One of the most attractive features of Perth is the Swan River, particularly the river foreshore south of the city's commercial centre. Large sections of the Swan River foreshore, reserved as parks and recreational land, have been carefully improved over the years. The city's founders are reputed to have been influenced by considerations of natural beauty in selecting the site of the city, and their descendants can claim with justifiable pride that they have made an effective attempt to preserve the advantages they inherited.
The city centre itself is located on the northern bank of the lake-like stretch of river known as Perth Water, giving the capital one of the most beautiful settings of any city in the world. The view of the river and city from Kings Park is among Western Australia's most scenic - city skyscrapers shining against a brilliant blue Perth sky, green parklands and the shimmering blue river combine to create a memorable vista. Another good place to view the city skyline is from the South Perth foreshore on the south side of Perth Water.
The river downsteam from The Causeway is in fact an estuary, and as such is relatively wide and deep, with few constrictions, as opposed to the upper reaches that are closer to the form one expects of a river, they being quite narrow and shallow. This has not stopped cruise operators from taking full advantage of this section of the river, using shallow bottomed craft to show visitors this lesser seen part of the river.
Guildford Road Bridge
The upper reaches of the river pass through what is known as the Swan Valley, a richly fertile area that has earned its reputation as Perth's Valley of Taste. The Swan Valley is Western Australia's oldest wine region, offering a fusion of wine, food, art, scenery and nature. It is a short 30 minute drive from the city centre via Gt Eastern Highway, though many visitors take the more leisurely way to get there, opting for a winery cruise up the Swan River past the historic town of Guildford. A variety of cruises are available, with options including lunch or afternoon tea on board, followed by a tour around the wineries and other places of interest in the Valley.
If you have your own transport, you would be short-changing yourself if you failed to partake in the many experiences on offer along the award-winning Swan Valley Food and Wine Trail a 32 kilometre loop taking in more than 150 attractions including wineries, lively breweries, fine restaurants, bustling cafes, distilleries, shops, accommodation and roadside stalls selling fresh local produce.
There are many opportunities to experience the lower reaches of the Swan River, the most obvious one being a river cruise between Perth and Fremantle. This leisurely 90 minute journey begins at the Barrack Street jetty in the city, and follows the main channel of the river all the way to Fremantle. Here, you can alight and spend a day taking in all the city of Fremantle has to offer, before returning to the city either by train or the return afternoon cruise on the river. Another suggestion is to incorporate the river cruise with a day trip to Rottnest Island. Simply catch the cruise in the city, and change to a Rottnest Island ferry at Fremantle. This reduces the amount of time available to spend on Rottnest Island, but is the ideal way to kill two birds with one stone if your time in Perth is limited. Be sure to catch the earliest ferry from Perth to give you maximum time on Rottnest Island.
If you'd rather a closer encounter with the river, there are many opportunities available at various localities around the river foreshore. You can hire a surf cat, go jet skiing or try your hand at twilight sailing. There are many spots around the foreshore where you throw in a fishing line and you're likely to be rewarded with bream, mulloway, tailor and a variety of other fish.
This small island in the Swan River forms the link between the two bridges of The Causeway which joins the City of Perth to suburban Victoria Park. It has a fascinating history, having strong connections with the Aboriginal people who inhabited the Swan River region prior to European settlement. The island is named after a French midshipman named Francois-Antoine Boniface Heirisson who was required to row a longboat up the Swan River from 17-22 June 1801 during a French exploratory visit to the Swan River.
Heirisson made a direct observation after his journey on a chart, which included soundings along the entire length of his journey up the river, and comments on the singular topography of the mouth of the river (the bar), making reference to several features seen along its course.
The lower reaches of the Swan River are perfect for a beachside picnic. Being an estuary, the river is in fact salt water which is scoured regularly by the tide, so most river beaches here safe for swimming at all times. The long sweep of beach at Matilda Bay at Crawley is particularly popular for family picnics, swimming, sunbaking and boating.
JH Abrahams Reserve Beach, on the southern side of Pelican Point, has good swimming and picnic facilities, as do the river beaches on either side of Keanes Point at Peppermint Grove and Mosman Park. Childey Pt and Pt Roe, which mark the extremities of Blackwall Reach on the river's north shore, both have small but clean beaches with shade. Being somewhat out of the way, they tend to not get as crowded as the river beaches further upsteam.
Walter's Brook, Banks Reserve, Mt. Lawley
On the south side, the beaches near Como Jetty on Melville Water are also favoured swimming areas. Deep Water Point on the Canning River at Mount Pleasant has full facilities including a boat ramp, Waylen Bay between Pt Dundas and Pt Heathcote is another good spot that is close to a designated water ski area. The beach at the end of Cunningham Street, Applecross, is highly recommended, as is Pt Walter. Here, there is a kiosk, barbecue and picnic facilities, a boat ramp and a long sand spit to walk out on. This reserve is very popular, particularly on summer weekends and during school holidays, so expect plenty of people and limited parking at these times. Between Pt Walter and Fremantle, Bicton Baths and John Tonkin Park are popular swimming spots with good picnic faccilities.
For more information on these and other river beaches, visit our River Beaches section.
The Swan River drains the Swan Coastal Plain, a total catchment area of over 100 000 km2 in area. The river is located in a Mediterranean climate, with hot dry summers and cool wet winters, although this balance appears to be changing due to climate change. The Swan is located on the edge of the Darling Scarp, flowing downhill across the coastal plain to its mouth at Fremantle.
The Swan begins as the Avon River, rising somewhere near Yealering in the Darling Range, approximately 175 kilometres from its mouth at Fremantle. The Avon flows north, passing through the towns of Brookton, Beverley, York, Northam and Toodyay. It is joined by tributaries including the Dale River , the Mortlock River and the Brockman River.
The Avon becomes the Swan as Wooroloo Brook enters the river near Walyunga National Park. More tributaries including Ellen Brook, Jane Brook, Henley Brook, Wandoo Creek, Bennett Brook, Blackadder Creek, Limestone Creek, Susannah Brook, and the Helena River enter the river between Wooroloo Brook and Guildford; however, most of these have either dried up or become seasonally flowing due to human impacts such as land clearing and development.
Between Perth and Guildford the river goes through several loops. Originally, areas including the Maylands Peninsula, Ascot and Burswood, through Claise Brook and north of the city to Herdsman Lake were swampy wetlands. Most of the wetlands have since been reclaimed for land development. Heirisson Island, upon which The Causeway passes over, was once a collection of small islets known as the Hierrison Islands.
Perth Water, between the city and South Perth, is separated from the main estuary by the Narrows, over which the Narrows Bridge was built in 1959. The river then opens up into the large expanse of the river known as Melville Water.
The Narrows, South Perth
The Canning River enters the river at Canning Bridge in Applecross from its source 50 km south-east of Armadale. The river is at its widest here, measuring more than 4 km from north to south. Point Walter has a protruding spit that extends up to 800 metres into the river, forcing river traffic to detour around it. The river narrows between Chidley Point and Blackwall Reach, curving around Point Roe and Preston Point before narrowing into the harbour. Stirling Bridge and the Fremantle Traffic Bridge cross the river north of the rivermouth. The Swan River empties into the Indian Ocean at Fremantle Harbour.