Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Banrock Station

View at Banrock Station
When we were in the Murray Lands we stopped in at Banrock Station, Kingston-on-Murray.  Banrock Station is best known for its wines, but we wanted to check out the hiking trails on the property.
When we arrived at the winery, we were a bit upset that we were going to be charged to explore the area.  Unfortunately, the cashier only quote us the fees for the trails,  and didn't bother to explain why we were being charged.  I was a bit confused about why we had to pay to walk around the flood plain of the Murray river.  In the end, we reluctantly coughed up $3.00 AUD per person, and hit the medium length trail.  Normally, would have gone for the longer trail, but it would have cost us more, and we weren't allowed to take our own food.  I felt I had already paid enough and was not going to be suckered into paying any more. So off we headed down the hill to the river plain.

Vineyard Meets River Plain
The bright green of the vineyard plants sharply contrasted with the dry landscape in the far distance. About half way down the hill we came across a mean looking feral fence.  I assumed that it's purpose was to keep the 'roos and rabbits out of the vineyard. However, I had to question why I had never seen such elaborate fences at the other wineries we had visited.   We were soon on the flood plain and, where water meets the land, marshes were formed.  We were able to explore a bit of this area on a meandering boardwalk but soon were informed we would have to turn back.  The problem: we hadn't dished out the additional $2 AUD.  So we headed back to the car park.  After some heated discussion--it was about 90 degrees out--we decided to eat a quick lunch in the car (they couldn't tell us what we could and couldn't do in our car--could they?), and go back into the winery for a tasting.  We weren't crazy about the idea of giving them more money, but we were interested in learning more about their wines.

Feral Fence
Our short time with our sommelier proved to be very informational.  However, it wasn't what we had learned about the wines that we found useful but rather the information she gave us about the site.
It turns out that since the mid 1800s the human impact on the Murray River has been significant.  Early pastoral grazing led to accelerated soil erosion and the elimination of the natural floodplain grasses.  The operation of Paddle Steamers on the River meant that thousand of local trees were felled for fuel.  Irrigation has caused a massive salinity buildup.  Finally, the construction of the Lock system has destroyed the natural drying/flooding cycle of the floodplain, which has lead to the demise of the wetland ecosystem.
After almost 150 years of misuse of the river and land, Banrock Station has become an environmental pioneer, returning a small section--1100 hectares of the Murray River--to it's original state.  Structures were built to let water flow in and out of the lagoon, which hadn't happened since 1925 when a lock was built next to the property preventing water from flowing out of the lagoon.  The re-creation of the dry cycle was essential for the breeding of native plants and animals. In addition to re-establishing the natural wet and dry cycles of the wetlands to the area, planting thousands of native plants and shrubs planted, and removing all domesticated animals, native fauna, including the near extinct bilby have been reintroduced to the property. I guess that extensive feral fence wasn't to protect the vines, but rather the cute bunny-like mammal.

Healthy Wetland Marsh
As I stood and listened to all of this information I couldn't help but feel cheated once again.  If I had known all of this before the hike I wouldn't have minded paying the fee and would have gone for the longer hike.  I also would have viewed my surroundings with much more appreciation.  Oh well, you can't win them all.  On the plus side, I am now an advocate for Banrock Station wines since part of proceeds from the sale of every bottle of wine go towards funding environmental projects around the world.  Given their environment commitment I will not whine about their wine--actually due to the similar climate their wines remind me of Spanish Wines which I happen to enjoy.


  1. Wow! I loved your descriptive style of writing.
    I have my best friend who studied there at Australia and he tells me all the amazing travel adventures..
    Googled up some blogs about Australia.
    Thank you for the beautiful writeup:)

  2. Hi Maya, it was so interesting to read about your experience here and about the history of the damage to this area. I think its great that proceeds from the sales of their wine go to help fund environmental projects in the world.

    Thanks so much for this wonderful post and for sharing your beautiful photos.

  3. Sorcerer, Thank you for the praise, I am glad you like my writing. I am sure your friend has some wonderful stories of travel adventures in Australia--it's a great place to explore.

    Kathy, it is amazing how much damage has occurred not only in Australia but all over the world. We are now buying Banrock wines because of their environmental practices.