Many of the world’s greatest cities have been shaped by the rivers that run through them. A visit to Paris without promenading along the banks of the Seine? Mais non, c’est impossible! A trip to London without visiting the majestic Thames? Absolutely not! Sightseeing in NYC without a view of the Hudson? No way!
We too in Melbourne have a unique river to grace our city. Whether sprawling out for a spring day picnic or posing for that ‘must-have’ selfie, the elegant Yarra River lures locals and visitors alike to its grassy banks. Meandering snakelike for 242 kilometres, the Yarra begins its journey on the pristine flanks of Mt Baw Baw before winding its way through Greater Melbourne and eventually flowing into Port Phillip Bay.
A major food source and meeting place for Indigenous Australians for thousands of years, this sacred river was known as ‘birrarung’ – ‘river of mists and shadows’. Here the original Wurundjeri people camped on the banks, fishing using funnel-shaped fish pots and catching eels in the swamps and lagoons. The name Yarra is a mistranslation from another Wurundjeri term; ‘yarro-yarro, meaning ‘ever-flowing’.
The discovery of the Yarra River and its fresh water was crucial to the founding and subsequent development of Melbourne. During early years of European settlement, ships travelled upstream as far as Queensbridge Street. Before bridges spanned the Yarra, ferries and punts carried people and their animals from bank to bank. The first bridge was a timber structure built in 1845 at the main Swanston St and St Kilda Road crossing.
Today sees the Yarra River transformed into one of Australia’s most exciting tourism and recreation hubs. Its banks proudly house some of our city’s most iconic venues including the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, Southgate, Melbourne Aquarium, Federation Square and Birrarung Marr.
Did you know that the best way to see Melbourne is by water? There is no better way to soak in the atmosphere of our glorious city. Why not embark on a ferry ride? Whether you have a destination in mind or simply choose to cruise, there are a variety of ferry operators ready to welcome you aboard. Popular stops include South Wharf, Southgate, Federation Wharf and ANZ Wharf. Try catching a ferry from Southbank for a scenic ride along the Yarra River and across Port Phillip Bay. Stop off at Scienceworks or continue further along to Williamstown to spend a day at the beach.
Need to be somewhere cityside? Forget getting stuck at red lights. A less conventional but much more fun way of navigating the city is by water taxi. Melbourne’s many water taxi providers deliver professional, efficient and even limousine-style services for an exciting river trip. Seek out some of the beautifully maintained vessels for that special occasion, or simply just to enjoy a little joie de vivre. Wherever you want to get to, your journey on the city’s waterfront will be one to be remembered.
Discover Melbourne’s most loved waterways
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