The romance of a long, languid river journey can be just the battery re-charger any couple needs. But if the river, the scenery and, most importantly, the boat are all sublime, it seems a shame to keep it all to yourself.
Houseboats, in particular, are taking the experience upmarket, but when you spread the cost across, say, six couples, it makes it good value, and you’re sharing it with good friends. It’s a winning combination. Some of you may want to just sit back and enjoy the ever-changing scenery. Others can go fishing, swimming, or take a kayak for a paddle. And everybody can get a turn at driving the boat.
Not that you can call Unforgettable 3 a boat or even a houseboat: the 12-berth, two-storey luxury river home comes with a bubbling spa, sun lounges that are hard to leave and a cocktail bar, plus a games cupboard and home theatre set-up that provide lots of entertainment when the sun sinks.
And for those who find cooking a relaxation, the kitchen has everything you need.
But the star of the show is definitely the Murray River, which is broad, brooding and beautiful on the stretches that mark the finish of its 2500km journey from the Snowy Mountains to the Southern Ocean.
We start and finish our three-night trip in South Australia’s home of historic paddle steamers, Mannum, where Unforgettable’s owner Mark Flanagan provides a thorough safety drill. The test run goes well and there are plenty of experienced boat captains in our group and there is also a houseboat bible that troubleshoots potential problems. “Don’t worry, have fun and enjoy the river,” Mark says.
It doesn’t take long to do that as we cruise upstream along what’s considered the wildest section of the Murray but also the most picturesque. We pass lazy lagoons and quiet backwaters as speedboats skim by, pulling skiers who jump our bow waves, while kayakers paddle up close for a better look at our floating palace.
After a few hours of cruising, we pull into the river bank and tie up to a river red gum, then canoes are launched for a leisurely paddle. Our resident keen angler throws in a line, promising fish for dinner.
You soon discover river life is addictive, and no matter how many times you look at the scenery framed by limestone cliffs, the colours are never the same and there is always something new that catches your eye. I spot a huge gathering of pelicans, and there are several majestic black swans and cygnets. There are also 31 species of fish found in this part of the Murray – a fact we remind our confident angler of, but to no avail. The houseboat bible has a section called How To Catch Fish, plus another – Now That You Have, What To Do With Them. It remains unopened.
Lucky, we had stocked up on treats at Adelaide Central Market on our 90km drive up to Mannum, so dinner was excellent – cheese, pate, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables and chocolate, along with a South Australian wine. Alternatively, we could have contacted local caterer The Floating Gourmet for hassle-free menus and a grocery list of 55,000 items delivered on board.
Next day it is my turn to take the wheel. Despite its size, the houseboat is easy to navigate on the deep waters at a leisurely 6kmh but I do get lots of instruction, such as to remember to sound the whistle as we near a ferry and give a wide berth to the massive Murray Princess and Proud Mary riverboats.
We spend about four hours cruising each day; the rest is total relaxation, especially at night when we’re slowly rocked to sleep by the gentle lapping of the river.
The good news is we didn’t need to call that emergency number once, thanks to all our captains on board. Sadly fish didn’t appear on the Unforgettable’s dinner table, but there is a good fish and chip shop in Mannum.
When it is in a tranquil mood, the mighty Murray is best enjoyed in great comfort with good company and from the water.
Story: Sue Wallace
Rates less than $500 per couple for three- or four-night cruises in low season.
Sue Wallace was a guest of Unforgettable Houseboats and the South Australian Tourism Commission.
The history of SA’s paddle steamers is on show at Mannum Dock Museum and Visitor Centre.
Or get a free app with info about the area – murrayriver.com.au/murray-river-app