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The Best Things To Do On The Swan River

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by Carolyn Hopping (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer based in Perth, Western Australia, who enjoys writing about the things I love: travel, nature-based activities, the arts, spirituality and creative, fun activities for children.
Published September 10th 2012
Fun in the sun for everyone
The Best Things to Do on the Swan River

The living heart of our city, the beautiful Swan River gracefully meanders its way through Perth until it finally reaches the Indian Ocean at Fremantle. For the Noongar people, who have resided in the region over forty thousand years, the river was a source of life and sustenance, as well as a place of deep spiritual and cultural significance. In contrast, the European settlers who arrived here in the early nineteenth century, perceived the river in terms of its usefulness for colonial settlement, and especially the potential for agricultural development. Most of Perth's oldest suburbs were originally small settlements along the banks of the Swan River, while places such as Bayswater and Maylands still supported dairy farms well into the twentieth century.

These days, the Swan River maintains a central role in the psyche of Western Australians: our state capital is on its banks, the affluent choose to reside near it, and many of us enjoy spending our leisure time on its refreshing waters or in the many parks and gardens along its banks. For Perth's ever-expanding population, the Swan River offers innumerable recreational options to suit every taste, budget and age-group. The following pages examine some of these activities, and will hopefully provide you with some ideas and inspiration about how to better connect with this wonderful waterway.

The beauty of the Swan River is an infinite source of creative inspiration
The beauty of the Swan River is an infinite source of creative inspiration

Cycling and walking
Perth is blessed with heaps of fabulous cycle and walking paths, and the riverbanks of the Swan boast some of the most scenic in the city, with many meandering through beautiful parklands and remnants of native bush. Most paths are dual purpose, so both walkers and cyclists need to be very vigilant not to get in each other's way.

The bike track along Perth Esplanade
The bike track along Perth Esplanade

Apart from all that wonderful exercise, cycling and walking along the Swan River are also great ways to appreciate Perth's unique flora and fauna. The birdlife along the river is prolific, and black cockatoos, pelicans, and parrots are just a few of the many species you'll see as you make your way along the paths. If you're fortunate, you may also catch a glimpse of some of the dolphins which live in the river. I've personally seen them as far upriver as Guildford, so it's well worth looking out for them, unless you're a long way up the Swan Valley.

Walking trail along the Swan River near Viveash
Walking trail along the Swan River near Viveash

Most riverside tracks are marked on local street directories. Alternatively, the cycling maps which are sold in most bike shops also have Perth's riverside trails clearly marked. The following are just a few of many which you can look out for:

Beginning at the southern end of Blackwall Reach Parade in Bicton, a path winds its way along the Swan's southern foreshore, passing Point Walter Reserve, Shelley Park Beach, Prisoners Point, Attadale Reserve, and many other lovely riverside spots until it ends at the Canning River Bridge.

From near Mill Point Close in South Perth (near the Kwinana Freeway), you can walk or cycle along the foreshore, traversing the James Mitchell Park and Burswood's various foreshore reserves, until you reach the Graham Farmer Freeway. While you're in the area, you could easily cross the causeway to Heirisson Island, and explore some of it pathways.

From Perth's CBD, a very nice ride is along the pathway that follows the Esplanade up to the University of Western Australia in Crawley, and far beyond. Although you'll need to detour onto the Stirling Highway for a short stretch near the Methodist Ladies College and Christ Church Grammar in Claremont, it's possible to complete this route as far as North Fremantle on either purpose built paths or quiet suburban streets.

Far away, where the Swan River begins her journey to the coast, the Walyunga National Park has some fabulous walking trails. Two which are especially good for walkers of mediocre ability are the Sid's Rapid Trail and the Aboriginal Heritage Trail, which combined together, are approximately a 6.4 kilometre return hike. They're a great length for families with older children, and there are lots of interpretation signs providing information about the Noongar people's connection with the area, as well as about the plants, the animals and the history of local white water rafting.

Taking a cruise on the Swan River is a special way to appreciate Perth's natural beauty and is a great outing for local people as well as for tourists. Several companies offer river cruises, ranging from short trips of an hour or two up to tours which last a whole day.

Most companies offer various options, and prices are competitive, so do your homework. Popular tours include one-way and return trips to Fremantle, lunch cruises, dinner cruises, twilight cruises, zoo cruises, vineyard cruises, and cruises which leisurely traverse up-river, taking in the beautiful natural scenery and visiting historic destinations such as Tranby House in Maylands. Also in demand are cruises for special events, including New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day.

Based at Pier 3, Barrack Street Jetty, Captain Cook Cruises operates five luxurious vessels and offers a comprehensive selection of wonderful cruises to please every age and budget. Golden Sun Cruises, also based at Barrack Jetty, offer a good choice as well.

In addition, various companies offer luxury private boat charter for special events such as corporate functions, weddings, anniversaries and birthday parties. Amour Charters and Encore Luxury Charters are just two of the companies which offer these services on the Swan River.

Finally, if your budget won't allow for luxury river cruises at the moment, there's always Perth's one and only public ferry service, from which you can get the same wonderful views at a fraction of the price. Operating between the Barrack Street Jetty to South Perth, it's a great hassle-free way to travel and kids love catching it en-route for a day at the zoo.

For thrill seekers
If you're a dare-devil, yearning for high-adrenaline, water-based fun, the Swan River offers plenty of exciting options. If you like your action furious and fast, a jet boat adventure might give you the blast that you're looking for. Swan Jet Adventures provides several daily 'blasts' on the Swan in their high-powered fourteen seat jet-boat. Promoted as 'loud, extreme, and loads of fun', their 25 minutes thrill ride begins outside the river's speed exclusion zone, and features high speeds, a continual mix of 360 degree spins and fishtail spins, and amazing power brake stops, all accompanied by loud pulsating music to keep you in the right mood. For more information, check out Swan Jet Adventure's website. They also run heli-jet rides over the river and city, and you can find more about these tours on their website.

More laid-back, but just as extreme, parasailing is another sport which is becoming increasingly popular on the Swan River. To parasail, you'll need to wear a harness which attaches you to the parasail, a specially designed canopy which looks something like a parachute, and is also connected to a speed-boat by a long cable. When the boat drives off, up in the air you go for a fun ride.

Image from South Perth Parasailing
Image from South Perth Parasailing

On summer afternoons, especially over the weekend, parasailing enthusiasts are a familiar sight on the Swan River. If you want to give it a spin but don't have the appropriate equipment, you might want to have a chat to the people at South Perth Parasailing, and book yourself in for the ride of a lifetime. They even give you a choice between different types of rides: Wet and Wild, where you get dunked in the water, or High and Dry, where you stay up in the sky, enjoying terrific views over the river. You can also parasail alone, tandem with a friend, or with a group. If you're having too much fun to stop, half day and full day options are also available. For more information, check out their website, email them at or give them a call at 0408 382 595. They're located at the Mill Point Road Foreshore, Narrows Bridge, South Perth.

Sailboarding (also known as windsurfing) is another great way to enjoy the wide expanses of the lower Swan River. An exciting sport which combines elements of surfing and sailing, it can be mellow and relaxing, or incredibly exhilarating when high speeds are achieved. If you don't have your own sailboard, don't despair as it's possible to hire one from 2nd Wind Sailboards, at 526 Canning Highway, Attadale, not too far from the river. As well as offering sailboard hire, 2nd Wind Sailboards also sells new and good-quality second-hand gear, and organises regular sailboarding holidays / clinics at the beautiful Cocos Islands. For more information, give them a call on 08 9317 2916 or email them at

Image from 2nd Wind website
Image from 2nd Wind website

The beautiful tree-lined banks of the Swan River have been long acknowledged as a great venue for festivals and other special events here in Perth.

Image from City of Swan website
Image from City of Swan website

Over recent years, the Perth Autumn Festival, which celebrates the Swan River and the Perth Hills, has been a popular event throughout the city's eastern suburbs. The festival is organised by five local councils in the area over a six week period, and during this time various community based events are held at various riverside parks and gardens. These events include family entertainment and many free activities.

Every August, the Avon Decent is another major event on the Swan River, and special family days are held at various riverside venues in Perth's eastern suburbs including the Fishmarket Reserve in Guildford, Garvey Park in Belmont and Bayswater Riverside Gardens, where the race concludes. As well as providing plenty of opportunities to check out the action on the river, these events provide heaps of fun family activities including roving entertainers, bouncy castles, market stalls and pony rides.

A wonderful way to explore the Swan River is by canoe or kayak, and throughout the year paddlers can be seen making their way along most of its stretches. For daydreamers, paddling is a great way to get a whole different perspective of the river, and to become immersed in the beauty of the natural world. Away from crowded city streets and traffic fumes, you can feel the tension melt away as you listen to the wind blow through the trees on the riverbanks, watch native birds flit here and there and feel the light breeze blow through your hair. It's a truly magical experience which will undoubtedly inspire and rejuvenate you.

For more competitive paddlers, kayaking and canoeing are terrific ways to exercise. After the winter rains, the upper reaches of the river flow swiftly and can offer some challenging rides.

If you don't own your own canoe or kayak, don't despair as it is possible to hire them or to go on an organised kayak tour. Rivergods is a reputable company based in Willeton which offers a variety of tours and team events, as well as canoe and kayak hire and the appropriate training to get you started. Operating from the Point Fraser Reserve carpark, just minutes from the city, About Boat Hire is another spot where you can hire kayaks to paddling on the Swan River.

Image from Rivergods website
Image from Rivergods website

For those who discover that they enjoy paddling, it's possible to take your new hobby to a completely new level and experiment with the joys of competitive white-water rafting. After the winter rains, the upper reaches of the Swan River offer much potential for this exciting activity, and if you're intrepid enough, you could always try entering into the annual Avon Descent.

Picnics and playgrounds
For families, there is plenty to do on or around the Swan River. Most riverside suburbs have several parks where visitors can go for a stroll, have a picnic and let the children play. Many are now also providing outdoor fitness equipment, so you can do a mini-workout while you're there. In addition, a lot of these reserves are also dog-friendly, so you can bring along your furry friends as well.

In North Fremantle, the Gilbert Fraser Reserve is a beautiful spot which extends along the river.

Mosman Park has several lovely riverside parks and reserves, including the Minim Cove Park, Point Roe Park, Chidley Point Reserve and Bay View Park.

In Crawley, close to the UWA, there are also some beautiful riverside spots, most notably the extensive Matilda Bay Reserve.

Across the Swan River, Attadale, Applecross and South Perth have some terrific riverside parks,

While it's not directly on the Swan River, Perth's most famous park, Kings Park, has spectacular views over it. It's beautiful to come up here and look over the river after a busy day, or to admire the city lights later in the evening.

Trendy East Perth has a few lovely spots, too. Pretty Victoria Gardens has some nice picnic spots, a children's playground and plenty of restful park benches.

Riverside Maylands, Bayswater, Bassendean and Guildford boast some wonderful parks and gardens. Attractive Bardon Park in Maylands has been a popular family destination for years, while close by, the Maylands Foreshore Reserve is adjacent to the famous Maylands Water-land, a fun destination for the littlies on hot days. You could easily spend a whole day around here as there's so much to do.

Baywater Riverside Gardens is a personal favourite of mine, as there's also so much to do: it's great for picnics, has paths for walking and cycling, the views are wonderful. There's also a fun adventure playground for the kids.

Bayswater Riverside Gardens
Bayswater Riverside Gardens

In Bassendean, the tranquil Point Reserve is another favourite of mine. Although there are all the facilities that are necessary for a family picnic (picnic tables, barbecues, toilets and playground), there are lots of quiet spots, so if you're a daydreamer you'll easily find somewhere quiet, that you can have all to yourself.

Even further upstream, Guildford and the Swan Valley offer numerous wonderful riverside parks and reserves, where you can marvel at nature's beauty and have fun, at the same time. For years, a popular spot for our family has been the large Fish Market Reserve, which is at the end of Swan Street in Guildford. It has nice secluded picnic tables and it's possible to walk upstream along the river for some distance. It's also not as busy as some of the other parks in the area.

Last weekend we also discovered Woodbridge Riverside Park, which is at the end of First Street in Woodbridge which features a very creative adventure playground. Although it was extremely busy on the day we visited, if you walk further upstream along the river, there are several lovely secluded picnic tables.

Swan Valley picnic ground
Swan Valley picnic ground

Although the Swan Valley boasts many lovely parks and gardens, there are way too many to be mentioned here. However, the Swan Valley Visitor's Centre in Guildford publishes a leaflet listing most of them, and this is also available online. If you're only familiar with the wide expanses of the Swan River which can be seen in the city, you'll probably find a trip further up the river very interesting. The river here is very beautiful, and is bordered by farms, vineyards and native bush. Some of my personal favourites here are the Middle Swan Reserve, just off Middle Swan Road (where there is also a canoe ramp), and the Maali Bridge Park, at the end of Barrett Street in Herne Hill.

In conclusion, if you're an active adventurous family who are always looking out for fun and affordable things to do together, get out into the great outdoors, and check out all the wonderful parks and gardens which line our beautiful Swan River.
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Why? The Swan River is situated at the heart of Perth, and there's so much to see and do there for the entire family.
When: Anytime
Where: Perth, Western Australia
Cost: Varies
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