Travel Story Thrills and spills on Perth's rivers

Photo of Angie Tomlinson

It's a great time of year to explore the many spots along Perth's waterways.

At times they’re like glass, just a ripple created by a cruising pelican. Sometimes they’re angry, waves smashing man-made banks, drenching passing cyclists. Every night the waters are a mirror for the sparkling Perth city skyline. 

Whatever their mood, the Swan and Canning rivers make Perth one of the prettiest cities in the world.

The expanse from South Perth across to the city on a clear summer’s day, especially when viewed from above in Kings Park, is spectacular.

Upstream past Maylands, Guildford and into the Swan Valley, the expanses turn into lazy trickles, with intimate banks and greenery.

Downstream, the cliffs around Mosman Park and Peppermint Grove give a grander composition, while the sand spit at Point Walter provides the best family fun.

When we have something as great as the river on our doorsteps, it would be remiss not to use it. And according to the Department of Parks and Wildlife, more of us are.

“A 2015 parks and wildlife visitor satisfaction survey revealed recreational fishing, sailing, cycling and walking along the many river tracks remain the most popular recreational pastimes for river users,” department river systems manager Mark Cugley says.

“In recent years, kiteboarding, paddleboarding and wakeboarding have emerged as the fastest-growing sports at key recreational nodes around the river park.”


In Peppermint Grove, the Royal Freshwater Bay Yacht Club has a crew experience program that matches yacht owners with crew members — the perfect free way to experience sailing. No sailing experience is necessary, with owners and willing crew matched up through the club’s online bulletin board.

In addition, you can put your name on the casual crew register for Saturdays from mid-October to mid-April.

According to RFBYC yachting operations manager Debbie Blaauw while some skippers are looking for experienced crew, many are happy to teach beginners. Saturday is the busy racing day but they also sail Thursday afternoons, which she says is a great way to break up the working week.

“Sailing has so many health benefits, from muscle strength and endurance, cardiovascular fitness, mental wellness, relaxation and agility to concentration and communication,” she says. “We have people sailing from the age of seven to over 80 years.” 

Nedlands Yacht Club also encourages new and novice sailors. It holds an annual Try Sailing Day (in September this year) where you can enjoy a free day of sailing on a catamaran with friends and family.

The club also encourages first-time sailors to come down on Sunday afternoons from October to April. Visitors are encouraged to have a free go on any boat at the club for two races. After two weeks, if they’re keen, they can seek membership.

South of Perth Yacht Club also has a Discover Sailing Day (held last month), with learn-to- sail, club racing and cruising activities.


If there’s a sport that’s taken off during the past few years in Perth, it’s stand-up paddleboarding.

For Caroline Bradley, owner of Elemental — which offers stand-up paddleboard hire and lessons at the calm waters of Point Walter and Bicton Baths — a paddle on the Swan River offers an escape and time to connect with nature.

“It’s about being with nature, disconnecting from the land and from the daily grind,” she says. “For me it doesn’t matter how bad your day is, SUP erases it or a morning paddle sets you up for the day.”

During seven years, Ms Bradley has seen her business grow, often with regulars returning most weekends to hire a board. A one-hour hire costs $30, two hours $50 and a two-hour introductory lesson and paddle up the river for one person is $80.

Elemental has also been running SUP yoga for the past five years.

At Pelican Point in Crawley, Stand Up Paddle Sports has a school and hire centre providing lessons, hire and the opportunity to test-drive its range of boards to find the perfect fit. 

Sunset Stand Up Paddle offers lessons at the weekend from Shelley Beach, and hires paddleboards for periods of one to seven days ($45-$130).

SoulKite also offers lessons and board hire ($25 for one hour and $40 for two).


Kayaking can give you a completely new perspective of this city.

About Bike Hire launches its kayaks from its East Perth premises at Point Fraser Reserve. Hire costs $16 for an hour and up to $45 for four hours.

Across the water in South Perth, Funcats has single and double kayaks for hire ($20 an hour for single, $30 for a double), as well as catamarans and stand-up paddleboards.

Rivergods provides kayak tours, training, canoe and kayak hire, classes and team events. It has a Swan River Half Day Tour in open double kayaks starting at Garratt Road Bridge, along the Baigup Wetlands and Tranby Reserve to the city, for $85 per adult. 

To combine lunch, wine- tasting and paddling, opt for Rivergods’ one-day Wine Cruise by Canoe, taking in the Swan Valley. It’s $105 per person for a minimum booking of 10 people.

Water Wanderers’ guided kayak tours paddle the Swan River from the tranquil Ascot Waters to historic Guildford with the time of day, from sunrise to sunset, offering different experiences. They cost from $50.

For the more experienced paddler, Water Wanderers also offers self-guided tours ($160 for two paddlers) with route options including Ascot Waters to Bayswater (6.6km) and Guildford to the Swan Valley (8km). 

If you are looking for a club, there are plenty dotted up and down the banks of the Swan River. Find a club at


For a relaxing day on the Swan, you can’t beat cruising its waters by boat. Captain Cook Cruises offers a variety of scenic cruises on the Swan River, including full and half days with wine, lunch and dinner. The cruises extend anywhere from Fremantle into the Swan Valley. Perth’s Famous Wine Cruise departs daily and costs $169 per adult.

Out and About Wine Tours combines a river cruise with a vineyard experience in the Swan Valley. The full-day tour costs $149 per adult.

In a similar vein, Swan Valley Tours offers an Indulgence Cruise Tour with a cruise then coach transport to several Swan Valley wineries. The tour costs $150.

Golden Sun Cruises starts its trips from the Barrack Street Jetty and heads past Burswood to Tranby House and beyond. They cost from $52.

There is also a long list of charters available.


Despite sitting amid a city of about two million people, the Swan River still offers good fishing for the keen, with mulloway, tarwhine, cobbler, black bream, flathead, tailor, herring and sand whiting on offer.

The West Australian’s fishing writer Mike Roennfeldt says fishing on the Swan makes for a perfect family outing. “It’s a nice thing to do on a sunny day — sit on the bank, throw a line in with a river prawn and it’s highly likely you’ll catch a bream,” he says.

In summer, bream spread out from the middle reaches of the river, heading up to Guildford and further downstream, Mr Roennfeldt says.

He says the Narrows is a great spot on a summer night, while the shallow, sandy bottom there and at Point Walter offer flathead and occasionally flounder.

And no, he doesn’t have a secret spot — and especially not one to tell the Perth population.

The Department of Parks and Wildllife’s Mr Cugley says recreational fishing and diving has improved in the lower reaches of the Swan-Canning estuary, with the rivers’ prized black bream and blue manna crab populations having enjoyed bumper seasons in recent years.

He says the department’s restocking of the western school prawn population, which has seen more than 4.5 million prawns released since 2012, has reignited prawning on a hot summer’s night — an integral part of Perth’s river culture. 

Regulations for recreational fishing are at and


Like any urban waterway, the Swan and Canning rivers have to cope with population growth, industry and riverfront development. 

River management initiatives, including on-ground landcare projects, oxygenation plants, nutrient stripping wetlands and $2 million per year towards priority foreshore projects, have gone a long way to ensuring water sports — and regular dolphin sightings — can still occur.

To make a difference to river health on an individual level, Mr Cugley advises residents to use fewer phosphorus and nitrogen- rich fertilisers on their gardens, keep detergents and chemicals away from roadside drains, take rubbish home or use bins around the river, and take advantage of the 45-plus fishing line bins at popular fishing locations.

Top picture: The CBD at sunset by Nathan Eaton.


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