Rockford Paddle Steamer Cruise, Mannum – July 2019

August 11, 2019

We love to drink Rockford wines. I think most people know that. When I heard about a cruise that members may be able to participate in, on a weekend that is hosted by Rockford, I made a point of trying to get on board. Well, got on board I did, with a two year wait.

So fast forward two years and the time finally came. Before getting a berth on the P.S Marion, a 1897 steam paddle boat, I did not really think much about being on an original paddle steamer. I was just excited about all the Rockford I would be privileged to be drinking that whole weekend.

Once I was able to, flights to Adelaide was booked and accommodation in Mannum was also booked. I did not know much about the logistics of this trip, if you are a first timer on this trip, I found the organisers at Rockford extremely helpful. Ask them anything and everything, no matter how minor, they will provide you with so much helpful information.

So, as for helpful information, here’s our journey. Even though we did not need to board the P.S Marion until 4:00pm on the Friday, we thought we would play it safe by arriving on the Thursday, explore a bit and then meander to the boat the next day. As it turns out, our flight was grossly delayed so it was just as well we arrived in Adelaide the day before.

Now that we have some time to meander around the day before and much of the day of boarding, we had about three choices. To stay in Adelaide for the night, then drive out to Mannum the next day, stay in Tanunda and do some winery sampling or stay in Mannum. We thought we would take a hire car and drive out to Mannum so we’re already there and whilst we’re there, check out this little town.

Mannum was decided, now, where to stay? Mannum is a town with under 3000 permanent residents; so don’t expect any flash accommodation. There are a couple of pubs, a caravan park and a motel. The caravan park accommodation was recommended by Rockford as they have had guests enjoyed their stay there, however we chose to stay at the Mannum Motel.

We did not really know what to expect at the Mannum Motel besides the obvious comfortable accommodation with ensuite it showed on their website. After all, it was only for one night so it really didn’t matter as the paddle steamer had single bunks in each cabin with shared toilet and shower facilities anyways.

Upon arrival, it was as expected for motel accommodation in a small town. The room was spacious and the ensuite was sufficient. What was a lovely surprise was the Rockford they served in their café and the delicious food. Not to mention their extremely warm hospitality. We were also treated on this evening to 16 elderly ladies all dressed in cat costumes having their pre-show dinner before they attended the theatre production of Cats. That evening’s experience with the festivities of the locals, copious amounts of Rockford wines and delicious meal really made our evening in Mannum. Tip: we absolutely recommend saying here and enjoying their hospitality.

We managed to get a late check out for the next day and tried to hunt for breakfast before checking out. We were unsuccessful in our exploration for breakfast treats so we returned to the Mannum Café for breakfast. This did not disappoint. We have been told that the Mannum Bakery is good, however if you are not interested in baked goods then eat at the Mannum Café, it was delicious. P.S we discovered they bake their own bread, this was really quite a treat.

After we checked out, we ventured for some sightseeing. Coming from Perth, a car ferry was not something we are privy to. So on the ferry we go (there are two ferries, one that runs 24 hours and the other 12 hours). We crossed the Murray in our car and ventured to the waterfalls and Murraybridge. I must say, that before we did, we did drive around a bit to check out the local scenery. What surprised us was the amount of fairly majestic houses and riverboats on and a street or two from the Murray. It does seem that people like to either live on the Murray on their riverboats or in very comfortable houses with majestic views of the Murray. We did see some wonderful front yards on some of these properties which bought smiles to our faces. And of course the views were incredible….ahhh the serenity it seems of living here…

Like any tourist, we Googled the top things to see and do in Mannum and we ticked them off. Murraybridge was a much larger town of about 20,000, we did not do much there but to pick up some personal supplies at the local shopping centre. We did not find a jam donut anywhere in all the bakeries that was in this town (only because my travel friend had a craving for a plain jam donut).

So, with all the sightseeing done, tummy still full from our amazing breakfast, we parked ourselves at Pretoria Pub for a couple of beverages whilst we waited to board the paddle steamer. We enjoyed a couple of coldies by the fire and before you know it, it was time to board for our adventure ahead.

Time to board. Our host was extremely hospitable. To the point where he’d suggested the boat will never leave without us once he’d registered our attendance, so whilst we wait for the other guests, we ventured off to the pub (or in our case the Mannum Motel Café) for a drink whilst we waited for the bar to open. The bar wasn’t opening for another hour so did ventured off to the Mannum Motel across the street to share a bottle.

Once the luggage was on board our cabins, the bar was open and the cars were stored at their secured compound, it was dark. We enjoyed a few beverages on the mid and top decks awaiting dinner service. Dinner was to be served before too long and all gathered in the dining room for the start of what was to come over the weekend.

Dinner was a sumptuous four course meal accompanied with offerings of Rockford wines. I think it was the anticipation of the trip to come or the one or two pre-dinner beverages I’d enjoyed as, soon as the last main course was served, I’d retired to my cabin for a good night’s rest….whilst others enjoyed all the first night’s festivities.

Once I’d become accustomed to my lodgings and prepared my bed to be snuggly warm with the extra blankets offered, I climbed into my top bunk and blissfully snoozed off…..whilst unbeknownst to me the boat gently chugged along the Murray.

At some point of the night, the steamer stopped chugging and moored. I only discovered this when I got up in the middle of the night with the need to visit the bathroom. At this time, my husband did too. We both surveyed a majestic pelican gently floating by the boat, amongst the mist above the water enjoying the peacefulness of the night. It was cold, the bathroom was cold. From memory, we did what we needed to do as quickly as possible and climbed back to our warm bunks, falling back to sleep just as quickly. Tip: the organisers did recommend that you can bring on board your hot water bottle that the kitchen will fill for you for your bed. Even me, being the coldest person I know (I sleep with three doonas) did not need it. There were extra blankets in your cabin which I did use but found I was well and truly warm enough throughout the night. Perhaps it had something to do with the steam coming through.

To say these cabins were snug is a bit of an understatement. To give you a realistic perspective, you would really struggle if you were generous in girth or height. My husband is 6ft 3in, so his head could touch the wall and his feet would touch the other. In saying that, my hopes for him to sleep in the top bunk was never going to be possible, however he did say he did sleep fairly comfortably on both nights on the wider bottom bunk. Luckily for both of us, my stature is far less than his so we managed to navigate getting ready quite well if we allowed one of us to sit on our bunk whilst the other do what they needed to do….or step outside. This challenge was a minor sacrifice for all that we enjoyed during this cruise.

Tip: There are limited power points on this boat and none in the cabins, so I suggest anyone that needs to use a hairdryer would pose a problem, unless you used it in the toilet (some toilets had them). So this means charging your phone would also be an issue. Most of us found power points in the common areas so we plugged in where we could and took turns. Next time, we will bring a charging pack for our phones. That being said, there is not always connectivity depending where you are on the river.

On our cruise, whilst it was cold, on our trip, it was not rainy nor windy and at times the sun provided some welcome warmth on your bones. So plenty of warm clothing is recommended.

Although it was cold, the cabins were warm and more than comfortable. That said, as mentioned before, it was not rainy nor windy on our trip. Tip: If you are a light sleeper and you are not on the top tier (there are three levels of cabins), then you will be subject to walking noise from the levels above. “Acoustics”, remember this is 130 year old vessel with single ply timber walls and ceilings where the cabins are not insulated so you will hear the activities and all the goings on around you. I suggest that if you are a light sleeper, you should bring earplugs or similar aids to assist you with sleeping.

Now that I have spilled the beans on some of the somewhat challenging aspects, let’s talk about all the fantastic aspects of this indulgent experience. At first we were not sure about whether all beverages were included. Let me assure you that they served plenty of beverages but enough so you did not overly consumed….well for those of us that are two pot screamers, let me tell you, even though at times we wanted more, we really did not need more.

So, the food and beverage service were as follows:

On the first night, you can board at 4:00pm so you can load your baggage and get yourself organised, get your boat bearings. Then the bar opens at 5:00pm. You are offered Rockford wines, beers, a sparkling and various spirits for a few hours before dinner.

The four course dinner consisted of bread rolls, bone marrow butter, swordfish carpaccio, pappardelle carbonara, confit lamb with white onion soubise & peas, sides of roasted root vegetables and dessert of strawberries & cream. The pappardelle was paired with the 2012 Eden Valley Riesling, the lamb was paired with the 2010 Rifle Range Cabernet Sauvignon and dessert was paired with the 2010 Cane Cut Semillon. Not too shabby for our first experience on the P.S Marion. As mentioned, I retired fat and happy even though I did forgo dessert.

The next morning, it seems we have some early risers. The boat leaves the dock early and begins to steam up river. The scenery along the Murray is truly spectacular so no wonder some of us raised early to enjoy the spectacles. Breakfast is a small buffet of pancakes, smoked salmon & cream cheese on baguette with tea and coffee. We all leisurely enjoyed a bite to eat and some chit chat before the 10:30am brunch.

To say we were excited about what brunch had to offer was again being indulgent as we were not hungry but looked forward to what they were going to showcase in terms of food and wine. They did not disappoint.

First up, the 2019 White Frontignac was waiting for you when you sat down. The first course was creamy scrambled eggs with shaved truffles on brioche. The next courses were of Moreton Bay bugs (yabbies’ were not available so the kitchen used what they could get, not that this was a bad substitution at all), duck breast, carrot, sorrel, native currants and Iberico ham fried sage with black olive where served to share. They were paired with the 2018 Frugal Farmer and 2012 Moppa Springs. Tell me this does not have your tastes buds watering!!?? Brunch was finished off with ruby grapefruit, dulce de leche and marigolds. My friend with allergies to shellfish enjoyed a lovely serve of pork belly with a variety of roasted tomatoes.

Tip: if you have food allergies and dietary requirements, they are meticulous in ensuring you are well catered for.

So, whilst we were brunching, the P.S Marion cruised along the Murray to moor at an idyllic spot where they made a fire on shore so we can stretch our legs or sit by the fire to chew the fat. And chew the fat we did with our newfound friends. At 4:00pm, afternoon high tea would be served on shore.

High tea was cheese, charcuterie and an array of sweets with tea and coffee. By the fire, amongst the secluded vista in Purnong along the Murray. Some napped, some took the opportunity to take a long walk and some of us just enjoyed the open fire and conversations with newfound friends.

Dinner that night was a black tie affair. Believe it or not we even managed to get an hour’s shuteye before dinner. Which is highly recommended.

Pre-dinner drinks started at 7:00pm. I must say, everyone looked gorgeous. Men in their various selection of bag of fruit and ladies dressed to the nines. It’s so nice to see a bunch of strangers all getting into the mood of the night. Spoons of kangaroo tartar with macadamia cream were served with drinks and delicious mouthfuls they were.

We were greeted at our table with a tall glass of 2003 Black Shiraz in a specialty glass made by a glass artisan. Our dinner consisted of cured salmon, apple, barilla; polenta, asparagus, egg, parmesan; Murray cod, mussels, squid ink wafer; Nomad chicken, speck, porcini, heirloom carrots; Wagyu beef, spinach, black garlic and celeriac. Our meal was paired with 2012 Vine Vale Riesling, 2005 Moppa Springs and 2005 Basket Press.

Old Barossa V.S Tawny was paired with dessert of caramelized apple with salted caramel and mascarpone. And since the fire on the shore was still simmering (which they offered to stoke some more for any after dinner revelers), we were offered more port to enjoy on shore (by throwing a few more logs on the fire) to finish off our evening. Some of us retired as we have had more than we could envisage. Some of us enjoyed port and cleansing ales by the fire before they succumbed to food and wine coma. And…some apparently enjoyed the evening till 4:30am!!

We are now on our homeward stretch and heading towards the end of our indulgent weekend which was about to finish. We woke the next morning to a divine mini breakfast spread of French toast topped with various mushrooms drizzled with maple syrup and granola with tea and coffee. Brunch was set at 11:00am so we can enjoy our last meal on board whilst the P.S Marion meandered back to our port in Mannum. Time for some of us was spent doing a quiz out of the Adelaide weekend paper with half the passengers or wandering around deck whilst taking in all the amazing views that were on offer. This really is a spectacular part of Australia we had never experienced before and were excited to see more of. And what a fitting end to our experience it was. We can feel the excitement of what’s to come but a tiny bit sad at the same time. Our indulgent feasting was about to end until we can get on board again….which would not be, for most of us, for another two or three years’ time.

Brunch had a glass of 2018 Alicante Bouchet spritzer waiting for us when we sat down. We started with the mouthwatering chicken croquettes paired with 2017 Eden Valley Riesling. Followed by a salad of a variety of beetroots with goat’s cheese, Kingfish sashimi and Goolwa pipis, nduja and blood orange. My goodness, to say we were all lipsmacking for more was an understatement. The pre-finale was pork loin, scallops, fennel and popcorn paired with 2009 Rod and Spur Shiraz Cabernet. Our taste buds and palats were definitely overwhelmed, not to mention the delectable company we enjoyed with the new friends we’d made on this trip. Our meal was finished off with whipped brie and honey. Some enjoyed this last flavour of our trip with tea and coffee. We savoured the moment with the last of our Rod and Spur.

The inevitable time came for us to depart and leave our home for the last few days. Our party ventured to our accommodation for the night at the Mannum Motel and promptly decanted a couple of bottles of Rod & Spur and Basket Press. Again, I must reiterate the gracious hospitality of the staff at the Mannum Motel. They were as excited to see and serve us as we were to enjoy their offerings of Rockford.

To say we enjoyed a few bottles of Rockford to reminisce our weekend’s adventures is really an understatement. It was so nice meeting like-minded people who enjoy the same things you do. We sat together sharing our experiences over lovely wine and then over more wine and dinner at the local pub (The Club) down the road. Whilst some of us retired after dinner, some of us even managed to solidify friendships by pub-crawling in sleepy Mannum on a Sunday night.

We travelled with our best friends so our adventure was always going to be a great experience. However the bonus for all of us was meeting amazing people during this trip. And to not only share our magnificent experience amongst ourselves; we were able to share it with our new found friends. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not promising that you will find new found friends like we did but wow, for us, it just made an incredible experience even more magnificent.

On an end note, the next morning, we checked out, drove to Adelaide to have a bite to eat before we got on our flight home. On recommendation from a local foodie (as most places are closed on a Monday), was My Kingdom of a Horse. Once we found it, this place did not disappoint. All of us enjoyed a sumptuous brunch before we boarded our flight home.

On an end end note, our new found friends took time to spend a day in McLaren Vale before they headed back to their home in Victoria. Perhaps on our next trip, we may take a leaf from their book and take a few days to explore the Barossa and then at the end of an indulgent trip, to end their trip on an even more indulgent note is to finish it off with an even more indulgent experience in another region of the South Australian wine region….Hahndorf, Clare Valley anyone???

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