A few hours on the water is one of summer’s small pleasures, but you don’t have to head out into Port Phillip Bay to experience it.
The Lower Yarra River provides plenty of opportunity to get out on the water and appreciate the city skyline from a different perspective – for just a handful of dollars.
Several of the river operators can provide a leisurely couple of hours gliding along the waterway, experiencing everything from the bustle of the Port of Melbourne to the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Docklands and the city section of the river, then up through the greenery and peace of the botanic gardens and sports precinct. They provide an interesting commentary and even a cup of something and a bikkie.
Some can even take you past the riverside houses of the rich and famous in Hawthorn, or across the top of the bay to the historic seaport of Williamstown.
The grand daddy of Melbourne’s water operators is Melbourne River Cruises. Its purpose-built vessels have been plying the Lower Yarra for more than 30 years and their captains know the river like the back of their hands. Melbourne River Cruises offers a brief 1 hour sightseeing cruise for $25 per adult, through to back-to-back scenic cruises of upstream and downstream, all with commentary. They can also take you through the Port area to Williamstown, where you can spend a few hours before heading back to the city on either a return cruise or by train. A one hour cruise for 2 adults + 2 children 4-14 (under 3 free) will set you back just $50. Melbourne River Cruises operates daily. Tel. 8610 2600
For cruising in more old world style, then Classic Cruises historic vessel ‘Grower’ works the river every day during summer on 30 and 60 minute trips till day’s end, complete with pre-recorded commentary.
It’s a little more intimate experience than the mainstream providers, with Captain Hamish Turner and his dog at the helm. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2-3 children will cost $35 for a 30 minute cruise and $55 for 60 minutes. Operates daily. Tel. 0425 779 473
If you just want some time on the water and a couple of hours to explore historic Williamstown, then Williamstown Bay & River Cruises is your answer. The company’s several ferry boats operate up and downstream from Federation Square and Southgate throughout the day, every day. Take a seat inside or enjoy the Melbourne sunshine on the rear deck. No commentary, but plenty of time to enjoy some spectacular views of Melbourne’s skyline and the cranes and vessels of the Port of Melbourne, not to mention travelling under the mighty Westgate bridge. The Southbank to Williamstown trip takes one hour and a return ticket costs adults $28 and children (4-14) $14 (under 4 free). Tel. 9682 9555
If your need is just to get from ‘a’ to ‘b’, especially from Southbank to the tennis centre or the MCG, then the quickest and certainly most scenic option is to catch one of the character-filled little whaleboats of Melbourne Water Taxis. Owner Andrew Bird has salt (or at least river water) running through his veins, having operated the service for about 20 years. Many people choose to have a meal at Southgate, Crown or South Wharf, then call-up a water taxi to take them to a sporting event or concert upstream – no parking hassles and certainly no breathalisers ! Split between a few people, the cost is probably cheaper than a taxi. Tel. 0416 068 655
If you’ve always wanted to steer your own ship (or boat at least), then the recently launched Melbourne Boat Hire has luxury self-drive vessels available for a few hours or a whole day. They hold 12 people and you don’t need a boat licence to take the helm. You can explore Docklands, the Lower Yarra and the Maribyrnong Rivers. They can even provide a captain for you if you don’t feel confident behind the wheel. Split 12 ways, it is a very reasonably priced way to see Melbourne from the water and to explore exactly what you want. Tel. 1300 988 309
For something really different on the water, there’s no shortage of options on the Lower Yarra. Find someone suitable and take them on a catered gondola ride at sunset (gondolier and food/drink supplied). Tel. 9399 1991.
Fancy a jazz concert or cabaret evening while on the water? Melbourne Showboat is a beautifully converted historic Sydney ferry offering a variety of entertainment and dining options. Tel. 9499 9371
Speaking of dining, how about lunch or dinner floating along the Lower Yarra ? Melbourne looks amazing when lit up at night and the Spirit of Melbourne is one of the best ways to appreciate it. Tel. 8610 2600