Saturday, June 18

Houseboat trip on the Murray River

Have you ever taken a house boat on the Murray River? My family and I have a number of times, the most recent, a couple of weeks ago (June 2016). It is a very relaxing and enjoyable way to be in the ‘bush’ but have the comforts of home. (No, I am not a travel agent nor affiliated with any house boat owners). I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Relaxed! Campfire and boat.

We went with three other couples – meeting at the Renmark Big Macs (not a food outlet I would normally publically announce I frequent – but it’s very easy to find in Renmark and convenient for groups to meet.) After a coffee, drafting a matrix of meals and shopping list, we headed for the local shopping mall and purchased food and drinks for five days, including ice. Individual couples either brought extra’s or purchased these themselves such as wine or nibbles. In regard meals each couple provided their own breakfast and lunch. However, in reality often we have communal breakfasts, if say, we all decide to have eggs and bacon, and lunch turns into a communal event. In our case one couple cooked egg pies for lunch on one of the days. On other days my wife and I made sandwiches while others made salads etc. Each couple cooked an even meal and on the last day we ate left-overs, which, because my brother was with us, who is an excellent cook, were turned into a lovely meal.

Cliffs along the Murray River

We headed north (yes the Murray goes north from Renmark, not east) and camped at various spots on the River. Being winter we could build camp fires at each night-stop and spend the evenings sitting around the fire (it did rain on one evening), which is very beautiful – with no traffic, flies, mosquitoes or any other noise, other than that of the bush. We could read, talk, play board games and in some cases browse the internet (Optus does not work, but Telstra and Videophone did – but who wants to ‘go bush’ and be connected?)

Some say it is expensive – it can be, but a few tips;
  1. Choose off-peak season to travel. This is always cheaper – indeed more than half the peak season price,.
  2. Discount promotions are often offered for low season – we purchased our trip nearly 18 months ago. The rules were that we could not hire the boat during peak season. Not having children at school this was not an issue, and June was convenient for everyone.
  3. Bigger boats cost more, but you can take more people. We usually have a total of 4 – 6 couples which shares the expense. Our June trip cost about approximately $2400 including boat hire, diesel (for power), petrol and food shared amongst four couples, meaning we paid $300 each for five days. Other expenses included wine, extra nibbles and other alcoholic drinks that couples brought along to share, and of course the fuel cost from home to Renmark. 
  4. Buy your ice and food at the local supermarket and bring to the boat. Some boat hirers will offer to ice and meat (and more) but these can have a large premium attached.
  5. Don’t travel fast: most boats have a maximum throttle control to prevent overzealous high powered engine use, however, like the car, fuel use increases exponentially with speed. Ask the hire company what the most economic speed is. For our boat it was about 2100 RPM. And in any case why are you in a hurry?
  6. Diesel is used usually to make electricity, which means if you are running a spa (yes, some house boats have spas) or an air conditioner (needed in summer) you will burn more fuel. This was our first winter trip, so we neither used the air conditioner (heating was by gas) nor did we have or want a spa.
Currently the Murray is flowing very slowly, and there are various obstacles in travelling too far – we went as far up stream as we could – a sand bar prevented any further travel. However, it was far enough for a five night trip and in any case, there were very few people on the river – so escaping into solitude was easy.

We always had pelicans visit.

Driving a house boat requires an unrestricted car driver’s licence, although in our case four of us had a boat licence. The boats are not too hard to drive, but takes a bit of getting use to making decisions sometime before they occur, because it takes a while for the boat to respond. Wind is probably the main hazard especially when mooring alongside the bank with trees. Some people have managed to severely damage their boat by running into trees while mooring – forgetting how tall the boat is and the fact over hanging trees can overhang the boat. (Being drunk is probably the most dangerous thing you can do – this is, for obvious reasons, illegal, and for this reason boat operators are regularly breathalysed by police). It is also tricky in high flows – knowing when to apply reverse, left or right power takes a bit of practice in order to moor square on, at the chosen spot, rather than some sand bar of up against a tree! In our case due to low flow, watching the depth gauge was paramount while moving.

All-in-all the trip was very relaxing and enjoyable. The boat was full of mod-cons and the beds were very comfortable: ours had a large fridge & freezer, gas range, oven (electric rather than gas, for some unknown reason), dish washer, two bathrooms/toilets, and two large out door table/chair sets – which we used around the camp fire, and a large living space. In the past we have taken kayaks, a boat (towed along beside), and children (who camped out on the banks in swags). What more could you want?