Murray River Walk: luxury hiking in South Australia

Once you do this luxury hike along with Murray River in South Australia – with its luxury houseboat accommodation, gourmet food and hot tub – you may never do traditional ‘rugged’ bushwalking again.

  • Alexis Buxton-Collins
  • December 2019
  • Updated October 2020

“More petit manseng?” asks Danny Kearney as I bite into a firm, juicy fillet of Murray cod delicately crusted with lemon myrtle panko. He’s been telling me about this meal for two days, and looking down at the cloud of mashed potato surrounded by a moat of rich lemon aspen beurre blanc, I can see why.

I'm not sitting in a fine dining restaurant. In fact, the nearest place to eat is two hours downriver. I’m on a houseboat somewhere north of Renmark in South Australia’s Riverland and Danny is one of my guides on the Murray River Walk. With two courses still to come, I’m beginning to suspect that this will be the only hike I’ve ever done that makes me put on weight.

A plate of baked cod
The gourmet cuisine served up on the boat will surprise and delight.

The Murray River Walk opens in new window is one of the Great Walks of Australia opens in new window, a collection of multi-day luxury hikes that launched in 2012. Since then, the collection has grown from seven to 12 walks covering everywhere from Tasmania’s alpine country to the red centre and even remote Lord Howe Island. And it’s not just Australia – around the world a growing number of operators are offering high-end guided hikes that marry natural splendour with gourmet food and indulgent accommodation.

For hikers, that means it’s possible to experience remote locations in comfort that was once unimaginable. On the Murray River Walk, all I have to carry is my lunch and drinking water so I’m free to immerse myself in the SA landscape during the day. And instead of a tent, I come home to canapés and cold drinks in an impressively decked out houseboat with five waterfront bedrooms. Even better, the top deck has a hot tub perfect for soaking my body at the end of each day’s walk.

A boat on the Murray River
Meandering down the Murray River is the perfect way to end long days of hiking.

Just about the only thing missing on this journey along the meandering Murray River is Wi-Fi. Not that I mind as we follow mirror-like oxbow lakes, saunter through stands of majestic red gums and gaze up at imposing ochre cliffs glowing in the light of the setting sun. With a maximum group size of 10, it’s easy to feel as if we have the whole river to ourselves as the guides explain how to identify fabulously coloured ringneck and red-rumped parrots, point out centuries-old canoe trees and untangle the surprisingly complex political history of Australia’s longest standalone river.

Luxury walks are about more than just creature comforts; well-trained guides who are able to interpret the landscape and ecotourism credentials are also essential parts of the Great Walks selection criteria. Clearly it’s a formula that works – the Murray River Walk has doubled its participation rate since launching in 2017 and bookings across the Great Walks portfolio rose 20 per cent between 2015 and 2017.

Executive officer Gina Woodward says the majority of walkers are “those who have done the hard yards of self-guided walking over the years and now would like the safety and security of walking with a guide, plus the comforts of a nice bed and great food”. And even for seasoned bushwalkers there’s always something new to see.

With no WiFI available, you can fully immerse yourself in the spectacular scenery SA has to offer.

At every turn my guides are there to explain the region’s natural and human history or suggest a wine pairing. It’s an experience unlike any conventional hiking trip and I know that next time I go camping I won’t be able to look at my dehydrated dinner in the same way. But for now, a little more petit manseng sounds perfect.

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