Thrills in river country

Craig Tansley flies a plane, wakeboards and kayaks during a fast-paced weekend break.

'T hink like a ballerina." I'm banking left and my nose is dropping rapidly, the Earth fills the windscreen where the horizon used to be. I feel more doomed World War II pilot than dancer.

"You might want to pull up a little," the instructor of the Tomahawk Piper says. I pull up, hard, and in seconds the Earth becomes the sky. "Gentle movements, like a ballerina," the instructor repeats. And then I'm flying, actually steering a plane, the controls are in my hands.

I bank left again, just because I can, and the mighty Murray River, brown and wide below us at Yarrawonga, fills the windscreen. "It's gotta be the best place in Victoria to learn to fly a plane," Jarden Aviation owner Jack Jarden says beside me in the cockpit. "Hardly get a day of bad weather 'round here."

I will hear this many times during the weekend - as I'm careering behind a speed boat at Echuca egged on by a three-time world waterski champion at 45 kilometres per hour ("... best place in Victoria to learn to wakeboard, hardly get a day of bad weather 'round here") to golfing at Yarrawonga ("... best place in Victoria for golf, hardly get a day of bad weather 'round here"). Even kayaking up-river near Lake Mulwala draws the same conclusions ("...best place in Victoria to kayak, you don't get much bad weather 'round here.")

Autumn here along the Murray, from the former riverboat trading hot-spot of Echuca to Yarrawonga, is said to be the best time to visit - but then it's also said to be the place to "wind down". I'd much rather step on the gas. For a weekend away, this part of Victoria has enough thrills to keep even the most active of adventurers happy. But it's the environment you'll chase your thrills in that will make the trip worth it.

Take wakeboarding, for example. Not only will you get towed behind a 330-horsepower boat driven by Brett Sands, a former waterskiing world champion, you'll also get to fill your sinuses with water each time you fall in the Murray River. "This is the best river to learn to waterski or wakeboard on," Sands says. "Look at it - not a ripple, there never is."

It's the world you ski through that makes this adventure memorable. River gums line the banks, weeping willows create a barrier between you and any sign of human habitation and a thousand galahs and cockatoos laugh from the trees as you bounce off the water. Up river, an hour-and-a-half or so, near Yarrawonga, you can slow down your experience on the Murray River with a kayaking tour. It's popular for watersports here; it has been since 1939 when the government created the largest irrigation system in the southern hemisphere and in doing so created a wildlife sanctuary that looks one part Florida Everglades and another part pure Aussie outback, complete with flooded gums, black swans and cockatoos.

When you're done playing on water, the Yarrawonga and Border Golf Club has 45 holes to play just beside the Murray River.

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But the highlight of my adventure weekend happens above the Murray; it's like I can finally fit in and fly the model aeroplanes I used to glue together in my bedroom.

I could've come for a weekend to Echuca and Yarrawonga and slowed down. But there's a hectic timetable for those who choose it - and, besides, when the speedboats stop, the planes land and the kayaks are lifted from the water, there's all the local food and wine you want.

Craig Tansley travelled courtesy of Tourism Victoria.

Brett Sands Watersports, Echuca, see brettsands.com, $140 for half a day; Jarden Aviation at Yarrawonga, see jardenaviation.com.au, $70 for 30 minutes; kayaking with Yarrawonga Outdoors, see yarrawonga outdoors.com.au, half day from $55; golf at Yarrawonga and Border Golf Club, see yarragolf.com.au, 18 holes from $40. See visitmurray.com.au.

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