Houseboat Holiday on the Murray River

Waking to the gentle lapping of water against the hull, the distant calls of one of a thousand Cockatoo’s and…..that’s it.  Nothing.  No helicopters, horns or the distant white noise from the nearby freeway.  Time on the river stands still.  Rolling out of my queen sized be, I  make my way to the window, pull back the curtain to remind myself where I am.  All I can see is giant river gum trees, a beautiful sandy beach and the mighty Murray River.  I’m on a houseboat somewhere up river from Renmark (South Australia), near Mildura.  The Murray River cuts through the red earth of Australia, twisting and turning like a snake in the extreme heat that compliments the Australian Outback.   The Murray River is Australias longest river running 2508km’s (1558 mi) from the Australian Alps National Park to The Murray Mouth in Goolwa, South Australia.

My trip started at 3:30pm in Melbourne with a packed car, snacks and drinks for the lazy 8 hour drive to Renmark.  The trip during the day takes just 7 hours but travelling at dusk and through the night, the driver has to keep their eyes open and constantly scanning the road sides for Kangaroos and Wombats.  Some kangaroo’s reach 7 feet in height, and Wombats a good 80Kg’s of muscle would be like hitting a boulder on the road.

11:30pm and I pull into the secure carpark of the Renmark Houseboat park, unload my gear and locked the gate of the 8ft high fence (complimented with razor wire to keep my car secure),  I walked/stumbled, onto what was going to my home for the next 10 days.

During the night, the other 6 people I was sharing my holiday with arrived and found their rooms.  I woke early and looked around my room.  Simple in design (This is a boat after all),  I had use of a queen bed, wardrobe, set of draws and ensuite.  There were 3 other rooms all similar in design.

Casting off we made the short 30 minute trip to Renmark where we were going to tie off on the river frontage of the Renmark Club.  Today was a prep day to stock up on food and drinks in the small town on Renmark.


Tonight, one of the guys was playing drums in a band for a wedding reception.  This gave the remainder of us opportunity to overcome the long drive up to the river, and to explore what small town life was all about.


Stocked up and ready to go the morning was rushed.  We needed to make the bridge morning slot.  I’ll explain.  In order to leave Renmark, house boats (being too tall to pass under the bridge) line up and wait for an alarm bell to start ringing.  This indicates the bridge opening for 20 minutes.  The locals know this all too well and avoid the bridge that crosses between South Australia and Victoria.  The Paringa Suspension bridge (one of 4 bridges crossing the Murray river) raises up on a series of old pulleys, allowing safe passage.  Its truely a site to see.

Ploughing through the water as majestically as a brick, we spent the rest of the day relaxing in the spa, laying on the deck chairs and having turns being pulled behind the house boat on inflatable rings, all the while, taking in the beautiful sites that changed at every turn.


Through out the following days, we managed to entertain ourselves as best we could.  Sometimes it was difficult to find things to do.


Along side the river, the locals have a habit of leaving the remnants of a time gone by, old/ancient cars that never made it to town sit rusting against the bright colours of the cliffs that almost camouflage the rusty skeletons.


Along the Murray river, there’s absolutely no chance of Cell phone signals, which is why the boat has a CB radio (UHF) tucked away near the wheel and controls.  However, in the sandbar/river channel map book, a place where a small track leads up to a platform where the only signal can be obtained.  We tied up to check in with our families, and made the arduous trek up the cliff.


The following day, after some of the most impressive sunsets I’ve ever seen anywhere, a small sandy beach caught our eye.  After a couple of nights of nosing into the banks of the river, tying off to trees (4 massive ropes – 2 forward and 2 aft), there was no way an opportunity to be on a secluded beach could be passed up.  We spent 2 days and nights there.

The funny thing about Australia, is that your never really alone.  There’ so much wildlife,  you can’t slip out a sneaky fart without being heard by something.   Ryan (the drummer) was sitting on the back of the houseboat, dangling his feet in the river having a beer, when he felt something tickling his feet.  Thinking it was someone playing games he kicked a couple of times before looking down.  What he saw made us realise how isolated we really were.


A brown snake is deadly poisonous when access to antivenum isn’t immediately available. This little sucker would have put a real damper on the trip had it have bitten Ryan.  We were after all at this point, 4 days from the nearest town by river.  Maybe a good 5 hours in the ski boat.

So to celebrate his lucky escape, and after coercing the snake to the safety of the bushland,  the top deck openings up for jumps, flips and complete foolishness, in true fashion of course.


Waking up every morning to the cries of hundreds of Cockatoos is almost as good as a rooster calling, but they’re much earlier (around 6:30am).  Perfect timing to photograph the sunrise.


For those that forget to pack certain things, like milk or bread, or need to  grab extra drinks etc, conveniently placed along the river is signs advertising the direction and distance of local stores.  These are great, especially if you need things in a rush and have a ski boat to quickly shoot up the river to stock up.


For anyone who ever posed the question “How does the wildlife cross the river”?  Sounds like a chicken joke doesn’t it.  We were cruising along and happened to see something weird sticking out of the river.  Seeing as there’s never been any reports of river monsters in Australia, we powered back to 2 knots and got the cameras out.   It happened to be an Emu.  Strangest thing.  But Emu’s don’t fly, they do swim though.

The holiday on the Murray river was one of the most enjoyable relaxing holidays I’ve had.  I thought a relaxing holiday for someone that loves adventure, might be similar to a Nascar driver playing lawn bowls (apologies for those lawn bowlers out there), but I was wrong.  There’s always something to see.  Giant wedge tail eagles make their nests along the river, curious big red’s (Kangaroo’s) come for a look and wild camels do their best to drain the river, filling their humps for a desert crossing.

I would highly recommend a river holiday in a houseboat to anyone.  Its suitable for people that want to step away from the city and see the great outdoors, but still want the comforts of home.  Families with children ?  No problems at all.  The more the merrier.

Houseboats come in all sizes and shapes from single level to 3 stories high.  Some have spas, BBQ’s and a full indoor lounge, kitchen and dining area.  They all require a Boat License to drive, and of course a sober captain.

For information on hiring a houseboat simply google, Murray River Houseboats.  There are many places that hire them, and a variety of packages available, as locations along the river.  Share the holiday with friends and this becomes a very inexpensive holiday.  I spent more on fuel to and from the holiday, and drinks & food, than my share of the cost of houseboat.

Well worth looking into for your next holiday.






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