I spent all of my childhood years on a farm. I was blessed with infinite freedom and time to explore, and my wild imagination was unbound by nature. I played hide and seek on endless acres. I made cubby houses with forlorn branches in the peppercorn trees. I painted pictures in the harsh dirt. I climbed trees. I got prickles in my feet. I baked mud cakes and stone pies. I owned an abundance of secret hideouts. I ate sour grass. I hid from alien invaders in the bushes. I threw rocks. I smashed mickey melons for fun. I rode my stick horse for hours. And my untamed hair and dirty face blended with my unruly surrounds. I was a happy kid with a world of natural adventure right on my doorstep.
This farm upbringing was something I didn’t truly appreciate at the time (especially as a ‘socially deprived’ teenager forced to accompany her parents home early from parties in town), but something I now look back on years later with fond memories. Only a lucky few are blessed with such unlimited freedom in their own backyard, and my kids aren’t one of them. We live in town.
However, that doesn’t mean our town kids can’t experience bush play. Open spaces are at our fingertips in the country, and with a little extra effort and thought, our town kids can also be gifted with the benefits of bush or natural play without travelling too far. Evidence suggests that children who are exposed to nature are calmer, happier and more attentive – not to mention the numerous physical benefits – and many Australian Preschools are now even opting for a ‘bush kinder’ component in their early childhood programs.
We now live in a modern society encased by screens – it’s unavoidable – but making a concerted effort to balance this time with outdoor play definitely makes for happier kids. We were born to play in nature, so let’s get back to our roots.
A farm kid at heart – and attempting to replicate my own adventurous childhood– I am always scouting for new bush adventures for the kids (and adults) near Swan Hill. So I thought I’d share some of my favourites that I’ve stumbled upon. Kids have a limitless imagination, and sometimes the most unapparent spots are the ones they cherish the most. Therefore, never overlook a sparse piece of golden Mallee dirt in the middle of nowhere. It might appear dull from the outside, but you’ll need to get down and dirty to experience the real magic that is within.
So get your adventurous boots on, summon your inner child and check out six of our favourites within 30 minutes of Swan Hill…
- Woorinen Bush Reserve (10km)
Probably the most authentic bush experience for kids in Swan Hill, this natural Mallee oasis is tucked away behind the Primary School (accessed at the end of Bright Street) in Woorinen. The kids will ooze curiosity as they are lured down a mysterious track into the thick scrub via an enticing wooden arch titled ‘Mallee Bushland Trail.’
It is like déjà vu each time I cross that wooden threshold as my mind wanders to memories of hide and seek, sardines and tedious battles of goodies and baddies that ended only as your mum or dad called ‘tea’ at sundown.
While meandering your way through a collection of tangled ‘choose your own adventure’ trails that lead away from civilisation (refrain from the car sized tracks if you want the real bush experience), the kids won’t know what to expect next. And if you keep your eyes focused on the scrub, you might even find the remnants of a hand-made cubby house; camouflaged in the surroundings. If not, venture off the beaten track and you will discover a vast range of sticks and dense bush to create your own.
With a range of bush tracks in all directions, some nifty little bike jumps and a large area of bush to explore (no more than 1km each way) – riding, walking or running would all be enjoyable. Beware of our slithering friends in the warmer months though.
2. Back Boga Road (5-10km)
If you’re a keen motorbike or mountain bike rider you will know about the off-road single track that takes you right out past the airport along the side of Back Boga Road.
Sometimes, when the kids and I want to partially escape civilisation without travelling far, we drive out Back Boga Road until we reach the end of the bitumen. From there we continue on Back Boga Road a couple of kilometres until we see a slight embankment on the right side of the road and an old house in the distance. This is where our exploring begins, but you could choose any location along Back Boga Road.
This is one of those spots – with its single dirt track running parallel to the road, sparse bushland and a small embankment that is barely noticeable – that you would take little notice of in your daily commute. But to a child (particularly a Mallee kid with no perception of ‘real’ hills) it is a place of wonder. It can be anything their mind desires.
One my kid’s first day here they enjoyed climbing Mt Everest with a rope they discovered in the bushes. They lived in a house at the foot of the mountains. And they went exploring along the treacherous tracks for food. What a day!
3. Nyah/Vinifera Forest (25-30km)
This forest jewel follows the Murray River all the way from Vinifera to Nyah, and then stretches all the way to Wood Wood. And what a contrasting landscape it is; from the barren paddocks with little vegetation; to dense green forest and an abundance of native wildlife such as kangaroos, kookaburras and lizards.
You can find many incredible locations through the forest, but we like to take a right turn at Vinifera where Australia’s first rice farm sign is located. We follow that track for a few kilometres until we meet the river, and once we are in the thick of the forest, we park the car and go exploring.
Getting off the designated track you will find a wealth of fallen trees to balance on and old hollow stumps to climb and hide amongst. The kids will also love throwing sticks and rocks in the river when they finish- all while they are being laughed at by kookaburras.
So pack a picnic, bring the bikes, and prepare yourself for a day of fitness, adventure and creativity in the forest. You will feel like you’re a lifetime away.
4. Dead Horse Lane (3-5km)
This one is the closet of all to Swan Hill, but like Back Boga Road, when you are after a last minute ‘nature’ fix, this will be sufficient. If your kids are behaving like wild caged animals, round them up and take them to the Dead Horse Lane/Moar Road intersection and let them loose in the bush.
On one side of the intersection is a great expanse of scrub with little tracks to run up and down on. And on the higher side are some great ditches that provide a cleansing mud bath after a winter rain; the ideal outing to pack your gumboots. But don’t forget a change of clothes.
An hour or two of exploration in nature’s playground is guaranteed to calm their minds and flush out all that negative energy before returning home.
5.Lake Tuchewop (30km)
After a recent hot tip from a friend and a couple of motorbike enthusiasts in town, we stumbled on this hidden gem (and one I’m reluctant to share) that even the dads will appreciate. I recently dragged an unwilling husband out here and he was ready for more action the following weekend with his own mountain bike.
If you thought there were no hills near Swan Hill, you need to visit the back of this unique little salt lake – located just past Lake Boga. Its position is of little significance. There are no signs; only a small track that leads up to a gate just off the road.
At first visit, I thought ‘is this it?’ With little more than a salt lake and a hill that leads down to the water’s edge it wasn’t exuding potential. But when I delved deeper and decided to venture through the gate, about 200m down the dirt car track I stumbled on a single track that veered to the right. For a scenic stretch of 4km (8km return) there is a hidden track that takes you up and down a diverse range of hills and steep drop-offs. And the best bit, you usually get the entire place to yourself.
Bring a bike, walk or run, and you will have fun conquering the unrelenting hilly track that curves its way behind the lake. Every corner is enticing and no matter how old your kids are, they will be begging for the action to continue. And the best bit; they’ll be pleading to go to bed that night.
6. Wakool River (30km)
In March we wrote a piece about our mountain bike adventures at the Wakool River; another great space for kids to explore. Follow the link to our previous post The Trail Tales: The Watchful Wakool to find out more.
So next time your bored offspring are on the brink of forcing a ‘for sale’ sign upon the neighbour’s house, let them free in a bush environment. After a stint in nature’s playground to clear their mind, stir their imagination and run them ragged, all their misdemeanours will be erased. Nature is therapy for the soul.