A guide to Murray River kayaking
Jun 06, 2021
Spanning three States, the mighty Murray River is an accessible paddling adventure. However, there's a lot to consider before you hit the water - do you want to paddle the whole river or part of it? What are the highlights along the River Murray? And when's the best time of year to take to the water?
Let us answer these questions, and more, with our guide to kayaking the Murray River.
Some facts about the River Murray
Let's start by learning some more about the river.
- The Murray is the third longest navigable river in the world, with only the Amazon and the Nile being longer.
- It spans across three states - Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, and meets the sea at the Southern Ocean.
- It runs for 2520 kilometres from its source in the Kosciusko National Park, and is continuously navigable for 1986 kilometres from Goolwa to Yarrawonga.
- In nearby Mungo National Park, aboriginal occupation goes back 40,000 years.
- The world's largest canoe race is held on the Murray each year - normally in November. It has been going since 1969.
Can you kayak the Murray River?
The short answer is, yes! You can kayak the Murray River. In fact, a trip on the Murray is accessible even to a beginner paddler. The river is generally graded as Class I river (easy).
It will help if your base fitness and health levels are high, but you don't need much experience to embark on this adventure. The biggest thing to get used to will be being sat down in a boat all day.
How long does it take to kayak the Murray River?
Beginners can also consider only completing sections of the river, rather than the entire trip.
However, if you want to tackle the entire river, how long it takes you will depend a lot on your fitness level and how much time you want to take on route.
As a rule of thumb, you would need around 8 weeks to complete the entire river.
The shoulder seasons are the best for your trip, March to June, or September to November, as you miss the heat of summer, but also the depths of winter. If you can handle the hotter weather, then December brings the heat. If you also avoid holidays, such as Easter and Anzac Day, you can enjoy quieter waters.
If you don't have the time for the full river paddle, read on for our Murray River highlights, to experience paddle sections instead.
Highlights along the Murray
Onto our next topic: The Murray River is teaming with life, so consider our highlights as you travel downstream.
Where to launch?
There are three main places that paddlers launch for the full Murray River length:
- Hume Dam, 16 kilometres east of Albury on the NSW-Victorian border, is the beginning of the navigable portion of the river.
- Around 170km of paddling closer to the river source is Bringenbrong bridge near Khancoban, at the base of the snowy mountains in NSW. This is a very popular launch point, but be aware that you will need to carry your kayak around Hume Dam using this route.
- Finally, if you want to launch in Victoria, you may wish to start at the official beginning of the Massive Murray Paddle in Yarrawonga.
Exploring sections of the river
The following information is useful both to people travelling the entire river, and those looking for an idea for shorter trips.
Lining the banks of the Murray River, Albury offers a series of parklands and reserves for visitors. This section of the river is shaded by River Red Gum trees and Plane Trees, providing a canopy for the hot summer months.
It's a peaceful stretch with lots of natural beauty.
Continue on your journey and head downstream. Yarrawonga actually has more sunny days each year than Queensland's Sunshine Coast! With loads of free camping and tracks, it's a great place for camping.
Make sure you take the bridge across the river here, as you can walk from Victoria to New South Wales!
And if you fancy some angling, then Yarrawonga is a good spot to try your hand at catching a Murray Cod.
You can always start your full Murray River trip from here too, if you don't have quite the time to start in NSW.
Also nearby: Mulwala, Bundalong, Boomanoomana, Burramine
Echuca is a beautiful part of the river, and is one of the most popular towns along the Murray. It offers great restaurants, music festivals and historical features.
Echuca offers sunny weather all year round, making it a popular destination for holiday goers.
If you're paddling the whole river, and are overlapping with school holidays, be aware that Echuca can get very busy at these times.
If you want to take a rest from paddling yourself, land your boat, and see the river from a different perspective by joining a trip on a paddlesteamer instead! Or there are many hire companies to try out different boats.
Also nearby: Barmah, Moama, Kanyapella, Cohuna, Kerang.
Ulupna Island is a perfect place to camp along the Murray River. The wildlife here is fantastic, with wild koalas and kangaroos who happily hang out around the campsites, and come to the river for a drink.
Sandy beaches and easy boat access make this a perfect place to camp for the full Murray River trip. It's also more off the beaten track compared to other towns along the River Murray, giving you more of a sense of being in nature.
Also nearby: Tocumwal, Cobram, Strathmerton
Swan Hill is a river town, with a rich pioneer history. While here, you can explore the Pioneer Settlement and Homestead, including historical stores, horse and carts, and old-fashioned cars.
Also nearby: Lake Boga, Beveridge Island, Murray Downs.
A couple of hours from Swan Hill, you'll find Mildura, which is just across the border from South Australia, and the biggest Victorian town on the river. There is a lot to see and do just outside Mildura, including pink lakes, desert plains and wetlands.
You can use Mildura as a stop to paddle the whole Murray, or it's a great weekend or week-long destination in its own right.
Avid kayak fishers will enjoy the local fishing spots, and try to catch a Murray Cod. Key fishing locations include Johnson's Bend, Merbin Common and Butler's Creek. You can also camp here.
If you want to see where the Murray meets the Darling River, then also take a trip to Wentworth while you're in the area.
Also nearby: Wentworth, Red Cliffs, Monak, Buronga
Renmark is a big town on the Murray River in South Australia. It's a key landmark when paddling the length of the river, but is also a great location for a weekend on the water.
If you're only there for a short time, you can hire kayaks here for exploring the river.
It is also a great place to restock supplies, such as food, if you've been paddling for a few weeks.
Also nearby: Murtho, Berri, Hunchee Island, Nelbuck Island.
The Murray River comes to an end here, and runs into the Southern Ocean in South Australia.
Conditions vary day-by-day, because of its proximity to the sea, so this makes it a unique place to visit. Around 10km east of Goolwa, the Murray mouth is surrounded by islands, national parks and sand dunes - offering fantastic landscapes and views.
If you've made it all the way to the end of your journey, have some fun and celebrate!
Also nearby: Long Island, Goolwa, Lake Alexandria, Hindmarsh Island.
Murray River Canoe race
If you want to add something extra to your adventure, why not join the Massive Murray Paddle?
You can do the full 404km race course, or shorter options. Any paddle-powered vessel, from kayaks and canoes to paddleboards, is welcome for this race, which has been running since 1969!
Is river kayaking dangerous?
Like any kayaking trip, you need to note a few things for your safety.
The number one thing you need to do is make sure you plan. Use up to date maps, and always inform people about your plans.
On the Murray River, it's useful to know that blue markers show the distance to the Murray mouth, helping you to cross-check your distances.
Before you take to the water, make sure you check the conditions, including the wind and water flow. Some parts of the Murray can be very shallow, depending on the time of year. So, check the depth in metres to ensure your boat can clear the river bed.
In your boat, make sure you have important safety gear.
Number one is always your personal flotation device (PFD) or lifejacket. They are available at various price points.
If you plan on a night paddle in your boat, also consider our tips for night kayaking.
Learn more about Australian kayak and canoeing locations
You may also want to consider kayak or canoe trips to the following destinations: