Australia's only river with a real tourism infrastructure is the Murray, located at the heart of the wheat and wine belt in the southern part of this vast continent. Named after a 19th Century British colonial secretary, Sir George Murray, the river stretches for more than 2,735 kilometres from just south of Adelaide to just south of the Australian capital, Canberra.
It wanders through three states (Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia). In its heyday of the late 1800s, more than 100 paddle steamers used it for transporting wool, wheat and other goods.
The third-longest navigable river in the world after the Amazon and Nile, the Murray is to Australia what the Nile is to Egypt.
The river has 15 navigable locks and thanks to a series of dams is as tranquil as a pond – the ultimate lazy river. A haven for more than 350 species of bird, it courses through real Outback territory.
A river cruise is a comfortable way to see the river, its unique flora and fauna (including emus, swamp hens, wood ducks, western grey kangaroos and red parrots) and its historic ports and Aboriginal homelands – all set against a backdrop of towering limestone cliffs, picturesque gorges, red gum forests and expansive farmland.
Key Stops On The Ultimate Lazy River
Starting in Mannum, a small and historic South Australian town 84 kilometres east of Adelaide, a typical seven-day river cruise will take in half a dozen river towns and pass through nine locks. Shorter three- and four-day cruises are also available.
Mannum, where the Murray’s first paddle steamer was launched in 1862, is home to Marion, a restored 1897 vessel, now a floating museum.
Albury is one part of Albury-Wodonga, twin cities on opposite sides of the Murray River and the New South Wales-Victoria border. By rail it is around 640 kilometres south-west of Sydney, and about 300 kilometres north-east of Melbourne. The area has agricultural, pastoral and dairy industries and is an important wholesale distribution centre.
Echuca is about 185 kilometres north of Melbourne at the confluence of the Murray, Campaspe, and Goulburn rivers. Its name derives from the Aboriginal word meaning 'meeting of the waters'.
You’ll see restored riverships and barges. One of the world's and Australia's oldest operating paddle-steamer, PS Adelaide, is docked at the wharf.
Swan Hill is surrounded by profitable vineyards and citrus groves. The Murray’s largest cargo-passenger paddle-wheeler, The Gem, can be seen in its landlocked setting and now housing a restaurant and souvenir shop.
Mildura is a rich agricultural and viticulture base. The Mildura Country Club Resort has an 18-hole course, while wine lovers can tour the Lindeman Karadoc winery. The 90-metre bar at the Workingmen’s Club, with 27 draught taps, is one of the world’s longest.
Renmark, 254 kilometres north-east of Adelaide and a major centre for the fruit industry, is positioned at a tranquil spot on a river bend. Murray Bridge, the largest town on the South Australia section of the river, is a popular fishing spot. It’s also renowned for the for the Murray Bridge Races (horse racing).
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Cruise Ships That Wander The Water
Finished with polished wood and gold trimmings and featuring a winding staircase and a paddle wheel encased in glass, the 120-passenger stern paddle-wheeler Murray Princess, a copy of an 1800s-style Mississippi steamboat but diesel-driven, is the largest and best-appointed vessel on the river.
It is airconditioned, has a single-seating dining room, cabins with private bathrooms (including four adapted cabins for passengers with disabilities), a lift, two bars, a shop, library and a small spa and sauna.
All meals and most excursions are included in the fare – a sample lunch menu might include Kangaroo Island marinated lamb fillet served with bushman's sourdough bread, potato wedges and green salad, or chicken skewers with a mild seeded mustard sauce. Special diets can be catered for (with notice).
A speedboat tender is used for some excursions and passengers can take guided nature walks and learn about the river ecology, as well as visit historic ports, sacred Aboriginal sites, a sheep station and woolshed and a native wildlife shelter.
A food and wine trail offers tasting at several vineyards and cellar doors, and in the evening, a campfire barbecue on the river bank.
Some tips for passengers
Take only casual clothing – it’s hot and humid in the Outback – and sunglasses. Mosquitoes and midges also inhabit the river so take strong repellent.
South Australia's seasons mirror the northern European seasons in reverse: for more temperate climes travel from March to May and September to November. If you enjoy the experience you can do it yourself by hiring a self-drive houseboat for a few days at Echuca or Mildura.
Visit your local Flight Centre or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on cruising The Murray River.
This article was written by Douglas Ward from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.