For one of Australia’s most famous natural features, the Murray River can be somewhat overlooked as a holiday destination. The river weaves through a diverse range of South Australian landscapes on its way to the sea, from the balmy food bowl of the north to the crisp coastal lagoons of the south. Along the way it passes historic port towns, where river travel is still a way of life. Here are our top picks for a memorable holiday on the Murray.
Li’l Miss Champagne houseboat
Staying on a houseboat is the quintessential Murray River experience. Soak up the evolving scenery as you cruise by day, then find a spot to dock, cook up a storm and watch the sunset colours dance across the red ochre cliffs by night. Li’l Miss Champagne sleeps two to four people and has two bedrooms with ensuites. There’s a fully equipped kitchen plus a barbeque and a top deck jacuzzi. Someone will need to wear the captain’s hat, but don’t panic – full training is provided before you set off.
Pick up the boat in Mannum, about a 75-minute drive east of Adelaide, and cruise for a few nights, then drop the boat back and explore the lively port town. Don’t forget to load up on local produce and a few bottles of wine to accompany those stunning sunsets.
Pike River Villas
These fully self-contained, luxury eco-villas overlook both the Murray River and Pike River, 20 minutes’ drive south of Renmark. They include a spa pool on the spacious deck – the best spot to watch the sunset. Stone, polished timber and floor-to-ceiling windows anchor each villa to the environment.
The six villas sleep between two and 10 people, and all have king beds and feature sweeping views of the river. The Hideaway package for two people includes a light supper on arrival (with chocolate and champagne), breakfast each morning, a Riverland picnic hamper, a barbeque pack, dessert and a bottle of wine.
Mannum is a historic river port town about 80 kilometres east of Adelaide and is a great base for river adventures. It has some great lunch spots, including Riverview Bar & Bistro in the Pretoria Hotel.
Take a seat on the riverside deck and enjoy elevated pub meals like pork cutlet, kangaroo in a sweet potato mash, roast of the day or local Coorong mullet. There’s also a vegetarian burger (with homemade vegan aioli), a burrito bowl and a vegan laksa. The wine list is almost all South Australian, with a few fun French inclusions, as well as an extensive gin list.
23rd Street Distillery
Renmark’s 23rd Street Distillery recently nabbed the prize for Australian Distillery of the Year at the New York International Spirits Competition, and its contemporary tasting room and restaurant is the place to find out why.
Sample a huge selection of whisky, vodka, brandy, rum and gin made from South Australian ingredients, including 100 per cent Australian malted barley for its whisky and Riverland grapes for its brandy. Local citrus and botanicals flavour the gins; try the red citrus gin or the pomegranate vodka for a hyper-local hit. The menu showcases some of the best local Riverland producers, with lavish charcuterie platters, tapas and woodfired pizza. The place gets busy, especially on weekends, so it doesn’t hurt to make a booking.
Coorong National Park
This extensive coastal lagoon landscape, less than two hours’ drive south-east of Adelaide, is the traditional land of the Ngarrindjeri people. It’s also home to some of the best birdwatching in the state: Jack Point Pelican Observatory is a hotspot for viewing the largest rockery of pelicans (August to January is the best time to see the breeding colony in its greatest numbers), and the beaches and lagoons support a plethora of waterbirds, as well as the endangered orange-bellied parrot.
Canoe the Coorong offers a variety of vessel and tour options, including a sunset tour or an all-day guided trip that combines kayaking with birdwatching (plus a bush tucker walk). Or take a cruise with Spirit of the Coorong in a comfortable, covered vessel from Goolwa upstream to Mannum, which includes comprehensive tours of the coastal waterways with informative commentary from local guides and skippers.
There are also more than a dozen campgrounds in the national park if you want to bring a tent or camper trailer and stay the night.
Banrock Station Wine & Wetland Centre
Banrock Station melds outstanding local produce with a stunning natural environment. Visit its wine and wetland centre at Kingston on Murray to sample premium wines over sweeping views across the Ramsar-accredited wetlands.
A range of creative, immersive experiences takes any visit here far beyond the typical “splash and dash” of a cellar door. Enjoy a grazing style picnic from the deck, take a guided tour of the wetlands or embark on a specially curated birdwatching tour around the station (home to more than 190 bird species). A two-hour guided trail tour and tasting will take you behind the scenes on the station’s ecology programs, finishing with a guided wine tasting and morning tea, by which point you might be ready for lunch on the deck.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with South Australian Tourism Commission. See more information on discovering and supporting South Australia’s River Regions.