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.
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 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 Princess — 5 decks; elevators between some decks; Proud Mary — 3 decks, no elevator; Emmylou — 2 decks, no elevator.
For all three vessels — passengers are largely Australian, with some New Zealanders, Europeans and North Americans in the mix.
$ to $$
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.
- 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.
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.
When to Go?
Australia’s seasons are reversed; summers can be very hot, and winters cool and sometimes cold.
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).
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.
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 Mary — Well-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.
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).
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.
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.
— Ted Scull
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