Picture of a houseboat on the Murray River in South Australia

A houseboat cruises the Murray River in South Australia.

Photograph by David Wall, Alamy Stock Photo

Peter Turner

The Murray River is Australia’s longest river at approximately 1,500 miles (2,500 kilometers). Flowing from the Australian Alps to the windswept South Australian coast near Goolwa, its waters irrigate vast tracts of farmland. Only the last few hundred miles flow through South Australia, but this stretch has some of the country’s best scenery, through limestone gorges, past lagoons teeming with birdlife, and along riverbanks lined with majestic river red gums. Once a major route into the interior, hundreds of paddle steamers carrying wool, wheat, and supplies once plied the river. Now, old inland ports like Mannum and Murray Bridge harbor pleasure crafts. Houseboats provide an ideal way to unwind and explore the river, or take one of the many cruise boats, which can be rented just over an hour’s drive from Adelaide.

Map of South Australia

Houseboat Rental

Houseboats can be rented at Murray Bridge, Mannum, Blanchetown, Morgan, Waikerie, and Renmark, heading upstream in order. Only an unrestricted driver’s license is required to rent a boat, and you will be given a practice run, safety drill, and boating guide before you head off. Tie up to a tree on the bank at the end of the day and throw in a fishing line, bird-watch, swim, or just kick back. The river is popular with water skiers, kayakers, and other boats on weekends and holidays, but quiet backwaters can always be found. Some houseboats provide simple cabin-style comfort while others are more like upscale apartments on water, complete with spa baths and other luxuries. They range from one to six bedrooms, but bigger boats catering to families are more common. Minimum rental is usually three days. Most require you to bring your own food and drink, though some boats use local caterers who can stock up before you arrive.

Cruises

P.S. Murray Princess is the biggest and most impressive craft on the river. This purpose-built old-style paddleboat has the scaled-down trappings of an ocean liner, with six state rooms and 54 cabins with private facilities. It leaves Mannum on three-, four-, and seven-day cruises and includes winery, farm, wildlife, aboriginal, and other tours. The similar but smaller Proud Mary runs two- and five-day tours out of Murray Bridge.

Day trips are also very popular. A few of the original paddle steamers still operate and run irregular trips, including P.S. Marion, dating back to 1897. When not steaming on the river, you can board it at the Mannum Dock Museum to inspect the galley, lounges, and cabins. P.S. Industry is the pride of Renmark and dates to 1911. Moored next to the information center, it operates on the first Sunday of every month and other selected days.

Spirit of the Coorong has a modern boat running day trips from Goolwa to the mouth of the river and the Coorong National Park. The Murray River flows into Lake Alexandrina before finally emerging through the sand dunes to the sea in an area called the Coorong, an extensive lagoon network and important birdlife sanctuary.

TRAVEL TIPS

Bookings: For houseboat bookings, the Houseboat Hirer’s Association represents owners and has a complete rundown. Rates are seasonal, with late December and January school holidays the peak season on the river. Discover Murray is a useful booking site for cruises, houseboats, and accommodations.

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