Meandering along the Murray River, at a gentle 4 knots/hour, with a chorus of corellas, sulphur-crested cockatoos, pink and grey galahs and pelicans keeping watch from overhead or the riverbank – as a restful getaway, this house-boating gig is hard to beat.
Our group of four began the journey at Mannum, 82km east of Adelaide, leaving behind a wet and windy August in Perth for a pleasantly mild August in South Australia. We were prepared for cold and wet but we struck a perfect week, which showed off the mighty Murray at its best.
Swollen from consecutive floods, the Murray hasn’t been in such good nick for years. It’s an impressive river, stretching 2375km from the Australian Alps in New South Wales to Lake Alexandrina in South Australia. For most the part it wends its way through the inland plains of NSW, Victoria and SA.
Picking up the houseboat at Mannum, there were few restrictions … chug along wherever you like, stop wherever you like or where you can and return the houseboat back to the launch point when your hire period expires. Once you’ve paid the tariff (which varies depending on the number of berths and time of year, but expect around $1950 and $2500 for a 2-6 berth) you only have to pay for the fuel you use.
Mannum, itself, is worthy of a wander with a particularly interesting museum. The town was founded in 1840 and by 1852 was the centre of the Murray River transport system with the famous great paddle steamers plying goods and people along the river, opening up country to farming and the Gold Rush. There are some beautifully restored examples of river times past to be seen.
But the whole intention of this holiday was loafing it, not hoofing it, so it wasn’t long before the guidebook was ditched and the boat’s manual was front and centre. Truth is, sailing it is dead easy. You don’t need a skipper’s ticket and the houseboat drives like a brick so you have time to make a cuppa after turning the wheel and waiting for the boat to respond. The only trick is getting used to the outboard motors being your rudder and stopping mechanism.
And they are extremely comfortable. Bedrooms are situated at opposite ends with a bathroom of three star equivalent in the middle, some have an outdoor barbecue for long leisurely lunches and good kitchen facilities. At night, because there is literally nowhere else to go, movie nights and games nights are de rigueur.
As the houseboat putters along, every conceivable habitation from old shacks to new mansions line sections of the river, and then, in between, pristine nature is home to an extraordinary array of wildlife, especially birds of every shape and colour.
After a couple of days of eating, sleeping and drinking with the challenge of the odd board game left behind by previous houseboaters or a DVD, it’s good to pull up at any one of a number of jetties along the way or a patch of uninhabited river bank with a handy tree to jump out and stretch the legs. There are the occasional local kiosks, pubs and walkways along the way but mostly it’s self-catering, blissful isolation.
There are supermarkets at Mannum and Murray Bridge for supply shopping and some stores will deliver to your boat for a fee, while the boat vendors sell ice for the on-board Esky or firewood.
We went off-season in winter and it was picture perfect. However, the river is a known haunt for jet skis and power boats during peak holiday periods, so if you don’t want to add water sports to your holiday checklist and desperately want some peace and quiet, check out the cheaper off season.
How to get there
Most people will start their holiday from Adelaide. Some tour operators provide packages that take care of you between airport arrival and houseboat boarding (e.g. Unforgettable Tours put you on a bus at Adelaide airport, to tour the Barossa before your Mannum boarding www.murrayriver.com.au/mannum/houseboats/).
There are a lot of houseboat operators with a range of packages and prices. To get an idea of what’s on offer, get the booklet South Australian Houseboat Holidays from www.houseboatbookings.com, remembering they do not list some of the more competitive houseboat holidays, such as Kia Marina Houseboat Hire 8km north of Mannum.