Four ways to explore the Murray’s watery wonderland
Water is central to life in the Murray region. Australia’s longest river – and one of the longest navigable waterways in the world – flows 2,500km from the Snowy Mountains in NSW, through Victoria and South Australia before spilling into the Southern Ocean. Along its slow-moving course you’ll find red gum-lined lagoons, glassy lakes, secluded wetlands and tiny islands, creating a vast watery wonderland that attracts adventure-addicts, luxury-seekers and culinary connoisseurs in equal measure.
Read on for ways you can take the pulse of this epic river – on, in or beside the water.
On the water: sleep in a houseboat
Cruise at a leisurely pace by day, mooring among red gums for a swim, kayak or glass of wine – safe in the knowledge that you don’t have to travel far to reach your room for the night. Welcome to the wonderful world of houseboats, your floating hotel along the Murray and its tributaries.
Rentals are available from Moama, Deniliquin and Wentworth. Here you can drift away – without a boating license – in pleasure cruisers ranging from the luxurious (think rooftop spas, marbled kitchens, air-conditioning and water toys) to simple craft with ample home conveniences. Some are even pet-friendly.
Most houseboats are not permitted on Lake Mulwala, that shimmering man-made reservoir created by the construction of the Yarrawonga Weir across the Murray River, with the exception of River of Islands. This eight-person boat launches from a private jetty into a natural lagoon, giving you access to expansive wetlands, billabongs and sandy beaches; and it’s all enveloped by ancient river red gums home to all manner of birds, as well as swamp wallabies and eastern grey kangaroos. While you’ll have day-tripping boats in your company when the sun’s up, come dusk, this wonderful wilderness will be almost exclusively yours. It doesn’t get much more luxurious than that.
In Deniliquin, you’ll cruise the Edward River (aka Kolety) rather than the Murray, and there are few better ways to explore it than with Edward River Houseboats. The owner, the incredibly affable Neil Goudie, will arm you with everything you need to know about navigating the 36km stretch of water.
On the water: steam & cruise
Paddle-steamers have been a part of Murray River life since 1853 and a number of historic craft still ply the waterway today. Cross the river (and state border) in Moama to reach the Port of Echuca, where the Pride of the Murray, PS Canberra and PS Emmylou depart for everything from one-hour scenic jaunts, to lunch and dinner cruises, and overnight or even week-long itineraries.
Back toward Albury, the PS Cumberoona sets off daily from the western shore of Lake Mulwala. Your captain, Robbie Knowles, was born and bred in this part of the world, and his commentary about the region’s history and landscapes is as fascinating as the heritage of the paddle-steamer itself. Head to the viewing deck to glimpse the original 1902 steamer/boiler and engine-room in action.
Venturing west you’ll soon reach the town of Barham, known for its Redgum Statue riverside trail that links to its Victorian sister city, Koondrook, with sculptures depicting the area’s pioneers and wildlife en route. Another more leisurely way to take in these surrounds is a Barham River Cruise, where the husband-and-wife hosts regale you with tales of the town as you drift past ghostly red gums aboard the Matilda.
In the water: get active
Ask any water-ski enthusiast and they’ll tell you one of the best places in Australia to pick up pace – for both beginners and professionals – is the Murray River. The sheer length and width of this mighty waterway makes it ideal for full-throttle traffic, minus traffic jams, particularly around Moama and Lake Mulwala. At the former, Brett Sands Watersports offers water-ski, barefoot, wakeboard and kneeboard lessons delivered by a six-time wakeboarding world champion. On the lake at the Mulwala Water Ski Club you can enrol in lessons or skid across the surface of the reservoir on a high-octane tube ride.
Mulwala’s calm conditions also make it a magical spot for canoe, kayak and stand-up paddleboard excursions, particularly memorable at sunrise and sunset when the day’s rays dapple mirror-like surfaces between eerie red gum trunks that protrude from the water. You’ll likely have fisher-folk in your company, with deep channels in the middle of the lake a popular thoroughfare for Murray cod and golden perch.
From produce-driven cafes and restaurants to foodie trails, farmers markets, orchards, olive groves, wineries, whisky distilleries and craft breweries – the Murray region doesn’t disappoint on the food and beverage front. As an added bonus, many of the top places to eat and drink come with water views. Visit St Anne’s Vineyards’ cellar door in Moama to sip everything from sauvignon blanc to shiraz to sticky chocolate liquor in a glass-encased space just steps from the estate’s lake. Family-owned winery Trentham Estate, meanwhile, is right on a bend of the Murray east of Mildura. If the visiting paddle-steamers aren’t tied up, you can dock your houseboat right out front and wander up the bank for a bottle of wine and cheese on the lawn.
If you’re based around Lake Mulwala to the south-east, Blacksmith Provedore should be on your dining itinerary. Right on the shore, the space is a design-lover’s dream, its cool arches and tiles leading to a sunny open pavilion where you can order wood-fired pizzas made with slow-fermented dough, or a cheeseboard paired with one of the local wines the restaurant spotlights. You’ll find the views just as covetable at the aptly named River Deck Cafe in Albury. Slide in for organic Milawa eggs and Wahgunyah mushrooms on sourdough for breakfast, or linger over a lunch of grilled Murray cod and a platter of artisan cheeses from Victorian fromagerie The Peaks.