Adelaide, South Australia – October 1999

Houseboat Cruise on the River Murray

River Mist

The River Mist

Initially, the most difficult part is the organization viz., to find a compatible group of people committed to paying upfront for a wonderful few days relaxful cruising. Our group consisted of 8 people (3 men and 5 women, including a married couple).

Andrew and Debbie White at Kingston-on-Murray have a successful business hiring out luxury houseboats, the size of an average house, to city tyros wanting to cruise the river.

“Nothing to it” informs Andrew.

So we appointed Richard as skipper and went for a shakedown cruise down river, under Andrew’s tutelage.

“Stay in the middle of the river – keep to the right (starboard?) when passing other boats. Follow the river charts. To moor for the night head into the chosen bank and put both motors in reverse. Tie the mooring ropes to trees (4 preferably). To reverse out first give 3 hoots on the horn to warn other boats.”

Simple enough it seemed.

With these basics under our belts, we dropped off Andrew and headed confidently upstream at about 6 kms/hour, to find our first mooring before dusk. At an earlier meeting organized by impresario Chrissy, we had arranged for each couple to be responsible for cooking one evening meal, thus leaving the others to amuse themselves and become aquainted.

Cruising the following days took us to Loxton (52 kms) and back, our position on the river (distance from mouth in kms) being given by signposts. A typical log entry is as follows:

09.40 am – marker 468

10.00 am – marker 470

10.15 am – Wildlife! cows!

10.20 am – marker 472

10.45 am – Jon’s hair caught alight …..

12.45 pm – moor at Loxton, etc

We sat in deck chairs viewing the scenery and reading books while Richard et al. drove the boat. Barbara with binos and bird book, assisted by Richard, Peggy and Jon identified our feathered friends. Ubiquitous pelicans vied with cormorants to plunge into the water for a feed.

High in the tree tops, we saw whistling kites feeding young on their scruffy nests. Our boat was home to a group of swallows who had nests in the pontoons (they got a ride to Loxton). Then there were egrets, umpteen rosellas, and each morning we woke to the raucous laugh of kookaburras.

Madam Jade paddlewheeler chugs past

Madam Jade paddlewheeler chugs past.

Being midweek we had the river almost to ourselves, only the side-paddlewheeler “Madam Jade” chugged past one morning. We stopped at Moorook landing to buy newspapers and so assess the situation in East Timor. Some other houseboaties here informed us of their success in fishing for redfin (English perch) and callop (silver perch) and displayed a big carp.

Life of the party was Jon whose hair and eyebrows got singed due to a tardy lighting of the gas oven. However, hairdresser Gabriella expertly provided a prolonged trim, one hair at a time (the scissors were very small). Chrissy discovered a Red Cross Op-Shop in Loxton and bought a nautical outfit and some duck eggs. Allano gave up fishing after capturing an enormous carp on bread paste.

Dawn on the Murray, with pelican.

Swimming the river was confined to dog Jarrah who fetched sticks from a great distance. Evenings were a time for reading, Scrabble and Bridge. Pam explained the intricacies of bidding and was thrilled to get a small slam in clubs. Ladies did embroidery. Everyone was fascinated by Peggy’s showy multi-colored nails which matched her needlework.

Allano’s Stilton cheese was viewed with dismay and finally relegated to outdoors, after a spell in the freezer to quell its spontaneous combustion. Richard’s barbecue dinner was a great success although Barbara objected to eating grilled kangaroo, our national emblem.

How did it all feel?

We each took spells at the wheel. It was like driving the “Queen Mary” – it took 5 seconds or more before any slight change in direction was discernible. There was no shortage of advice to the captain – “you’re going too close to the bank – watch out for that log – isn’t that an island?”

Not once did I think of Adelaide and the city bustle. We were completely absorbed by the grandeur of the river. We intruded into the private domain of the river birds – huge pelicans and sinister cormorants glided around us dive-bombing the river, or greeted us from their favorite perch.

The river banks were either shallow with reeds or deep with a grassy shore studded with towering gum trees to whose gnarled and twisted trunks we moored the boat. Jon and I were relegated to tie and untie the boat while Richard controlled the engines. Each new spot gave us the opportunity to stroll the countryside to admire the stately gum trees with their gaudy rosellas and finches. Dusk and dawn were the best times. Brilliant red sunrises depicted black silhouetted pelicans gliding on a red sea.

Our cruise was a great success. You must try it sometime.

Cemetery Brunches?

My travel companion Chrissy’s idea of having a breakfast stop at a country cemetery initially seemed rather macabre, a feeling reinforced when I spotted some tombstones having my family name!

Brunch in Strathalbyn Cemetery

Brunch in Strathalbyn Cemetery

However, she insisted, and now we regularly seek out such spots to have brunch (breakfast cum lunch) when traveling by car in the countryside. We get out the barbie, deck chairs, picnic table and cook up bacon, eggs and tomatoes.

Cemeteries are often picturesque, well-sited, peaceful and much interesting historical information can be gleaned from reading the tombstones. Recommended is Sevenhill cemetery overlooking the grapevines of the Clare Valley and the Strathalbyn cemetery is pretty good.

General Info Section

Getting About the Countryside

Visitors can rent a car, or more economically, make use of public transport – Yes, buses go everywhere, almost.

Popular tourist destinations are the focus of organized tours which are a “no hassles” way of seeing things. The choice of tours is mind-boggling. The South Australian Travel Centre can advise on tours.

You can visit places further afield by bus. Refer to the StateGuide for country bus services, which has route maps and timetables, and is available from the InfoCentre located on the corner of King William and Currie Streets.

Big River Country

An adventure on the River Murray is compulsory for all visitors to South Australia. Our “Mississippi River” has a great history. It was discovered and navigated by the inland explorer Sturt whose party left Sydney in 1829 and followed the river to the sea.

River trade by paddle steamer helped develop sheep stations and other farming last century. Nowadays, freight transport is by truck and river boats cater for tourists. It is navigable for 1000 kms. In the South Australian section there are 6 weirs with locks to enable boats to reach 19 meters above sea level.

Budget Accommodation

Unique backpacker accommodation is found at the ‘Murray River Queen‘ paddle steamer, moored at the river port of Goolwa. Up river and frequented by fruit pickers is the Berri Backpackers Resort.

There are 16 Caravan Parks in the region that have on-site caravans, cabins and camping areas (See Caravan & Camping Guide Booklet obtainable from SA Travel Centre). All along the river are free camping areas that become crowded in the summer.

For general accommodation check the Murray River website and individual town websites.

On The River

Available at major ports are short duration paddleboat trips of half hour ($6) or 1 to 2 hours ($15 to $20). At Mannum is based the “Murray Princess“, a 3 deck stern paddlewheeler and largest on the river (67 meters long and 15 meters wide) and the equally impressive “Proud Mary“. Both paddleboats do 2 day, and 5 or 6 day, luxury cruises. (Cost ca. $350pp twin share for 2 nights and $825pp twin share for 5 nights on the “Murray Princess”).

Houseboat Cruising

Want to drive your own boat? Each river port has houseboats for hire.

The cost for our trip on “River Mist“, which has 5 cabins sleeping 10, was $950 hirage for 4 nights (off season; normally $1200), leaving Kingston-on-Murray at 2pm Monday and returning 9am Friday.

In addition, a bond of $600 is paid before starting which is refunded on return less fuel expenses. Linen is provided, bring your own food and grog, etc. We used 250 liters of gasoline costing $240.

For our group of 8 people, total cost was about $165 each for 4 nights luxury accommodation and cruising. (1 Oz dollar = US 64 cents)

The Author

Allano Taylor

You can visit Allano’s web site by clicking here.

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