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Houseboat on the Murray

By Vincent Ross

Houseboat on the MurrayOn the Murray River, travellers don't just pass through the scene, they are a living part of it.

Cruising on the Murray on a houseboat with a large kitchen/living area is something like travelling in a glass-walled lounge room. The landscape slips by. River folk sitting around breakfast campfires under giant river red gums wave from the bank. Squadrons of swallows skim low over the water ahead of the bow.

As the houseboat serenely makes its way up the Murray in the South Australian Riverland, an occasional pelican, looking like an overloaded seaplane, lumbers in for a precarious landing.

Cruising into the glittering path of a shaft of morning sunlight, with the smell of bacon and eggs cooking on the onboard barbecue, it's easy to see why people choose to live on the river. Life is visibly slower.

And there’s no better place for children to live out their Huckleberry Finn fantasies.

Pelicans, carp and young boys have a symbiotic relationship. On a good day on the river, with only a bit of bread for bait, the fish virtually throw themselves on the hook, and the boys throw all their efforts into catching them.

With round, wise eyes, the pelicans patiently wait. When the fish hauled up from the Murray’s green depths is small, the boys must eat their pride. But the pelicans get to eat the carp.

Despite the problems facing the Murray, the water levels in South Australia are still more than adequate for houseboating, says the Houseboat Hirers Association.

That's certainly the case along this picturesque 46km stretch from Blanchetown to Morgan, skirted by wetlands and overlooked by high sandstone cliffs.

As sunset turns the clouds orange, then plum red, raucous flocks of white cockatoos roosting in the river red gums quieten their chaos in the fading light. The trees are ghostly black cut-outs on the evening sky.

Aboriginal Dreaming has it that a giant cod dug the Murray with its whippingtail, as fishermen chased it to the sea. They finally caught it at the entrance to the Coorong lakes and carved it up, with all the pieces becoming the native fish - callop, mulloway, bream, catfish and congollis. But not the European carp.

On the broad expanse of Brenda Reach, 10km downriver from Morgan, the world awakens with blushes of pink on the clouds as the glow of first light paints muted orange brushstrokes on the sandstone cliffs. As the boys eat breakfast, a pair of whistling kites ride the air above the river red gums, carefully eyeing the water to catch their own.

Houseboating tips
* You don’t need a special licence to drive a houseboat, a current car driver’s licence is sufficient.
* Anybody over 18 years of age can drive a houseboat. Licensed operators provide instruction on arrival.Houseboat on the Murray
* Maritime regulations stipulate the number of people travelling on board a houseboat must not exceed the number of berths. Children under 12 months of age are excluded.
* Cash Bonds vary from boat to boat, usually between $200- $800, with bonds usually refunded by mail within seven days.
* Industry approved houseboats are insured. Providing the terms and conditions of hire are adhered to, the limit of liability is usually the insurance excess (average $250). Wilful or negligent damage is not covered.
* Houseboats travel at an average speed of around 7km an hour and most people average around four or five hours of cruising a day.
* Houseboats must not be driven after sunset.
* Houseboats are fitted with two-way radios and/or mobile phones for back-up assistance and use in case of an emergency.


For more information on houseboat hire, phone the Houseboat Booking Centre (SA) on 08 8396 5266, visit or visit the Houseboat Hirers Association website at

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