If you thought the only place to experience the majesty and romance of cruising the rivers on a “Paddle Wheeler” was the Mississippi then we have news for you.
A few days river cruising on Australia’s Murray Princess is like no Aussie vacation you have had before.
Pauline was forced to stay at home and work while I was whisked away to South Australia for a week as a guest of Captain Cook Cruises, the operators of this beautiful old ship. A rare perk of working in the Tourism Industry and one that really surprised me.
What is the story with the Murray Princess?
The PS Murray Princess is a true inland paddlewheeler built for the Murray River, with a character and charm of yesteryear.
It is the largest inland paddlewheeler in the southern hemisphere. Catering for just 120 passengers, she brings the unique advantages of small ship cruising to the remarkable setting of Australia’s outback.
Don’t be fooled by most modern-day imitation paddlewheelers where the paddle is often on the side and just for show. The PS Murray Princess is an authentic paddlewheeler which is propelled by its massive stern wheel.
The onboard atmosphere is relaxed and informal by style. The lounge features a majestic view of the paddlewheel in action through the two story viewing window. Upper and lower lounge areas are accessed by the classic brass and mahogany style spiral staircase.
Where are we going to cruise?
The cruise departed from Mannum, a quaint country town where pubs almost outnumber houses which is about an hour from South Australia’s capital, Adelaide. A coach is arranged to collect passengers from various pick up points in the city.
Depending on which itinerary you choose you will usually head to Blanchetown and witness plenty of the real Australia.
What will we see?
From stunning scenery to wine tasting at local vineyards, from a tour of aboriginal campsites to sheep shearing displays, the Murray Princess cruise is definitely memorable.
There is plenty of space on the Sundeck to pull up a chair and watch the towering cliffs and expansive farmlands drift by. Or perhaps you prefer to stay indoors in one of the onboard lounges, drinking the complimentary warm beverages and chatting with fellow guests.
What do we eat?
The meals are served in the Dining Room by the attentive and friendly stewards and the food is plentiful, delicious and varied. The Captain’s Seafood Buffet is particularly impressive as the chefs present it with more than a little theatre.
There is also the chance for some bush tucker on a couple of occasions and I highly recommend taking this on at every opportunity.
What are the highlights?
While on the 4 Night Outback Heritage Cruise, you’ll have the opportunity to…
- Cruise through Lock #1 at Blanchetown.
The thing that amazed me most about making our way through the lock was the skill of the captain as he maneuvered this beast of a vessel into position with well under a foot to spare either side.
Plus watching how clever the pelicans are floating around at the base of the lock overflow catching fish that are dazed from the turbulent water.
- Tour the vineyard and visit the cellar door at Burk Salter Boutique Winery.
Find out how this small family winery has moved forward using technology but maintained the quality in their wine.
Sample the product and maybe take home a “souvenir”. (the truth is you will probably empty the contents before the cruise is over)
- Take a guided walking tour of the Swan Reach township and visit the Swan Reach Museum (Gold coin donation at entry).
The museum is packed with interesting exhibits dating back as far as the original pioneers who managed to build a farming community through hard work and perseverance.
There is also the telegraph museum in the original station which displays some communication devices that few people under 30 may even know ever existed because the have cords and no built in cameras.
- See the towering sandstone cliffs at the Big Bend.
I am a bit of a scenery buff and have seen some incredible sights around the world. But watching these cliffs pass by from the Sundeck is right up with the best.
The nesting cockatoos that utilise every little hole in the cliff faces put on a show that just adds to the experience.
- Watch the Sunnydale Woolshed Show & go to the Native Wildlife Shelter.
First let me say that watching the owners toddler son doing his best to copy his dad at whip-cracking and helping with the shearing display was ridiculously cute.
This farm visit is educational and entertaining as you learn about sheep farming, the different breeds, and life on an outback Australian farm.
- Enjoy a riverside Aussie Barbecue.
Sitting around a huge campfire with the crew preparing a great assortment of barbecue meats and sides is an awesome way to spend an evening.
Throw in some campfire games and singing and you are in for a brilliant evening.
- Go on a Nocturnal Tour in a comfortable purpose built cart where you may see kangaroos, wombats, foxes, bats and owls (optional – extra cost).
While not included in the original fare it is worth paying the extra few dollars for this crazy night ride through the back paddocks of the farm trying to spot native animals with flashlights.
The ride in the trailer being towed by a tractor may not have been the most comfortable but spotting wombats, wallabies, and especially the albino kangaroo was worth every bump and bruise.
- Enjoy a Bush Tucker Breakfast (optional – extra cost).
Another activity that will cost you a few extra dollars but should not be missed. How often are you going to get an Aussie farming cooking you up a huge bush breakfast in a shed beside the river?
Everything on offer was delicious and gives you an appreciation of how bush tucker has developed from a lack of supply of the standard western food items.
- Explore the Ngaut Ngaut Aboriginal Reserve archaeological sites with an expert local guide.
I had mixed feelings about the plight of our Australian Aborigines before taking this tour. Now I have a much better understanding and a realisation that Aboriginal history is also my history as an Aussie.
Local tribe members walk you through this archaeological site explaining the history and culture surrounding each area. There was also an explanation of what it feels like to be a descendant of the stolen generation and how many of them face confusion about their identity.
- Delight in a scenic tender-boat ride.
Throw on a life jacket, grab a seat and take the opportunity to see the Murray Princess from a different perspective.
The fast tender takes you for a full loop around the Paddle Wheeler to show you the power the wheel generates to move this beautiful craft and give you some stunning photo ops.
Who goes on these cruises?
To be honest the majority of the passengers are seniors and I don’t recommend this as a family cruise if you have young children. But even a younger couple will get plenty from the experience.
For more information visit the Captain Cook Cruises Murray Princess website.