ABC Saturday Breakfast Rides the River

Whether it’s to try out a new Christmas present, a family day out, being a tourist for the day or showing off our city to a visiting friend, there is one place that is guaranteed to make it special, one place that is our most treasured place.  It’s not hidden, but there are hidden treasures to be found on it.  Where are we going?  The Derbarl Yerrigan.  The Swan River.  Our river.

Some of our Hidden Treasure stories have included elements of the Swan River.  It was when I looked around Bassendean that I first thought about a river story. 

We talked about the confluence of the Helena River and Swan River and the thrill of watching people fall off stand-up paddleboards and I watched kids swinging on a rope and tyre tied to a gnarly old tree sticking out of the bank on the Guildford side.

Our Hidden Treasure this morning is for all of us who love the river, love getting on it, but don’t have a boat. Here’s a few things you can do to get you on the water on one of the world’s great city waterways.

We’ve already mentioned stand up paddleboards as a spectator sport and tyres on a rope as an age-old pastime on the river but let’s get to my list of ten things for riding on the river if you haven’t got your own boat.

Surfcats:  I can remember as a kid watching cricket on tv and the camera would pan across to people on the river in surfcats and they would sometimes blow over when the Freo Doctor was in and then you’d see people stand up.  I also remember Tony Greig baiting Bill Lawry about going out on a surfcat, knowing Bill couldn’t swim. These days the surfcats are stronger and a family of four can enjoy sailing and imagining they’re winning the America’s Cup.

Transperth Ferries:  This is probably the best way to see the city, the river and all of the activity on it. For just a couple of dollars you can hop on at the Mends Street Jetty in South Perth or ferry terminal at Elizabeth Quay.  At both ends of a ten-minute journey you’ll find ice cream shops and cafes, or something finer if you like.  You can open the windows and have your head out in the breeze, watch cormorants on the navigation markers with their wings spread wide, drying them in the sun.

Electric Ferry: For a different type of ferry, a tesla on water, try the Little Electric Ferry Company which also operates from Elizabeth Quay.  This little fleet is fully electric and looks like something Gatsby would go boating in.  They travel up to Claisebrook and tie up in the inlet and give you enough time to duck into the pub for a beer before heading back down the river and sometimes they stop off at the pontoon wharf outside Perth Stadium, just up from Matagarup Bridge.

Zipline: Also up from Matagarup Bridge, literally, is the recently opened zipline which launches you from the bridge and across to the east bank.  It’s a great way to fly like a bird, scream like a banshee and land like James Bond.

Nautipicnics: Staying with the electric theme on water, if you want to get your dog on the water and have a go at being a skipper for a day, even without your Skippers Ticket, you can take out the groovy little Nautipicnics boats. 

Nautipicnics … no Skippers Ticket needed … but watch where you’re going!

Perfect for exploring the banks around Maylands and Bayswater, chugging alongside a pelican as it’s taking off like some 1930’s flying boat.  They’re set up with a central table and a shady bimini so you can glide around the river and graze your way through a cheese platter with cheese of a better quality than my days working for Boat Torque.

Water Wanderers: These guys do sunset tours, wetlands tours and Leonie will find little spots to pull into and give you amazing desserts served in Mason Jars, designed to top up your energy levels for your adventure.  I did a tour with Leonie as a Father’s Day adventure with my kids and my brother Jamie.  Matilda and I would line up Jamie and Tom and yell ‘Ramming Speed’ and then bump against Tom who would get cross with his Uncle Jamie for not avoiding us while Leonie would just laugh, mostly.

Try ‘Ramming Speed!’ with the Water Wanderers

Water Bikes: For a completely different way of being on the water, how about riding a bike on the water.  These are the only bikes you don’t need to wear a helmet for. Tom and I recently headed down to the little beach near the Narrows Bridge on the South Perth side and took a couple of these out with Penny and Nev and while they know their history and can answer lots of your questions we were happy just to watch Tom look up as we pedalled under the Narrows Bridge, hearing from underneath all that frantic and rumbling activity of north and south bound traffic and trains.  The bikes have two pontoons and are lightweight and easy to move through the water although my little legged companion started to get a bit weary as we turned for home so Nev tucked his pontoons under Toms bike and did the pedalling for both of them.  These guys can do the taste test style experience or longer up the river and sunset tours.

Waterbikes … no helmet required

Swan River Seaplanes: Just around the corner on the South Perth side you’ll find the opportunity to take off from the river in a real seaplane.  Taxiing across the water, picking up speed and bouncing into the air is exciting and not something you can do every day.  Their destinations range from up and down the coast, across to Rottnest or back on the river for a picnic. Check out their website, http://www.swanriverseaplanes.com.au, for more information on taking to the skies above Perth and along our amazing coastline.

What a way to roar across the river! Take off in a seaplane this summer!

Pedal Boards: Jeff operates from near the jetty at Point Walter and let’s firstly take a look at his pedal boards.  These are a cross between a stand-up paddle board and a penguin.  While you stand on a board with handlebars, there’s two little flippers under the board that do their best impression of Happy Feet and send you along in whatever direction you steer.

Swans: Swans on the Swan.  How can life get can any better than pedalling a swan on the Swan this summer? Forget the tube of sunscreen, you’re going to need a big tube of Voltaren the following day but honestly, it’s not because they’re hard to pedal, it’s just that those muscles aren’t working out enough each day. Jeff is busy launching and retrieving his swan pedal boats and pedal boards but still has time to show me his pride and joy, a recently painted black swan that is ready to be launched this summer.  I think he needs a red swan because as we all know, red means it goes faster.

Swan Pedal Boats. Fun doesn’t get much funner!

The Swan River is a hidden treasure because of these activities.  I bet there are things on this list you’ve never heard of and I bet there are some on the list you’ve heard of and never done.  The Swan River is more than a glorious view to drive past or walk along. 

Get on it and feel the treasure.      

As published in the West Australian … Ramming Speed!

Originally published by the West Australian newspaper and on http://www.waterwanderers.com.au

Chris Parry and family enjoy a wander along the river on a kayaking tour.

Have you noticed the blue sky that is finally above us?

As I paddled my way up the Swan River in a Water Wanderers kayak, I was reminded of a career a long time ago, singing and serving on the wine cruise boats that made their way up to Mulberry Farm and other Swan Valley destinations.

Leonie Cockman from the Water Wanderers has an easier job than I did when I worked on the river. She doesn’t have to put on a cabaret act while making sure sozzled people don’t jump overboard. She also provides a better lunch than the cheese cubes sweating on yellow serviettes in cane baskets that I used to serve.

My Water Wanderers tour of Ascot Waters started out as a Fathers’ Day prize and Leonie offered to take the whole family on the water. A late change in the line-up saw my brother Jamie step in and he was partnered with Tom, while my kayak partner was Matilda.

After a briefing on the correct paddling technique, we forgot everything Leonie taught us and launched the kayaks at Adachi Park in Maylands, setting off up river. Both kayaks were sea-going and equipped with rudders controlled by the paddler at the back. I quickly got the hang of lining up Jamie and Tom amidships and calling out to Matilda, “Ramming speed!” Tom would holler in horror and then berate his Uncle Jamie for not avoiding the collision. I was happy to then withdraw our bow, paddle away and leave my brother to deal with my son’s protestations.

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Ramming speed! Picture: Chris Parry

While not strictly encouraging this behaviour, Leonie was laughing, which is all the encouragement I need. She was in her own kayak and would skim around us, pointing out the features of the riverbank and cautioning us when craft bigger than ours — and they were all bigger — came cruising past.

We threaded our way through the moored array of boats at the Maylands Amateur Boatbuilding Yard, which is just 4km from the centre of Perth and provides a place for boat builders to plane and hammer their days away, dreaming of tight hulls and firm decks.

WA has a great history of boatbuilding and it was an important indicator of the early success of our colony that boatbuilding was been established on the Swan River, utilising local timbers.

Just a little way up the river is Tranby House, one of the colony’s oldest surviving buildings and the site of one its first farms. Built in 1839, it was the third house to be built on what was known as Peninsula Farm.

These days, Tranby House and Peninsula Tea Gardens cater to weddings and events, and are open for high tea every day of the week, serving tea in Royal Albert china.

As we continued upriver, we stayed close to the banks to make sure we got a good look at the birdlife along the way, including eastern great egrets, white-faced heron, pelicans and black swans.

Being in a kayak provided a real sense of being part of the environment around us. I felt I was more observant and was hearing more than I ever had on any of the motorised adventures I’ve had on the river.

As we paddled into Bayswater waters, Leonie pointed out the bat boxes attached to the shoreline trees in the Baigup Wetland.

Designed to attract bats looking for a home, this project aims to reduce mosquito populations. One bat may consume over 1000 mosquitoes in an evening and they are considered an effective and ecological alternative to chemical spraying to reduce mosquito numbers on the river.

Just before the Garratt Road Bridge, we crossed to the other side of the river and made our way through the wetlands to find a suitable landing for our sturdy craft. Leonie pulled out chairs and baskets from the kayaks’ storage holes and very quickly we’d set up a picnic camp.

From one basket, Leonie produced bottles filled with homemade lemonade. The sprig of mint within each bottle was a touch of genius, although as it was treated with great suspicion by my six year old lad. “A stick with leaves is in my drink!”

Leonie had made an absolute feast for our group and we each had a favourite. For Jamie, it was the vegetable quiche. For Matilda, it was the banana jam with coconut sprinkled on top, and for me, it was the homemade bread. Tom devoured a glass jar with peanut, caramel and pretzel chocolate cheesecake in hypnotic silence, save for the sound of the little metal spoon scraping the inside of the jar.

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After lunch, we returned our craft to the water and made our way through the wetlands before emerging back into the river proper, where we hit the sort of wind I can imagine drove the early Dutch sailors crashing into our shores. Paddles dug deep and fortitude dug deeper. I realised that as I dug my paddle into the water I was pushing my feet forward on the rudder pedals, causing the rudder to shift to the left and then to the right with each desperate paddle thrust. This caused us to lurch to port then lurch to starboard, unsettling Matilda, who was convinced we were about to be introduced to Davy Jones somewhere deep below — or, at the very least, fall among the big, brown jellyfish that surrounded our pitching vessel.

It was a short trial by wind — perhaps 500m, maybe a bit less. As our kayaks ground on the shore we’d departed from just hours earlier, we unzipped our life jackets and dropped our paddles with relief and regret. Relief to be off the water, away from the wind, and regret to be off the water, away from our adventure.

The Water Wanderers operate throughout the year and have a range of different river tours available, including a spectacular sunset tour. The Ascot Waters tour is available Wednesdays and Saturdays. No experience is necessary and, as Tom and Jamie proved, age is no barrier. Now how’s that for getting in a dig at an older brother?

Want to know more?

See waterwanderers.com.au.