The Murray River: A Grand Australian Icon

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There is the lingering sweet scent of eucalypt trees as the sun is slowly sinking into the Murray River. Reclining into a sunlounge on a Friday afternoon, I am toasting my return to this mighty river with a glass of wine. The anticipation of once again sharing this moment with lifelong friends has been escalating for weeks.

It is our annual 3-day houseboat trip on the Murray River and despite 8 consecutive years, the first evening back on the river each February has us all animated with excitement.

It is the end of summer, the weather is consistently hot, the water invitingly warm, and the river traffic of talented water skiers and historical paddle steamers provide a constant backdrop of visual entertainment. 

Enjoying the View. Photo by Karin Mander
Enjoying the View. Photo by Karin Mander

Moama, Australia

Our reunion begins in the river town of Moama, about 780km south of Sydney, although with over 2500km of river to explore throughout Victoria, NSW and South Australia, there are hundreds of locations to camp, hike, swim, cruise or just chill. The spirit and life on the river resonate with me what is uniquely Australian.

Indigenous Australians have lived along the river for thousands of years, early European settlements were established here, along with a lively riverboat trade, and today the river is home to the Southern 80 ski race and a recreational water haven.

Returning each year elevates my soul. We are a group of 4 couples and after trialing various houseboat companies in the earlier years we have now happily settled with the same boat each year.

We are spoilt with the privacy of four ensuite cabins, a spacious kitchen and dining, a 360-degree balcony on the lower deck, and a top deck complete with sun lounges, ample shade, a gas BBQ, large central dining table, deep spa, and our own boom box.

Our motorized rubber dinghy is moored to the back of the houseboat in preparation for riding down the river on an inflatable tube. The current is strong, and a novice may lose balance in the wake of a passing ski boat, so lifejackets are essential.

There are many reputable houseboat companies along the Murray, offering excellent facilities and comfortable accommodation for couples, families, and larger groups. 

The Executive. Photo by Karin Mander
The Executive. Photo by Karin Mander

An Incomparable Diversity and Presence

We moor about an hour downstream on the first night with celebratory drinks, a warm fragrant breeze, lots of laughter and music, and a BBQ feast on the top deck, before eventually falling into bed as the river current softly taps outside my window.

There is something transcendent about the diversity and presence of the Murray that makes it incomparable. The towering red gums, the sandy beaches, the riverbank dwellings, curious wildlife, an abundance of birdlife, a paddle steamer blowing its horn, and the gentle rocking after mooring for the evening.

Roused at sunrise by laughing kookaburras and singing magpies, and accompanied by the smell of freshly brewed coffee, our day is planned over a healthy breakfast. We will cruise downriver to Deep Creek Marina for lunch on the deck outside the Deep Creek hotel and an opportunity to reunite with local friends.

The trip will take several hours so the budding captains onboard will all have an opportunity to take the wheel. 

Tubing on the river. Photo by Karin Mander
Tubing on the river. Photo by Karin Mander

The Murray River is a Photographer’s Haven

Mid-afternoon our mooring position for the evening is located, aligned with sandy beaches and ancient gum trees. This is time out. Some of the girls will bask on the sun lounges reading or chatting, the boys will invariably be jumping into the river, while the rest of us clamber into the dinghy awaiting our turn on the kneeboard.

Late in the afternoon I take my camera and step down the gangplank across the sand to climb the craggy embankment up into the bush. The dry mulch of the earth crunches beneath my feet, as the last bright rays of sunlight sneak through the canopy of trees, transforming the leaves into shades of fire.

A family of wallabies pause from grazing as I cautiously stroll by, and now elevated from the river I can feel the final heat of the day.

The sun is dancing on the river like diamonds, my camera is working overtime, and I attest to returning tomorrow at sunrise. Sunday lunch is pre-booked at Morrison’s Winery, an annual destination on the bank of the river on the outskirts of Moama.

Bounded by rich green lawns, a forest of native trees, and a glimpse of the river beyond, the winery is accessed via a bush track after securing the boat to fallen tree roots on the embankment.

An extended lunch, excellent Australian wine, and a diverse menu featuring fresh local produce preludes a lazy afternoon in the spa, patiently awaiting the fishing lines to jump.

The Emmylou. Photo by Karin Mander
The Emmylou. Photo by Karin Mander

The Murray River never sleeps, enticing visitors during all seasons. Local businesses offer canoes, kayaks or tinnies for hire, ski and wakeboard lessons are available, and iconic paddles steamers offer panoramic lunch cruises. Tributaries await further exploration, along with a myriad of sandy beaches.

The famous Southern 80 ski race brings the local township to life during the second weekend in February, covering 80km from Torrumbarry to Echuca. Echuca and Moama host the Riverboat Music Festival during late summer while the Blues Festival is a highlight on the winter calendar.

Today is Monday and the last full day of the self-created long weekend, as we navigate our way into the historical Port of Echuca. The bustle and romance from a departed era are still evident as we approach century-old buildings and solid redgum wharves, while slowly drifting by old station homesteads with river frontages.

Beautifully restored paddle steamers are docked alongside timber jetties and the riverside Bridge Hotel beckons an afternoon visit. Passing under the bridge I grab my camera again to capture images of abandoned steamboats and barges as a sandy beach emerges, inviting us to dock for our last evening.

The Murray River is rich in Australian history, dynamic in its beauty, and alive with watercraft and intrigue. I recline back into the sunlounge, absorbing the sights, sounds and fragrances, toasting a grand Australian icon.

If You Go To Moama

Moama is approximately a 3-hour drive from Melbourne or 8 hours from Sydney. The roads are good and there are many towns and cities for stopovers. Executive Houseboats are located 5 minutes away from the Moama township.

The boats have 4 bedrooms, each with an ensuite, and no boat license is required. [email protected] +61 03 5480 1977

Morrisons winery is easily accessed on foot from the riverbank. www.morrisons.net.au 

For Paddle steamer cruises and dining contact www.murrayriverpaddlesteamers.com.au

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Author Bio: Karin is an explorer of the world, eagerly awaiting international borders to reopen.  She owns a tour guide company in Victoria, Australia, and along with photography loves to retain my memories of her favorite destinations with words.