The Historic River Port of Goolwa

Situated on the last bend of the mighty Murray River, the modern township takes it name from ‘The Goolwa’  the name of the deep water channel (like the Thames) that runs past her shore.

The river Port of Goolwa (and the south coast) has a remarkable & fascinating history as the birthplace of Australia’ paddle-steamer river-trade.   Located just over an hour’s drive from Adelaide, this unique position at the end of over 6,500km of river system was the obvious place for a port and is the perfect location for Australia’s own Vogalonga Down Unda.


With the region home to 18 local tribes (the Goolwa tribe was the ‘Tanganarin’), for thousands of years the first Australians used Goolwa (documented as ”Kulangath’) as a meeting and trading place, navigating across and travelling up and down the waters using bark canoes. You can still see a tree used for this purpose just north of the Clayton Bay intersection.

As a region where human-powered transport has been used for thousands of years Goolwa is again the perfect choice for the Vogalonga Down Unda.

Captain Charles Sturt

In 1829-30 Charles Sturt travelled down the unknown inland river system to discover where ‘all the rivers run’. His expedition vessel was a 20ft whaleboat, rowed and sailed here, with their last campsite in the sand hills just south of Goolwa. The land discoveries from this expedition are considered to be one of the main catalysts for the creation of the Province of South Australia.

So with the first ‘official’ Europeans to visit the region using a rowing boat, this again makes Goolwa the perfect choice for the Vogalonga Down Unda.

Lower Lakes

The waters that run past Goolwa originate from the immense Murray-Darling basin – over 6,500km of ephemeral waterways that wind across four Australian states;- South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.  Although the Goolwa waters originate from many rivers, the waters here are referred to as the Lower Lakes.

The waters here are fresh but originally Goolwa was connected directly to the ocean and, along with the Coorong, was a unique inter-tidal waterway.  The Lower Lakes sit over an ancient ocean floor, so the waters here are shallow with relatively little current.

With absolutely no dangerous marine creatures, the Goolwa waters are safe and protected, making it an ideal location for the Vogalonga Down Unda.

Paddle Steamers

In 1853 the first steam navigation of the inland rivers officially began right here at Goolwa. River trade was the first inter-state industry and transporting people, goods and the wool clip was incredibly important to the early expansion and growth of Australia. Remember that at that time it would normally take five days to travel from Adelaide to the South Coast!

You can still see the paddle-steamer PS Oscar W at the wharf and there are five shipwrecks along the Goolwa shoreline.  In 1878 there were 20 paddle-steamers and barges, including the Adelaide-Goolwa steamer the ‘Queen of the South’, all here at the Goolwa Wharf, impatiently waiting to load or unload cargo as there was simply not enough space at the dock for all of them at once.


There is plenty of local accommodation available for visitors and, if you do a little bit of research, you might even find yourself a place right on the water.

So with an ideal waterway and a remarkable history of marine ‘firsts’, Goolwa is writing a new chapter in its history with the Vogalonga Down Unda.

(Information provided by the SA Maritime History Cruise)