Family on a houseboat

Houseboat Holiday – Renmark to Chowilla Creek

If you’re thinking about a houseboat holiday from Renmark, you’ll find plenty of tips here. Our family of four went on a seven-night houseboat holiday from Renmark in January 2021. This is a quick day-by-day description of how it unfolded. The map at the end shows our mooring spots and the river beaches. On your trip, you’ll find your own spots in your own time. The possibilities are endless.

Day 1 – Boarding at Paringa to Renmark

The River Murray Houseboats base is near Paringa, a small town just across the Murray River from Renmark between Lock 5 and the Paringa lifting bridge. We arrived at 1 pm and parked right in front of the boat. It was spotless and ready to go and we had all our gear loaded onto the boat in fifteen minutes or so.

A person carrying luggage onto a houseboat

We parked the car in the lockup and one of the team took us for a quick guided cruise. It didn’t take long to get used to driving a houseboat and soon we were floating away on our own, waiting for the Paringa Bridge to lift. The bridge opened on time, so we opened up the throttle and powered our way under the bridge – at the front of a queue of houseboats – all rushing upriver to get to their favourite spot.

The short river trip to Renmark was enough for us to become familiar with the mad school-holiday river traffic. Houseboats, fisherfolk, ski boats, and jet skis all manoeuvre around each other. Their wakes can cause havoc for houseboats but don’t worry, you’ll get used to it.

The wharf at Renmark is designed to attract houseboats to the town and makes an excellent jumping off point for any river journey. Shops, pubs, clubs, and takeaways are all available just across the road from the wharf. After dark, look out for the friendly possums that clamber down from their homes in the tall palm trees along the wharf. These cute little critters are so friendly that you can hand feed them. The nightly ‘Possum Parade’ is a Renmark tourist attraction in its own right.

Day 2 – Renmark to Amazon Creek

After stocking up on supplies from the supermarket and butcher, we pushed out from the wharf and headed upriver about 9.30am. The boat traffic eased once we were away from Renmark and we settled into a cruising speed. That’s about 6 kilometres an hour in a houseboat.

There’s a lot of novelties to enjoy on a houseboat holiday, the kids enjoyed the novelty of making a hot lunch on a moving boat while us adults took turns driving.

It was refreshing to see everyone leaving their devices alone. Instead preferring to sit and talk and watch the scenery. I think that’s what the locals mean about switching to ‘river time’.

One of the highlights along this stretch is Headings Cliff. It’s one of those iconic time-worn red cliffs that tower over the river. If you don’t have a boat, you can still see them from the lookout atop the cliffs, easily accessible by road from Renmark. Just across from the upriver end of the cliffs, inside the tight riverbend, is the first river beach we saw. These beaches are popular mooring sites and are almost always taken.

After cruising around a few tight bends, we arrived at the entrance to a large by-water. It’s in here that Wilkadene Station and the Woolshed Brewery offer moorings for all kinds of boats. We cruised in and moored at Wilkadene for some quick repairs but were underway again soon.

We wandered about in the boat for an hour or so, looking for good mooring spots and settled on tying up next to the entrance to Amazon Creek. Amazon Creek snakes its way around the vast floodplains all the way back to Renmark. Little boats raced in and out of the entrance at sunset and sunrise. It’s popular with extreme dinghy racers who compete in annual tournaments like the Riverland Dinghy Derby.

Amazon Creek

Day 3 – Amazon Creek to Chowilla Creek

Today was the day to slow down and enjoy the beautiful river scenes unfolding as we went past Chowilla Homestead and Chowilla Woolshed. We arrived at the Chowilla Creek junction shortly after and decided to head further upriver to see if we could find one of those beaches but as always, they were occupied, so we turned and headed back to explore Chowilla Creek.

A regulator device on Chowilla Creek

We were stopped in our tracks just around the bend by the Chowilla Regulator. It’s a large concrete weir with removable gates designed to manage river flows. Small boats can pass through when it’s open but houseboats can’t proceed any further.

Looking across a river to a houseboat

We moored within view of the regulator. It’s not the easiest place to tie up but it’s a quiet spot. No speedboats – just the odd kayaker or fisherperson meandering by. This awesome spot is off the main river channel and it’s an excellent place to experience the true tranquillity of a houseboat holiday and enjoy a unique outback vista.

Day 4 – Chowilla Creek to Chowilla Woolshed

A river at sunset

We would have stayed at Chowilla Creek but the strong prevailing wind was turning and leaving us exposed. Heading back to the main river channel, we found a well-established mooring just downstream only half an hour from our starting point that day. It was a perfect spot to spend the next two nights. It was easy to tie up and we had views over a wide and wild bend in the river with the Chowilla Woolshed visible in the distance.

Day 5 – Chowilla Woolshed

A view from the back deck of a houseboat to the river with a barbecue in the foreground

The boat stayed put today. We explored the shore, read books, swam and fished. I flew the drone to get some aerial shots of the river around us and you can see some of that footage in this video. It’s days like these that ‘river time’ prevails and relaxation takes over. You might even get bored of fishing. Carp are easy to catch but you can’t throw them back.

Day 6 – Chowilla Woolshed to Headings Cliff

It was time to begin the trip back to Renmark. Casting off at around 11 am, our afternoon destination was the Woolshed Brewery at Wilkadene Station. This beautiful outback brewery makes legendary beers and hard lemonades. It’s a unique experience – pulling up at a country pub in a houseboat. We spent an excellent hour or so enjoying a few beers and the party atmosphere. Sailing away from a brewery with a few takeaways on-board is not something we get to do too very often. A houseboat holiday can be full of surprises.

Boats parked on the riverbank at Wilkadene Station
Woolshed Brewery

Headings Cliff is a popular spot for to stop for the night as everyone makes their way back to Renmark. The riverbank (opposite the cliffs) is gentle – with plenty of space. There’s even a river beach… but of course it was occupied. This is the kind of spot where you might like to have a campfire on shore in the cooler months. At sunset, the sun lights the cliffs with a rusty glow.

This is what a houseboat holiday is all about – and there’s no phone coverage.

Day 7 – Headings Cliff to Renmark

The final four and a half hour trip back to Renmark was uneventful and the kids busied themselves making the most of having the internet back on. Me? I was soaking in as much of the wilderness view as I could. It wasn’t long until houses began appearing along the shore and before long we were back in Renmark.

View from the back deck of a houseboat along the river at Renmark

Back at Renmark, the river became a chaotic and bumpy wash of jet skis and ski-boats again. The never ending wake wash does make mooring a houseboat difficult. After five nights of a calm river, we hadn’t missed the constant sloshing and bobbing around. Life upriver is so much more peaceful.

ABS Smokehouse Pizza Cafe

We’d nearly run out of supplies and were happy to be back to civilisation. V headed off to get fish and chips for the kids almost straight away. Once they were fed, we went out for dinner at ABS Smokehouse Pizza Cafe. There’s a few places you can go out for dinner within sight of your boat, like the Renmark Hotel and Renmark Club.

Day 8 – Renmark to Paringa

It was time for us to change our clocks back to real world time. The Paringa bridge opens at 9.30 am and 2.30 pm sharp to allow river traffic to pass under it. It’s a long line of amateur houseboat captains, all trying to hold their boats in position among the small boats darting around and in-between. After seven days on the river, we were ready to head home.

Check the River Murray Houseboats website for up to date information and to book. Our small boat, Orlando, is one of many different houseboats they have to offer.

Tips for Readers

Driving a houseboat is easy.

Don’t stress if you’re having trouble mooring. Everyone does at some point.

Once you leave Renmark, there are no shops.

Woolshed Brewery is closed Monday and Tuesday.

That’s it! Murray River Houseboat operators really do bend over backwards to make it an easy experience. Especially for first timers!

Why don’t you check out River Murray Houseboats and go on an adventure?

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Michael G

View posts by Michael G
Adelaide based writer studying a Bachelor of Media. I'm obsessed with media, communications and digital storytelling. My passions are road trips, camping, hiking and my family. I write about things to do and see around South Australia and occasionally about media, design and communications related issues. Find me on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube @outdoorstype.

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