Water, water everywhere

With Lake Hume full for the first time in a decade, Sue Wallace joins the capacity crowd.

It's almost bumper to bumper around Lake Hume Village on this warm Sunday afternoon. Albury-Wodonga locals and visitors are heading out to witness a once-in-a-decade spectacle at what is fondly known as "the weir". Today, three floodgates are open, spewing water and mist into the Murray River below the dam wall.

Why all the fuss? It's been a long wait - more than a decade - since the lake formed by the Hume Weir has been full. For eight of the past nine summers, it could best be described as a dust bowl, deterring tourists from heading to the border for a summer break or weekend getaway.

But since the start of the month, Hume Weir, as the lake is often called, has been lapping at 100 per cent capacity - give or take a few megalitres - and is looking its pristine best.

There is an air of excitement among the crowd. I head to the Lake Hume Tourist Park general store, where 20 varieties of ice-cream are on offer, and find many of my fellow sightseers have the same idea. The park's co-owner, Kevin Downie, says he's never seen traffic like this in the six years he's been in business.

"The lake is a spectacular sight and something we have been waiting for," he says. "People are ringing saying, 'Is it true the lake is full?"'

Downie loves living by the lake. "I have been to see the sunset at Uluru twice but here I can look out across the lake and see a magnificent sunset every night and it looks so much better when the lake is full."

The manager of the Boathaven Holiday Park, Ken Garner, is also rejoicing. "Visitors will now have that extra wow factor, with water lapping at the doorstep," he says.

The Hume Weir hit rock bottom in April 1968, when it fell to 0.9 per cent of capacity, exposing dead trees, cracked ground and a muddy shore line. At 100 per cent capacity, Lake Hume holds about 3 million megalitres - more than six times the volume of Sydney Harbour.

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The best way to enjoy it is on the water. There are paddle boats and fishing boats to hire, you can gather a party of up to 12 on the Lake Hume barbecue boat for a day trip and it seems the deluge has been good for fishing, too. A border angling expert, Russell Mason, says yellowbelly and redfin are biting and "it's shaping up to be a great fishing season with such a full lake".

"My advice is to fish near a rocky outcrop for yellowbelly and you will often find redfin near trees," he says. Fishing licences are available at the Lake Hume Tourist Park general store.

For a scenic drive, head across the Bethanga Bridge, which straddles the Hume Weir between NSW and Victoria, to the pretty village of Bellbridge. For walkers, there's the 1.5-kilometre Rotary walk around the edge of the lake, ideal for families with bicycles.

There are several reserves around the lake's shore and the Hume Murray Food Bowl farmers' market, held in Wodonga every second Saturday, is a great place to stock up on picnic supplies. There you'll find smoked and fresh trout; locally grown Murray cod, quail, rabbit and beef; Rutherglen lamb, olives and olive oil; fruits and nuts; rich Milawa cheeses and breads; shiraz-filled chocolates; quince paste; decadent Gundowring Ice-Cream; and Tabletop figs.

Travellers looking to add to the lakeside experience could head to Albury Art Gallery, which shows many of Russell Drysdale's finest works, specialist photography collections, works on paper and Chinese, Tibetan and Pacific Basin artefacts and prints.

Nearby, the Albury LibraryMuseum has an interesting permanent exhibition named Crossing Place - A Story of Albury, which traces the area from the time of the Wiradjuri people - the land's traditional owners - to today.

The Bonegilla Migrant Experience, 12 kilometres from Wodonga and close to Lake Hume, has the excellent Block 19 exhibition, a tribute to the 320,000 migrants who passed through the reception and training centre in 1947-71.

The Hume Weir, too, has an interesting history. Work started in 1919 using horse power, steam engines and manual labour. It was completed 17 years later at a cost of $11.1 million. You can no longer walk across the top of the dam but the spillway lookout has great views and a historic marker recalling the crossing of the Murray by explorers William Hovell and Hamilton Hume, after whom the lake was named.

A favourite pastime among locals is paddling down the Murray in a canoe or a lilo. It's possible to paddle from the base of Lake Hume to Noreuil Park in Albury. Canoe hire is available from Murray River Canoe Hire in Albury and canoes are delivered to just below the dam wall.

This summer, I might even venture out in a canoe again. Last time, I dropped the oar and had to swim to shore but, this time, I won't scrape my knees on the rocks.

FAST FACTS

Getting there

Albury is 550 kilometres, or a six-hour drive, from Sydney. It is serviced by Virgin Blue, Regional Express (Rex) and Qantas from Sydney. Lake Hume is 15 kilometres from Albury.

Staying there

All Seasons Albury Lake Hume Resort has 69 rooms with lake, garden and mountain views, a restaurant and sporting facilities. Motel-style rooms cost from $119 including breakfast and from $205 for a two-bedroom villa. Phone 6026 4444, see lakehumeresort.com.au.

Lake Hume Tourist Park has 25 self-contained cabins and camping facilities, a games room, pool and water slide. Phone 6049 8100, see lakehumetouristpark.com.au.

Wymah Valley Holiday Park has chalets and cabins, caravan and camping facilities, a pool, archery, a playground and tennis courts. Phone 1800 776 523, see aspenparks.com.au.

Across the border, the Boathaven Holiday Park has villas, cabins, powered and camping sites, a pool, tennis court, jumping castle, games room and volleyball court. Phone 1800 352 982, see aspenparks.com.au.

Eating there

At Sourcedining, chef Jodie Jones takes fresh regional produce to new heights. Source has one hat in the Good Food Guide. Phone 6041 1288, see sourcedining.com.

Q Food has casual dining with regional treats by well-known foodie Noelle Quinn, of Hume Murray Food Bowl. Phone 6021 1994, see qfood.com.au.

Electra Cafe has casual dining on Laminex tables and retro seats. Phone 6021 7200, see electracafe.com.au.

Green Zebra has casual dining and gourmet take-home dishes. The lemon tarts are sensational. Phone 6023 1100, see greenzebra.com.au.

Zo'i Espresso Coffee Roasters serves great coffee with a big roaster at the back of the shop. Phone 6023 6000.

Things to do

Hume Murray Food Bowl Farmers Market is held at the Gateway Village, Lincoln Causeway, Wodonga, at 8am-noon every second Saturday. Phone 6058 2996, see hmfb.org.

Murray River Canoe Hire runs half-day to five-day canoe trips on the Murray River. Canoes are delivered to convenient drop-off points. Phone 0417 691 339.

Lake Hume Hire has barbecue boats for hire, no boat licence required, that accommodate 12 people for $220 for a half-day, $330 for a day. Phone 0418 463 609, see lakehumehire.com.

The Bonegilla Migrant Experience has an exhibition called Block 19, which depicts life for more than 320,000 immigrants and displaced people who came in search of a new life from 1947 to 1971. Open 9.30am-4.30pm daily. Phone 6020 6912, see www.bonegilla.org.au.

More information

Gateway Visitor Information Centre, Lincoln Causeway, Wodonga, is open 9am-5pm daily. Phone 1300 796 222, see destinationalburywodonga.com.au.

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