Exploring Mandurah’s waterways on the Murray River Lunch Cruise

Chasing dolphins and rainbows on a whimsical winter’s day on the water.

By freelance writer, wanderer & mum Magda Bartucciotto.

It might seem strange to hit the water in winter, but if you want to get off the beaten track and experience the purest and simplest encounters with nature, you’ll soon realise there’s no better time.

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If you haven’t discovered some of the hidden gems in your own backyard since the pandemic hit, then Mandurah’s spectacular waterways, which is twice the size of Sydney Harbour is the perfect place to start.

Mandurah’s picturesque waterways are a feast for the eyes all year around, but it takes on an extra special charm during the winter season. Sure, there’s a bit of a nip in the air, but it’s nothing a warm puffer jacket, scarf and beanie can’t fix.

It’s the time of year when the natural beauty, birdlife, wildlife and aquatic nature really come to life. And the experiences you’ll have with Mandurah Cruises are bountiful. They’ll show you a different side to Mandurah, exploring remote areas only accessible by boat that’ll genuinely make you feel like you’re a million miles away.

So, I put my kids’ sea legs to the test, and the fab four set out on a relaxing half-day Murray River lunch cruise.

Because in Mandurah, we’re relaxed by nature.

9.45am – Check In

Without having to endure any groans of ‘Are we there yet’, we arrived in Mandurah within an hour’s drive from Perth. We headed to the Mandurah Boardwalk jetty on the marina, where we checked in with the cheerful and insightful crew (you’ll learn a LOT from these guys). The waters along Mandurah’s wetlands and estuaries are calm, so it was a great introduction for my kids who have never set foot on a boat before.

10am – Departure

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We promptly set sail from Mandjar Bay along the dolphin highway as it’s known, taking in some of the scenic spots such as the iconic Morton Bay fig tree from an awesome vantage point on the top deck of the vessel.

Along the way, we passed the striking Mandurah War Memorial. The large white pillars here commemorate the loss of life, the wounded and those that returned – and their ultimate quest for peace. The east/ west orientation of the works is designed to capture the axis of the sun on ANZAC Day. At dawn, the rising sun lights up the columns and create a temporary guiding light to the highest peak of the memorial.

As you head further out into the wetlands, the spectacular scenery offers many unique photo opportunities. You should always be on cue, as you never know what you might see – such as an osprey deep-diving into the water to catch a feed.

Soldier’s Cove is a common resting point for a myriad of birdlife. The local pelicans, known as the ‘boys of the estuary’ love to hang out here.

Quick fact: Did you know pelicans can hold up to 13 litres of water in their bills?

The Peel Inlet is renowned for attracting up to 100,000 migratory waterbirds, and as you cruise past the expansive Creery Wetlands you can understand why they choose this area as their nesting place. Some of these birds travel from as far as Siberia and Alaska every year. That’s around 25,000km!

11.30am – A step back in time at Cooper’s Mill

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Not far from the mouth of the Murray River we make a pit stop to check out the historical Cooper’s Mill, tucked away on the far western end of Cooleenup Island, which is only accessible by boat. Joseph Copper, a wheelwright and blacksmith began building it in 1846, but he died before completing it, leaving his sons to finish the job.

By 1850 the flour mill was up and running. It was originally powered by the wind before it was converted to steam power. The mill was very important to wheat farmers who would otherwise have to mill by hand.

While its location to us may seem odd, back in the day it made sense as it was easier to transport grain by boat. The mill has since been restored but still maintains its original charm.

12pm – Lunchtime

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With tummies grumbling it was time for lunch, which included a delicious spread large enough to keep you coming back for more. As you meander along the Murray River and back through the dolphin highway, you’ll no doubt come across some houseboats.

Renting out a houseboat is great if you want to explore the waterways at your own pace. These boats can sleep anywhere from 4 to 10 people at a time and come equipped with everything you need for a relaxing stay on the water.

Unforgettable encounters await

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One of the perks of cruising during winter is the chance to catch unobstructed views of a rainbow. Or in our case a double rainbow! With no buildings, houses or trees in your way, you can take full advantage of this picture-perfect moment.

 Mandurah’s waterways are home to a large population of bottlenose dolphins, which follow a feeding path along the shores on a daily basis, making encounters realistic and likely. During our cruise through the canals, we spotted a number of dolphins frolicking in the water, including a friendly pair surfing alongside our vessel.

Quick fact: Did you know dolphins can swim at a speed of up to 40km per hour when surfing?

Not only did we spot dolphins, but we were also treated to a seal sighting up close. The aquatic mammal was too busy to notice us though. It had just pounced on its prey of epic proportions – an eagle ray, which was an entertaining sight to see.

2.30 pm: At journey’s end

After enjoying some sweet treats on board, it was back to shore with our feet firmly on dry land. The kids had a blast. Us parents could relax and unwind. It was happy days for all! Next stop – sunset cruising!

If you’re looking for a unique way to connect with nature this winter, make Mandurah your pit stop for a quick day trip, casual weekender or laidback extended stay.

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