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Melissa Wallace relives the romance of the paddle steamer
Reprinted with permission of
Travelling in Australia Magazine - Buy your copy today!
Time passes slowly on the river. Hear the water gently lapping against the riverbank, feel the gentle movement of the deck beneath your feet and inhale the faint scent of woodsmoke on the breeze. The early morning fog laying low over the water instils an eerie calmness far removed from the smells and sounds of city life.
This is my first experience on an overnight paddle steamer; The Emmylou on the mighty Murray River. It was restful in a way that hotel rooms are not, and the gently splashing water and softly rocking boat lulled me into a sleep more refreshing than I’d had in years. Waking to the smell of woodsmoke was both comforting and nostalgic, and, standing on the deck, I couldn’t help but feel as though I’d been whisked away to the 19th century.
The Murray River is the third-longest navigable river in the world, after the Amazon and the Nile, and spans three States; South Australia, Victoria and New South. It is Australia’s main lifeline, with the Murray-Darling Basin providing nourishment for approximately 14 per cent of the total area of Australia.
With this in mind, a cruise up the Murray is a
rite of passage for any Australia-bound visitor.
While many day cruises are available, the only way to really savour the experience is at an unrushed, leisurely pace, soaking up the atmosphere. Out here, things move slowly, a welcome change from the fast-paced life we’re used to. Paddle steamer cruises are the ultimate combination of water, outdoors and comfort. It's like camping on water – feeling very close to nature – but much more comfortable. You can see the moon and hear the night calls of the nocturnal animals, yet you still have a bed, a shower, and a three course a la carte dinner and fully cooked breakfast. Life’s tough out on the river.
The ultimate in luxury Murray River cruising is the Murray Princess. Run by Captain Cook Cruises, the Murray Princess is a paddlewheeler large enough to accommodate 120 passengers, yet small enough for that intimate experience one expects of a river cruise. The Murray Princess offers three, four or seven-night cruises. The seven-night luxury cruise includes full wildlife experience, free Barossa Valley tour and vineyard and cellar-door tasting. The four-night Outback Heritage Cruise involves vineyard and cellardoor tastings, a woolshed show and BBQ and entrance into Ngaut Ngaut Conservation Park.
It’s like camping on water – feeling very close to nature –
but much more comfortable.
On board there are, despite the size, plenty of facilities to keep you entertained. There are two spas and saunas, two bars to seek refreshments on those balmy summer nights, a gift shop and video and DVD facilities. And for the moments where you just want to sit on deck, soak up the sun and read, there is a library for you to find the perfect romance novel to get lost in. Departing from the historic town of Mannum in South Australia, fares include scenic bus transport from Adelaide to Mannum, all meals, Captain’s Dinner and Cocktail Party. The bedrooms are cosy and comfortable, with a choice of staterooms, outside cabins or inside cabins.
The Emmylou, the paddle steamer that won my heart, was an intimate cruise experience, allowing only 18 passengers on board for my overnight cruise. Embarking at Echuca, The Emmylou offers one, two or three-night cruises, all inclusive of meals.
You can opt for the quaint little rooms with traditional-style bunks, or fight it out for the only room with a double bed. Having chosen the rooms with the bunks, I have to say it was nice to have my own bed for a change. Sadly, The Emmylou is the only working paddle steamer in Australia that offers overnight cruises to the public, so if you want to wake to that rustic smell of burning red gum, The Emmylou is the way to go.
Other paddle steamers in Australia
Over in Western Australia the most well-known paddlesteamer cruise is Paddle steamer Decoy on the Swan River in Perth. While it doesn’t offer overnight cruises, you can still enjoy some luxury cruising while enjoying the sounds of jazz.
Brisbane in Queensland now plays host to a number of short cruises upon the Brisbane River, run by Kookaburra River Queens.
Fine dining on the River Lights Dinner Cruise includes some of the sumptuous seafood that Queensland is famous for, as well as antipasto and cheese platters.
For something a bit different, but still luxurious and old-worldly, Hero is a fully restored, first-class, luxury paddle steamer based on the Murray in Echuca that is exclusively available for private charter for weddings or overnight accommodation.
Luxury overnight paddle steamer cruises are few and far between, with the Murray River being home to most of the best river cruises in Australia. While paddlesteamers are a thing of the past, their old world charm, beauty and romance provide a lasting taste of bygone eras that should not be forgotten.
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