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Down by the River
Letting the current take you where it will.
Words and Images by: Chris Maher

The Melbourne paddle steamer heading through Lock 11 on the Murray. Tourism NSW

While Australia is famous for its beaches, reefs and seas, the inland waterways have their claim to fame as well. After all, Australia’s early development depended on our navigable rivers.

In fact, so important was the Murray River that it had its own flag – two flags in fact. They date back to 1853, but as none of the actual flags still exist, historians had to recreate them from written descriptions. The blue bars represent the four rivers – the Murray, Darling, Lachlan and Murrumbidgee that combine to create the biggest river system in Australia, and one of the longest in the world.

The Lower Murray Flag, used predominantly in South Australia, is distinguished by the use of pale blue bands representing the lighter coloured water of the lower reaches of the Murray. The Upper Murray Flag has darker blue bands, representing the darker waters of the river’s upper reaches. The resurrected flags are still in use today.

The Mighty Murray

The longest river in Australia starts as a trickle at the Australian Alps, but joins with several other tributaries. The most notable is the Darling which rises between Brewarrina and Bourke in outback New South Wales, and which itself has many tributaries that lead all the way up into Queensland.

The whole Murray-Darling system travels 3,750 kilometres though Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia until it filters through the Coorong into the waters of the Great Australian Bight at Goolwa.

In the 19th century it supported a substantial commercial trade using shallow-draft paddle steamers, the first  trips being made by two boats from South Australia on the spring flood of 1853. By 1860 a dozen steamers were operating in the high water season along the Murray and its tributaries. Wool was transported along the river to reach the railway station at Echuca, established in 1864.

The river now mainly carries pleasure boats and houseboats. The most popular river spot is Mildura on the Victorian side of the border with New South Wales. Here you can experience the wonders of the  Murray on your own houseboat. Deep, wide and calm, Mildura’s river country provides a great opportunity to enjoy the river and explore the countryside. You can get well off the beaten track, laze away under the endless blue Mallee skies, drift, fish or swim.

And you’ll be partaking in a part of Australia’s history, navigating our greatest river.

The EmmyLou paddle steamer heading down the river. Tourism NSW

The Murray River flags – the upper Flag on the top, the Lower Flag below. As none of the actual flags still exist, historians had to recreate these from written descriptions.

Try some of these houseboat companies for starters: Lazaway Houseboats (www., Willandra Houseboats (, All Seasons Houseboats ( and Mildura Holiday Houseboats (

The Northern Rivers

They don’t call it the Northern Rivers for nothing. The far north coast of NSW has some wonderful waterways steeped in history.

Tweed River at Murwillumbah. Tourism NSW

Most have some houseboats available for hire, as do many of the lakes and estuaries from Tweed Heads to Tea Gardens. Here are some suggestions: Tweed River Houseboats (, Berger Houseboats (, Macleay River Houseboats (, Clarence River Houseboats (, Boat Shed Number One (, Getaway Luxury House Boats ( Luxury House Boat Hire ( and  Lake Macquarie House Boats (

Murray paddle steamer on its moorings. Tourism NSW

Closer to Sydney, the Hawkesbury River is a haven for houseboats. Surrounded by natural beauty, the Hawkesbury is a sheltered and easy cruising waterway perfect for a family getaway or a weekend refresher. It’s easy to cruise along and explore the river as it winds its way upstream to Windsor and downstream to Brooklyn and Berowra Waters. Here are some suggestions: Able Hawkesbury River Houseboats (www. and Luxury Afloat (

On the south coast, try Clyde River Houseboats ( at Bateman’s Bay.

Sheer luxury on-board an All Seasons Houseboat. Tourism Victoria

Houseboats are also an easy way to explore the lakes and rivers of Central NSW. Burrendong Houseboats are suitable for up to eight mates or two families, perfect for cruising, fishing and swimming on the inland Lake Burrendong or to take some time and explore Lake Wyangala at the junction of the Lachlan and Abercrombie Rivers near Cowra. This lake has surface area two and a half times the size of Sydney Harbour.

Queensland Waterways

Once you cross into Queensland, immediate opportunities present themselves to go boating.

On the Gold Coast you can try a BBQ Boat at B Jetty on the Peninsula ( These 50hp BBQ boats are ideal for discovering the Gold Coast waterways – especially if you have a party full of people. The boats come equipped with a large esky, barbecue and stereo – all the ingredients for a good time. Hire includes fuel and licences are not required.

On the other end of the scale, you can try the My 7 Star from the Mirage Marina ( This is a  seven-star 30-metre luxury yacht offering an intimate cruising experience around the Gold Coast Broadwater, sipping champagne and sampling canapés, taking up to 32 guests with you.

Further north there’s Noosa Dreamboats (, six-metre handcrafted mahogany runabouts for groups of up to five  passengers. Built in the style of the classic 1940s and 1950s American powerboats, you can enjoy a leisurely cruise around Noosa Sound, then pick up speed and feel the wind in your hair as you head up river towards Tewantin and Lake Cooroibah. Noosa Dreamboats offers extra experiences including sandbar picnics and spa packages.

The Gippsland Lakes. Tourism Victoria

For a different experience you can try a gondola ( and enjoy a romantic interlude on the Noosa River. They seat up to six but are perfect for a romantic evening for two. Pickup points are at the Sheraton Wharf and Ricky’s Bar & Restaurant, Noosa Parade.

And if you’re tired of sitting down, try a Noosa Stand Up Paddle (www. at Lions Park, Noosa Heads. You can explore Noosa’s beautiful waterways while reaping the benefits of a full-body workout – without even realising you’re exercising.

Kayaking is also an interesting way to explore Noosa. Kanu Kapers (www. take you through the Noosa everglades on an overnight adventure into the remote wilds of Cooloola National Park and the pristine Upper Noosa River. Your guide will teach you basic kayaking skills before setting off for a paddle across Lake Cootharaba and camping in the Great Sandy National Park. Healthy and delicious food, camping equipment and kayaks are all provided.

Picnicking by the riverside. Tourism Victoria

Paddle steamer at Mildura. Tourism Victoria

Gippsland Lakes

The beautiful Gippsland Lakes are Australia’s largest network of lakes, marshes and lagoons covering over 600 square kilometres. Separated from the ocean by the coastal dunes of Ninety Mile Beach, they are a haven for bird and marine life, with dolphins and pelicans frequenting many locations.

The Riviera Nautic ( is an award winning way to see the Gippsland Lakes. Visitors can hire a  motor and yacht cruiser with no license or prior experience required, and the team will come on board to deliver a thorough briefing and boating lesson before leaving visitors to meander the lakes for the remainder of the trip. The yachts are beautifully appointed and well equipped and 24 hour support is available.

Another experience is Bull’s Cruisers ( operating out of the lakeside town of Paynesville. Bull’s Cruisers has 15 fully self-contained cruisers for hire. You don’t need a boating license or previous experience. All visitors receive sailing guidance from the friendly, qualified staff. Day hire of the boats is also possible (a minimum of three hours), and they offer single and double kayaks from one hour to several days.

The Director offers scenic sunset cruises of the Gippsland Lakes with a complimentary drink, delicious local cheese and stunning views. The cruise begins at Reeve Channel, travelling via Nungurner to Flagstaff Jetty, where guests can disembark and take a stroll to Ninety Mile Beach to view the entrance to the lakes.

Cooper Creek in the Daintree. Tourism QLD

Run by Tony – a fourth generation seaman – Lonsdale Cruisers has a focus on the rich marine life of the Gippsland  Lakes including dolphins, seals, sea-birds, and even wallabies. The eco-cruise takes three hours and costs $50 for adults (

As Australia’s largest inland lakes system, Gippsland has plenty of waterfront accommodation in the villages around the lake, many with their own private jetties. It is therefore entirely possible for visitors to come in their own boats and  arrange to stay at one of the following accommodation offerings.

Kayaks are a great way to explore the riverways. Tourism QLD

Taking a gondola ride on the Brisbane River. Tourism QLD

Jetty Road Retreat: Set amongst treetops overlooking the majestic Gippsland Lakes, Jetty Road Retreat offers magnificent waterfront views, and the privacy and tranquillity of stunning bushland (

The Moorings at Metung: The Moorings offers luxurious waterfront accommodation with private balconies and patios, a lakeside boardwalk leading from the jetty to the village green; beaches, restaurants and shops just a short stroll away in the bustling village of Metung. Indoor and outdoor heated pools, a Jacuzzi spa, tennis court and barbecue area complete the experience (

The award-winning McMillans of Metung resort includes 20 villas and cottages, all spaciously and tastefully designed with a beach-house feel that has become the resort’s trademark. Private balconies with garden or water views, spa baths, a spa, saltwater pool, deck, six acres of manicured gardens and bushland, and native wetlands are just some of the luxuries guests can expect (

Captain’s Cove lies on the shores of the sheltered Paynesville canal and offers fully self-contained waterfront holiday apartments, a heated indoor swimming pool, tennis court, kayaks and stand up paddle boards for a great water getaway (

Tasmania is famous for its river fly fishing. Tourism Tasmania

Fly Fishing in Tasmania

With more than 3,000 lakes and rivers, Tasmania is internationally sought-after as a destination for brown and rainbow trout fishing. With its striking surrounds and rich waters, the central highlands is one of the top places to fish for trout, with knowledgeable guides available to take guests to prime fishing locations and/or provide fly fishing tutorials. The following are the top two places to turn to for trout fishing accommodation and trout fishing guides.

Just a man and the river. Tourism Tasmania

Blue Lake Lodge on Arthur’s Lake is the ideal base for brown trout fishing enthusiasts. A boat is available by special arrangement for trout fishing, or visitors can fly-fish for trout from the scenic banks. A fishing license is required.

A houseboat in Goolwa, South Australia, where the Murray River flag was first flown. Tourism SA

RiverFly Tasmania on the Macquarie River is Northern Tasmania’s only riverbased fly fishing guiding business, taking visitors into Tasmania’s famous midland streams and remote rainforest rivers to find wild brown and rainbow trout.

Tags: River Steamer Boats Murray Echuca Brewarrina Bourke Mildura Cowra Brisbane Tasmania
Category: Features
Written: Sun 01 Jul 2018
Printed: July, 2013
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