Cruis­ing the Mur­ray River by house­boat.

Australian Traveller - - Contents - WORDS YASMIN NEWMAN

A LACK OF SAIL­ING ex­pe­ri­ence and my love of crea­ture com­forts have al­ways cast a feel­ing of trep­i­da­tion over a par­tic­u­lar dream of mine: that of slowly mak­ing my way down the Mur­ray River’s serene, gum-lined shores by house­boat, moor­ing where I please, and tak­ing in the sur­round­ing beauty with the oc­ca­sional flick of a wheel. It’s al­ways seemed like a wild flight of fancy. But there are house­boats, and then there are house­boats. Ul­tra-luxe, fully ap­pointed and with thought­ful ar­chi­tec­tural de­tails, the Carpe Diem, my home away from home for the next few nights, is the kind of ves­sel you’d trade your own house for. “The idea was to give it a yacht feel,” says Mar­tin Alt­man, who, along with fel­low Mur­ray River lo­cals in­clud­ing de­signer Mark Reu, crafted the mod­ern two-storey, three-bed­room, sharp-lined abode, with floor-to-ceil­ing glass win­dows to take in the sweep­ing views. Our jour­ney be­gins in Younghus­band, an easy one-and-a-half hour’s drive from Ade­laide through the hills and wine coun­try, be­fore the ter­rain gets drier and more desert-like, set­ting the tone for our jour­ney down the river. The area is part of the Lower Mur­ray, a vast re­gion ex­tend­ing from over the border of New South Wales to just south of Ade­laide, where the coun­try’s long­est river fi­nally meets the ocean from its source in the Aus­tralian Alps. End to end, the Mur­ray tra­verses some 2700 kilo­me­tres. Be­fore rail­ways were con­structed, the river was the main way to trans­port goods across this vast land. Even with a long hire of one to two weeks, head­ing all the way up to Blanchetown where this stretch meets a weir, you only see a frac­tion of the river, but Mar­tin hand­picked th­ese South Aus­tralian bends for their one-of-a-kind Mur­ray River beauty: dra­matic sand­stone cliffs, pic­turesque river ports and abun­dant wildlife. In the Dream­time sto­ries of the local Ngar­rind­jeri, the great fish Pondi cre­ated the river’s sig­na­ture curves as it was chased down­stream. Truth be told, we are anx­ious as we pull out of the ma­rina; we’re fully in charge of the five-tonne, mil­lion-dol­lar-plus Carpe Diem with not a shred of ex­pe­ri­ence (sur­pris­ingly, all that was needed was a valid driver’s li­cence and a quick les­son with the ma­rina man­agers be­fore the keys were handed over). But the river is wide, about 350 me­tres from bank to bank, par­tic­u­larly at the ma­rina. The PS Mur­ray Princess, the largest in­land pad­dle steamer in the south­ern hemi­sphere, com­fort­ably cruises by, along with a raft of iconic his­toric steam­ers, fel­low house­boats and even the oc­ca­sional sea­plane, which we see take off and land on the river run­way. It’s a thrilling feel­ing to be the cap­tain of your own ves­sel, veer­ing right ac­cord­ing

to mar­itime law and fol­low­ing the horn sig­nals of the river that you’ve just learned about. Even at full-throt­tle, we’re mov­ing rel­a­tively slowly. The av­er­age house­boat trav­els at five to seven kilo­me­tres per hour, but the Carpe Diem is im­pres­sively re­spon­sive for some­thing so big. Shift­ing the boat’s pace be­comes a breeze, and be­fore long we’re switch­ing be­tween skip­per­ing the ves­sel from the wheel on the top deck, the wind whip­ping at our faces, and the one found on the main floor. The slow speed proves to have many benefits. For one, it al­lows you to take it all in: the at­mo­spheric wil­low trees gen­tly sway­ing in the breeze; the pris­tine wa­ter, unimag­in­ably smooth and still in parts; flocks of birds danc­ing in the sun in­clud­ing pel­i­cans, black swans, sul­phur-crested cock­a­toos, a wedge-tailed ea­gle… As the sun sets on our first night, docked on the river bank be­tween two sen­tinel gums, we feel a sense of calm and quiet we’d long been miss­ing. The next morn­ing, the down­time con­tin­ues, this time en­forced, as the fog, too thick to nav­i­gate through, slowly dis­si­pates. Sum­mer hol­i­days are the most pop­u­lar time of year on the river, when peo­ple take to the wa­ter in kayaks and on jet skis (avail­able for hire at the ma­rina), and ves­sels like the Carpe Diem are flooded with fresh air and sun­shine. But there’s some­thing to be said for the cooler months too, when the morn­ing mist adds a strik­ing beauty and fires on the river­bank can be en­joyed into the evening. We spend a few hours cruis­ing down the river, pass­ing by town­ships of ‘shacks’ – South Aus­tralian cheek for hol­i­day

The morn­ing mist adds a strik­ing beauty and fires on the river­bank can be en­joyed into the evening.

houses, be it caravan, shanty or de­signer home – and stray cows from neigh­bour­ing farm­land, be­fore it’s time to moor again. The plea­sure of house boat­ing is as much in stop­ping as it is in mov­ing, and choos­ing where next to tem­po­rar­ily call home takes much con­sid­er­a­tion. Tonight, we pull up in front of sheer yel­low cliffs stud­ded with gi­ant suc­cu­lents, which cast a per­fect re­flec­tion on the wa­ter. We pre­pare a bar­be­cue off the end of the boat, the stone tableau our vista, and dine in the up­stairs en­ter­tain­ing space. To the north-east is River­land, while the south-west serves up the Barossa, Ade­laide Hills and more. Upon re­quest, the Carpe Diem can be stocked with the re­gion’s lauded wine and fresh pro­duce. The house­boat has a slick, downstairs gal­ley kitchen to pre­pare your food, and there are dining (and drinking) nooks dot­ted through­out – per­fect for en­joy­ing gourmet cheeses, bread and an­tipasto. The fa­mous Mur­ray River cod can also once again be found in healthy num­bers and keen fish­ers can make the most of the fresh sup­ply. Guests of­ten pick up goods at Bowhill and those who jour­ney fur­ther up­stream stop for a pub lunch at Swan Reach too, jump­ing off their boats along the way to ex­plore small lakes and hill­tops that they spot as they drift by. Reluc­tantly, at Purnong, north of Bowhill, we turn around and head back to the ma­rina. Our jour­ney has been short com­pared to the stan­dard three-to-four night trip, or the weekly hire that groups of friends or fam­i­lies usu­ally take (the Carpe Diem ac­com­mo­dates up to 10 in com­fort), but we’re al­ready plan­ning our re­turn. Cruis­ing down the Mur­ray is pure magic, and we’re hooked, line and sinker.

Tonight, we pull up in front of sheer yel­low cliffs stud­ded with gi­ant suc­cu­lents, which cast a per­fect re­flec­tion.

CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Sit back and look for birdlife along the banks of the Mur­ray; Hug red cliffs as you me­an­der slowly up­river; Half the fun of river­boat­ing is find­ing a quiet berth among the gum trees each evening.

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