Murray River (SA)

13 May – Launching at Blanchetown

We launched at the upstream ramp, above Lock 1. Prior to launching, we assembled the Porta-bote for towing as a tender. The ramp is actually the old ferry crossing, so things are in good condition and some excellent bank works provide a convenient wharf. It is quite steep though which meant that stopping the boat was difficult. Christine chose to hang on tight so she was dragged along the slippery ramp and into the water. What could I say?

A foggy morning at the Riverside Caravan Park, Blanchetown

Checking out the ramp for sudden drop offs. None found.

Launching at Blanchetown, upstream of Lock 1

I then drove back to the Riverside Caravan Park (The Big 4 one) where we had arranged for secure vehicle storage for a mere $5. An easy walk along the bank got me back to the boat.

We started the motor, the first time since storing it in Port Lincoln back in February. It immediately showed signs of misbehaving, playing the old “I refuse to idle” game. I was really annoyed, because I’d taken the trouble to drain it of fuel prior to storage. Once we got it in gear, it ran beautifully, pointing to a clogged low speed jet. It seems this model (Mercury 9.9 4 stroke) is rather prone to this problem.

Once under the Sturt Hwy bridge and headed upstream, we use the “Murray River Pilot” as our bible to avoid trouble spots and to learn about the many points of interest. We rarely encountered depths of less than 14 feet and found some deep holes of 65 feet along the edge of the cliffs.

The scenery was quite spectacular, more so because it changed dramatically at every turn. We loved the small sections of forest. The many wetlands would be fun to explore with a kayak and the rolling pastures and sheep country was a reminder of years gone by. We pulled up on a small sandy beach to make lunch. The motor proved really difficult when trying to manoeuvre slowly and I began to have big reservations about entering Lock 2 later in our trip.

Our overnight stop was at the 296Km mark, making the day’s travel only 20km. The river is marked on the left bank travelling upstream every 2km, showing the distance from the mouth. We tried to catch yabbies with no success and fishing only produced one carp but it filled the time around sunset.

14 May – Morgan

The outboard behaved so badly that I took to it with a screwdriver and got it to the point where I could manage it. More work in the form of a carby clean is needed but at least it is now manageable. We did a steady 9km/hr upstream to cover the 24km to Morgan, an historic old port that was once the main river port in SA. Alas, like so many other rural towns, changing conditions meant it fell by the wayside. In Morgan’s case, the rail pushed on to Renmark and beyond, reducing the amount of cargo going through the port.

Famous old wharf at Morgan

We tied up at some public houseboat moorings (24hrs max) just downstream of the ferry crossing and walked up the steep hill to access the town. The main street is a quaint collection of National Trust buildings, with two hotels facing each other. We chose one for its cheaper menu and enjoyed an excellent lunch and pint. Then it was back to the boat and onwards. We had to negotiate a ferry crossing and were a little anxious that we did the right thing. In the end, it was easy, just waiting for the ferry to reach one bank then heading through. Cutting to close to the ferry while it is underway risks fouling the steel cable strung across the river.

Main street, Morgan

Our path took us past the famous Morgan wharf, built as a towering timber structure to cater for the huge range in river levels in the days before weirs and locks. A lazy trip along the river took us to a pleasant sandy landing at the 328km mark where we set up for the night. The wind dropped to nothing on sunset, creating a glorious display with the trees mirrored on the surface. The scenery proved better than the fishing.

15 May Cadell

The small locality of Cadell is about 11km upstream of Morgan. There is little on the river itself and a small village about a kilometre away. There is a lovely picnic area with some houseboat moorings near the ferry crossing and a small launching ramp. We stopped in to the ramp to assess its suitability for retrieving Sandpiper, having decided not to navigate through Lock 2 to Waikerie because of the difficulty working with the motor. However, the ramp proved unsuitable, or at least not as good as the one at Morgan, and we had enough time to motor back to Morgan.

We continued on past Cadell for about 12km, noting that the bush becomes drier and more open than further downstream. There is the usual series of creeks and lagoons that would be so much fun to explore in a kayak. Eventually, we found a really lovely sandy beach on a sand bar, opposite some stunning cliffs. I spent the afternoon fishing, catching two very large carp. If they had been any other species I’d have been over the moon, but the carp are sluggish when hooked and not much to get excited about in the kitchen. Since it is illegal to release carp, a waiting group of pelicans benefitted from my efforts, after I’d cut the big fish into small pieces so they could be shared around. A couple of brown hawks also circled overhead and snatched a couple of morsels for themselves.

16 May Morgan

The night was unseasonably warm and we found ourselves shedding blankets. The usual dew was also absent so we didn’t sleep in as late as we have been doing. By 8:30, we’d had breakfast, done the dishes and some housework and were underway again headed back to Morgan.

The plan consists of catching the little local bus run by LinkSA, providing a service between Blanchetown, Morgan, Barmera, Waikerie and Berri every Friday. The driver can be contacted on 0427 020 930 and arrangements made to be picked up. We had initially organised to be picked up in Waikerie but he was happy to pick me up at the ferry crossing in Morgan on his way back to Blanchetown. This way, I could get the car and trailer and use the ramp at Morgan to retrieve.

We arrived in Morgan by 11am and tied up at the 24hour moorings on the bank just downstream of the ferry crossing. We had plenty of time to tour the Morgan Museum and pop into the local for a pint and meal. The museum is an old store shed. It contains many very interesting displays depicting significant events in the history of Morgan. The huge wharf that still stands today is actually less than a third of what once existed. The Commercial Hotel provided a wonderful lunch of braised chops on mash and crumbed chops, chips and salad for the very reasonable $15 and $12 respectively.

The bus system worked well and it cost me a whole $7.40 to get back to Blanchetown and pick up the car and trailer. The lady at the Riverside Caravan Park was just starting to wonder where I had got to and greeted me warmly. Then it was back along the 42km to Morgan. We stayed the night on the river bank before pulling out in the morning.

Ramp at Morgan next to Ferry Crossing

You Tube video of our trip at


It had been suggested to us that it was probably too late in the season and too cold for a trip on the Murray. We were lucky to get a nice warm spell, with daytime temperatures averaging 25 degrees. Nights were generally cold but we were snug inside the cabin and the only rain was restricted to a couple of light night showers.

We used the “Murray River Pilot” (Baker-Reschke $18) which covers from the mouth to the SA-NSW border to navigate and to learn about the various features and historical sites along the way. We found it to be extremely useful.

Our decision to launch “mast down” was based on other stories from trailer sailers and the advice that they tangle in trees. However, on this stretch of river a mast would not be an issue. Whether a sail would be useful is hard to answer. It was mostly very calm but I did note that there was a useable wind on some long reaches. Overall, I think I’d leave the mast down.

Towing the porta-bote was largely a waste of time. It was not needed to access the river bank and its only use was to facilitate fishing. Towing a couple of kayaks would be more use to explore the many wetlands and lagoons.

Black water was contained with a porta-potti while grey water contained within a 20L plastic drum for disposal well away from the river itself. There are plenty of waste disposal stations with easy access landings along the river.

Fortunately, we did not rely on catching anything to eat. Although some people were managing to catch Golden Perch, we only caught carp. We certainly didn’t see a yabby, although some research suggested it is too cold in May.

The experience is well worth the effort and we will put in again on some upstream locations on our return trip through NSW-Victoria.