Australia’s longest river is the Murray River. It begins as a small stream from the Australian Alps then flows through 3 states before entering the Southern Ocean at Goolwa and the Coorong. Along many stretches of the river in South Australia you will find communities, towns, holiday houses, shacks and places to camp, in free camp areas along the riverbanks or in caravan parks.
Another way to enjoy this magnificent waterway is to hire a houseboat and cruise along for however long you can spend and experience all the natural beauty that river life has to offer.
There are a number of towns in New South Wales and Victoria where you can hire houseboats, but South Australia has the most options available to do this.
Our trip began at Mannum, a river town less than 100 kilometres from Adelaide. A crossing by ferry and 10 minute drive up river takes you to Kia Marina where a fleet of 16 houseboats are moored and ready to take you away. The houseboats available range from 2 to 12 berth so you have the option of a couple’s holiday or sharing with friends. Personally I prefer at least 4 so you can share the driving, have help when it’s time to tie up to a bank in the evening and share yarns around a campfire at night.
Winter is a great time to plan a houseboat holiday because the river traffic is almost nonexistent, the morning fog on the river gives an ethereal feeling, the peace and quiet is tangible and you can have a campfire at night under a blanket of stars to bookend a perfect day.
The river at Mannum is wide and deep, with no locks to go through or difficult areas to navigate, so driving is a breeze and you only need a current drivers licence, not a boat licence. The marina manager even drives you out of the marina, after giving you full instructions, then at the end you park it outside the marina and they bring you back in again.
You can choose to go as far as you like in the time you’ve hired, providing of course that you leave enough time to get back to the marina again at the end of your time, but it’s such a lovely slow paced holiday that distance doesn’t matter. We have our own ‘Murray River Pilot’ which is basically a map book of the river with river marker numbers shown and facts along the way. All the houseboats have a copy too so that you know where you are navigating and trees along the river bank have large numbers posted on them approximately every 2 kilometres. This is truly the type of holiday where it is all about the journey, not the destination! As a guide though, in our 4 days we would have only travelled around 40 kilometres, from Mannum to Purnong, leaving from our overnight parks not too early each morning and stopping again by late afternoon to find a good spot suitable for easy parking, disembarkation and a campfire.
Oh and should you need supplies on the way, there is the settlement of Bow Hill (oops I kept calling it Bow River, too much wine and Cold Chisel!) where you can stock up on essentials and they do have a decent bottle shop supply at good prices too.
The River Murray is teeming with birdlife at the moment, there were more pelicans than I had seen gathered in one spot for a long time and there were plenty of other parrots, kites, shags and ducks to be seen during the day.
The fishing is always a challenge, there are plenty of different species to be found in the Murray but unfortunately the most commonly caught is the European Carp which is a pest, are inedible because of their muddy taste and are not allowed to be returned alive to the river. My fishing efforts therefore were more for the fun of it than to expect to catch some seriously good eating fish. I did manage to rid the Murray of 4 more Carp and caught 1 Callop, also known as a Murray Perch.
By far though one of the best reasons to have a winter holiday on the river would have to be the clear and bright starry nights with millions of stars to see, free from light pollution. A great time to practice your astrophotography or to just look up and appreciate how tiny we are in this vast universe and how lucky to have places like this to visit and enjoy.
The river at the moment is looking clean and fresh and by the end of winter, hopefully after this snow season in the Australian alpine areas, there should be a good flow all the way to the Southern Ocean.
Enjoy the rivers and waterways wherever you are in Australia and respect these beautiful places and ecosystems especially today, World Oceans Day, because all rivers lead to the ocean!