not right in the centre of town. If you need to rent a car, I use and recommend RentalCars.com. I recently had to cancel a booking, and it was easily done online. I was very impressed to have my refund back on my credit card within a couple off days.
A Little About Mannum
Mannum is a river town, sitting on the banks of the Murray River, on the traditional lands of the Nganguraku tribe. Europeans first settled in Mannum in 1850, and not long after, William Randall launched the first paddle steamer built on the Murray. It was named the Mary Ann, after his mother.
Mannum was an industrious little town, not only was it the first place to build paddle steamers, it was also the first place in Australia to build a car. The Shearer Steam Car was built in 1897 by David Shearer, an engineer who usually made farm equipment (such as the Shearer Stripper). The car could travel up to an impressive 15mph!
Being a river town, it’s had its fair share of floods throughout the years, the worst in 1956 where the flood waters rose more than 5 metres. Photos show the waters lapping at the bottom of the balcony of the Mannum Hotel, the entire ground floor under water.
Today Mannum has a population or around 2500 and is a popular holiday location for those from Adelaide. Many of the river cruising companies are based here too, so it’s often a place where people begin their Murray River houseboat trips.
Things to do in Mannum
No visit to the Murray River is complete without a cruise to see some of the river scenery. There are a couple of options to do this.
- PW Mayflower – Built in 1884, this historic paddle wheeler does 90 minute cruises along the Murray at 10:30am & 1pm on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday & Sunday. The cruise leaves from the Mannum Dock Museum, and tickets can be purchased from the Visitor Information Centre there. More information and online bookings can be found here.
- MV Jester – This is a newer boat run by Four Knots Murray River Cruises. They offer a whole range of cruises during the day from morning to sunset. There are specialised cruises available too, such as Raptor Feeding of BBQ Cruises. Most cruises need a minimum of eight people to run, but the best idea is to contact them and discuss your requirements. All the details can be found on their website here.
- PS Marion – Another old paddle steamer, this one built in 1897. PS Marion offers both short day cruises and some multi-day cruises too. At the moment the cruises are only happening on specific days, often coinciding with public holiday or special events. The timetable can be seen on the website here. More information can also be found at the Visitor Information Centre
Mannum Dock Museum
Located right in the centre of town, this should be your first stop, partly because this is where you will find the Mannum Visitor Information Centre, partly because it will give you a basis for other things you will see in town. The museum will give you a great rundown on the history of Mannum, particularly the history of the Murray River paddle steamers, but other things too. During our visit there was a great temporary exhibit about “Women of the River Murray”. I also enjoyed learning about the flooding levels of the Murray and I had no idea that one of the first cars in the country was built in Mannum.
As part of the Museum visitors can also see the Randall Dry Dock, the only one of its type remaining. Explore both the PW Mayflower and PS Marion if they are not out on cruises too. Entry is only a few dollars ($7.50 for adults in July 2021) and the museum is open 9am-4pm Monday to Friday & 9:30am-2pm Saturday and Sunday.
The Mannum Ferry is a dual lane car ferry taking people and vehicles back and forth across the river. There is no bridge in Mannum, so this is the only way to cross the river here. The best thing about the ferry is that it is free, so while in town, why not take a little trip across and back to experience this staple of river life.
Historic Walk Around Town
With all the town history, it is no surprise that they have put together three historic walks around the town centre. They are named after three of the town’s prominent citizens
- The Arnold Walk – George Arnold was a ship owner and builder, known for sub-dividing his land in the area to provide houses for his workers. He also provided the land for the hospital, so his loops around the western end of town where the hospital is located.
- The Randell Walk – William Randall was the builder of Mary Ann, the first Murray River paddle steamer. His walk takes visitors around the northern part of the town, starting and finishing at the Visitor Information Centre.
- The Shearer Walk – David & John Shearer were behind the Shearer farm equipment business, and the inventors of one of the first cars in Australia. Their walk also starts at the Visitor Information Centre and loops through the centre of town.
Maps of the three walks with information on the main stops along the walks are available from the Visitor Information Centre or can be found online here.
Toward the north end of town is the Mannum Lookout which gives great views over the Murray River and town in both directions. Look for signs in town pointing towards the Lookout, or make your way to Crawford Street and follow them from there. The Randell Walk above goes close to the lookout, so if you are doing that walk, I suggest making a small detour to see the views.
Hermann Gass Bird Sanctuary
This is a lovely location in town to take a few minutes out to wander amongst the riverbank reeds. Walk out along the small boardwalk, set up to allow bird watching, including information on some of the local birdlife visitors are likely to see. The reserve includes some picnic areas and is a great place to get some lovely photos of the river.
Cycle through Mannum
Hire bikes from the Visitor Information Centre and explore the town by bicycle. Bike hire is available for half or full days, and both adult and children’s bikes are available. Helmets are required and can also be hired.
Mannum Riverside Markets
On the first Sunday of each month, between 9am and 2:30pm the Arnold Park comes alive with stalls as the Mannum Riverside Markets. There are usually over 30 stalls set up by locals with all sorts of local produce, from all sorts of food, fruit and vegetable to crafts and plants. The day often has a festive feel with buskers and food stalls, so come along, chat with the locals and pick up a bargain.
Check out Roylancer Distillers
During our visit to Mannum I noted that it was unusual to come across a town in South Australia now without a winery, craft brewery or distiller in sight, but it appears I am wrong. Or at least partially wrong. These guys are not quite up and running yet for visitors, but they do have a building in the main street with their name on the windows, and a website with some exciting updates. They are making whiskey solely from local products using traditional methods, including malting the barley themselves. I’ll update here once I know they are open, but if you would like to check for yourself, their website is here.
Shop along the Main Street
Talking about shopping, Mannum has a great main street (called Randell Street) dotted with antique stores, second hand shops, craft shops cafes and galleries. Take a walk and window shop, or head inside and fossick for treasures. Take note of the historic buildings as you walk. Can you find The Bogan Store, the first shop built in Mannum? Little did they know that name would be more…interesting…today!
Mary Ann Reserve
Mary Ann Reserve, named after the first paddle steamer, is a lovely grassed area right along the riverbank. Here you will find the perfect place to relax with your family. Have a picnic or a BBQ while the kids run around or play on the playground. You can also see another marker here showing the flood levels over the years, similar to the one in the museum. There are some memorials to certain paddle steamers, including the Mary Ann. A replica of her boiler is also preserved here under a shelter, The original was dumped in the river because the local river men were superstitious folk and were scared of this particular noisy boiler. It was eventually salvaged and can be seen in the Mannum Dock Museum.
Things to do Around Mannum
If you are visiting Mannum, it’s worth also taking the time to visit some of the attractions around Mannum too. Some of these are quite close to town, others are a little further away. All will need a car to get to them.
There’s bears in those hills! Not really, but amongst the granite boulders that litter the landscape on either side of the highway, there is a rock shaped just like a bear. It has been painted white and is easily recognised, with the shape most clearly seen coming from Mannum.
Bear Rock is located about 18km from Mannum on the road to Tungkillo
The Mannum Waterfalls are a great area to take a walk through the picturesque countryside here. The waterfalls are probably more accurately described as cascades, there are only one or two small sections that do look like waterfalls, so bear that in mind. The path meanders along Reedy Creek. Some parts are gently flowing waterholes with reeds along the edges, but as the gorge narrows and becomes more rocky, the water flows over and through the granite.
The Mannum Waterfalls are around 10km outside of Mannum towards Murray Bridge. The walk from the lower car park is around 3km, and you should allow perhaps two hours. I found we were often ducking off the path take photos or to scramble over rocks, so to have a good look around takes longer than expected.
In 1978, Rudolph Lenger donated 95ha of mallee land to the National Trust as a bird sanctuary. While there are plenty of birds spotted here (89 species to date), it has also been discovered that this is a haven for many indigenous plants too. Visitors can come and enjoy walking through the reserve. The hiking track passes through scrubland, along Saunders Creek with its waterholes and along a ridge with views over the Mount Lofty Ranges. Take a look through the historic farm cottage, today slowly being stabilised and preserved by volunteers.
Lenger Reserve is about 15km to the northeast of Mannum.
Ngaut Ngaut Conservation Park Indigenous Tours
Ngaut Ngaut Conservation Park is located 45km to the northeast of Mannum. This park is culturally important to the local Nganguraku people and can only be accessed through a tour. The tours are not only nature walks and rock art, but can also include all sorts of cultural experiences such as fishing, painting, bush tucker, story telling etc. This is a great opportunity to learn about the Aboriginal culture in a picturesque river location. For more information and contact details see the National Parks website here.
Big Bend By Night Experiences & Tours
Big Bend By Night is a local farm business located 50km northeast of Mannum near Swan Reach. Located right os the banks of the Murray River, Big Bend offers a range of experiences for visitors arriving by road or by the river. Come along for a shearing display, or take a cart ride to see animals during both the day or night. Visit early for a bush tucker breakfast, or late for a 3-course dinner while watching the sunset over the river. There are also a range of tours available, including a full day Outback Pub Tour, visiting three local pubs and enjoying the renowned country hospitality. For more information see their website here.
Located 30km to the northeast of Mannum, Shell Hill is an interesting geological site to visit. The Shell Hill itself is a 5 million year old deposit of oyster shells from when this area was an inland sea. There’s not a whole lot of the deposit left though, as it was discovered that when crushed these shells made a great fertiliser. Luckily that was stopped while there was still a small hill remaining. I love that the remaining hill still has a tree growing on it.
Also in the Shell Hill Reserve visitors will find information about four short walks in the area, the longest taking around an hour. Keep an eye out for wombats on your walk as they are know to live in the area. There are also two telescope pads in the area for keen stargazers, and plenty of native birds for the keen birdwatcher.
Murray River Dark Sky Reserve
The River Murray area is the only recognised International Dark Sky Reserve in Australia. This means that it is a great place to do some star gazing. There are locations and activities all over the region to help with seeing the incredible night skies. Here are just a couple of options
- Shell Hill – there are two telescope pads set up in the Shell Hill Reserve for visitors to set up their own equipment for star gazing.
- Big Bend by Night – there are two different dark sky experiences available, including an option to stay overnight.
- Juggle House – offer a dark sky river cruise with dinner from Mannum on the nights the sky is darkest
Murray River Scenic Cliffs Drive
If you would like to explore the Murray River area by car, this scenic drive is a great way to see many of the best views, sites and attractions from Mannum up to Swan Reach. See historical sites, view points over the river and nearby countryside, Indigenous artefacts as well as the small towns on this stretch of river. The Mao and description of points of interest can be found here.
Mannum Canoe & Kayak Trail
Another great way to experience the Murray River in Mannum is by canoe or kayak, and to help with that a trail has been developed to take visitors past some of the most popular sites, including two riverboat wrecks that can be seen at low tide. Launch your own canoe or kayak from the boat ramp near Mary Ann Reserve, or if you don’t have your own, you can hire one locally. For a map of the trail and more information, see here.
Murray Plains Cycle Trek
We’ve talked about car trips and boat trips, and of course Mannum has a cycle trail too. This one isn’t for the faint hearted though, it’s more for the keen cyclists ready for some rougher cycling. The Murray Plains Cycle Trek is a 54km trail from Mannum to the town of Sedan and mostly uses existing unsealed roads, so a mountain bike is recommended. There are few facilities along the route, so cyclists need to ensure they have plenty of food, water and warm clothing with them. Find the pdf with map here.
Where to Eat in Mannum
We enjoyed a great lunch at the Pretoria Hotel right on the riverbank in the heart of Mannum. The food was traditional pub fare, with a good range of options such as vegetarian, vegan and gluten free. The dining area is huge, and on a nice day it would be fantastic to sit out on the deck or the grassed area to eat while enjoying the sunshine and the river.
There is also a second hotel in Mannum, unsurprisingly called the Mannum Hotel, which also looked like it had good meals, and for something more simple I quite liked the look of the Lovells Bakery on The Murray. Another popular option is the Cafe Mannum.
Where to Stay in Mannum
While we did not stay in Mannum this trip, here are just a couple of suggestions to get you started on your search for the perfect accommodation. For basic hotel rooms right in the centre of town, try the Pretoria Hotel. If it’s a cabin in the caravan park right on the banks of the river your family would prefer, then it’s the Big4 Breeze Holiday Parks – Mannum. For a little luxury, have a look at Riverview Rise Retreats.
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Josie Kelsh is South Australian, born and bred. She has lived in the state for almost her whole life, just one short stint away as a teenager with her family. Travelling all over the world has shown her exactly how amazing South Australia is to live and travel in and she uses her passion to show it to you the way a local sees it.