Imagine a holiday where by day, you can cruise along the Murray River, let the kids run wild on playgrounds and explore on an impressive network of walking and cycling trails, before packing up for the night on your own peaceful riverfront deck…
This can be your summer vacay reality – and all within 60 minutes from Adelaide.
Dreaming of escaping to a place where you can unplug and unwind in a stunning location – but still enjoy an adventure (or even a little luxury)? The Murray River area known as ‘Mid Murray’ has all this and more.
With iconic and beautiful little riverside towns like Mannum, Swan Reach, Bowhill, Purnong, Nildottie, Caurnamont and Walker Flat, there’s always a place for you to stay, play and rest your head. Plus, the district is home to the longest stretch of the Murray River in Australia, so it’s rich in spectacular scenery, secluded riverfront stays and activities with appeal for all ages.
Mid Murray’s river experience is like a magnet – it’s a blend of natural wonder, history, iconic experiences and the laid-back lifestyle that keeps those in the know coming back to holiday here.
So if you want to discover somewhere truly unique, we’ve put together some of the area’s best-kept secrets, so you can plan your own escape.
The biggest town in the Mid Murray and conveniently located as a gateway to the region, Mannum is the ideal spot to start your holiday.
There’s so much to do here, starting with the incredible river boat history down at Mary Ann Reserve (the perfect spot for a picnic, walk, ride or play with the kids in the new riverfront playground). Discover the birthplace of the Australian paddle steamer on the Murray River at the Mannum Dock Museum, with its interactive displays where the kids can imagine they’re captaining their own vessel, spinning the steering wheel, talking through maritime speaking tubes and pressing buttons to ignite the steam boilers. Ahoy captain!
Above: The Mannum Dock Museum will capture the attention of all ages.
Experience the town’s living history and jump aboard one of the last remaining overnight passenger carrying paddle steamers in the world – the 123-year-old PS Marion. Cruise the river in style on this old river queen, or another of the historic fleet, the oldest paddle wheeler in SA, the PW Mayflower. While you’re here, look out for the newly renovated Proud Mary, the historic grandeur of the PS Murray Princess moored at the wharf or take a nature cruise with Four Knot Cruises.
Above: All aboard - you'll have a range of iconic cruising options departing from Mannum.
You can also discover Mannum’s history on foot, with three historic walking routes that guide you to the town’s most notable spots. Prefer to ride? Hire a bike from the Visitor Information Centre in the Mannum Dock Museum for a wheely good time. There are bikes for all ages.
You’ll see even more if you’re out on the water though – so why not paddle the day away in your own canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard around Mary Ann Reserve or the Hermann Gass Bird Sanctuary, or follow the Mannum Canoe Trail (ask for a map from the Mannum VIC).
Prefer to see the river in laidback style? One of the Unforgettable Houseboats fleet will give you the comfort of an on-river stay so you can really unwind with the river on your doorstep.
Above: Life's a little more slower and relaxing while on an Unforgettable Houseboat.
A Four Knots Cruises trip is another relaxing way to see the best of this stretch of the mighty Murray, and there’s something for everyone with their morning, lunch and sunset cruises. It’s also an ideal way to discover the unique local wildlife and see some of the best river scenery up close.
For a river trip of a different kind (and it’s FREE), hop aboard one of the Mannum ferries. This is the only place in SA where you’ll find dual ferries operating across the busy river ‘intersection’ – so make sure you try it on foot. The kids will love spotting boats, pelicans and feeling the water move under their feet!
Nearby here is Mary Ann Reserve, which is also an ideal spot for a picnic, and to let the kids run wild at the cool new playground – complete with its own ‘river boat’ play equipment and in-ground trampolines, which are perfect for an imaginary game of pirates.
Above: The newly opened play space at Mary Ann Reserve.
And if keeping active is your thing, there’s even more to see if you follow the Murray Coorong Trail. The 10km picturesque walking and cycling trail winds along the river’s edge from Mannum all the way to Kia Marina and is ideal for families.
Above: This walking trail takes you on a free ferry ride and along a path close to the rivers edge.
There’s so much to see en route to Mannum as well, starting with the Mannum Waterfalls. Pack the camera and your walking shoes to make the most of the scenic views and, if you’re really lucky, you might spot some of the local wildlife. Another great spot for your Insta feed is the Palmer Lookout, where you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the incredible natural rock formations. And make sure you spot ‘Bear Rock’, a local icon named for its polar bear shape and if you travel a little further through to Tungkillo, you may just spot the ‘Frog’ formation too and the ‘The Gap’ is a must see.
Base yourself in Mannum overnight and enjoy a range of accommodation options. The Mannum Riverside Caravan Park is ideal for campers, caravaners and families with their cabins, or large groups in the Pumphouse bunkhouse.
Above: @wild_troopy_travellers's set up at the Mannum Riverside Caravan Park.
Bolto Reserve and Haythorpe Reserve are popular spots with campers. Or choose to be in the heart of the action with a room at The Mannum Motel, Pretoria Hotel, where you can unwind with a quiet drink, an indulgent meal and beautiful river views or from your room at the Mannum Hotel step out on the balcony to enjoy the ambience of this historic riverboat town.
Above: Lunchtime at the Pretoria Hotel is always a good idea when you get views like this!
Or for premium luxury, test out one of the River Shack Rentals holiday homes with views over the River, outdoor kitchens, your own river mooring and room for the extended families. Riverview Rise Retreats is the ultimate luxury experience, combining opulent accommodation with tailored extras (spa treatments, handmade chocolates and gourmet platter anyone?).
Bowhill is the little riverfront town that most regular holidaymakers would prefer stayed secret (it’s so good, they don’t want to share!). There’s a reason there are some amazing holiday homes here – because it’s a secluded, stunning stretch of river. With its boat ramp and wharf, Bowhill is also a hotspot for water sports, fishing and lazy days on the water.
For memorable dining with river views and great food, the Bowhill General Store is a must. Right nearby there’s a reserve that’s recently been upgraded, with play equipment for the kids and exercise equipment for those who like to slip in a quick holiday workout.
Above: How about a stopover to the Bowhill General Store for these river views?
Campers will find remote camping spots in Lowan Conservation Park, just 13km away, which is also home to the illusive Mallee fowl and some BIG wedge-tailed eagles.
As you journey further into the Mid Murray, mark Swan Reach as your next destination.
One of the most spectacular views of the Murray River and its incredible ochre cliffs is just before Swan Reach, and that is at Big Bend. You won’t want to miss this epic photo view and it doesn’t matter which way you look at it – by river or land – it’s totally breathtaking. Stay until sunset for an unforgettable scene; and if you have the time, explore with Big Bend By Night via a nocturnal animal tour or Dark Sky night tour – where the only thing more amazing than the cliffs is the unparalleled view of the Milky Way.
Above: There's so much to love about Big Bend By Night - take time to discover their humble farm by the Big Bend cliffs.
Make sure you leave time to explore the Swan Reach township. It’s the epitome of laid-back river life, so if you love to camp or fish, this is the place for you. You can set up base in the Punyelroo Caravan Park across the river. While you’re here, check out Swan Reach Conservation Park, which is home to many native birds (pack the binoculars) and southern hairy-nosed wombats. At night, it’ll give you the best night sky views imaginable as it’s right at the core of the internationally recognised River Murray International Dark Sky Reserve (this is an astronomer’s or astrophotographer’s dream venue!).
Above: The stars burn bright in the Mid Murray. Image: @blntpencil
Explore the town’s history at the Swan Reach Museum, grab a bite to eat at the Swan Reach Hotel (there’s also accommodation upstairs and an incredible beer garden here). Or play a leisurely round at the Swan Reach Golf Club (and if you’re on a houseboat, they’ll even pick you up from your mooring spot and return you after your game). The Swan Reach Classic Car Gallery is a must see and for a riverside escape, the picturesque Len White Reserve is a skiers’ delight or your next destination for the Sunday family picnic.
If an ideal holiday for you is all about incredible experiences, Mid Murray delivers.
One of the best ways to see the sights is with a local at the wheel. Juggle House Experiences can show you around with their Murray River Highlights tour.
For a dining experience you and your guests won’t forget, Reedy Creek Retreat BBQ Boat Hire offers your very own barbecue boat. Go for the self-catered option and pack your own delights (or take the fishing rod and catch your dinner), or opt for a hosted small group tour.
Above: Discover the sights, smells and sounds of the Mid Murray on a lunch cruise with Four Knots.
If you get a chance on the drive to (or from) the river - and want to see something ancient - take some time to journey out to Shell Hill. It’s a unique deposit of oyster shells that dates back 5 million years, set in a bush reserve that’s ideal for exploring.
Not sure where to begin planning? Give the Mannum Visitor Information Centre a call, or visit during your stay, and they’ll link you up with experiences that are sure to make your holiday memorable.
Above: The Mannum Visitor Information Centre can help you out with your travel questions, as well as bike hire.
Mid Murray has some of the best hidden river escapes with holiday homes, camping and other accommodation options to suit everyone.
Some of our other favourite locations to pitch a tent are Greenways Landing, Saunders Gorge near Palmer, Caurnamont Reserve opposite Purnong, Purnong Reserve near Mannum, Hettner Landing at Walker Flat, Big Bend near Swan Reach, Tenbury Hunter Reserve at Swan Reach, the Palmer Oval, Haythorpe and Bolto Reserves at Mannum and Swamp Hen Reserve at Walker Flat. You can find out more about these campsites here.
Above: @chelseawood_ making the most of the camping space between Bolto and Haythorpe Reserve in Mannum.
We also love Walker Flat, where you’ll find the Aruma River Resort (complete with tennis court, swimming pool, boat ramp and playground). Check out River Shack Rentals, which has holiday accommodation in just about every river community from basic shacks to luxury homes. Whether you’re a loved-up couple looking for a romantic weekend away, a family wanting to let the kids run free or large group, you’ll find the perfect base for your river escape.
Above: Aruma's resort will keep the whole family happy.
Want to see as much of the river as you can? Put on your captain’s hat and hop aboard one of the many stunning houseboats available for hire.
Whatever you choose, Mid Murray has options to make your holiday the ideal escape.