Posted by: travelrat | January 25, 2012

Cruising the Murray River

This is the first of my ‘Australia Retrospectives’, telling about a cruise we did on the River Murray six years ago.

I can’t help it. Whenever I do something, I compare it with something similar I did in the past. When I cruised Australia’s River Murray in 2006, I couldn’t help contrasting it with cruising on the Nile some years before.

On the Egyptian boat, the Captain was a nondescript little man in a galabiya and turban, who ranked somewhere between the First and Second Chef. He was briefly introduced on the first day, then bustled off to his duties. We never saw him again.

On the other hand, Captain Ray Weedon, master of the Murray Princess, was highly visible. He told us about his ship, the history and geology of the river and the wildlife we would see … and we could knock on the door of the wheelhouse and speak to him any time. He looked like a ship’s Captain, too, rather than one of the Forty Thieves!

The Murray is Australia’s largest river, and the world’s fourth largest. By the time the Darling River has joined it at Mildura, seven rivers have made their contribution to its waters. And, its catchment area is four times the size of Britain.

The river served as an important transport link in the past. It has been referred to as ‘Australia’s Mississippi’, and paddleboats used to ply the river carrying passengers and produce.

Captain Ray told us that there’d been some controversy when the Princess was built in 1986. She’s a stern-wheeler, more like a Mississippi riverboat than anything else.

‘The traditional Murray steamer was a side-wheeler’ he said ‘but we wanted the widest ship which would pass though the locks further up-river’.

The Princess isn’t actually a ‘steamer’. It’s diesel-engined … but since the last true steamer I sailed on used to cough gobbets of soot out of the funnel, and over the passengers, that’s a misnomer I’ll happily forgive!

One of my favourite places on the ship was the two-storey lounge in the stern, where a gigantic window gives a view of the paddle wheel churning up the water, to the delight of the jet-skiers and water-skiers who seemed always to be following us. Close second came the dining room, where the chef excelled himself every time.

The base of Murray Princess is at Mannum, about 50 miles east of Adelaide. It moors at the Mary Ann Reserve, where, in 1852, Captain William Randell built the first-ever Murray paddle steamer, the Mary Ann.

We moored overnight on the riverbank, where the only facilities were a notice telling the times the Princess used the berth, and requesting other river users to stay clear at these times.

We only really touched a major township at Murray Bridge, where we visited an Aboriginal centre, and saw a display of dancing and music before checking out the museum and a chocolate factory.

On the other occasions, though, there was still plenty to do. On one occasion, we took a nature walk, conducted by the First Officer, who pointed out some of the wildlife, and showed us a ‘canoe tree’, from which Aborigines had long since removed the bark to make a canoe, but still left the tree alive. The following day, we joined a little boat, the Dragonfly, for a ‘wetland safari’.

The only disappointment was a walk to the cliff-top to see the sunrise. We were up at 6 am. Unfortunately, the sun wasn’t, although we couldn’t be too hard on the crew. That really was beyond their control!

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  1. Hi Keith,
    Excellent post, and great photos.
    It certainly does make for a more enjoyable trip when the people that are running the trip are more than willing to help in any way. It sounds like the meals were excellent as well. A trip I have not done, but will get there one day to do it. 🙂

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