A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself.
The following pages cover many of the longer river systems in Australia. These trips take weeks if not months to complete, so worthy of having an Expedition badge!
I've completed a couple of these rivers, the Murray, Darling as well as parts of the Murrumbidgee and others. The logistics of some, namely the Coopers (very remote) and Finders (crocs) would mean that these are very unlikely to be ever done by myself. In fact, some rivers may have never been done in a kayak before, or at least there is no published information about some of these trips that I know of.
Australia's Longest Rivers
The longest river is the Murray River by a clear margin. It is the crown for Australian long distance river paddlers and it is a trip many hundreds have completed before me. The other rivers get considerably less attention and many are very dependent on favourable flows. Some rivers like the Culgoa and Lachlan Rivers will rarely be paddled, some may have never been paddled.
So what are the longest rivers you may ask? The answer isn't too hard to find which rivers make it into the top ten, but the lengths found online are often badly off. GeoAustralia was the only reliable source that I found and it wasn't comprehensive and was based on the TOPO-250K geodata. I had to assess many of the other rivers to determine both their true lengths and to find the true top ten.
I've posted by findings in the table rightbelow with a special mention to Paroo River (786 km) that got bumped out of the top 10 by the Macquarie River.
|Murray River||NSW, VIC, SA||2,489 km||2,508 km|
|Murrumbidgee River||ACT, NSW||1,616 km||1,485 km|
|Darling River||NSW||1,547 km||1,545 km|
|Lachlan River||NSW||1,547 km||1,339 km|
|Cooper Creek||QLD, SA||1,168 km||1,113 km|
|Diamantina River||QLD, SA||1,019 km||941 km|
|Flinders River||QLD||1,014 km||1,004 km|
|Warrego River||QLD, SA||884 km|
|Gascoyne River||WA||849 km||834 km|
|Macquarie River||NSW||~850 km|
* QGIS refers to my own personal measurements using QGIS software tracing river paths from satellite images. GeoAustralia traced the river lengths from the GEODATA TOPO-250K database.
Australia's Longest River Systems
The longest continuous river systems track the path from the ocean to the most remote source. This is not always clear cut as often the longest path is ephemeral, sometimes requiring a flood event to flow like Coopers Creek.
The longest continuous river system in the country is the Murray-Darling.
Starting at the source of the Condamine River and down through the Balonne and Culgoa rivers on the way to the Darling River before heading down the Murray River to the sea. The combined length is an impressive 3,855 km.
Even if you started from Deepwater (Barwon), Warrego or the Paroo river, you would still be paddling for a far greater distance than you could find in any other river basin in the country!
- Murray-Darling System
- 657 km
- Condamine River, QLD
- 409 km
- Balonne River, QLD
- 489 km
- Culgoa River, QLD/NSW
- 1,545 km
- Darling River, NSW
- 828 km
- Murray River, NSW/VIC/SA
- 3,855 km
Outside of the Murray-Darling Basin, the next longest continuous river systems are those that feed into Kati Thanda / Lake Eyre. These are even more dependent on rainfall and some very rarely flow. The Coopers-Thomson-Cornish-Torrens system is the likely longest of these at about 1,900 km followed by Warburton-Eyre-Georgina-Ranken (1,400 km) and the Macumba-Finke system that is difficult to estimate a length since it effectively never flows!
- Coopers-Thomson-Cornish-Torrens System
- 306 km
- Torrens Creek, QLD
- 50 km
- Cornish Creek, QLD
- 381 km
- Thomson River, QLD
- 1,171 km
- Coopers Creek, QLD/SA
- 1,908 km
There are likely a number of other systems around of note, like the Fitroy-Dawson System (960 km) in Queensland.
World's Longest River Systems
To compare this with rivers worldwide, the continuous system of the Murray-Darling is the firth longest in terms of the longest river per continent, but the 16th in the longest individual rivers after the following rivers:
- 6,750 km
- 6,695 km
- 6,380 km
- 6,270 km
- Mississippi - Missouri
- 5,550 km
- Yenisei - Angara - Selenga
- 5,410 km
- Ob' - Irtysh
- 4,667 km
- Huang He (Yellow)
- 4,368 km
- Amur (Heilong)
- 4,371 km
- Congo (Zaire)
- 4,260 km
- 4,241 km
- Mackenzie - Peace - Finlay
- 4,167 km
- 4,023 km
- 4,023 km
- 3,998 km
- Río de la Plata
- 3,855 km
- Murray - Darling
Longest rivers per continent
|Amazon River (Laguna McIntyre)||South America||6,750 km|
|Nile River (Burundi)||Africa||6,695 km|
|Mississippi/Missouri River||North America||5,970 km|
|Yangtze River||Asia||3,964 km|
|Murray/Darling River||Australia||3,855 km|
|Volga River||Europe||3,531 km|
|Waikato River||Zealandia||425 km|
|Onyx River||Antarctica||32 km|
River Guides and Notes
General planning tips for any river trip in Australia or around the world.