One glimpse of Perth from the air – or via satellite view on Google Maps – and it’s obvious that the West Australian capital is perfect for paddling. Golden coastline, offshore islands, a long waterway snaking through the city centre, balmy weather 12 months a year – it all adds up to kayaking heaven.
“Locals and visitors enjoy fishing, snorkelling, diving, surfing, swimming, sailing, kite surfing, sailboarding, boating and, of course, my favourite: kayaking,” says Tom Suffling from Rivergods Kayak Adventures, which organises paddle tours and hire in Perth and beyond.
“It’s a fantastic water playground with some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, a large estuarine river winding through the city and a Mediterranean climate.
“I love kayaking in Perth because there’s so much variety of excellent venues. I can surf a wave, paddle to an island where the playful sealions jump around my kayak, glide silently past the waterbirds in a paperbark swamp and after enough rain can paddle the rapids – all within about 30 minutes from home. How many places offer that?”
With numerous local clubs and rental shops across the city, kayaking is an easy sport to take up in Perth. And with the sparkling Swan River, buzzing with birds, marine life and stunning city views from the water, it’s a mighty appealing one, too. From the top spots to tips for first-timers, this is everything first-time paddlers need to know.
First things first: Perth’s many stretches of sheltered water are welcoming for rookies, but there are a few conditions before hopping in a kayak. Paddlers must carry a lifejacket or flotation device, be a confident swimmer (just in case), and read the tides, currents and weather conditions for ocean adventures, plus water level and flow rate when tackling rivers.
Local kayak clubs such as Sea Kayak Club WA are generous with their advice about weather forecasts, safety equipment and the best times to paddle, while tour operators such as Rivergods introduce first-timers to the water with qualified guides.
“Some advice I would give is to spend a little bit more on a decent kayak and test the kayak out beforehand,” says Perth kayaker Clive Jacobson. “Make sure the weather is good, and start off with small trips. Always tell somebody where you’re going and when you will be back. And make sure you have all relevant safety equipment for your trip.”
The Swan River runs right through the heart of Perth’s city centre, connecting the wineries of the upper Swan with the river mouth in North Fremantle. East Perth near Heirisson Island is a great setting-off point, where the island shelters the water. Paddle north towards the Maylands foreshore to explore Claisebrook Cove, and even further to Ascot Waters – an affluent corner of the city that’s also home to herons, pelicans and dolphins.
“There is a lot of marine life in the Swan and its subsidiaries,” Clive says. “Perth is a young, vibrant city and is evolving around the Swan River. And seeing the city from a kayak’s vantage point is breathtaking.”
The best view comes just west of Heirisson Island, where the South Perth foreshore provides a perfect panorama of the city skyline. The vista is particularly special at sunset when the city lights flick on the dusky evening light blacks out a silhouette of the CBD skyscrapers.
“Plus you can stop at one of the many beachside or riverside cafés if that’s your thing,” adds Tom.
The Fremantle foreshore is also lined with places for a piccolo or a pint near the mouth of the Swan, and at the other end of the river, Bells Rapids flow after periods of heavy rainfall. The sheltered Freshwater Bay in Peppermint Grove is ideal for beginners. And Canning River – a tributary trickling off the Swan – is another urban oasis brimming with waterbirds among its paperbark trees. Six kilometres (3.7mi) of parkland hug the calm water, with launching facilities at Mason’s Landing, Kent Street Weir, Riverton Jetty Park and Woodloes Park.
“There are places on the rivers that don’t have road access, so you can feel like you are getting away from it all,” says local kayaker Sandy Robson, who organises personalised kayak tours of the area. “When you get on the water in Perth, it doesn’t take long to get out into places where you can escape the urban bustle and get out into nature, watching birds make a nest or fly in to feed chicks, having dolphins surface nearby, a sealion somersaulting under your kayak and landing on islands where you can picnic.”
Perth’s most visitor-friendly island is Rottnest, a half-hour ferry trip off the coast. Rotto’s 60-odd beaches and bays are crawling with coral and colourful marine life, and glass-bottom kayaks make the most of the glassy waters fringing this sun-drenched island paradise.
“I love ocean kayaking and heading out to the many offshore islands off Western Australia and around Perth,” Clive says. “There’s lots of sea life like dolphins, seals, turtles, jellyfish… and I haven’t seen a shark yet.”
Perhaps Perth’s premier kayaking spot, though, is a 45-minute drive south of the city centre. Sitting only a kilometre off Rockingham, Penguin and Seal Islands are as brimming with wildlife as their names imply. Sealions, little penguins, pelicans and thousands of other sea birds seek refuge in these rugged islands in Shoalwater Bay, whose limestone reefs, shallow waters and population of shellfish and starfish can be snorkelled during the warm summer months.
“There are great adventure paddling opportunities on the Swan and Canning Rivers, but my favourite destination is Shoalwater Islands Marine Park,” Sandy says. “It offers great wildlife interactions – dolphins, penguins, sea lions, sting rays, birdlife – and an area to paddle that is sheltered by offshore islands.”
Clive agrees: “I would probably recommend the Shoalwater Marine Park to start learning to kayak – lots of dolphins and seals, and it’s very protected from the weather.”
South of Shoalwater Bay, Mandurah’s canals are also crawling with dolphins and water birds, leading to the vast Peel Inlet. Inland, the Murray River twists and turns towards Pinjarra and then to the pristine Jarrah Forest of the Lane-Poole Reserve. The Blackwood River near the historic town of Bridgetown, the Warren River beneath the towering Karri trees of the Warren National Park, the Wilson Inlet and the Denmark River, plus the Frankland and Deep Rivers through the Walpole-Nornalup National Park are other prime paddling places in the south of the state.
Six hours’ drive north of Perth, the Murchison River carves through the outback landscape of Kalbarri National Park, while the sheltered lagoons of Shark Bay suit kayakers. And climbing even further north, Ningaloo Marine Park houses 10 moorings to help paddlers navigate the turtles, rays, fish, dolphins and dugong that occupy this turquoise water. “Ningaloo Reef is the world’s best sea-kayaking destination,” Sandy says.