Cobram is a small town in Northern Victoria. It is part of the Murray Goulburn region. The town itself is not that spectacular although it will provide you with all of the essentials including a supermarket, liquor store, bakery, butcher, petrol station and tackle store. To get to the campground, you will need to drive around ten minutes north of town. There is a state forest there and within it, on the banks of the mighty Murray River lies some excellent free camping areas. The most popular campgrounds go by the names of Big Toms, Little Toms, Horseshoe Lagoon and Dead River. This particular area holds a very special place in my heart and I hope that others will be just as impressed with it. I am yet to find another place in Australia like this one.
Camping On The Murray River
The Murray River is a very special part of Australia. It is Australia’s longest river and stretches over 2,500km. On this part of the Murray, you can appreciate the wide light brown water, the high banks and the muddy shores. The river and forest are scattered with large river red gums and the serenity they offer together with the flowing river is incredible.
Camping on this part of the Murray River is free. In most cases, you can camp right beside the river and the front of your camper or tent can be just a couple of steps away from the water. The ground is mostly compacted dirt and clay with some long dry grass and loose sand in some areas so you can camp with tents, swags, camper trailers and caravans.
The campgrounds have no amenities or facilities so please make sure you are prepared for proper bush camping before you go. There are some pit style toilets at the entrance to the state forest and public toilets in town but these can be up to a fifteen-minute drive from the camp areas. I would advise taking a chem toilet or you will most likely end up using the old shovel method.
There are no showers available at the campground or in town. There are a couple of caravan parks nearby but they will more than likely charge you to use their facilities. If a swim in the river isn’t your idea of having a good wash then I would advise bringing a camp shower.
There are no bins or dump points in the forest or at the campgrounds, please take all of your waste with out of the forest with you. Check online to find the nearest of these facilities.
As this is a state forest of Victoria dogs are permitted. If your dog loves to swim and run they will have a wonderful time on the banks of the Murray. Please don’t forget to be a responsible pet owner and keep your pet under control all times. Ensure they do not annoy other campers or chase wildlife and keep them out of the bush and the long grass as much as possible.
Get your camp ovens and marshmallows out because campfires are permitted in these campgrounds, with the exception of total fire ban days. Campfires must be less than 1-meter square, have at least a 3-meter clearance around them and be made in a pit that is at least 30cm deep. You are allowed to collect firewood for your campfire within the forest but you are not allowed to cut trees down. You can only take wood that has already fallen. You are not allowed to take any firewood out of the forest when you leave unless you have a permit to do so.
Roads and Access
The road in from the start of the forest is dirt and conditions can change depending on recent rainfall and the amount of recent traffic. There can be deep ruts in the road on occasion, at these times it may be difficult to get small cars and caravans in and out. Four wheel drives and off road campers shouldn’t ever have a problem getting in. When the roads are good it is accessible for everybody. If you want to check the road condition contact Parks Victoria before you go.
There are lots of things to keep you entertained when you are camping on the Murray put your phones and other technology-based entertainment away and let yourself enjoy the great outdoors. If you’re not a heavy sleeper, you’re sure to be awake early, as the kookaburras start laughing and the sulphur-crested cockatoos start screeching at first light each morning.
Whether you have a boat or you are dropping a line off the bank, fishing is one of the most popular past times on the Murray. Boat access is good, there is a boat ramp at Dead River but in some cases, you can launch your boat straight off a low bank near your camp. Please note that this part of the river is closed to any forms of fishing between September 1st and November 30th to support some of the native fish and their breeding seasons.
You will require a New South Wales fishing licence to fish legally. These licences are easily obtainable and are fairly inexpensive. Go to the tackle store in Cobram or buy one online. Remember that although you are camping in Victoria, you will be fishing in New South Wales waters. The fisheries officers do check this part of the river regularly and fines and potential confiscation of fishing gear can occur if you are not following the rules. Please don’t get too disheartened by having to pay for a fishing licence, the revenue from fishing licences help to maintain our waterways, fund upgrades on recreational fishing areas and help make native fish restocking programs possible.
You could hook onto a famous Murray Cod, a Trout-Cod, a Yellow Belly (or Yellow Perch) or a Silver Perch. European Carp are common in these waters and if you catch one you are required to kill it humanely and dispose of it, as they are considered a pest species. Please check New South Wales fishing guides for details on fish identification, size limits and bag limits and please adhere to these, they are there for a reason. Worms and yabbies are the most popular baits and lures are also used often.
It can get very hot camping on the banks of the river but a dip in the cool water is sure to sort that out quickly. The only times swimming is not recommended is if there has been recent flooding or if blue-green algae warnings are in place. Please ensure that you take care when swimming in the Murray, the currents are very strong, there are deep holes and underwater logs and snags. If you are not a strong swimmer I would recommend swimming close to the bank. Children are at high risk in this river, so please watch them closely.
Skiing and Jet Skiing
Speed boats and jets skis are frequently seen in this part of the river and are a fun way to pass some time. All boats and skiers can be in danger of colliding with a submerged tree or log so please be wary of this and scout the water well before you ski.
Canoeing and Kayaking
It can be loads of fun and good exercise going for a paddle in the Murray, remember that the currents are extremely strong and paddling against the current is tiring and impossible to do for long periods. It is a good idea to walk or drive your kayak or canoe upstream and then paddle back to your camp.
For those of you who would love to see a wild koala, this is one of the best places in Australia to do just that. They spend most of the day sleeping and eating gum leaves so if your scan the branches of the river red gums, you may well see one. If you don’t see them during the day, you will more than likely hear them grunting away at night. There are lots of kangaroos in the area, you are most likely to see them in at dawn or at dusk. Along with lots of great fish, the river itself is also home to Eastern Longneck Turtles, Murray Short Neck Turtles, Murray Crayfish and freshwater shrimp.
Although you may not see them, some of Australia’s deadliest snakes live in the area including tiger snakes, brown snakes and red-bellied black snakes. They will normally disappear before humans have the chance to see them but take care if you are walking through bushland or long grass. If you are collecting firewood then boots and long pants are the most appropriate attire.
There are lots of native birds that will keep your ears pricked up and your eyes searching. The population of sulphur-crested cockatoos is large and noisy. Laughing Kookaburras are a common sight. If you’re lucky you may see a tiny Kingfisher or a wading Spoonbill. At night if you listen hard enough you can hear the calls of the Boobook Owl. Tawny Frog-Mouths are hard to spot but they do sit on logs and trees in this area.
The Big Strawberry
There is a strawberry farm called The Big Strawberry at Koonoomoo, which is around 20 minutes drive from Cobram. It is a popular spot for tourists to stop and have a look at the selection of ornaments, jams and sauces and of course, buy some fresh strawberries. They also sell unique alcoholic beverages such as strawberry port and liqueurs. They make coffee, milkshakes and nice meals. The strawberry crepes are a popular meal and are a perfect breakfast for hungry campers.
It is a short drive from Cobram to reach Thompson’s Beach, which is a very sandy area of the Murray River. It is a good area for swimming and boating but they do not allow camping there. There is a really nice riverside cafe at Thompson’s Beach if you are looking for a place to eat, drink and relax.
As this is a free campground you can not book, you camp in whatever spots are available when you get there. It gets extremely busy during holiday periods especially around Christmas, Easter, school holidays and long weekends so I would recommend getting there early if you want to camp at these times. The gum trees here have very heavy branches and they crack and fall often, so look up before you choose a spot to set up camp. Keep our forests and waterways beautiful, take all of your rubbish and discarded fishing gear out of the forest when you leave and dispose of it properly. Insect repellent is a highly recommended item to bring with you, mosquitos can be in high numbers in the evening and flies and wasps can be a pain during the day.
Enjoy Cobram and the Murray River and be happy campers!