At a whopping 2508 kilometres, it is Australia’s longest river. It follows, then, that the Murray River boasts a great deal of canoe trails and watersports. It covers New South Wales, Victoria as well as South Australia. You can take your pick of a houseboat, waterski, paddle-steamer or canoe as you soak up the sight of wetland birds and big river red gums. Here are our top five water activities to enjoy on this impressive waterway.
A houseboat hired from Wentworth, Mildura or Echuca will become a homely holiday haven like no other. Thanks to the added quirk of being waterborne, this will quickly become a favourite family getaway! Chug along the riverbanks, stop off for picnics and fish at sandy river beaches. Then, fall asleep to the lull of water lapping practically at your door.
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Echuca Moama is Australia’s capital when it comes to these historical vessels harking back to the pioneer era. When William Randell launched the first steamer, the PS Mary Ann, near Mannum in 1853, he launched a whole craze. Hear the echoes of history on day cruises and riverboat tours, such as a voyage on the 1897 PS Marion. Budding mechanics and sailors will be fascinated by the operation of these old wooden boats. Everyone will enjoy touring the decks and steam-room.
Teens will love the thrills and spills on offer at this Murray River hub. Lake Hume in Albury Wodonga is a hot spot for waterskiers, kneeboarders, wakeboarders and swimmers. So is Lake Mulwala east of Echuca Moama and Lake Boga near Swan Hill. The many wide segments of the river are perfect for learning to ski or to build up some speed. If you are a seasoned waterskier, you might want to enter one of the competitions hosted on the Murray. These include events like the Mildura 100 or Southern 80.
Cast a line into the Murray River and you might hook a Murray cod to fry up for dinner. The Murray is in fact part of the famous Five Rivers Fishing Trail of the Balranald region. The region encompasses the Murrumbidgee, Lachlan, Murray, Edward and Wakool rivers.
5. Canoeing and kayaking
The sheer size of the Murray River promises great diversity for both confident and cautious paddlers. In some regions during winter and spring when the forests flood, you can paddle in the middle of the woodlands and wetlands and feel totally immersed. A trip in the wetlands of the Murray Valley and Barmah National Park shows off the largest river red gums in the world. The lower Murray, near Wentworth, has no rapids. It is therefore ideal for small or first-time canoers getting the hang handling the boats.
Much of the South Australian section of the river, thanks to its low gradient and the peaceful, meandering pace of its flow, is classified as Grade 1 for canoeing. Better yet, your family can join a guided canoe or kayak tour. This will come with a canoe crash course and an insight into the best spots including Edward River trail, Lake Mulwala and Gunbower Creek. The list goes on! Try Albury’s Canoe the Murray or Moontongue Eco Adventures for guided trips. Otherwise, hire boats yourself with Canoe Adventures, Murray River Canoe Hire, Canoe the Riverland and Canoe the Coorong.
Bonus: Top 10 tips for your house boat trip on the Murray River
1. Anyone can drive a houseboat. You just need to be over 18 years of age and have an unrestricted car license.
2. We recommend having two adults on board at the very least. You’ll need all hands on deck when it comes to parking and mooring. Seasoned houseboaters recommend you park on the Victorian side of the river, as many of the NSW banks are on private property.
3. Wake up at dawn with the rising mist, splash all day in the sun, and then enjoy the water by moonlight. But make sure you follow the rules and moor your houseboat by 5pm or by sunset, depending on the regulations in your area.
4. Check out the safety features of your chosen operator. Normally they will be of excellent standard, including child-safe railing and lifejackets, as well as two-way radios if you get into any trouble.
5. Toss up between budget and luxury boats, anywhere between 4 to 12 berth. The Murray River Houseboats fleet ranges from the cosy, family-sized Mayflower, to the luxurious Indulgence. The latter has four king-sized bedrooms, each with flatscreen TV and an ensuite. Most operators have a similar range, so choose an option that suits your family best.
The nitty gritty
6. What’s on board – the specifics depend on what boat and operator you choose, but most houseboats are fully kitted out with great kitchen, bathroom and bedroom facilities. There will usually be a barbecue on board, perfect for a sunny lunch. There will also be a runabout dinghy or rowboat, ideal for day trips to riverside towns. Higher-end options may even include a rooftop spa!
7. What to do – enjoy a refreshing dip or try your luck fishing for Murray cod. In the wetlands near Mildura, see if you can spot any rare birds. You can always jump ship and bushwalk in the riverside national parks.
8. Where to go – the Murray River covers ground in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, so there are plenty of destinations to choose from. At Echuca-Moama, hire a stand-up paddleboard, go water-skiing, or witness the restoration of 1800s paddlesteamers at the Echuca Wharf. Mildura is a foodie’s heaven with its gourmet restaurants. It also boasts lovely wetlands, Red Gum forests, canoeing trips, and aboriginal sites at Mungo National Park (if you’re willing to travel inland a bit). Stop and smell the roses in the gardens of South Australia’s Renmark. If you time it right you’ll also catch the famous local Dinghy Derby.
9. There are loads of houseboat companies along the Murray. A quick Google search is the perfect start to pick an operator that suits you. In the meantime, our favourites include Murray River Houseboats, All Seasons Houseboats, Mildura Houseboats, Unforgettable Houseboats and Moama on Murray.
10. If an overnight stay is a bit ambitious for your family, many companies also hire out BBQ boats for the day.
A version of this story first appeared on the website in January, 2018.