A tourist in my home town: kayaking on the Yarra

You know what they say about how people always explore the world before they explore their home town?

Yeah.  I’m that guy.

I lived in New Zealand for over twenty years and still didn’t see large chunks of it.  I spent three years in both London and Sydney and barely scratched the surface of either.

Melbourne has been much the same.  Two and half years I lived here, and I have probably still seen less of the city than some people that are only here for a week.  Although I can, at least, point out a few good bars…

So it was that when I found myself back ‘home’ for a couple of weeks, I figured it was time to change that situation.

Urban Adventures offer a few different tours there, but the one that appealed the most was a sunset kayak on the Yarra river that flows through the centre of the city.  The Yarra is much-maligned by Melburnians, however, and all of the ones I spoke to about it had a remarkably unanimous response…

Kayaking?  In May?  On the Yarra?  WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU WANT TO DO THAT?

After two hours on the water last week, I had an answer for them.


After some frankly appalling weather earlier in the week, the evening dawned fine and warm – surprising for late autumn.  I was paired with Swiss-Greek doctor Spiro for our excursion.  When it was explained that the person in the back both had to steer and was most likely to get wet, the race was on to see who could get to the front seat first.

I lost.

Kayaking Melbourne - dinner

Still, as we paddled away from the dock and found our rhythm it was hard to care about anything except the flat water and glorious sunset behind the Bolte bridge.  We glided past the luxury yachts and motorboats moored nearby, looking for all the world as if we almost knew what we were doing.  Apparently the kayaks are almost impossible to capsize … but I figured if anyone could do it, I could.

Tour director Kent was never too far away, making sure his charges didn’t crash into other boats – or each other – but in reality we pretty much had the harbour to ourselves.  Maybe that was due to the time of year, maybe it was just luck of the draw, but either way it made for a wonderfully serene experience in the heart of a major Australian city.

After tying up for 20 minutes to enjoy the vaunted “on water dining experience” – fish and chips served al fresco in the kayaks – it was time to give our arms a proper workout.  Out of Victoria Harbour we went, under the bridge and onto the Yarra.

The sun had fully set by then, and the noise of the paddles caught a few fishermen and waterside diners by surprise as we splashed past them atop the ink-black river.  Past the new bars and restaurants at South Wharf, under the bridges until we arrived outside the casino with perfect timing, mere seconds before the fire show that takes place along the water in Southbank every night.

I had seen it before, of course, but never from the river.  There was something magical about being out on the water then, the light and noise of the fireballs in stark contrast to the dark, still water underneath us.  Apparently there can be strong currents below the surface of the Yarra, but they certainly weren’t evident from where I was perched.

Night kayaking - Melbourne

Onwards we went, our final destination in sight as we lazily moved past a bar in the middle of the river.  We were so close I could have just about reached out to snatch a beer from the customers.  A drink certainly wouldn’t have gone amiss by then…

Flinders Street Station, a Melbourne icon, marked the end of our two hour journey.  Avoiding the rowers while slipping under the Princes Bridge, we ran the kayak up onto the bank with a whoop of satisfaction.  The whoop almost become a scream when I stood up as my cramped legs threatened to give way underneath me, but I somehow avoided topping backwards into the water.  That would really have destroyed any remaining street cred…

With impeccable timing the weather turned as we said our farewells, the first spits of rain joining the river water on my jacket.  Walking back toward the station to head home, I realised that I had really enjoyed my kayaking trip on the Yarra.  It was the kind of thing that would never had occurred to me to do if I was still living here permanently, but seemed somehow perfect while I was back playing tourist.

And the best bit of all?

I didn’t capsize the kayak.  Not even once.

Who would have thought?


[Images via Kayak Melbourne]

Urban Adventures were generous enough to offer me a complimentary Moonlight Kayak Tour, but as usual all opinions, mishaps and damp items of clothing are my own.

14 Responses to “A tourist in my home town: kayaking on the Yarra

  • Bahhh so bummed I missed out on this experience while in Melbs! It looks incredible!

  • Such an exciting adventure, right in your own backyard!

    • I was really surprised – it’s just not something I would have thought of doing before as a (semi) local, but it was totally worth it.

  • I kept reading this expecting to see ‘and then I fell out’. Good on you for exploring the home town. I’m thinking I need to dedicate some time over the next few months so I can do the same for Sydney!

    • Kent was adamant that it was almost impossible to fall out of these kayaks … personally I saw that as a challenge, but somehow still didn’t end up in the water!

  • Kendall Kendall
    7 years ago

    Were these photos taken with your new Olympus?

    • Sadly not – I hadn’t bought my new camera when I did the trip. These pics were given to me by Kent, the guy that runs the tour – the ones I took with my point and shoot were almost all terrible. Pretty much the final straw for buying a new one! 🙂

  • Great post, Dave! Thanks for joining us and happy to hear you enjoyed exploring your own backyard. Happy travels 🙂

  • I’m that person who hasn’t explored home either. By the sounds of it, I’d much rather explore your homeland instead.

  • I was just thinking today I need to do more of that in Toronto, I never spend any time down at our lakeshore but this summer I’m going to make more of an effort to be a tourist here.

  • Carolina Diaz
    7 years ago

    I will be going to Melbourne soon and I can’t wait to try this. How much was it when you went. This would be really helpful in planning my trip thanks!

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