The great waterways of Perth and Adelaide flow with the promise of adventure. But which one floats your boat? Our duelling experts help you decide.
By Mal Chenu
Who needs to sail through Budapest on the Danube or glide through Cairo on the Nile? You might not think this a battle between two of the great rivers of the world, but the Swan versus Torrens debate is a well-overdue and important one. So let's dive into the rich riverine rivalry and immerse ourselves in Perth's and Adelaide's wonderful waterways.
The Swan River was named by Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh in 1697. This was the same guy who thought the quokkas on Rottnest Island were rats, so we should be grateful the city's stream isn't called Long S-Shaped Neck Black Seagull River. Either way, it's better to be named after a majestic bird than a dodgy colonial conveyancer.
The regal black swans are ubiquitous all the way along the river and have been adopted as a proud and significant symbol of the state.
The Swan is actually an estuary, and you can walk or cycle the 10-kilometre paths around the riverbank through parklands and remnant native bush. Kayaking, sailboarding, jet boating and parasailing options are also available.
Cruises up and down the Swan operate from the Barrack Street Jetty at Elizabeth Quay in the Perth CBD. You can head down to Fremantle past the restored Swan Brewery, where they used to make Swan Lager, Swan Draught and Swan Special Light, as well as Kings Park, the Royal Perth Yacht Club and the billionaire mansions (Rinehart, Stokes, Forest et al) that overlook the lower reaches.
We should be grateful the city's stream isn't called Long S-Shaped Neck Black Seagull River.
Cruise upstream and you'll happen across the Swan Valley, one of the nation's most underrated food and wine regions. Fine wining and dining await at Old Young's Kitchen, Sandalford, Lamont's and Mandoon Estate, while artisans and providores knock out ice cream and gelato, chocolate, nougat, honey, olive oil, citrus, table grapes, figs, asparagus, mangoes, macadamias and bush tucker experiences.
On the bev side of things, the Swan Valley is home to 40 wineries, 10 microbreweries, five distilleries, three cideries and even a meadery. Add in Indigenous tours, heritage pubs, street stalls, markets, galleries, golf, rapids and wildlife encounters, and you can see the Swan Valley is well worth a look.
Another must-see on the Swan is the new Matagarup Bridge, which provides pedestrian access between East Perth and the Burswood Peninsula, including Perth Stadium.
The flowing arches are cleverly designed to resemble two flying swans and/or wishbones and/or a swimming dolphin and/or a Wagyl, the local Noongar manifestation of the Rainbow Serpent who created the river in the Dreaming. After just 314 steps at a 45-degree angle, you'll reach the 72-metre-high viewing platform and a 400-metre zip line over the best river in the world.
By Amy Cooper
I'll take two sides in this river-off, but they both belong to the Torrens - because whichever bank you land on, Adelaide's liquid asset is a winning waterway. Mal's right; Torrens is a lame name donated by an 1800s bearded bureaucrat. Let's instead go with the Kaurna people's Karrawirra Pari, which means "redgum forest river", and evokes the region's native beauty. It also reminds us that the river came first and that it was the source of all modern Adelaide's epicurean abundance: the wine, the produce, the gastronomy - even the feast of festivals.
Thanks to the river's fertile flanks, Adelaide sits slap bang in the middle of prime wine country, within an hour's reach of 200 wineries in a state with 18 wine regions. Starting upstream among the Adelaide Hills and its 50 acclaimed cool-climate cellar doors, Karrawirra Pari winds through idyllic countryside on an oenophile's odyssey - from chardonnay and shiraz at Chain of Ponds to premium perry from the pears at Paracombe. In the city, it's still pretty. The Torrens River Linear Park sounds like something required to pass your driving test but is, in fact, a stunning 32-kilometre swathe of parklands bordering both banks from the Adelaide foothills to the sea. Built to accommodate overflow, the country's largest hills-to-coast park shows that flood mitigation can be fun, with 92 kilometres of scenic cycling and walking trails, multiple picnic spots, a thriving wildlife population and various historic landmarks.
On the water you can kayak, ride a gondola or cruise on the Popeye, a modern version of the motor launches that have followed the same route for nearly a century from the wooden jetty at Elder Park past the Torrens Weir and Festival Centre to Adelaide Zoo.
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There you'll see the southern hemisphere's only giant pandas, Fu Ni and Wang Wang, who are far less likely to mate than the revellers who take a sunset gin or wine cruise on the beloved boats or party aboard the new BBQ Buoys, self-driven donut-shaped vessels for 10, complete with barbecue and booze.
The banks also boast Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide Botanic Garden's 50 hectares of city oasis and South Australian Museum's five floors and four million specimens.
You can sample Adelaide's acclaimed eats by the water in landmark buildings like the modernist River Cafe and Red Ochre Barrel + Grill, or Lounders Boatshed Cafe and Jolley's Boathouse, both in heritage boatsheds.
Just before Karrawirra Pari meets the sea at Breakout Creek, a newly regenerated area has picnic spots, trails, artworks, and 245,000 new plants and 111 trees. It's a final flourish for a waterway filled with wonders.
Whichever way you go with the flow, this river reigns supreme.