Houseboat on the Murray

$100 a day for alternative accomodation doesn’t go far for ‘holiday’ accomodation for six people.  We wanted to go to Kangaroo Island, but couldn’t find anything other than a shoebox in our price range. It took so many phone calls, and internet search after internet search, but finally we found one in our price range …

Unfortunately, it was parked in Mildura which meant that after we dropped off the campervan in Adelaide, we had to drive five hours.  The area was still in minor flood, so we weren’t entirely sure it was a good idea to go on a houseboat.  Anyway, there were a few road closures, and we saw fields that had turned into lakes.  Vineyards and orchards were growing in swamps, rather than fields.  We stopped to buy food from a roadside stall with an honesty box, then we stopped to try a bunch of grapes off a vineyard … which we’ll never do again because they were sour and hard.


Getting on the Houseboat

Lucy was excited when we got on board the houseboat, and squeeled, “Look!  There’s a big rubbish bin in the kitchen just for us!”  It wasn’t until then we realized how little Lucy, at five, can remember of our life in a house.

Edmund decided that he was going to toilet train himeslf while we were on the houseboat.  The first day as I changed his nappy, he slid away and ran to the edge of the boat to wee into the water.  From then on, he refused to wear a nappy but headed happily to the toilet or the edge of the boat whenever he needed to go.  The entire time on the boat, he did not have a single accident.

It was so peaceful floating down the Murray.  On the first night, we struggled to find somewhere suitable to park.  Finally we found somewhere, but found that the ropes at the front of the boat were so short that we couldn’t tie it anywhere.  We had tried three different places when we realized that it was the ropes at the back of the boat that would reach the front to tether the boat.  That was at Redcliffs, upstream of Mildura.

In the morning we realized that we needn’t have been concerned as it was so thoroughly beached that we weren’t going anywhere.  It was stuck fast.  We revved the engine as much as we could.  Dad and Peter pushed the boat while Mum revved the engine.  We pushed while Peter revved the engine.  It just didn’t budge.  It wouldn’t move.  On only our first morning, we had that horrible knot in our stomach that we were going to have to phone for help.  Jarrad swore.  The kids and I tried to stay quiet.  We must have spent over half an hour trying to get the boat to move before she finally began to slip slowly backwards into the water.  It was such a relief when we’d started to think we were going to have to be towed out.





Parking the Houseboat

It was just as peaceful the second day floating down towards MacFarlans Reef, which is 30km from Mildura.  We didn’t see a single other houseboat all day, but one little boat passed us.  It was so peaceful hearing the bird calls and the water, but not so peaceful hearing the boat motor.  We started looking for somewhere to pull over a little earlier, and Dad found a great site that was easy to get into.  We drove straight in, and Peter tossed Dad the first rope.  He went round the other side to grab the second rope and dragged that off the boat.

“Hey, Dad, there’s a snake skin here!”  Peter called, picking up a complete snake skin that would have been about two meters long.  The skin felt paper-y to touch, not cold and scaly like we imagined it would feel like on the snake.  No one wanted to get off the boat that afternoon or the next day knowing that the owner of the skin may still be lurking nearby.

It was much easier to reverse out the next morning without being beached on the embankment.  We continued down the embankment, with Peter desperate to have a turn at steering.  “You can’t, remember,” I sighed, “Children 12 and up only with supervision.”

Edmund was on the toilet that morning third morning with Susan as his cheersquad.  Something wriggled out of our dirty clothes pile.  A frog had hopped on board over night and had gone to sleep in our clothes.  The girls love frogs and spent the next few hours caring for this frog, and a second one they found on the deck.  Jarrad made them put the frogs back on the embankment when we stopped, hoping that the kids wouldn’t kill them with love.


MacFarlans Reef

We stopped at MacFarlans Reef and tethered to a tree on a shady bend in the river.  It was the most beautiful of the places we stopped, and the sunsets were amazing.  As we sat on the boat in the late afternoon looking onto the river bank we saw a smaller monitor scurrying through the undergrowth with something in its mouth.  As soon as it saw us, it quickened and disappeared from sight.  It was a smaller animal than the one we had seen last year at Murray-Kulkyne, but definately the same type.

Murray-Kulkyne was a bit further than we reached, but we kept saying, “I can’t believe how much higher the water is, and how much faster it is than it was last year at Murray-Kulkyne.  The water looked like it was down about a meter from the top of the banks last year, and now there are swamps everywhere!”

There were more frogs on board that morning, much to the girls delight.  Susan was so enamoured with the frogs that she even had one in her hair.  Edmund was not so impressed when Susan put the frog on his belly, and got quite panicky.  Mum and Dad made us release the frogs back on to the shore after that.  We listened to the kookaburras in the trees above us, hoping that the frogs wouldn’t become dinner.

We continued up the river a little further to see MacFarlans Reef some more and passed beatufiul red cliffs that spanned dropped away from a height down to the water.  They were quite special to see, but soon our attention was drawn to the river as the wind and current picked up.  The boat became a little harder to steer, and the water was choppy.  Even at full speed, we still didn’t seem to be moving as the current and wind were working against us.

We perserved for quite a while before we gave up and turned the boat around.  Well, we actually didn’t decide to turn around.  The boat decided to turn itself around.  Dad had gone to get a coffee and go to the bathroom while I drove for a little.  I couldn’t get the boat to move against the strong current, and we stayed in the one place.  Then I eased up on the throttle of the boat, lost control of it … and spun around.  Jarrad was so angry at me, so it took a while before I admitted that I had lost control of it.

It took us less than half an hour to reach the place we had camped the previous night.  The choppy water made it unpleasant, and the current made it harder for Dad to steer.  We took ages looking for somewhere suitable to pull over because it was harder to park with such a strong current and wind.  We tried for over an hour to find somewhere suitable, and the current made it so difficult that everyone was stressed and upset by the time we finally tied the boat up to a tree.




Parked again

We ended up stopping for two nights at the same place we had stopped on the second night.  We stopped for the two nights because the water was still too choppy and wind strong on the second day to keep going.  We felt a little cooped up, as everyone was still too worried about the snake skin to get off.

Both days, two or three frogs were found on board.  Mum and Dad watched one frog cling on the glass window for over an hour one night.   There were so many insects that were flying in for the light in the evenings that the frogs were probably coming in for them.  We were a little worried at what other animals would decide to come and share our space.

We headed back towards Mildura for a bit the next day and floated along the river feeling quite peaceful.  We stopped at Psyche Bend Pumping House, where huge pumps were placed in 1889 to draw water to Kings Billabong.  It is Australia’s oldest intact irrigation station.  The kids enjoyed looking at the tractor inside the shed, and the old train on the rail line.  We were all less impressed when another houseboat pulled in next to us that evening and kept their music playing and generator running until midnight.  There were strange noises coming from the boat, too, and we were all kept awake.

The next morning we had a phone call from the insurance company that our campervan was finished and ready to pick up the next day.  We were all really excited at the idea of being in our campervan again, as we were missing it terribly.  However, Grandma and Opa were planning on coming to Mildura to spend the weekend with us on the houseboat.  The disappointment over not seeing our grandparents dulled the excitement of getting our beloved campervan back again.

Travelling Australia in a campervan since 2009 with our four children aged 4, 7, 10, and 11. We are a family living on the road. Stopping to work in rural and remote towns as we need more money, we love this lifestyle. The four kids are homeschooled as we work our way slowly around Australia.

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About Amy and Jarrad

Travelling Australia in a campervan since 2009 with our four children aged 4, 7, 10, and 11. We are a family living on the road.
Stopping to work in rural and remote towns as we need more money, we love this lifestyle. The four kids are homeschooled as we work our way slowly around Australia.


  1. Hey – sounds like fun! Recently visited the Murray at Morgan SA and was amazed at how high the water was, although the peak had passed in the last 24 hours. One day we’ll go on a houseboat – but maybe when the water gets lower as it looked like a few hazards under the surface …

    Have a great weekend!

  2. admin
    Twitter: livinontheroad

    We thought the water looked very high, particularly compared with when we were at Murray Kulkyne NP a year ago. We got so homesick for our campervan, though, that we realized that we all do think of it as home now.

    Are you on the road at the moment?

  3. Great holiday to have . Love sitting and fishing from the house boats and relaxing.

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