It was raining, so I was heading north away from the coast and into some warmer weather. Before leaving town, I stopped at the main street cafe where the owner of the house worked to drop off the two-day tariff. You can just leave it on the kitchen table, she had told me, but I preferred to hand it over in person, being from a crime-ridden major city. Seems they don't have house break-ins down this way. But I had put the keys back under the terracotta pot. Same thinking: in Melbourne they don't look for the keys, they just break down the door.
I drove around the coast to Kingston then struck north along Rowney Rd for 50 or maybe 60 lonely kilometres, through mixed grazing country and pine plantations that stretched away down south as far as Mt Gambier. We hit the Riddoch Highway, and traffic again, and passed through Keith, a small settlement minding its own business. Then Tailem Bend, a town that sits on top of red cliffs along the Murray River, its main street and the road through an eastern tangent to an almost perfectly round bend in the river.
Then Murray Bridge, self-explanatory. It was close to stopping time, judged daily by the state of the rear occupants of the car, an 11-, 10-, and six-year-old. I drove another half hour or so to Mannum, an old seaport and shipbuilding centre from the paddle steamer days, and found a caravan park.
Cabin 13 was literally seven steps from the Murray River. None of us sleepwalks. The river crossing service operates around the clock and the night was punctuated by the metallic clunking rasp of the ferry docking. Late in the evening a paddle steamer churned up the river, lit up like a circus, its below-deck engine making a thudding echo across the water.
Destination summary: Mannum boasts the last steam-powered, woodfired, side paddle steamer in the world. Who was I to argue?
Accommodation summary: On the Murray - literally. Four stars.