HOUSEBOATS PROVIDE A WELCOME CHANGE OF PACE
Three journalists, one pilot and a public relations professional were given a house boat and sent to navigate their way up the Mandurah canals and Murray River. With no boating experience, apart from an hour-long briefing and quick boat-driving lesson, th
AS I leaned over the railings of our houseboat HakunaMata
ta, I wanted to reach down and touch the glistening feathers of the ducks following us on the Mandurah canals.
The houseboat was our home for three days and each day the same three ducks seemed to trail in the wake of the boat with an enchanting look in their eyes – something I had never noticed before.
But then again, I'd never really just sat and observed ducks.
I realised this was the kind of detail and intrigue that would otherwise pass you by if you didn't slow down and look closely at what surrounded you.
It dawned on me that Mandurah Houseboats wasn't just about providing a group of friends or family with a sense of escapism in a well equipped boat – the experience of travelling slowly on the waterways lets you see the environment through different eyes.
I had to resist the urge to toss the ducks some bread. Our family host Mia Lacy told us that feeding the wildlife an unnatural diet was not good for them – and we didn't want every seagull in Mandurah descending on us.
I reluctantly agreed. I considered some research to find a suitable titbit for ducks, but by then we had left the feathered armada behind as we continued our journey up the Murray River.
The night before we had docked at Cooper's Mill on Cooleenup Island, which was home to a historic wheat mill built in the 1843, native shrubs, birds and the island's caretaker, who liked to keep to himself.
Our makeshift boat driver, my partner Sam, was doing his best to manoeuvre our 50foot long house boat out from the jetty. He had paid attention to the briefing and boat- driving lessons and was doing a good job, given his limited experience.
In minutes we were floating down the Murray River to Ravenswood, where we would dock for our second night.
The scenery along the Murray River was in stark contrast to the multi- million dollar houses and boats we saw when we started in Mandurah.
We were now in relative wilderness, which revealed an abundance of wildlife, including waterbirds, blue manna crabs and dolphins, which would occasionally pop up next to the boat.
Homes with old jetties were nestled in the dense bush along each side of the river.
We all thought the owners had great hindsight by choosing to live in such a secluded and scenic spot.
It didn't take us long to travel from Cooper's Mill to
Ravenswood and we docked opposite the Ravenswood Hotel.
We were fortunate to meet local resident David Rennie, who was recently crowned
Australian Geographic ANZANG Nature Photographer of the Year. The self-taught photographer and environmentalist didn't hold back as he described the critical condition of the Mandurah wetlands, home to the abundance of birds and wildlife I had been admiring along the way.
After a robust environmental discussion, the five of us enjoyed a fabulous homecooked dinner prepared earlier on the boat against the backdrop of an electric pink and purple sunset.
A night heron perched on the top of our boat, posed for photographs and hung around for the evening, along with the ducks who were still on our trail.
The next day, we pushed off from the mooring post and started our slow and relaxing trip back along the waterways to the Mandurah Harbour.
As we approached the Peel Inlet, the connecting point between the Murray River and Mandurah canals, I took the wheel of the boat.
I made a conscious effort not to oversteer while following the canal makers and keeping in mind the wind conditions.
Despite having left the boat driving up to my counterparts until this point, I was beginning to feel almost competent in my seamanship skills.
A pod of dolphins leapt from the water in the Peel Inlet, diving under and along- side our boat in an almost symbolic send-off as we ventured home.
We made our way back into Mandurah Harbour, receiving a commentary from Mia about the scenery – the new restaurants, who owned what house, war memorials and historical sites.
Before we knew it, we were back to where we started at the Mandurah Boathouses post, where Sam parked the boat as if he had done it a thousand times before.
While tying the boat up with a half hitch knot, Sam pointed out a duck with unusual colouring and mentioned he had seen it earlier on the Murray River. The chance to slow the pace and enjoy the detail for a couple of days had worked for him as well.
The houseboat HakunaMatata docked at Cooper's Mill, Cooleenup Island.
Sarah Waters and Sam Daniels enjoy the sun setting on the Murray River.
A former post office on the Murray River converted into a holiday stop.
The Mandurah canals.