As you approach SWAN HILL, the landscape changes – this is cattle and sheep country, with wheatfields further north. The Murray here is shallow and tricky to navigate, so there's not much river traffic. Swan Hill is a service centre for the pastoral industry and has a typically solid, conservative atmosphere. Surprisingly, it's quite a multicultural place, having ten percent of Victoria's Aboriginal population, and a large Italian community. The Pioneer Settlement is undoubtedly Swan Hill's main attraction, but while you're here, you could also visit the Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery (Tues– Fri 10am–5pm, Sat & Sun 11am–5pm; entry by donation; Web: www.swanhill.vic.gov.au/gallery ), which specializes in folk and Aboriginal art and has good touring exhibitions. The town's swimming pool on Monash Drive has several pools and a waterslide (Nov– March daily 11am–7pm; open for morning laps Mon, Wed & Fri 6–8am; $2.80). Next to the train station you can't miss the fake thirteen-metre Murray Cod (built for a film), which doesn't really serve a purpose, but amuses tourists.
Swan Hill's Pioneer Settlement, a reconstruction of a pioneering community at Horseshoe Bend about 1km south of the train station, was the first of its kind in Australia and is still one of the best (daily 9.30am–4pm; $22.60; combination ticket for settlement, sound-and-light show and PS Pyap Cruise $45.20; Web: www.pioneersettlement.com.au ).
In the settlement's streets many of the shops are functional – the baker, the printer, the haberdashery and the porcelain-doll shop – with assistants dressed in vaguely period costume. Generally, though, it's low-key and peaceful: buildings such as the barber's shop and the stock and station agents are open for you to wander around undisturbed, or you can pose for your own "wanted" poster at the print shop. You can go on rides around the settlement in a 1924 Dodge or for free on a horse-drawn carriage. In the evening, the sound-and-light show (nightly from dusk; $16.80) is strikingly effective.
The settlement is situated on the banks of the Marraboor River, a branch of the Murray, and a wooden bridge spans the river to Pental Island, which has an assortment of native flora and fauna. Otherwise, an old paddle steamer, the Pyap, cruises from the settlement upriver past Murray Downs every day at 2.30pm (1hr; $16.80), also 10.30am at weekends and public holidays.
The Swan Hill Visitor Information Centre, across the road from the train station, on the corner of McCrae and Curlewis streets (daily 9am–5pm; Tel:03/5032 3033 or 1800 625 373, Web: www.swanhillonline.com ), has a free map of the town giving detailed information on local attractions; it also sells tickets for the Pioneer Settlement, its sound-and-light show and the PS Pyap cruises. Parks Victoria at 324 Campbell St (Mon– Fri 8.30am–5pm; Tel:03/5036 4829) can provide you with information on camping in the nearby Nyah and Vinefera state forests.
There's a strip of motels, all with swimming pools, along Campbell Street, where almost all the town's facilities are located. The most luxurious of the lot is the Sundowner Swan Hill Resort at no. 405 (Tel:03/5032 2726, Web: www.swanhillresort.bestwestern.com.au ; Price: $131-160), which has an indoor and outdoor pool and spa, gym and other sports facilities. The Paddle Steamer Motel on the Murray Valley Highway, 3km south of the centre, has very good facilities and is much cheaper (Tel:03/5032 2151, Web: www.paddlesteamermotel.com.au ; Price: $76-100). Also good value and much closer to the centre is Jacaranda Holiday Units at 179 Curlewis St (Tel:03/5032 9077, Web: www.jacarandaholidayunits.com.au ; Price: $76-100). The Riverside at 1 Monash Drive (Tel:03/5032 1494, Web: www.swanhillriverside.com.au ; cabins Price: $76-100) is a good, centrally located caravan park right on the riverfront.
Swan Hill restaurants still demonstrate an Italian culinary influence. The best restaurant is Quo Vadis (open from 5pm daily), an authentic pizzeria at 255 Campbell St that serves mammoth portions of pasta (around $14), yet Java Spice at 17 Beveridge St (lunch Thurs– Sun, dinner daily except Mon) is also very good, serving spicy Thai cuisine in a great outdoor setting. A nice place for a cheap meal and a beer with the locals is the R.S.L. Club at 138 Curlewis St (daily lunch and dinner).