It's a perfect afternoon. The sun is shining, the Mallee sky is cloudless, and the mighty Murray is flowing. Chris Durban, the owner of Mildura Houseboats, has just given up the wheel, and I am attempting to keep the ship sailing midstream.
It only takes a couple of minutes to get the hang of it and, as we continue upstream, it's easy to see why so many people choose a luxury vessel and spend a weekend on the water in this idyllic part of Victoria.
Chris points out the jetty for the Gol Gol Hotel.
"That's a popular mooring during the summer," he says.
"Everyone wants to stop there."
It's midwinter now and the river is quiet, our only companions during the short voyage are a few cormorants and other waterbirds. During summer, there are water-skiers, fishermen in tinnies and kids swimming near the banks. Luckily, there's plenty of room for everyone.
After the high-water event in late 2022, life now seems to have gone back to normal for the town, built in the late 1800s and now Victoria's food bowl, supplying the entire country with table grapes and citrus fruits.
"The joke is that you could plant a popsicle stick here and it would grow," says Alison Stone of Discover Mildura, who's taking us on a tour of the region and some of its best-known wineries.
At Cappa Stone Wines, winemaker Donna Stephens is pouring at the cellar door.
"We make all our wines the old-fashioned way with minimal handling," she says.
The grapes she uses are locally grown, including one Donna is particularly excited about, which comes from Alicante Bouschet vines. Few grow it and the vigneron hands over his crop each year. The result is a luscious dry red, perfect for a roast dinner.
The food in Mildura is exceptional. Start at the Sunraysia Farmers' Market on Saturday morning, where vendors sell fresh fruit and veg, wine, olive oil, bread and baked goods. Stefano de Pieri's eponymous restaurant is the city's best-known eatery, but you need to book way ahead to dine there.
Making a big name for himself is chef Matt de Angelo. The Province is Italian fine dining at its best. After scallop tortellini and the signature dish, braised goat with pearl barley, there's only just room for a dessert of almond chocolate cake with dark chocolate sorbet.
One of the most extraordinary areas to explore nearby is Mungo National Park, only a two-hour drive from Mildura. It's the resting place of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man, whose 40,000-year-old remains were found in 1969 and 1974, respectively. Then there's the famous lunette, a 30-kilometre-long sand dune that holds the secrets of the Paakantyi and Ngiyampaa people who lived here for millennia and are now the caretakers of the park.
When we arrive, it becomes clear coming on a tour with Phill Stone was an excellent choice. There's a boardwalk along the base of the lunette, but only people with an approved guide can go beyond that.
We traipse up the sand and through the craggy outcrops, before arriving where the earth is stained red and caramel. The colours, Phill tells us, were caused by the animal fats that dripped through fires during cooking. He then takes us to where he knows there are some fossilised fishbones and freshwater mussel shells, the leftovers from middens.
"The landscape changes every time it rains," he says.
IF YOU GO...
Mildura Houseboats has vessels, some of them pet-friendly, with 2-12 berths for all budgets - mildurahouseboats.com.au
Indulge Apartments has apartments and homes throughout Mildura's CBD - indulgeapartments.com.au
Discover what the river has to offer at visitthemurray.com.au
The writer was a guest of Murray Regional Tourism.