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The Emmylou plies the Murray River.

Murray River Cruises.

Virtually unknown outside of Australia and New Zealand, the Murray River, navigable for hundreds of miles, threads through the Outback between New South Wales and Victoria and enters South Australia to then empty into a vast lake at the edge of the Southern Ocean.

Its banks were first settled by Aborigines thousands of years ago and in modern times it became the country’s food bowl. By the mid-19th-century the Murray was navigation route for fleets of steamboats.

Today, that legacy is the largest collection of paddle steamers in the world, several operating overnight cruises of up to a week and others offering daytime trips from several different landings.

Read writer William Worden’s account of a recent Murray River adventure, “Two Nights in the Museum.”

The Murray Princess on the Murray River

Murray Princess. * Photo: Murray Princess Cruises

Murray River cruises are operated by several different companies; offering one nighters on up to a week, some year-round.

In this review, we will look at the three most active boats. The largest resembles a relatively small version of Mississippi sternwheelers and the smallest a design all its own.

Visit riverside ports that grew up during the steamboat era and the life of the early settlers, indigenous people’s sights, banks lined with red gum trees, native Australian wildlife drawn to the river and some seen, especially at dawn and dusk, nowhere else.

At night while seated on deck, powerful beams of light help pick out the activity. During the day, local expert guides take passengers on walks to historical sites and local state parks.

The PS Rothbury on the Murray River

Two kids are fascinated by the churning paddle wheel as the P.S. Rothbury docks. * Photo: Ted Scull

The Fleet

The largest, the PS Murray Princess, is a genuine inland paddle wheeler, expressly built in 1986 for the Murray River with a classic design and modern comforts. 120 passengers.

Proud Mary, built 1982 as the Murray Expedition with 28 passengers. Major refit in 1986, now 36 passengers.

Emmylou, a true paddle steamer first built in 1981, is based on the Murray River at Echuca, and is the only wood-fired paddler in the world offering regular overnight cruises. She is powered by a restored 1906 Marshall and Sons steam engine and fueled by redgum logs. Her old-world charm also offers modern comforts in the recently refurbished cabins. Emmylou was named after the country singer Emmylou Harris, and along with the PS Pevensey, PS Emmylou starred in the TV series “All the Rivers Run” as the PS Providence.

Murray River

Proud Mary * Photo:: Murray River Cruises

Passenger Decks

Murray Princess — 5 decks; elevators between some decks; Proud Mary — 3 decks, no elevator; Emmylou — 2 decks, no elevator.

Passenger Profile

For all three vessels — passengers are largely Australian, with some New Zealanders, Europeans and North Americans in the mix.

Ted Scull on a ferry crossing the Murray River.

Ted Scull exploring the Murray River valley, crossing by free ferry at Mannum. * Photo: Suellyn Scull

Price

$ to $$

Itineraries

Murray Princess — 3-night Wetlands Cruise (Friday am to Monday am); 4-night Heritage Cruise (Monday pm to Friday am); 7-night Murraylands Cruise combines both. Departs every Fri and Mon at 4:30 pm, returns Fri and Mon at 9:00am. Cruises depart from Murray Bridge, 1.25 hour from Adelaide, capital of South Australia.

Proud Mary — 2-night Discovery Cruise departs every Friday 8:00 pm and returns Sunday 4:30 pm; 5-night Wildlife Cruise departs every Sunday 8:00 pm and returns Friday 4:00 pm. Cruises depart from Murray Bridge.

Emmylou

  • 1-night Weekend Wine and Dine Gourmet Experience departs Saturday 6:30 pm;
  • 2-night Upper Murray Wine and Eco Cruise departs 6:00 pm;
  • 2-night Mitchelton & Emmylou Gourmet Escape departs Melbourne Friday approximately 9:00 am returns to Echuca dock 9:30 am to be transferred back to Melbourne;
  • 2-night Golf Cruise Package departs 6:00 pm returns approx. 4:00 pm (after 2nd round of golf);
  • 3-night Golf Cruise Package departs 6:00 pm returns approx. 4:00 pm (after 2nd round of golf);
  • 3-night Upper Murray Discovery Cruise departs Monday 6:00 pm returns Thursday 9:30 am;
  • 4-night Upper Murray Explorer Cruise departs Monday 10:00 am returns Friday 9:30 am;
  • 4-night Discovery Cruise Retreat Package Cruise departs Sunday 6:30 pm returns Tuesday where you will be transferred to Talo Retreat for a 1-night glamping experience.

Note: Echuca is located on the Murray River in northern Victoria, three hours by car or train from Melbourne.

The Emmylou plies the Murray River.

Emmylou. * Photo: Theo van Loon

Why Go?

To soak up the river scene, lined with redgum trees, parks, and small- to medium-size towns. Enjoy the Aboriginal history, white settler history, unusual species of birds and animals, and camaraderie between nationalities.

Bird species number 98 including cockatoos, Australian pelicans, parrots, ibis; 53 kinds of frogs; 46 species of snakes; 100 lizard varities; and 7 types of turtles; plus platypus and wombats.

Under the surface lurk yabbies (crayfish), eels, catfish, and perch, and sometimes on the banks, turtles and snakes. Some cruises pass through locks built to tame the river’s flow.

The wildlife along a Murray River cruise.

Azura Kingfisher.

Murray River Cruising

Mistletoe

When to Go?

Australia’s seasons are reversed; summers can be very hot, and winters cool and sometimes cold.

Cabins

Murray Princess — 60 cabins and staterooms (larger) arranged on three decks, with private bathroom, adjustable air-conditioning, electric blankets. Dimensions about 12 sq. meters (130 sq. ft.). Staterooms (6) open onto the outside deck and include a fridge and tea/coffee making facilities. Four have a double and a single bed. Outside Cabins (45) open onto the outside deck and have picture windows (twin/double/triple). Inside Cabins (9) open onto an inside passageway and have portholes facing the outside (twin/double).

A cabin on the Murray Princess.

Murray Princess Stateroom. * Photo: Murray River Cruises

Proud Mary — 18 similar river-view cabins on all three decks open onto the side promenade and have either twin or double beds, private facilities, individually controlled air-conditioning, coffee and tea making facilities and hair dryers.

Emmylou — 9 cabins provide a choice of recently refitted accommodations that range in price. Main Deck 2 cabins with twin beds, shared bathroom and wheel chair accessible; Upper Deck 2 cabins with twin beds, private facilities; Upper Deck 2 cabins with double bed, private facilities; Upper Deck 2 cabins queen bed, private facilities; Emmylou suite with double bed, private facilities. Individually controlled air conditioning units, hair dryers in each cabin. Tea and coffee making facilities are in the bar area. Note: The main deck is accessible by wheelchair after crossing the crank shaft, assistance provided. Upper Deck is not wheelchair accessible.

Public Rooms

Murray Princess — Bar forward, lounge aft; gift shop, library and videos; highest deck, partially awning covered; guest laundry and 24-hour tea and coffee facilities.

Proud MaryWell-appointed bar, lounge, and dining area share a space, book collection. Partly covered open deck space.

Emmylou — Public spaces on one deck, cabins on another. Free WiFi in public areas and cabins.

Dining

Murray Princess — Open single seating in a charming historic steamboat setting, served and buffet dining, and Captain’s Dinner. Australian meals with local produce. Special campfire barbecue on the banks of the Murray River during the Heritage Cruise (on four-nighter only).

Murray Princess Dining Room

Murray Princess Dining Room. * Photo: Murray River Cruises

Proud Mary — One open seating and similar arrangements and menus as Murray Princess.

Emmylou —Dining is open-air with the chef using fresh local ingredients for Australian offerings. Most dietary requirements accepted with advance notice. Also, riverside campfires and BBQ’s. On 3- and 4-night cruises wine and beer included at dinner.

Activities & Entertainment

Murray Princess — Two spas, two saunas, sun deck. Speedboat and guided trips ashore to see small towns and wildlife.

Proud Mary — Explore at leisure from the mooring locations, a walk through the bush land or paddle a canoe along the backwaters; fishing with reels and bait for the asking.

Emmylou — Excursions are included such as winery visits, world heritage wetlands and cultural experiences.

Murray River

Mildura, a town that grew up along the Murray Rover. Here arcaded stores. * Photo: Ted Scull

Special Notes

For information about what to do along the Murray River, visit http://www.murrayriver.com.au/things-to-do/.

For Murray Princess info, go to Captain Cook Cruises at www.murrayprincess.com.au (Level 3, 26 Flinders Street, Adelaide, South Australia 5000); overseas: +618 82202 8698 or within Australia 1 300 729 938.

For info about Murray River Cruises aboard all three riverboats, go to http://www.murrayrivercruises.com.au/; or outside Australia 617 4051 1120, within Australia 1 800 994 620.

The scenic Murray River.

Red banks enclose the Murray River. * Photo: Murray River Cruises

— Ted Scull

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Murray River Steamboat Cruise on the adorable Marion

Murray River Steamboat Cruise.

Introduction by Ted Scull.

Steamboats have plied Australia’s Murray River since the mid-19th century. Today steamers range from wood-fired antiques, the topic of this report below, to modern replica sternwheelers. A handful make overnight cruises lasting from just two days and up to a week.

Murray River Steamboat Cruise aboard the historic Marion

Murray Princess. * Photo: Murray River Cruises

At landings along the way in the states of South Australia and Victoria, additional paddlers make day trips. In total, the Murray River basin boasts the world’s largest fleet of paddle steamers. Both the author of the featured cruise, William Worden, and I have additionally explored more of this fascinating navigable river — Australia’s longest by far — by car.

The cruise report, “Two Nights in the Museum,” provides the introduction to the subject, and here’s a link to additional Murray River trip options. 

The birds and animals, some peculiar to Australia and the Murray River, make for happy hunting.

Murray River Steamboat Cruise map

Map of the Lower River Murray. * Photo: Ted Scull

Two Nights in the Museum

By William Worden

Australia’s Murray River offers several opportunities for cruises, but one is unique: the chance to cruise aboard a museum. The paddle steamer Marion, launched in 1897 as a barge, was converted into a steamer in 1900. She was altered several times and achieved her present form by the mid-1930s, with three decks of accommodations for a maximum of 25 overnight passengers.

She cruised until 1952 when Murray Shipping, Ltd. liquidated and she became a houseboat. The National Trust of Australia bought her in 1963 and she steamed “one last trip” to Mannum, where she served as a static museum for several decades.

In 1989 it was decided that the best way to preserve the Marion was to restore her to operation. After much volunteer labor, Marion returned to steam in 1994.

Murray River Steamboat Cruise on the adorable Marion

Paddle steamer Marion. * Photo: William Worden

A Murray River Steamboat Cruise Based in Mannum

She remains based at Mannum, South Australia and runs day excursions as well as a few multi-night cruises every year.

Marion is a museum piece, preserved as she was in her heyday; luxury is not on tap. Her appeal is not in slick décor, but in the more fundamental pleasure of shipwright carpentry, the kind of appeal most of us find in simple, well-made, solid constructions of wood.

Cabins are typical of the time, about seven feet square with an upper and lower bunk, a small cabinet and shelf, a straight chair and hooks for hanging clothes. Suitcases fit under the bunks, and we packed light for our two-night trip.

Toilets and showers are down the open deck, positioned over the paddle boxes. There is a second deck forward lounge (with bar), and the former smoking saloon on the third deck aft (smoking is not permitted on this all-wood museum piece). The dining saloon is aft on the main deck. Pilot house and engine spaces are open to all to observe and inquire.

Typical of the Murray River boats, Marion’s engine is a Marshall “portable” engine and boiler from England. Originally set on wheels, it had its undercarriage removed and then was placed in the hull. Because the engine runs too fast for paddlewheels, there is a big gear and pinion reduction.

Marion is wood-fired and the wood bunker and the fire hold are open for passenger observation. Pilot house equipment is limited to a big steering wheel (Armstrong power steering), a throttle, and a speaking tube to communicate with the engineer down below.

Murray River Steamboat Cruise aboard the wood-fired Marion

P.S. Marion uses wood for fuel. * Photo: William Worden

100% Volunteer

The crew of the Marion is 100% volunteer. Without exception, they live up to the Australian reputation for informality and friendliness. Their love for their boat is worn on their sleeves. They go out of their way to make a cruise on her pleasant because her cruises raise money that helps to preserve her. Further, one and all, shy and gregarious, they seem to genuinely like their passengers.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the dining saloon, while a modest baked sweet is laid out for morning and afternoon tea in the lounge. Home cooking is the standard. If the word “gourmet” would not come to mind, “substantial,” “excellently-prepared” and “delicious” certainly would.

The bar in the lounge is stocked with a range of soft drinks, beers, ales, and ciders, as well as stronger alcoholic beverages.

Dining room on a Murray River Steamboat Cruise

Dining room aboard P.S. Marion. * Photo: William Worden

Entertainment is largely self-provided. A couple of very interesting videos about Murray River steamers were played in the lounge. One evening, the purser led games: a form of darts with Velcro instead of sharp points and, believe it or not, blindfolded pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. This seemed lame at the outset, but ended up in tears-down-the-cheeks laughter.

The lounge aboard the Murray River Steamboat Cruise vessel Marion.

Views to all sides from the lounge. * Photo: William Worden

Murray River Steamboat Cruise Itineraries

Scenery varies according to the Marion’s route for a specific cruise. Ours, from Goolwa, where the Murray spills into the Southern Ocean, to Mannum, began in some narrower channels leading to the crossing of Lake Alexandrina, a part of a large protected wetland.

Bird life is abundant on the crossing, both familiar types like pelicans and species unique to Australia. At Wellington, the steamer reached the river proper. We spent the night at Murray Bridge; some found a pub. We did a little shopping.

Murray River Cruise

Nankeen Night Heron

The morning found us upbound again in a narrower stretch of the river where limestone cliffs had been carved by millennia of flowing water. We arrived at Mannum, Marion’s home, not long after noon. After saying our regretful good-byes to Marion, her crew, and our new-found Australian friends, we visited the river museum and then headed off by car up the Murray. There we would experience short day trips on some of the other preserved steamers that proudly sail on Australia’s longest river.

The outside decks of the historic Marion, a Murray River Steamboat Cruise

Cabins open to a side deck. * Photo: William Worden

The Marion’s cruise itineraries vary in direction and length depending on the river events she visits. Ours was one of a pair of two-night sailings to and from the South Australian Wooden Boat Festival at Goolwa, a trip she seems to make every year in late April.

In the fall (Australian spring!) of 2019, she will make a similar pair of two-night trips upbound from Mannum to Morgan, a trip which, the crew assured me, is more scenic. In other years, she has offered cruises as long as eight nights when visiting very distant events.

The tied up Marion, a Murray River Steamboat Cruise

P.S. Marion ties up at night. * Photo: William Worden

The years’ schedule is posted early each year on the website: http://www.psmarion.com/.

To learn more about three additional sternwheelers with overnight accommodations and year-round cruises — Murray Princess, Proud Mary, Emmylou — see our QuirkyCruise Murray River Cruises review. or contact Murray River Cruises directly.

QuirkyCruise Review

 

 

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By Theodore W. Scull. The first river I got to know well was right outside my office window. It was the mighty Hudson and it flowed both ways as the incoming tide from the Atlantic was often stronger than the out flowing river. In fact, the tides reached Troy, just above Albany, some 155 miles from the river mouth. That had to be the limit because of the Champlain Canal locks.

The Hudson was a busy waterway for liners, cruise ships, cargo vessels, tankers, tugs towing barges, ferries, excursion boats, sanitation vessels and sailing craft. At first I sailed only the 75-mile stretch from New York to Poughkeepsie, and not until many decades later in 2010, did I close that gap when I cruised the entire navigable length from Troy to Manhattan.

My first two overnight river cruises took place even before I started working in Manhattan, with the first aboard a Russian riverboat, five days down the Danube from Vienna to the Black Sea. The most exciting portion was riding the rapids through the Iron Gates, a fast-flowing stretch that passed through a narrow gorge between Serbia (then Yugoslavia) and Romania. Steam locomotives were on hand to aid upriver traffic before locks controlled the flow.

A steam locomotive awaits the next ship to tow up through the Iron Gate. * Photo: Ted Scull

A steam locomotive awaits the next ship to tow up through the Iron Gates. * Photo: Ted Scull

The second was aboard an old Russian side-wheeler plying between Stalingrad (now Volgograd) and Rostov, steaming along both the Volga and the Don. I never expected a river trip to be rough but crossing a huge lake in a windstorm was not unlike being on the open sea. Not to send fear into timid hearts and unpredictable stomachs, that was the one and only time on a waterway that I experienced rock and roll.

Then a long gap ensued before I was invited to be a lecturer aboard the venerable sternwheeler DELTA QUEEN. Completed in 1927, she became America’s quintessential steamboat, a living legacy that connected the past directly with the modern versions we have today. I think we may see her sailing again.

Delta Queen in 1990. * Photo: Ted Scull

Delta Queen in 1990. * Photo: Ted Scull

That first cruise covered the Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee rivers, all so different that I got river fever and was determined to travel on more. At first, all were located in North America: a short stretch of the Missouri; the Kanawha in West Virginia; the Sacramento and Stockton in California; the Columbia and Snake in Oregon and Washington, and along the Salmon River into Hells Canyon in Idaho.

The first international river was the St. Lawrence dividing the U.S. and Canada. It’s referred as La Mer (The Sea) to French Canadians from where it meets the Saguenay to its issue into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. From the Saguenay inland it is both a natural river and a controlled one with locks that create the St. Lawrence Seaway. On different small ships, I have traveled this river from Lake Ontario, along the section where it becomes the St. Lawrence Seaway, sharing the channels with the big lakers (bulk carriers), and on past Montreal and Quebec to the Saguenay.

Meeting an ore carrier on the St. Lawrence. * Photo: Ted Scull

Meeting an ore carrier on the St. Lawrence. * Photo: Ted Scull

Europe entered the picture again exactly 20 years ago when I made an autumn cruise on the Rhine, Moselle and Main. I loved the castles, cathedrals, vineyards fringing the banks, picture postcard towns and the commercial river traffic. Their varied attributes propelled me to study maps of Europe’s navigable rivers; it was staggering where I could go and did: from the North Sea, some 2,123 miles (3,147 kms) to the Black Sea; from Amsterdam across Germany and up the Elbe to Prague in Central Europe; most of the way between the English Channel at the mouth of the Seine and via the Soane and Rhone almost to the Mediterranean, apart from a dry stretch between Paris and Burgundy; and St. Petersburg to Moscow via the Neva and Volga.

Viking River Cruises' riverboat tied up on the Neva just outside St. Petersburg. * Photo: Ted Scull

Viking River Cruises’ riverboat tied up on the Neva just outside St. Petersburg. * Photo: Ted Scull

Beyond Europe, the Nile beckoned and more than satisfied me as a way to see Upper Egypt’s antiquities — the temples, statues, feluccas, and shadoofs, but sadly few people are currently venturing there, though my brother did so as recently as December 2015 and experienced no incidents.

The mighty Amazon is really two rivers, the wide stretch between Manaus and the Atlantic where some of the larger cruise ships go and the really remote road-less Upper Amazon (Solimoes) where the river provides the transportation in addition to dozens of tributaries navigated by small river boats that penetrate deeply into Peru. I made one exciting eight-day journey from Iquitos, the world’s largest city without road access, down to Manaus and the junction with the Rio Negro. I loved seeing how people made their living on and around the river, spotting the exotic birds and animals, also calling the river home, and catching a piranha on my birthday and having it grilled for supper.

Then came the mighty Yangtze in China climbing by riverboat from Wuhan through the Three Gorges to Chongqing and the totally different and culturally-rich Mekong in Cambodia and Vietnam — and one day hopefully the Irrawaddy in Myanmar (Burma) and the Ganges in India.

Boarding the boat on the Mekong River, Cambodia. * Photo: Ted Scull

Boarding the boat on the Mekong River, Cambodia. * Photo: Ted Scull

While the first river I knew was the Hudson, I now have a sneaky view of the East River, but then it’s not what it says it is; it’s only a tidal strait between Long Island Sound and Upper New York Bay. Still it seems to be what it isn’t officially, so I am satisfied, and it sees some of the small ships covered on this website plying between New England and the South and on around the Battery and up the Hudson.

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