By James Cook
Every city on the planet requires water. The reason for this is simple. No water, no life. When the area that is now present day Melbourne was discovered there was an abundance of fresh water, due to the Yarra river. Whose gentle flow and lazy currents still warrent exploration today.
The best way to see, and in some ways connect with this great, muddy waterway is to take a Kayak tour of it. There are 3 different tours you can take. A sunrise tour, an afternoon tour and, a sunset tour. We took the afternoon tour.
We met up with our guide, Kent, at the Docklands. An area of Melbourne that was, until the mid sixties, the main port. We were in a double person kayak (by far the easiest to use if you are new to kayaking due to the presence of a rudder). This was our second trip in a double person kayak and after about 5 minutes we felt right at home again.
Setting off into the Docklands the first landmark that you visit is the Bolte Bridge. In a strange show of oneupmanship there is a pillar on this bridge that serves no purpose other then to be 1m higher then the Sydney Harbour bridge!
You then turn into the main channel of the Yarra river and head upstream towards the CBD. The architecture of central Melbourne is very impressive (although my opinion may have been swayed by spending the past 7 months in Wellington) and you get a completely different perspective from the kayak that you would not get just wandering round on foot. Kent provided a running commentary on what we were seeing from the water and as well as this he also gave us some great tips for the rest of our travels in Australia. One of the more interesting things he told us was that when the city was founded there was a waterfall that they demolished in order to have more room for turning ships. After having demolished it, they figured out that they had effectively cut off the supply of fresh water to the city and the next good fresh water site was 15km away.
There are many bridges that you pass under on the tour. The best one in my opinion was the Sandridge bridge. It has many abstract statues representing the main ethnic groups that live in Australia. On Kents recommendation we walked across Sandridge Bridge later in the day and found that alongside the statues were plaques. On the plaques was information about why the people settled in Australia, when they settled and what the population of this group was now. It was very interesting to see how Australia’s migrant population was broken down as well as people’s different motivations for moving here. We also went past the ‘Polly Woodside’ which is one of the best surviving examples of a iron plated barque. Later we kayaked past the impressive federation square (which we had taken a walking tour of earlier in the day) and again, seeing it from the water completely changed our perspective of it.
After we reached Princes Bridge it was time to turn around and head downstream. We stopped outside the Casino (which is supposed to be very impressive at night with fiery gas-balls that shoot up into the sky.) in the daytime though its main attraction is the ice cream. The stop was just what we needed and the ice cream was sensational and made for fantastic kayaking fuel.
Our trip on the Yarra river was one of the highlights of my stay in Melbourne. Every time I had kayaked before the emphasis had been on exploring some natural place, to go kayaking in an urban environment is a lot different (you can stop for ice cream) and it is great that being located in a city many more people will get the chance to head out on the water. When we come back to Melbourne I think we will look at doing the more popular Nighttime tour as kayaking in darkness with only the ambient light of the city would be an amazing experience. I think that if you are thinking about doing this tour you would be better with the nighttime tour as well. That said because the afternoon tour is less popular you will get a much more personalized trip.