Running through the heart of the city like a big artery, the Yarra River has become the hub for myriad activities, both active and leisurely. Here’s our guide to making the most of Melbourne’s beloved waterway.
There is only one island on the Yarra, Herring Island, and it was artificially made in 1928 when a basalt quarry was cut to stop the suburb of Richmond from flooding. The upshot to this engineering marvel is a remarkable bush oasis, teeming with flora and fauna, just three kilometres from the city. Boaters can pull up at the pier to access the permanent outdoor sculpture park and a central grassy knoll with barbecues and picnic tables. Alternatively, a punt operates from Como Landing on Alexandra Parade from December to April
for access to art exhibitions and events.
Main Yarra Trail
Around bends, past waterfalls, over bridges and alongside picnic spots, the Main Yarra Trail cycling route is a 33-kilometre love-in for anyone on two wheels or two feet. The mainly bitumen and concrete path starts in the leafy north-eastern suburb of Eltham and finishes on a gradual descent at Flinders Street Station, but you can access it at any point along the way to take a shorter ride. Scenic pitstops include Westerfold’s Park, Yarra Bend Park
and the Collingwood Children’s Farm.
Known for its perfect—every time—lattes, and breakfast menu that hits the spot with bites like avocado on sourdough and scrambled egg panini, Kanteen is one of Melbourne’s long-standing indoor-outdoor café institutions. The building, once a council amenities block, is no eye-catcher but this doesn’t deter pooch walking South Yarra locals, nor the bike riders, runners and rowers who make a point of stopping here for a table amongst the trees and a view across to Herring Island.
Studley Park Boathouse
Ladies pick up a parasol, gents don your boater, the genteel leisure activity known as rowing is still alive and well at Studley Park Boathouse on the river in Kew. With the native bushland either side and the dappled shade of eucalypt trees overhead, punters can hire a rowboat for a paddle under the picturesque nearby footbridge, or a kayak or canoe for something a bit more strenuous. There are barbecue and picnic facilities on the river bank or dine at a café housed in
the lovely old heritage boatshed.
I'd give ten points for location to Ponyfish Island, an atmospheric boat-shaped bar, which is wrapped around a pontoon in the middle of the river with access via a small staircase halfway between Flinder’s Street Station and Southbank on the Southbank pedestrian bridge. Sip on a micro-brew ale or Victorian vino as the current washes around you and the calls
of rowing crews sing out either side.
Most Melburnians have seen the Gotham City-style silhouettes of the city’s grey-headed flying foxes (commonly known as fruit bats) as they make their dusk dash across the city, but few have seen their flight begin. At Bellbird Picnic Point along the Yarra River off Yarra Bend Boulevard inquisitive onlookers can witness, David Attenborough-style, the mass exodus of tens of thousands of these lovable native creatures as they awaken from their upside-down position in the trees then take flight on their daily search for fruit, pollens and nectar. Storyboards, a viewing deck and dirt trail allow an up-close and personal encounter.