Adventure

Why You Should Ditch The Car And Discover Australia By Houseboat

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Leave the backseat arguments and dire truckstop meals behind. In fact, just switch out the car altogether, for a leisurely cruise on a Murray River houseboat.

This was the year of the road trip, and it’s looking like next year will be much the same. You don’t need to squeeze everyone into a sweaty car to see the country, though. Explore South Australia’s Riverland on a houseboat and you get the best of both worlds with a comfortable holiday home that moves to a new spot every night.

 

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Learning To Drive

Before you leave, you’ll need to take a quick lesson in how to operate a houseboat. Fortunately, it’s pretty simple – anyone over 18 with an unrestricted driver’s licence can be in charge.

As the river is up to 150 metres wide and slow flowing, there’s no need to worry about getting caught in traffic or navigating tight bends – just remember to keep to the right and wear your captain’s hat while you’re at the wheel.

Navigating The River

Sandbars and underwater hazards are well marked, so the main obstacles you’ll encounter on your trip are the dams set up along the Murray to keep it safe for boat traffic.

The river sits at different heights on either side of these barriers, so you’ll occasionally need to pass through locks (small chambers with adjustable water levels). Only a few boats can go through each lock at a time, so there can be long lines during peak season. Skip the queue by getting there in the early morning.

Don’t worry though, with a top boat speed of around seven kilometres an hour (that’s four knots if you really want to get into the spirit), you won’t have to pass through too many of them.

Finding your houseboat

Like beachside shacks, houseboats have come a long way since the days when many were built by overconfident dads using cheap materials. Now you can rent out sleek modern vessels that are nicer than most houses.

If you get a decent-sized group together, they’re surprisingly affordable. You can find options beginning from $25 per person, per night for a week in winter. Rates go up about 50 percent in the warmer months when the river is at its busiest, so plan your trip outside of school holidays if you can.

With plenty of operators and loads of great spots to visit both up and downstream, Renmark is the easiest place to hire a boat. There are dozens of companies hiring out houseboats all along the river though, from a single room minnow to a floating palace with six climate-controlled bedrooms, three bathrooms, a well-equipped modern kitchen and a spa on the top deck.

You can even rent a houseboat from a craft brewery, boasting an onboard bar stocked with a keg of your favourite brew (just remember that normal drink driving laws apply when you’re on the river).

Where to drop your anchor

Once you get outside of the towns, deciding where to stop for the night is as simple as finding a beautiful spot on the bank and tying up — just make sure there are no overhanging branches that could damage the boat.

Among the best spots are the broad bends in the river where you set up and watch towering red and yellow cliffs glow in the setting sun.

Or pick a mooring close (but not too close) to one of the sandbars where you can set up deckchairs in the middle of the river and wave to the other boats as they float passed.

What to do along the way

From the border with Victoria, the South Australian section of the Murray winds slowly through the vast food bowl of the Riverland. Even at four knots, you’ll find yourself gliding passed lush vineyards, beneath painted limestone cliffs and through forests of ancient redgums that still bear canoe scars left by Meru traditional owners.

Before casting off, spend a morning walking through meadows full of wildflowers and alongside creeks and lagoons that line the river and support a huge variety of birdlife. Spot colourful parrots, soaring wedge-tailed eagles and maybe even emus cooling off with a swim in summer.

 

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Join them in the water or, if you fancy yourself a gun fisher, throw a line off the back deck and see if you can haul in a redfin or callop (but if you accidentally snag a Murray cod, be sure to release it back into the water).

When you’ve worked up a thirst, Caudo Vineyards has a cellar door right on the river that’s always packed in summer and the Woolshed Brewery is also accessible by boat.

(Lead Image: Instagram / @drifttheexperience)