Brenda Hunt and her family take a yearly houseboating holiday on the Murray River, it’s the perfect chance to pick a spot, cast off and let your troubles float downstream.
We’ve been given the onboard tour, the short training voyage to make sure we know what we’re doing, a few last minute instructions and we’re away on another river adventure. We are four couples, all good friends, who plan a holiday on the river each year. And one of the best places to enjoy the superb scenery of the Murray River is from the deck of your very own (hired) houseboat. Part of the plan is to leave from a different part of the river each time, making each trip unique.
It’s a fabulous way to really get away from it all; we have the feeling of being miles from anywhere, yet the reality is that civilisation is not so very distant. The scenery constantly changes from pastures, to vineyards, to orchards. Soft green willows contrast with the stark outline of majestic river red gums. Most spectacular, though, are the towering cliffs, which exhibit an amazing variety of colour changes throughout the day. We spend part of our time enjoying this pleasant vista while cruising along, sitting back in comfort enjoying a glass of the local vintage.
When we’re ready to take a break from all this soaking in of our surroundings, we find a secluded haven and moor the boat. This is when houseboating comes into its own. As there are eight of us, and we all have different ideas about what constitutes a holiday, we can choose to go our own way if we want, or enjoy together the range of activities available in the middle of nowhere. We can relax with a favourite magazine or book; take a walk through the natural bushland, go swimming, kayaking, or throw in a line. What we all do is enjoy the fresh air, peace and tranquillity away from traffic and the other noises of our modern lives.
When the boat is stopped, engines dead, the only sound is the birds; magpies, kookaburras, galahs and cockatoos to name but a few. There are also tiny wrens that flit in and out of the trees with flashes of stunning colour.
Early mornings are particularly stunning and peaceful. The river is often glassy, reflecting the trees and the colours of sunrise. Sitting on the back deck with a morning cuppa, we’re usually visited by friendly ducks and pelicans, who cruise in close hoping for breakfast, particularly if the fishing lines are out. Often the catch is redfin, which are delicious barbecued, or carp, which the pelicans are only too pleased to take off our hands. (The sunsets aren’t too shabby either, so the cameras get a real workout.)
Every town along the Murray has its own unique and fascinating piece of history, and they’re all well worth investigating. Of course we also get in a bit of shopping, and most towns have at least one antique store; when we visited Morgan’s antique store, which was interesting in itself, we were also entertained by a good ghost story that the owners are only too happy to relate to their customers.
We usually spoil ourselves at least once along the journey and visit one of the cafes or restaurants. There are some great places to have a meal or perhaps just coffee and cake. A top place is the Pretoria Hotel in Mannum, which not only provides a delicious meal with a view of the river, but also offers houseboat moorings for their dinner guests (you might need to book during peak travel times).
Whether you travel with your family, best friends or it’s just the two of you on a romantic getaway, this is the ideal way to relax and unwind. Any time of year is the best time to be on the Murray. The scenery will always be spectacular, the fishing fun, and it’s always smooth enough for kayaks.
Houseboats are available for hire from most towns along the river and you’ll be spoilt for choice. They’re easy to drive – you only need a car license – and are priced to suit every budget. They range from comfortable with all mod cons to downright luxurious with en suites and spas. But whichever kind you have, they’re all well equipped so you can just move in, sit back and relax while making that always difficult decision: upstream or down?