Floating through South Australia

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A good friend of mine recently decided to celebrate his 40th birthday by booking a houseboat on the Murray River and inviting seven of us to come along for the ride.

The Murray River is Australia’s longest, running through 3 states from the Australian Alps to its mouth at the South-eastern end of the Indian Ocean. Our adventure started at the small town of Murray Bridge, about an hour from Adelaide, and we began at the supermarket.

Our group had hired a 6 bedroom, 6 bathroom, self drive boat for 5 days. Given we were heading up the creek into the wilderness we needed to do a big shop, enough food for 8 people, 3 meals a day. Plus plenty of wine, cheese and chips for the evening happy hour! 

We headed to the marina and our boat “Great Escape”, an impressive looking vessel with large lounge area, fully equipped kitchen, tidy bedrooms and a big sunbathing area with jacuzzi on the top deck. Two of our party were nominated to be Captain and 1st Officer and taken aside for a half hour lesson in nautical navigation and basic maritime law, while the rest of us unpacked the groceries and poured a drink.

Anyone with a car licence can drive the houseboats, the two main rules being don’t drive drunk and make sure you’re parked up before sunset. The boat putts along at about 7km per hour and most people average approx 4-5hrs of travelling a day. You can park almost anywhere up the river, point the boat at the bank, glide in until the front runs up on the mud, then jump off & tie the ropes to a nearby tree.

With the supplies onboard and our crew trained we pushed back and headed off up stream, mostly in a straight line but with a few zig-zags. It feels a big vessel when you’re trying to steer it up the river, taking about 10 seconds to react to any turn of the wheel or correcting any overturning! Our first challenge was to navigate under the large road and rail bridges which cross the river without hitting any of the pylons. I’m pleased to say that in our 5 days of travel we didn’t intentionally crash into anything.

We didn’t go far the first afternoon and so pulled into the bank at the Avoca Dell Park to pour ourselves a wine and start cooking some decent steak on the bbq.

Day two of the adventure started with a cooked breakfast before we pushed back and headed up the river. All of us took turns at driving, making sure we always had two people on the bridge (a corner of the lounge) while the rest relaxed on the top deck watching the scenery (and the odd boat) go past. 

The view changes from open landscapes, farm scenes, some rather expensive looking riverside houses, a few run down bachs and the impressive golden limestone cliffs. The river is wide and clean, there are no crocodiles so jumping off the back of the boat for a swim is gorgeously refreshing. 

We pass the town of Mannum where we have to giveway to the cable ferries that cross the river – give a toot at 500 metres and wait for the green light to proceed. About 4pm a few miles further up the river we find a nice looking bank and decide to pull in for the night. We’re in the middle of nowhere, there’s not a road, house or other boat in site, the weather is still, there’s a few ducks on the river and it’s just perfect. Top deck for wine, cheese and the sunset.

It’s much the same the next day, cruise a bit, pull in and relax for a while, cruise a little further, have a swim, have a wine, have lunch, have more wine, find a nice place to spend the night. It’s a peaceful and majestic holiday with plenty of space travelling at your own pace!

Of course what goes up the river must come back, so half way into the 3rd day we turned the boat around and started heading back down the river. We planned to get back to Mannum that day and it took a little longer than expected, the sun had well and truly set before we saw the lights of the town and a place to park. But we made it and just by chance pulled in right outside the local pub!  

The final day we cruised back to Murray Bridge and stayed on the boat in the marina for the night. The evening was a mix of trying to finish what was left of the booze and not having a hangover for our 6am pickup the next morning. And so we disembarked and headed back to Adelaide for our flight home to NZ.

It was a superb little holiday and highly recommended if you’ve got a group of friends who want to experience something a little different in an
iconic region of Australia.




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