A Hike from Canning Bridge to Fremantle via the South Bank of the Swan River

Perth, Australia

The Map

The Facts

  • Start or End: Start or end at either Canning Bridge Train Station (Google Map Directions) or Fremantle Train Station (Google Map Directions).
  • Length: : 21.3 km (13.2mi) in about 5hr
  • Grade: Medium. A long walk but relatively flat and paved the whole way. Plenty of public transport options along the way if you wish to cut the walk short.
  • Date Walked: 13th of September 2015

The Story

A walk which includes Walter's Spit, a mental hospital, Celine Dion, not meeting any pelicans and the ultimate shoe cleaning experience.

For the past three walks I have set foot in some great wildflower areas of the Perth metropolitan area. Sure it is spring, but I have had enough of chasing flowers. Time for a change, time to take a walk along the Swan River. Today's metrotrek takes me from Canning Bridge train station to the Fremantle train station via the southern bank of the Swan River, part of the so called "Three Bridges Loop". I have walked along this stretch of the Swan River previously but wanted to try a few detours this time to visit landmarks such as Point Walter Spit and Point Heathcote Reserve. It is also a great walk.

The main reason for the walk is definitely to visit Point Walter Spit. No, I am not walking 10's of kilometres to see some guy named Walter and his ejected saliva. A spit is a sand bar and in the case of Point Walter Spit this sand bar stretches deep into the Swan River, about 900 meters in fact. But like many sand bars you have to be careful with tides, the Swan River is tidal after all. I'm usually a morning walker but if I want to visit Point Walter Spit today I have to time my walk to meet the mid-afternoon low tide.

After a hearty lunch I head down to Esplanade train station and get off at Canning Bridge train station, only one stop away. I did think about walking to Canning Bridge train station from Perth city, however better judgement got the better of me. Did I really want to walk next to the six lane Kwinana Highway and the Mandurah train line for 7kms? Doesn't sound like a pleasant Sunday afternoon stroll (believe me, I have walked along there before).

The first place of interest on the walk is the aptly named Canning Bridge (the train station is obviously named after the bridge, not the other way around).

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As you can plainly see in the photograph above it is impossible to get away from all the springtime flowers. From Canning Bridge itself there are good views down the Canning River to the Swan River and far into the horizon is the Perth City skyline. Closer to the bridge are fishermen and plenty of Black Swans feeding. Making their way up the Canning River were about twenty Black Swans which periodically submerged their heads to feast on the banquet below. Here are a couple taking a breather between mouthfuls.

As I walk past the land bound boats behind the barbwire of the South of Perth Yacht Club I look to the west and spot my next destination on the hill, Point Heathcote Reserve. Last time I walked along here I was unaware of the reserves existence. I assumed the large heritage buildings and clock tower belonged to a fancy school, a government building or was a really wealthy person's abode (there is plenty of wealth around these parts). But no, it is actually a reserve and freely accessible to the public. I learnt about Point Heathcote Reserve on a boat tour of the Swan River I took early this year on the way to Rottnest Island. The reserve is home to the former Heathcote Hospital, opened in 1929 for the treatment of patients with mental illness. So my initial assumption was partially right, it was formally a government building. The hospital ceased operation in 1994 and is now a popular picnic spot and home to a cultural centre, museum, gallery and restaurant.

Point Heathcote Reserve is definitely a worthy deviation off the main path. Apart from the historic buildings there are great views off two lookouts. One looking east over the South of Perth Yacht Club.

And another looking north to the Swan River.

I'm not sure about the design of the lookout? I think it is supposed to represent the prow (I think that is the correct nautical term) at the front of a boat. I'm probably right as the gigantic ship themed playground behind me is a dead giveaway of the nautical theme. I really feel like moving to the end of the prow, spreading my arms out like wings and screaming "I'm Flying Jack!" just like Kate Winslet did in that Hollywood tripe called "Titanic". Once again better judgement prevailed and it wouldn't work anyway without the Celine Dion song "My Heart Will Go On" playing in the background.

A striking feature of Point Heathcote Reserve is the heritage listed architecture, especially the clock tower. Why would a mental health hospital need a clock tower anyway?

Point Heathcote Reserve is a popular spot for dining and taking the family out for a picnic. I ate before walking and I forgot my picnic basket so instead I will continue on my journey. I walk back down the hill and at the shoreline I am greeted with some great views of the Swan River and the Perth City skyline.

I continue west along Jeff Joseph Reserve to my next place of interest, the Applecross Jetty. More great views.

A short distance from the Applecross Jetty the path leads to the Point Dundas Boardwalk. Unlike my last walking adventure the Point Dundas boardwalk is officially open. Last time I walked past a kicked down fence at the start of the boardwalk to find an intact fence at the other end, which I then had to climb around. I think the local government were undertaking restoration of the boardwalk but it looks the same to me, not sure what they did. I guess I did walk here two years ago so my memory may not be the best. My memory was right about something though, I remember the great views over the water.

One aspect of Point Dundas I don't remember is the wind. As soon as I turned to the southern side of the point BOOM! the wind hits me. The wind almost blew my hat off and the gusts continue as I walk along the path between the river and Melville Beach Road. At least the kite boarders are enjoying it.

The difference between protected and unprotected areas of the river is obvious. East of Point Dundas the walk was so calm but now it is hat holding time. I could have just taken the hat off, but I stupidly only put sunscreen on the areas of my bald head not covered by my hat. I would hate to have the top of my head sunburnt while the lower half is pale. I would never hear the end of it. I can just hear the name calling now.

The wind dies down as I walk towards Alfred Cove between Tompkins Park and Attadale Reserve. The path hugs the river at Tompkins Park so there are plenty of unobstructed views of the Swan River and the Perth CBD skyline.

Unfortunately the views of the Perth CBD skyline are behind me, so I have to constantly screw my neck around to see them. I really should walk the opposite direction one day, I have a feeling the views would be much better.

It was here at the Alfred Cove Nature Reserve that I witnessed an unspeakable act during my walk two years ago. The incident is hard to talk about, but it has been two years now so I feel I have to face my demons again. Today's walk along the Swan River is much quieter than my previous excursion when the path was being utilised by the local marathon club. Not only did I have to contend with a plethora of runners in both directions but also the odd male marathoner urinating in the bushes beside the path. Not the most pleasant experience, but much more pleasurable than the incident I witnessed at Alfred Cove Nature Reserve. As I walk along the path I see a male runner dart into the bushes. Another urinator? No. Instead he drops his pants, squats and defecates against a tree. The image of a grown man in Lycra defecating on a defenceless tree haunts me to this day. The expression on his face from agony to absolute relief as he lays a public cable is something I do not want to remember. I really do hope he made use of the doggy poo bags provided by the local council to clean up his mess. I doubt it though.

With the traumatic memories behind me I make my way to Attadale Reserve. Apart from a crowd of football fans leaving after a day's play, the reserve is amazingly quiet with just the odd walker and the occasional family bike riding peloton.

Attadale Foreshore is mostly open grassed parkland apart from a small section of bushland on the western tip. As I reach the fenced in bushland from the main path I notice a small gate into the enclosure. The gate leading to a dirt track into the bushland is not well sign posted and it is lucky that I even noticed it at all. Can I even go in here? Supposedly I can, but only if I wipe my feet before entering. Huh? Wipe my feet? And not just wipe my feet on a door mat, I have to use this contraption.

Why? To prevent the spread of dieback, a deadly introduced plant disease caused by Phytophthora cinnamomi. Human activity is thought responsible for a large proportion of the spread of dieback so walkers are asked to clean their shoes on entry to certain areas. Fair enough, I don't want to be responsible for the death of defenceless trees. Time to strap myself into the ultimate shoe cleaning experience.

What a contraption! Its use entails stepping onto the platform and stabilising one's self by holding onto the two handlebars, one of which is a plastic squeeze ball. On initiation of the plastic squeeze ball a spray of liquid (some sort of disinfectant I suppose) is ejected from a nozzle on the platform. You then hover each food over the spray and then scrub the soles and sides of your shoes with the big brushes attached to the floor. I so want one of these for my house.

With my shoes sparkling clean I head into the bushland. To be perfectly honest there was nothing really that exciting in the bushland. But it was good to get off the concrete for a while and go on a mini adventure.

After the bushland of Attadale Foreshore I have arrived at my main destination, Point Walter. Compared to the rest of the walk so far Point Walter is busy. There are plenty of picnickers around and the café is quite popular. Kids are kicking balls around while the parents relax in foldout chairs. The smell of perfectly cooked sausages in the air makes my mouth water. Think I might join them for a while. I deserve a rest and a few snacky treats before continuing onto Point Walter Spit. As I enjoy a bag of nuts, a banana and a protein shake I also enjoy the view out onto the waters of the Swan River.

Ok that's enough relaxing, time to check out the Point Walter Spit. I am a bit earlier than anticipated so the low tide has not been reached, but there is still plenty of sand above the water to explore.

Walking along the sand bar is really enjoyable. There are Swan River views for almost 360 degrees.

One of the more interesting sights from the spit is towards the west where the extremely affluent suburb of Mosman Park is located.

Do you see that light yellow coloured monstrosity of a house with the terracotta roof in the middle of the photograph? That is Australia's most expensive home, purchased by a mining magnate in 2009 for $57.9 million Australian dollars. I really expected Australia's most expensive home to be a little more impressive. Sure it is huge but the architecture is nothing to rave about in my opinion. I could think of better things to spend $57.9 million dollars on.

As you can see the spit is split by the water so I didn't go much further. A bit of a shame as I really wanted to reach out to the vegetated island at the end. Doesn't matter, I saw most of what I wanted to see anyway. I could have taken my shoes off and ventured across like many of the kids were doing, the water is very shallow, but I couldn't be arsed. The thought of contending with wet sandy feet for the remainder of the walk did not sound too pleasing. It isn't that pleasant out here either, a little too windy for my liking. Time to head back to the mainland and continue to Fremantle.

I'm not the only one heading out from the spit. On my way back I noticed a lot of small stones surrounded by line patterns in the sand. One closer inspection the stones where actually the shells of some sort of sea life and the lines in the sand are their trails as they head back to the slowly retreating water. As you can tell from the photograph below the sea creatures do not have a good sense of direction. They are all over the place.

Back on dry land I continue my walk thought Point Walter Reserve, a nice slice of bushland nestled right in the suburbs.

Apart from the bushland and the springtime blooms one of the best aspects of Point Walter Reserve is the Swan River views, especially from a series of lookouts which provide access to the jagged limestone cliffs.

Spring is definitely in the air around Point Walter Reserve. Not only are the wattles and other wildflowers in bloom but there are birds everywhere, especially Australian Ringneck parrots (Barnardius zonarius), which have made themselves more than welcome at the man-made nesting boxes.

I generally find Australian Ringneck parrots flighty and camera shy. Capturing a good photo of one has always been difficult as I never get the camera ready in time before they fly away. Not this time. The parrots seem quite happy for me to take pictures while they play around there new springtime abodes. Unfortunately, it is getting rather overcast so lighting is now the problem. Got a few OK photographs anyway.

After Point Walter Reserve the path heads back down to river level and along Blackwall Reach Parade. It is a peaceful walk with mansions to the left and calm water views to the right.

The sun is starting to get low in the horizon. Better leg it if I want to reach Fremantle before dark. I deviate away from the river at the Bicton Baths and head through Bicton Quarantine Park and Rod Campbell Park before once again meeting the river along Jerrat Drive. Jerrat Drive is high above the Swan River and so provides some brilliant views over the water and the East Fremantle Yacht Club.

At the end of Jerrat Drive I meet Riverside Road and as the name suggest I continue to follow the river. Last time I walked along here I followed the path along Riverside Road, which actually meant I didn't walk right next to the river at all. Instead I only "enjoyed" views of the road and the marine clubs and business blocking views to the river. This time I thought I would take a closer look and found that there is a clear path between the river and the marine facilities such as the Fremantle Rowing club and the Swan Yacht Club. You don't really get expansive river views as such, but you do see a great many luxury watercraft docked on the water.

After John Tonkin Park I re-join Riverside Road and continue along the homestretch to Fremantle train station. My original plan was to follow the path along Riverside Road/Beach Street all the way to the station. However, before reaching the Stirling Bridge I noticed a sign entitled "Niergarup Track", which pointed across the road to a steep staircase next to some mansions. The Niergarup Track runs along the cliff top of Merv Cowan Park and provides some magnificent views of the Swan River, the foreshore and the setting sun. So glad I made the diversion up here.

Niergarup is a local Nyoongar Aboriginal word meaning "the place where the pelicans meet". I know this not because I speak Aboriginal, I'm only monolingual. I learnt the meaning from one of the many interpretive signs along the trail which describe the cultural significance of the area. The pelicans must be anti-social today because I did not see a single one on my walk.

I finish my time on the Niergarup Track and head down the staircase back to the foreshore path. The next point of interest is the Stirling Bridge, a 415 meter long continuous seven span twin post-tensioned segmental spine beam concrete bridge completed in 1974 (no I'm not a civil engineer, I learnt the convoluted structural description of the bridge from Engineers Australia).

Further down the Swan River is the much older Fremantle Traffic Bridge, a 219 meter long timber (it now has a concrete deck) bridge opened in 1939.

That's enough for today. I have really enjoyed this afternoon's stroll from Canning Bridge to Fremantle via the south bank of the Swan River. I'm glad I tried this walk again as I experienced a few new places such as Point Walter Spit and Point Heathcote Reserve. However, the end of the day is drawing. Time to walk along the Beach Road path leading to the Fremantle train station.


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Hello, I'm Marc and welcome to metrotrekker.

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