When Ruth Roberts decided to kayak down the entire length of Australia’s longest river, it was mainly to realise a lifelong dream to do “something big”.

Little did she (and her husband Jim) know, the Murray River would remain a constant in their lives after the 2,226km journey.

In 2014, Ruth and Jim decided to leave the Adelaide Hills and purchased a kayaking business based on the Murray at Murtho, about three hours north of Adelaide. Then they decided to explore the idea of having a houseboat for accommodation on the Murray River.

“Originally we were looking at houseboats, but in our research we saw a paddleboat and changed our direction. It’s the uniqueness – there’s around 100 houseboats here in Renmark and not many of these,” Jim says.

“It was important to get something really special.”

Eventually they found a 1960s original paddle steamer boat down stream at Cobram in Victoria some 1,400km away. Without any knowledge of these boats, Jim set about trying to bring it home.

“On the first day we got stuck, then the second day we got stuck. I was out there in 40 degrees trying to shovel out the dirt,” he says.

Eventually, the sacrifice paid off for the couple and after a year-long refurbishment of the boat, they now share their love of the river with Airbnb guests at their listing that sits right on the water.

Visitors have full access to kayaks during their stay, where they can explore the numerous inlets and streams that branch off from the Murray. This is so they can fully appreciate the beauty of the Murray River and spot the scores of birds that call it home. Jim runs kayaking and dinghy tours when he’s not working as a teacher.

The fascination with the Murray River began when their four sons finished school and left the family home. Ruth finally had time to think about the bucket list trip that she never got to tick off. 

“When I was 17, I wanted to do an epic trip on a horse from Adelaide to Melbourne. Then I got married, had four kids, had to study, had to work. 30 years had passed and I hadn’t even managed to get this dream out of my head,” Ruth says.

Despite doing everything in her power to realise this dream, the logistics proved too difficult to come to life, so Ruth went back to the drawing board. And so began her obsession with kayaking. It was about 13 years ago that Ruth completed that long journey down the Murray River in her kayak, with Jim trailing by car. It was during this trip where the couple fell in love with the Murray.

“Jim drove along the river with a camper trailer and we would meet up at night. Mobile phones didn’t have GPS back then so we had to ascertain when and where to meet,” she says.

“It was really calming and brought me back to a sense of serenity that I hadn’t felt since I was a child. You don’t realise how much baggage you pick up in life – it’s just not meant to be this fast.”

Jim remembers the late afternoons with fading light, when he couldn’t locate Ruth as many of the locations weren’t easily accessible by road.

“We only had the old-fashioned Nokia phones. One day I did 200km trying to find her, I was out in the middle of this national park and there was no mountains or hills to work out where she was,” he says. 

The journey took about two months to complete, with Ruth averaging between 40-60km per day. But as she went back to her everyday life, the Murray kept drawing her back in. 

“Every now and again, I’d round up a couple of girlfriends and get a few kayaks to go up for the day. We’d paddle out and have some lunch and a nice chat. It brings you back to that calm nature,” she says.

And just like many of their guests, Ruth and Jim are happy to have swapped the city for the country.

“It’s been fantastic. Just getting out of the rat race, getting up everyday and enjoying your job and being closer to nature. If it hasn’t added years to our life, it’s stopped us losing them,” she says.


Our host’s guide to Murtho and the surrounding region

Headings Cliff Lookout – Offering 360-degree views of the Murray River and surrounding area.

Woolshed Brewery – The Riverland’s only independent craft brewery is celebrating its 10th birthday this year. Situated on a bend of the Murray River, the cellar door offers seven ales, apple cider, Hard lemonade, Rude Ruby and wines.


Words Kevin Cheng
Photography Marnie Hawson

All homes referenced in this post are intended purely to inspire and illustrate. Airbnb does not recommend or endorse these home listings or any other homes on the Airbnb platform.