I THOUGHT I'd seen it all, but cruising down the Murray in a houseboat has made me fall in love with Australia all over again. Our weekend trip took us to South Australia, a surprisingly progressive state of low-set, double-bricked homes and some of the best fresh food you will find in this hemisphere.
Before we boarded our boat we started with a visit to the Adelaide Central Markets, a sprawling undercover area packed with affordable gourmet produce. It is a free market in the best sense of the word - new vendors are competing for your attention with samples and pitches, while the established vendors do a roaring trade with their regulars.
After a few hours I had packed my bag with meat, cheese and chocolate, and I suggest you do the same before heading east toward the Murray. We hit the road, and having spent many years in Brisbane, I was surprised to see so little traffic in the CBD, despite coinciding with a Rolling Stones concert.
Heading out into the country, our tour guide explained the history of South Australian industry in the context of its German settler roots. We got further into the hills, driving for about an hour before reaching the Pike & Joyce Cellar Door for lunch.
The winery was tucked away in the heart of the Adelaide Hills which while out of the way made up for every second of the trip with a panoramic view of the vineyard. The food was good, but the standout of the visit was the array of unique wines.
The award-winning 2013 Chardonnay was a clear favourite at our table, but the 2014 Gruner Veltliner struck me as an ideal summer wine, and not too dear at $28 a bottle. We continued on to Mannum, picking up more wine and food for the trip before getting to grips with the controls for Unforgettable 3, our boat for the journey.
Like the Murray, she was wide, slow, and easy to navigate. With queen and king-size bedrooms, purified water on tap, an upstairs spa and canoes ready to launch from the back of the vessel it was an experience appropriate for the whole family.
The standout feature of the boat itself was its visibility. From any angle, you will enjoy an excellent river view. While our experience was slow and leisurely, punctuated by canoeing and fishing, I lost count of the water-skiers who passed our houseboat as we fished from our mooring spot, so feel free to bring your own watercraft if you'd like to build on the experience.
The sense of freedom and comfort was unmatched, and tying up and casting off turned our intergenerational group into a crew overnight.
However, as with any watercraft expedition, things can go wrong. While crashing is not an ideal way to spend your trip, don't think you're out on your own if you hit a bank
These trips are designed with amateur sailors in mind, and the necessary ongoing maintenance of their 11 boats means the staff are only a short boat ride away. On shore, there are small towns like Young Husband to stop at for resupplying, and the Mannum Dock Museum for nostalgic souls.
On the last night of our trip we enjoyed a stunning sunset and fed a flock of black swans from the back of the boat, before packing it in and driving back to Adelaide.
A weekend trip will cost you anywhere from $2690 in the off-season to $3550 in the high season, though long weekend, weekly and mid-week trips are also available.
The writer was a guest of the South Australian Tourism Commission.
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