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

Western Suburbs Weekly - - Travel - Sarah Wa­ters re­ports.

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.

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