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 Australia with Captain Cook Cruises

Riber Murray, Australia with Captain Cook CruisesCruising Australia’s River Murray on a

by Roger Allnutt

The two major rivers in Australia, the Murray and the Darling, have played an important part over the past 150 years in the development of the dry inland basin of Australia.

For many years up until early in the 20th century they were a “lifeline” transporting goods to and from remote communities and nowadays the waters provide irrigation to farms and produce growing areas. Unfortunately, prolonged drought and excess water outtake for irrigation have created enormous problems. Hopefully action at the national level will eventually resolve the issues.

However there is still adequate water in the lower reaches of the River Murray east of Adelaide for cruises on the picturesque paddle steamer PS Murray Princess (operated by Captain Cook Cruises) to operate from its base at Mannum and these trips are proving a drawcard for many visitors from the United States.

Mannum, about 100km east of Adelaide, is the base for two cruises operated by Captain Cook Cruises, a four day (Monday to Friday) cruise upstream from Mannum to Blanchetown and a three day (Friday to Monday) cruise either side of Mannum downstream as far as Murray Bridge. These can be done separately or combined for a week-long cruise.

I recently joined the four day cruise and it was a very relaxing experience. The Murray Princess was built in 1986 at Goolwa, near the mouth of the Murray. The ship is 230ft long, 46ft wide with a draft of 3.6ft. Total weight is 1504 tonnes. It carries a maximum of 128 passenger with cabins on three decks, all, except the nine cabins on the lowest deck having outside windows. The ship is driven by a large paddlewheel at the rear and cruises at 6 knots.

On my cruise late in the season the ship was only half full (half the passengers were an American tour group) meaning there was even more space for the passengers to spread out and relax. The top deck is for relaxing and sunbathing and there is some exercise equipment.

In addition to the excellent catering provided on board (the food was terrific but care needed to be exercised to resist overeating), the ship has a bar, a couple of lounge/reading areas, a small library, sauna and spa and laundry. The crew were outstanding, mainly young, enthusiastic and friendly in a relaxed way.

I was amazed at the number of houseboats, many for hire, all along the river north of Mannum; many were large, holding up to 12-20 people.

The Murray Princess cruised during the day and moored at attractive sites at night with a range of activities (all included in the price) during the day to keep the passengers entertained, informed and active. There were talks on the history of life on the river and during lunch and at night an excellent pianist played a range of classic, jazz and modern music. One night included fancy dress followed by a musical quiz.

The moorings were at pleasant riverside places allowing passengers to take late afternoon and early morning walks and learn more about the flora and fauna of the river. There was a large amount of bird life with groups of pelicans, cormorants, shags, ducks and the occasional eagle.

There are no bridges across the river between Murray Bridge and Blanchetown and car ferries operate at a number of places. These crossings form part of the state highway system, operate 24 hours a day and are free to vehicles.

At Nildottie passengers disembarked to tour the Burk Salter Winery and continued on to view Lock 1, the first of 15 locks upstream from the mouth of the Murray to Mildura. When the water level is higher the ‘normal’ itinerary of the cruise includes passing through the Lock but with the present low levels it is impossible for the Murray Princess to navigate a stretch below the weir due to the formation of sandbars.

At Lock 1 there is a ‘chimney’ that allows fish to move upstream to spawn and it was interesting to watch the pelicans waiting below the weir for a tasty morsel.

The landscape along the river is rich and varied ranging from wetlands (mostly now dry) to sheer cliffs especially in the area known as Big Bend. Gums cling to the sides of the cliffs, birds including cockatoos and corellas nest in holes and clefts in the rock face, the colour changing dramatically as the sun moves across the sky.

A highlight of the trip is the Woolshed Tour at Big Bend, a mix of demonstration of sheep shearing, a sheep ‘auction’ of three sheep followed by a race with ‘winner take all’ and the chance to see kangaroos and wombats being reared in their Native Wildlife Shelter. They do animal spotlighting at night.

At Ngaut Ngaut Conservation Park the local Aboriginal people lead a guided tour of their ancestral lands and show some ancient rock carvings and paintings on the cliff face.

The small town of Swan Reach became famous in 1956 when a large flood devastated much of the town; these days it is incredible to see the markers that indicate the height the river peaked. The town has an excellent small museum and a number of old sandstone buildings including a Lutheran church reflecting the German heritage of the town.

(Roger Allnutt cruised on the Murray Princess as a guest of Captain Cook Cruises.)

Photos courtesy Captain Cook Cruises

Captain Cook Cruises

For more information on the PS Murray Princess and other cruises operated by Captain Cook Cruises check the website . Cruises operate throughout the year. The price of the cruise includes coach transfers to and from Adelaide.

Roger Allnutt is a freelance travel writer based in Canberra, Australia, and a long-time member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers. He travels widely around the world researching material for publication in newspapers and magazines in Australia, New Zealand, US, Singapore and other parts of the world.

Roger is happy to accept commissions and can provide material on many parts of the world. He can be reached at [email protected]

His other interests include food and wine, classical music and theatre and playing tennis.

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