For a city tour with a difference, try kayaking through Melbourne, Australia on a warm evening as the city lights up all round you.
One by one, balls of flames shot up from the towers like mini-infernos, lighting up the city skyline and casting a warm orange glow across the water below. We could hear the mighty whoosh each time the flames rose, followed by a hum of appreciation from the watching crowds lining the riverbank. The nightly fireball display in front of the Crown Casino has become a key feature of Melbourne’s night scene, and we had the best seats in the house.
Only thing was, we couldn’t keep them still. That’s the trouble with kayaks.
That morning we had cycled along the bank of the Yarra river, dodging office workers with their iPods and lattes, admiring the architecture and soaking up the city vibe. But now we were seeing Melbourne’s hub from a whole different perspective – on a Moonlight Kayak tour, one of the city’s more unusual sightseeing experiences. Under cover of darkness, we paddled silently up the Yarra like secret agents, passing under the bridges unseen. It was magical.
We had met at 7pm at Shed 2 of Victoria Harbour in the city’s Docklands. Kent, our forever smiling (and ridiculously handsome) guide had introduced us to our ride, a two-seater fibreglass SeaBear sea kayak, and given us a quick but thorough briefing – life jackets, steering, paddling.
“Any more questions?” he asked.
“Are there any sharks?” I said, only half-joking. After all, we were in Australia. As it turns out, it wasn’t such a stupid question. There had been a sighting, said Kent, but only the one, back in 2007. (It had been a 2m – I Googled it afterwards.) But it was too late to back out now.
It was still light as we paddled off, and the low sun was glinting off the brilliant white super yachts lined up along the pontoons. At first, we stuck to the edge of the marina, getting used to our paddles and synchronising our strokes. The going was every bit as easy as Kent had promised. But then we changed direction and suddenly felt the force of the wind whipping across the water.
Warren, my fiance, in the back, was in charge of steering with a foot pedal, but despite his best efforts we were being pushed towards the underside of a jetty. We had to use our paddles to help make the turn, really putting our backs into it to keep our distance. That was our only hairy moment, though, and we soon caught up with the others, in a sheltered corner of the marina.
Kent tied our kayaks to the jetty and left us chatting with our fellow urban adventurers. He returned a few minutes later with five portions of fish and chips, which we ate bobbing about in our kayaks, dipping our chips into the tartare sauce.
Kent told us how he’d moved to Melbourne from Toronto for a marketing job but got sick of the corporate world. A keen kayaker, he’d come up with the idea of the Yarra tours. He does daytime trips too, but the moonlight tour has been the winner. “I think it’s the fish and chips,” he said, and to be fair they were a big part of the appeal.
Energy levels up, we headed off again, out into the mouth of the marina and past the Star Observation Wheel, Melbourne’s answer to the London Eye. It opened in 2008 but closed 40 days later because of major structural defects (it had cracked in the heat). Dismantled and completely rebuilt, it opened again last December. At dusk it lights up in pretty neon colours.
As the sun set, we passed under the enormous Bolte Bridge, with its distinctive twin giant towers (purely aesthetic, Kent told us), then made a sharp left turn to head up the Yarra and into the heart of the city.
The wind was in our favour now, so the paddling was easy and at times we let our blades rest and drifted along peacefully, taking it all in. Dusk turned to night and lights on the skyscrapers started to twinkle.
As we cruised, Kent pointed out the landmarks, including the Eureka Skydeck, Melbourne’s tallest highrise, named after a bloody rebellion during Victoria’s 1854 gold rush. (The building’s golden crown represents the precious metal, he told us, while the red stripe is for the blood spilt in the fighting.)
Next came the Webb Bridge, with its distinctive futuristic web tunnel for cyclists and pedestrians; and the Sandridge Bridge, with its large metal sculptures entitled The Travellers, representing the immigrants who arrived by train over the bridge from Station Pier.
We slipped under the eerie undersides of these famous bridges, paddling through their shadowy arches, some of which were low enough to touch.
I had expected that we would be dodging pleasure cruisers and restaurant boats, waving to people in other boats (like you do when you’re a tourist on water), but we had the river completely to ourselves. On either side of us the city night scene was hotting up, restaurants and bars buzzing, and here we were, on our moonlight urban kayak adventure, floating gently through the middle of it, trailing our fingers in the warm water, seeing it all, but unseen, from a vantage point like no other. — Guardian News & Media
>> The trip was provided by Kayak Melbourne.