Excerpt: Down-Under Adventure

Plying Australia's Murray River by houseboat

Published online: Oct 27, 2005 News By Sam Orchard
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More and more American families visiting Australia are looking for that quintessential Australian experience. Tired of the regular tourist traps and big cities, they are looking to `alternative' style holidays, something none of their friends have tried before.

This fact is borne out by the increasing popularity of adventure travel through the Outback, or sea-faring adventures where travellers visit dozens of tiny islands dotted around the coast of Queensland or Western Australia. Add to that the continuing popularity of safaris through the Kimberly and Kakadu and it becomes clear that Americans like to see more than just the ordinary when visiting Australia.

However, when it comes to a uniquely Australian experience, ideally suited to an American family travelling together, nothing beats a houseboat holiday on the Murray River.

The Murray is Australia's most significant waterway and stretches over 1600 miles across southeastern Australia. That distance takes it on a winding journey from the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, through Victoria and South Australia before meeting the Southern Ocean at the Coorong in South Australia.

The river is often referred to as `the lungs of Australia' and provides the lifeblood for numerous cotton farms, rice paddies, dairy farms and dozens of small communities that dot the riverbanks along its entire length.

The river travels through generally arid country and hence its importance to the surrounding ecology of the Murray basin. By way of comparison, the average rainfall across the entire basin is only 430 millimeters per year, whereas in the Tennessee Valley, average rainfall is closer to 1270mm annually.

With such low rainfall, the corresponding number of days with sunshine per year, particularly in the lower, South Australian section of river, is very high. Even during the traditional Australian winter months of June and July it is most often sunny and warm on the river, which makes houseboating in this country a year-round proposition.

Those who have travelled along the river often describe it as being a magical experience and certainly, the scenery and surrounding environment are second to none. From the towering cliffs of Big Bend to the teeming bird life around Lyrup to the eerie isolation of various stretches beyond Swan Hill, the Murray River has a surprise waiting around every corner.

Regular houseboater Shane Maddigan of Adelaide says it is hard to describe the feeling piloting a houseboat down this beautiful waterway.

"I don't know what it is I enjoy most. Whether it's the chance to travel through such spectacular country where the scenery changes completely every couple of hours, or the early morning fog, the spectacular sunsets, or even just the fact that sometimes you feel like you have the whole river to yourself. Whatever it is, it is great fun and a nice way to relax and completely unwind," he said.

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