Australia's top 10 rivers
They're the veins of our great nation, so to celebrate we've rounded up Australia's best rivers. Discover how to access them and where to camp with our expert guide.
From the Mighty Murray to Jacob's Creek, Australia is blessed with an abundance of iconic waterways. Our round up of the country's best has taken us far and wide including WA's Kimberley region, the wilderness of west coast Tassie and the Queensland everglades. Find out which rivers should be on your bucket list.
1. Pieman River, Tasmania
The Gordon River is renowned as the most scenic river in Tasmania and as a result it can be touristy and crowded. In stark contrast on the banks of the Pieman River you may not find another soul to be seen or heard — Tasmanian wilderness as it is meant to be experienced.
Travel via the Western Explorer Rd which is an iconic trip in itself. Heading south, once you reach Corrina the road ends and you must take "The Fatman" over the Pieman River before continuing on to Strahan. Don’t rush it as an overnight stop at Corrina’s little campsite will allow you to experience the early morning tranquillity and beauty of the Pieman River, minus the crowds.
Pieman River information
- The river can only be crossed on the Pieman vehicular barge — the only cable driven barge in Tasmania.
- Locally known as ‘The Fatman’ it operates from 9am-7pm in the summer and 9am-5pm outside daylight saving hours.
- There is no timetable, the Fatman leaves on demand and costs $25 one way with a camper trailer, taking all of five minutes.
2. Jardine River, Queensland
The Jardine River itself might not be the most attractive you’ll ever see, but if your rig is on that cable ferry being pulled across it, you have almost reached the Tip in your Cape York adventure. On the way up you should have tackled those iconic creeks whose names send shivers of excitement (or dread) up any 4WDers spine. Palm Creek, Cockatoo Creek, Canal Creek, Mistake Creek and the aptly named Cannibal Creek and infamous Gunshot are some that come to mind.
The Jardine is deep, with a fair current and a good population of hungry crocodiles. In the past it was driven across where the Overland Telegraph Track meets the river. Nowadays the Jardine River Ferry is the way to go. Once you’ve crossed the river, you are less than 80km from Pajinka, better known as "The Tip". The last stretch of road, from Punsand Bay to The Tip, is a tropical jungle complete with vines. Then it’s just a short stroll to the most photographed of signs at the northern most point of the Australasian continent.
Jardine River information
- The ferry costs $145 return with a trailer, a price hike of nearly 50% from last year.
- The ferry really is the only safe way to cross the Jardine River. Last year the ferry broke down and a number of vehicles tried to ford the old crossing and got stuck. They had to fork out $3000 each to be recovered from the crocodile infested waters.
- The ferry operates from 8am-5pm daily in the dry season. Contact NPARC (Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council) on 07 4069 1369 for further information.
3. Pentecost River, WA
When you cross the Pentecost River you know that you are in the thick of the Kimberley. If you’ve done the Gibb River Road then chances are you’ll have a photo of this crossing with the picturesque Cockburn Range in the background.
A number of the stations along the GRR offer riverside camping opportunities along the Pentecost River and there’s something to suit everyone. If you are a camper who needs all the facilities on hand, then El Questro’s Black Cockatoo campsite might be just your thing with the pub in easy walking distance. If you can manage with the just basics then Home Valley Station’s River Bush Camp provides these along with stunning views across the Pentecost with the ranges in the background. If you can do it self-sufficient, although a little pricey, not much beats El Questro’s private riverside camps right on the banks of the Pentecost.
Pentecost River information
- At the crossing point the Pentecost is about 60m wide and the water can flow quite high early in the season (i.e. April –May) so care should be taken. Later in the season (Sept- Oct) the flow is greatly reduced with the depth less than 30cm. Beware of the salt water crocodiles that inhabit this river.
4. Finke River, NT
This is a river that very rarely flows, but that makes it perfect for your 4WD. Following the Finke River 4WD Route from the Ernest Giles Road up to Hermannsburg offers an adventurous alternative to the highway and saves some backtracking. It is suitable for high clearance 4WD vehicles only and trailers are not recommended.
The track zig-zags along the dry river bed and is slow going with long sections of crunching river rocks interspersed with soft sand. You don’t want to be going fast or you’ll miss the gorgeous scenery. High red cliffs, river gums, cool water holes, clean white sand and tall green palms. The main campsite, with no facilities, along this route is the uninspiringly named Boggy Hole, which is actually a lovely spot. For a little more privacy you can pick your own bush camping spot anywhere along the river.
Finke River information
- NT Parks and Wildlife advise that this track should only be attempted by people with previous 4WD experience. The remote nature of the route, infrequent traffic and high risk of becoming stuck or suffering vehicle damage mean that it should not be considered a short cut.
- The track changes every year due to seasonal rains. Sands get shifted around and what may have been a good part of the track one year is a sandy boghole the next. Current road conditions can be obtained by calling 1800 246 199. Visit www.parksandwildlife.nt.gov.au for more information.
5. Murchison River, WA
The Murchison River is the second longest in WA and along its 800km length it has many faces. For much of the year it doesn’t flow; it’s wide, sandy riverbed is home to the occasional life-giving permanent pool. Camping beside one of these pools as the sun sinks down, the spindly trees reflect in the water and the campfire cracks below the discordant harmony of the birds — is uniquely Australian.
In flood, the Murchison can swell to a width of over 20km. The lower reaches of the river gouge their way through the magnificent, steep-sided Kalbarri Gorges. You may only manage a short walk to one of the lookouts: to Z-Bend to marvel at the 150m plunge to the river snaking below, or Nature’s Window where the natural rock arch perfectly frames the view. The more adventurous can hike right down to the bottom of the gorges and marvel at the forces of Mother Nature. Extreme contrasts in just one river.
Murchison River information
- There are no camping areas in Kalbarri National Park, but there are plenty of accommodation options in the nearby Kalbarri township, including numerous caravan parks. There are a multitude of camping options along the length of the Murchison River to suit just about any tastes.
- Free camping is available at the easily accessible 24 hour overnight rest stop at Galena Bridge. For the more adventurous you might like to find your way into sites like the old Geraldine Lead Mine to explore the remaining ruins, like we did.
- Some of Stations along the Murchison, such as Wooleen Station, are open to tourists and offer a range of facilities and activities. Phone(08)9963 7973 or visit www.wooleen.com.au for options.
- For the adrenaline junkies there’s Murchison Offroad Adventures, a 300,000acre 4WD playground which caters for just about anything you can dream of doing with your 4WD. Phone (08)9933 1050 or visit www.murchisonoffroadadventures.com.au for more.
6. Myall River, NSW
The Myall River on NSW’s mid north coast flows past the small town of Bulahdelah and slowly winds its way into the beautiful natural harbour of Port Stephens. The Myall may only be a small river, but it feeds the giant Myall Lakes. It’s the largest brackish barrier lake system in NSW and sits within the Myall Lakes National Park. It’s about 60km from Tea Gardens on the shores of Port Stephens up to the end of Myall Lake. There are four interconnected lakes spread over 10,000ha and a great choice of campsites dotted around the shores of each of the four waterways — from Myall Lake to Boolambayte, Two Mile Lake and on to Bombah Broadwater.
There are boat-based campsites in the Myall Lakes and sections that are extraordinarily beautiful. Grasses and reeds colonise the banks and stands of magnificent old paperbarks stretch out over the waters. In the evening and morning light the shredded, cinnamon, honey and cream coloured bark of the trees glow intently and the reflections in the dark waters are mesmerising. There are also plenty of car-based sites by the lakes where you can launch a tinny or a kayak.
There is an abundance of wildlife such as; swamp wallabies, possums, bandicoots and echidnas and birds like honey eaters, wrens, wattle birds, black swans, ducks, sea eagles, cormorants, terns, egrets and other water birds.
Myall River information
- The Myall Lakes are 230km north of Sydney.
- There are 350 sites at various Myall Lakes camping grounds.
- The area is excellent for water-based activities.
- Get away from it all at a boat-based campground.
- Visit www.cruiseportstephens.com.au for Myall River cruises.
7. Noosa River, Queensland
The Noosa River is in the Cooloola section of the Great Sandy National Park. It’s a sheltered river with dark waters, magnificent reflections, abundant wildlife and secluded camping only a short way upstream from the Noosa township.
The Noosa River flows into a series of lakes. A long narrow channel connects Lake Cooroibah with Lake Cootharaba —about 12km long and accessible by land at two places, Boreen Point and Elanda Point, on the lake’s north western side. The lakeside campsites are popular with families and the resort offers fireplaces, hot showers and shops. Many people make this their staging post for explorations of the river’s upper reaches.
One of the most picturesque parts of the river is known locally as the Noosa Everglades, it begins from Fig Tree Point and about 5km. Eventually the river becomes one narrow channel where tall trees hang over the water and cormorants perch on branches to dry their wings. The water turns from brackish to fresh and is so dark it produces beautiful reflections on calm days.
From Harry’s Hut the river is navigable for a further 22km upstream to the junction of Teewah Creek. Between Harry’s Hut and Teewah there are 15 individual campsites situated on the river only accessible by boat. These sites can be booked overnight or you could book a number of them for a multi-day paddle; it’s about 21km from camp one to camp 15.
Noosa River information
- The Noosa River offers calm water paddling through a magnificent system.
- There is great fishing for bass and other species.
- Plenty of car based campsites by the river and lakes.
- Kayaking trips available between one and five days.
- Visit www.visitnoosa.com.au for more information.
8. Ord River, WA
In the far north east of WA, in the remote Kimberley region, is a vast freshwater lake nestled amongst a rugged billion-year-old landscape. Lake Argyle is one of Australia’s biggest inland waterways — like an inland sea in the desert. There are islands in the middle of the lake and ranges skirting its edges. The water is fresh and drinkable so you can kayak or boat for weeks around its shores and islands.
The Ord River, which flows out of ranges south of Purnululu National Park, is the main river to feed Lake Argyle. It meanders around the eastern edge of the Dixon Range and Purnululu before being joined by the Negri River at a junction over 100km from the southern end of Lake Argyle. From here the Ord flows through huge gorges and past magnificent hills like Mount Button, perched on a bend in the river. There are cascades, mazes, rapids and sandbanks, but also freshwater crocodiles on each bend — some of them massive. Eventually the Ord reaches the back up and the waters stop flowing about 150kms from the dam wall. The Bow River in the west and the Behm in the east join the Ord. At the junction of the Bow River (over 100kms south of the dam wall) the back-up of the dam water has already begun and a massive inland delta has been formed, thriving with fish and birdlife.
You can also enjoy the Ord River as it flows down to the town of Kununurra, and camp by its bank. There are stunning sections of the river below the dam wall. One can only wonder at what the mighty Ord would have been like in flood before the Dam was built.
Ord River information
- The main catch in Lake Argyle is silver Cobbler.
- Lake Argyle has 200km of shoreline.
- Lake Argyle has 26 fish species and 25,000 freshwater crocs.
- There is 50km paddling downstream to Kununurra from Lake Argyle.
- Visit www.australiasnorthwest.com for tourist information.
9. The Frankland River, WA
In WA’s south-west three rivers feed The Walpole and Nornalup Inlets. In the north the Walpole River flows into the Walpole Inlet. The town of Walpole is a fishing destination and boats are launched from both the Town Jetty and Swan Bay Jetty. South of the Walpole Inlet is the Nornalup Inlet, it’s joined to Walpole Inlet by a deep channel. Nornalup is about 6km wide and much deeper; the Deep River in the west and the Frankland River in the east feed it. The Frankland is one of the longest rivers in the south-west; in the upper reaches it is a wild river full of boulders, logjams and rapids. It can however be navigated for many kilometres up stream of Nornalup Inlet where it is beautiful and wide with karri forests surrounding its shores.
The Deep river flows into Nornalup’s western side. It begins just 50kms from the coast and flows through mostly uncleared forests; it’s a shallow river with beautiful clear water and forested banks. These three healthy rivers flowing into the system means the Nornalup Inlet is one of the few inlets in the southwest that is permanently open to the sea and that has created a rich and diverse marine habitat.
It’s a beautiful and stunning area and the Deep River, Frankland River and the Nornalup Inlet provide great opportunities for kayaking.
Frankland River information
- Red Tingle trees grow near the Frankland River, they can reach 75m high.
- Nornalup Inlet is 6km wide.
- Great camping by the inlets and at Rest Poin
- According to the Murrum people Nornalup means place of the black snak
- Visit www.australiassouthwest.com for more information.
10. Cooper Creek and Coongie Lakes, SA
The north-eastern corner of SA has an abundance of outback rivers and lakes that can be enjoyed even in dry times. Cooper Creek and Coongie Lakes is a surreal water world in the middle of the desert. Tall red dunes surround blue waters and narrow creeks are lined with majestic river red gums. There is an abundance of bird and animal life.
The Cooper Creek and Coongie wetlands make up one of the great wetland areas of SA. This is an arid region surrounded by harsh gibber plains and sand drifts bordering the Strzelecki desert. The Cooper Creek brings life to the outback, but in dry times it’s a thin lifeline with only waterholes remaining. In 2010 it flowed all the way into Lake Eyre and cut the Birdsville Track. The Cooper flows through Innamincka and the nearby Cullyamurra Waterhole and with a depth to 28m it is the biggest billabong in the outback and has never been known to dry up. On rare occasions there is enough water to find its way along the Cooper to the vast Lake Eyre Basin.
The Cooper Creek flows down out of Longreach past Windorah and spreads out into a huge flood plain before narrowing again near Innamincka. From here it is an arms-reach out into the eastern side of Lake Eyre. The Innamincka regional reserve encompasses much of the flood plain of the Cooper Creek, including the drifting dunes of the Simpson Desert and the gibber of Sturt Stony Desert on its northern and north-western edges. North of Innamincka, the Lakes of Coongie Lakes National Park are topped up when northern monsoon rains spill down the Barcoo. The lakes are a bizarre wetland in the middle of the desert; there are channels and waterholes. Even in dry times the Coongie Lakes contain water. The abundance of water supports large populations of birdlife, fish, reptiles and frogs.
Cooper Creek and Coongie Lakes information
- In 2010 the park was closed due to floodwaters coming down the Cooper Creek while in 2009 there was still water in the lakes, but the floods had come down the Diamantina to fill the northern part of Lake Eyre.
- Charles Sturt trekked along the Cooper and named it in 1844 and by the 1880s the watercourse was established as a route for drovers and travellers.
- Yellowbelly is the prized fish with catfish and Barcoo Grunter also taken as well as Yabbies.
- Over 50 species of wetland birds breed in the area. There is great camping on the banks of the creeks and Lakes.
- Visit www.wilderness.org.au for more information.