I'm a Victorian freelance writer & photographer living in the Macedon Ranges north of Melbourne.
Published December 2nd 2017
Lazy days on the river
There can be few holidays as fun-filled and relaxed as commanding your own luxury houseboat on one of the world's great navigable rivers, the mighty Murray.
There are luxury houseboats aplenty along almost the entire length of the Murray River. Photo: Ian Gill /Footloose PhotoBank
You'll find houseboats right along the Murray, from Lake Hume in Victoria's far northeast to Goolwa in South Australia, very near to where the river meets the sea. But along its length, there are pockets of houseboat heaven where it's possible to pick from fleets of luxurious craft, fastidiously maintained and catering to the hirer's every whim.
Three such places that spring to mind are the historic Port of Echuca in north-central Victoria, Mildura in the Sunraysia district of Victoria's far northwest and a magnificent stretch of the South Australian Riverland region, around Renmark, Berri and Loxton.
If your houseboat adventure begins at Echuca/Moama you can be sure you'll find yourself sharing the river with some of Echuca's paddlesteamer's, part of the largest operational fleet of such boats anywhere in the world. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
A houseboat holiday can be anything from a romantic getaway for a loved-up couple to a gathering of like-minded friends or a full-on family holiday, mum, dad & kids of all ages. It's the sort of holiday where you can do a little or a lot of pretty much anything, canoeing, swimming & fishing or simply sit back, relax and enjoy the sunshine and scenery as you glide along the river in your fully equipped and comfortable holiday home.
Depending on which section of the river your cruising you'll have access to secluded sandy beaches, wineries, golf courses, walking trails and places of historic interest.
Echuca is one of Australia's top tourist drawcards, with its historic Port Precinct home to the largest fleet of operational paddle-steamers in the world. Part of its original wharf recreates a time when 200 vessels a week docked here and a dozen timber mills supplied a thousand logs per week to fuel the boilers.
Mildura's world-class marina is home to several houseboat hire fleets with stretches of the river here providing some great cruising options. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Mildura has some great eateries, galleries and shopping. There are six excellent golf courses nearby, you can tour the cities historic churches, heritage listed homes & public buildings or see how the famous Murray River Gourmet Salt Flakes are produced. The area is home to some excellent wineries, some accessible from the river, and nearby Wentworth, at the confluence of the Murray and Darling Rivers, is a historical goldmine with its old Gaol, the Court House, Customs House and the old Catholic Convent.
In South Australia the Riverland region produces about a third of Australia's wine grapes so wineries and Cellar Doors are high on the must see list here. My favourite is Banrock Station with its proximity to the river, eco-walking trail, tastings and an excellent menu served up at the Wine & Wetland Centre.
South Australia's Riverland Region is houseboat heaven, offering some spectacular cruising grounds. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
The Murray meanders through a variety of different environs here, red gum forest, scrubby floodplains, lush bushland & riverbanks and towering red cliffs.
Towns like Renmark with its picturesque waterfront, classic hotel and modern-day attractions such as the 23rd Street Distillery make for interesting stop-overs for traveller's on the river.
But I hear you ask, isn't it difficult to handle one of those big boats?
Not so. An unrestricted drivers licence is all you need to take your first steps as Captain of your own houseboat. You'll get a short-course on everything you need to know before you get underway, boat-handling, navigation, river conditions, boating rules and details on suitable mooring locations. And in the event you come across something you're not sure about help is only a radio or telephone call away.
This could be you. Leisurely cruising down the Murray with the historic port of Renmark as a backdrop. Photo: Ian Gill / Footloose PhotoBank
Most boats on the river are fully self-contained, you need only bring your personal items and food & drink. Your charter fee normally includes insurance but you will be required to leave a bond, refundable when the vessel is returned in good condition. You start the cruise with full fuel tanks and you'll be required to pay to refill them when you return the boat.
So, if you're looking for a truly relaxing holiday look no further than a houseboat on the Murray River Indulge in the convenience of floating right up to a dockside restaurant, winery or riverside pub, immerse yourself in the history of the river and townships along the way. Whatever you want to do it's your call because you're the Captain.
I've listed six houseboat hire businesses, two each for the three regions I've highlighted here, but rest assured there many, many more for you to choose from right along the river. Just Google 'houseboating on the Murray" and you'll literally be spoilt for choice.