The Yarra might not be the longest river in the world but, metre-for-metre, the city section of the waterway packs in more fun and activity than most.
Between Punt Road, Richmond and the Bolte Bridge in Docklands, it's a 10 km stretch of water that offers everything boating from English style punting and cabaret showboats.
Let's start at the smaller end. They don't come much smaller than the personalised guided punt tours on the ornamental lake in the Royal Botanic Gardens. You're enveloped among soft cushions for the 30 minute journey, which glides around the lake, sending ducks and swans scattering, with the sound of a harpist in the background at certain times of the day.
For romantic on-water enjoyment, look no further than the gondolas that ply the Lower Yarra from Yarra's Edge Marina. They can also pick-up at Crown and Southgate landings. Add a couple of bottles of bubbly and a platter of gourmet goodies to your booking and you're sure to create a swoon that would woo even the most reluctant of hearts.
If you want to be a little more vertical on the water, but don’t want to sacrifice any comfort, then the dinky little boats of Melbourne Boat Hire could be just the thing. You can hire your own or order your a personalised captain to leave you and up to 11 friends to just enjoy the scenery and food and wine, as you drift along on a two or four hour course. The four hour will get you right up to the Abbotsford section of the river and back. Divide the hire price among friends and it’s a very cost effective way to have a day on the water.
The warmer weather brings a non-stop calendar of music and sporting events in the Yarra River Precinct. Melbourne Water Taxis enables you to enjoy a meal on South Wharf, Crown or at Southgate, then quietly power upstream to catch a show at Rod Laver Arena or perhaps a match at AAMI Park. Arrange for a pick-up after the show or game, and then float back to your starting point for supper or drinks.
However, if you want your dinner, entertainment and cruising in one easy package, then Melbourne Showboat is made to order. The former Sydney Harbour ferry is permanently decked-out for fun around Docklands and the lower reaches of the Yarra, and has a full program of events scheduled, from blues cruises to cabaret and burlesque evenings.
If it’s just dinner and a cruise up the river you’re seeking, then the Spirit of Melbourne runs classy dinner cruises several evenings a week. Daylight Saving time is ideal for such a cruise, as the activity on the water extends right into the evening, and drinks while watching the sunset over the water and the city lights emerge is quite magical.
If all the time you have is an hour or two, then simply head down to Southgate Landing or Federation Wharf to catch a regular guided tour of the Lower Yarra. Melbourne River Cruises offer a wide range of 1hour and 2 hour trips up and down stream, while Williamstown Bay and River Cruises takes you across the top of the bay between Southbank and the heritage maritime village of Williamstown. You pass through the Port of Melbourne and under the mighty Westgate Bridge. Catch the ferry back to Southgate or jump on a train at Williamstown for the 20 minute trip back to the city.
The prettiest way to tour the Lower Yarra is aboard the restored wooden boats of Classic Steamboat Cruises. Alas no longer driven by steam, but the quiet motor doesn't intrude on the peace of the water or the recorded tour narration. Thirty and sixty minute journeys are available, departing from Southgate landing.