Houseboating on a Budget

It’s easy to think of houseboating as a “luxury holiday” and of course, it is if you compare it to something like camping.

Our houseboat owner actually called houseboating the “modern form of camping”.

Fair enough.

So, how much does it cost to hire a houseboat?

It all depends on which one you hire and where you hire from.

Here’s a few things I learnt recently:

1. Most houseboats are similar in size

Most houseboats we looked at were around the 20m x 8m in size, regardless of price and features. A few are slightly wider.  Some have a second story with extra rooms BUT had less outdoor area instead.

Features like more bedrooms will cost you more but you end up with smaller rooms and less living space.

Our houseboat was rated for 10 passengers (you can get them up to 12 passengers) but only had 4 rooms so the 2 teenage boys slept on swags in the living area and we put their gear in one of the bedrooms during the day.

One less bedroom and no dishwasher saved us around $1500 over the 4 night hire period.

2.  Less features will save you money

This is one of those things where you need to weigh up your budget vs what will make it a relaxing holiday.  I really wanted to get a houseboat with a dishwasher but there were none available for the time frame we were looking to book.

As it turned out, it really wasn’t necessary.  Our kids are old enough that for breakfast and lunch, we did a “wash your own dishes” and for each of the 3 evening meals we had on the boat, 1 pair of kids (1 from each family – much more fun doing dishes with a friend than a sibling) did the dishes.  The adults did the extra bits and pieces in between.

And in all honesty?  Doing dishes while you’re cruising down the River Murray is much less monotonous than at home (and we had a large open plan living area so you were still part of the “fun”).  We did keep meals pretty simple (as you do on holidays) so we didn’t have a lot of cooking or preparation dishes to do.

3.  Share the costs by taking a group

We had 2 families so had half the costs each.  4 couples would make it even cheaper.  Most houseboats have “zip beds” that can be made into either a queen or 2 singles depending on the configuration of your group.

4.  Head away from towns

We headed North into the National Park where there were less houseboats, more places to moor and less shops.  For 3 days we happily holidayed without spending anything (other than what we had already paid in food).  On the last day we moored in Renmark and I spent $200. $100 on shopping – which was mostly just clothes for the kids since we don’t live near shops so no major issue.  $100 on eating out.  Again, not a problem as it was planned and most enjoyable.  But if you’re after a “cheap” holiday, not something you need to do.

5.  Avoid peak seasons

Houseboat companies seem to have 3 pricing structures for their hire.  Peak, Off-Peak and Normal.

We went in the middle pricing so it wasn’t the cheapest but wasn’t the most expensive either.

6.  Be prepared to drive further

I started looking into hiring a houseboat from Mannum for another trip (somewhere different).

I was surprised to find that a similar houseboat from towns closer to Adelaide were around $1000 more over a 4 night period than those from places like Renmark.

Being prepared to drive an extra 100km or so could really save some $$$ (I know fuel isn’t cheap these days but you can still drive a fair way for $1000).  It certainly pays to shop around.

How much did it cost us?

The Corrobinnie from Warriuka Houseboats was $1385 for 4 nights.

From what I can gather, that’s a set price for the boat (no paying extra per person).

Around $173 per night per family.

A similar price to a mid-range cabin for our family these days.  If you take into account that they provide linen for ALL the beds whereas a cabin you either bring your own for the kids or pay extra, it’s actually cheaper than a cabin.

You do have to pay for the fuel you use on top of this figure (can’t tell you yet how much we used as still waiting to find out).  They also require a reasonable size cash bond which they take expenses like the fuel out of before refunding the rest (this is what we’re still waiting on – takes a week to process plus postage time).

If you divided it amongst 4 couples instead, you’d be paying $86.50 a night.  Pretty good value if you ask me!

What About Meals?

We kept our meals pretty simple yet delicious.

Most houseboat plans I’ve seen include a BBQ so our evening meals were all cooked on the bbq.

We had variety by cooking different meats on different nights.

We had bacon and eggs for breakfast a couple of times and our friends took pancakes for breakfast – again cooked on the bbq.

Lunches were mostly ham and salad wraps.

Some fruit, dip, nice cheeses and crackers and a few other bits and pieces and we were pretty set for the time we were on the boat.  Plus drinks (I’m sure we had a LOT less alcohol than most people take!).

Some people prefer to combine all their food together.

We chose to keep it separate (but work out similar meals).  It was just easier to manage that way.  I knew what I had for my kids to eat and could balance their intake of “junk” vs “real food”.  And with special dietary requirements for our friends child, I could relax knowing my kids weren’t accidentally eating her food and leaving her with nothing to have.

The boat had 2 fridges and enough cupboard space for us to do this easily.


I was pretty impressed with a few of the “extra touches” on the boat.

They provided laundry facilities (which was great as I knew we didn’t need to “overpack” as I could wash if needed – I didn’t need to but it was nice to have the option).

The boat was fully air conditioned and had heating facilities as well.  We had to run the generator to run the air conditioning and other power operated appliances (fridges and oven was gas though).

They provided magazines, books and a selection of DVD’s.

The couch and beds were really comfy and didn’t seem at all “cheap” or “old”.  Made the time really comfortable.  The coach even had 2 recliners which was AMAZING for my pregnant body – to be able to easily put my feet up.

And one of the things I appreciated most?  The had a really decent vegetable peeler!  I’d meant to bring my own because I hate the 99c ones provided by most accommodation.  Every time I used it it made me smile (and I made around 3kg of potato salad so I used it quite a bit!).  Funny how the small touches can often make a big difference.


One thought on “Houseboating on a Budget

  1. Cookie

    THanks for the comprehensive hints…. you should be a travel agent. ! We discussed going away with another couple today… so might put some plans into action soon… ! would love to hear how your kids all coped on board too especially for four days! We reckon our teens would all get bored without their electronic gear like xboxes etc… !


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