Wednesday 9 July 2014
Publication: Telegraph UK, Travel
Journalist: Douglas Ward
A guide to cruising on South Australia’s Murray River, including tips, typical itineraries and key stops - Australia river cruise guide
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 2,735km (1,700 miles) from just south of Adelaide to just south of the Australian capital, Canberra via 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.
Starting in Mannum, a small and historic South Australia town 84km (52 miles) 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
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 640km (400 miles) southwest of Sydney, and about 300km (185 miles) northeast of Melbourne. The area has agricultural, pastoral and dairy industries and is an important wholesale distribution centre.
Echuca is about 185km (115 miles) 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, 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 paddlewheeler, 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 (300-ft) bar at the Workingmen’s Club, with 27 draught taps, is one of the world’s longest.
Renmark, 254km (158 miles) northeast 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).
Finished with polished wood and gold trimmings and featuring a winding staircase and a paddle wheel encased in glass, the 120-passenger stern paddlewheeler Murray Princess (Captain Cook Cruises), a copy of a 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 sour dough 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 trial offers tasting at a number of vineyards and cellar doors, and in the evening, a campfire barbecue on the river bank.
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.
For booking information, please contact https://www.murrayprincess.com.au/