The South West’s Wonderful Waterways

The South West’s Wonderful Waterways

August 31, 2023
Discover some of our favourite rivers, pools, and estuaries that make their way through Australia’s South West.

Collie River

Length: 154km
Noongar name: Minninup (Wiilman Noongar) 

Wellington Dam, Collie

The Collie River and Minninup Pool  are significant places for the Wiilman Noongar people. The latter is said to be the resting place of the Ngangungudditj walgu (hairy-faced serpent), the creator of the waterways that weave their way through Collie and neighbouring towns. It lies on the river’s upper section, just outside the Collie townsite. Launch yourself into the cool, deep water off the rope swing, or opt for a less dramatic entrance sauntering in off the banks.

The addition of a giant mural to the face of Wellington Dam has propelled the mammoth catchment’s notoriety exponentially, and it’s now one of the most iconic sections of the Collie River. Visit to take the evocative art piece in, but don’t leave without walking the bush trails and trying your luck at landing a Redfin Perch, Rainbow Trout, or some marron. 

Margaret River

Length: 60km
Noongar name: Wooditchup (Wadandi Noongar)

Margaret River

There’s no place along the Margaret River that’s more scenic than where it meets with the Indian Ocean. Also a popular surf spot, there are seemingly endless things to do along this section of the river. 

Join Sean Blocksidge of Margaret River Discovery Co on a canoeing expedition up the Margaret River townsite’s namesake. Spend the day paddling the river and bird-spotting, visiting ancient waterholes nearby, and dining at local wineries. Or, plan your adventure for later in the day for a completely different experience, floating along the river as the sun sets over the Indian Ocean.

Blackwood River

Length: 300km
Noongar name: Gurbillup Buerle (Bibbulmun Noongar)

Kayaking the Blackwood River

At 300km long, the Blackwood River is the largest in the South West region. Starting near Wagin, it flows through Bridgetown and Nannup before opening into the Southern Ocean at the Hardy Inlet in Augusta. During the drier months, the still river and inlet are ideal for a paddle and spot of bird watching. Around Nannup, the river widens into Barrabup Pool, the perfect shaded place for a cooling dip on a hot summer’s day. Test your nerves by launching off the timber platform, or ease your way into the cool water via the stairs.

Leschanault Estuary

Length: 13.5km
Noongar name: Derbal Elaap (Wadandi Noongar)

‘The Cut’, Bunbury

Bring a scoop net and wade through the Leschenault Estuary shallows, and you may just come out a few Blue Manna crabs the richer. The protected estuarine lagoon is a known crabbing and fishing hotspot, where whiting and black bream are abundant. There’s a good chance you’ll sight Bunbury’s resident bottlenose dolphins there too. Their dorsals can pop up anywhere in the lagoon, but if the swell is up, they’ll most likely be riding the surf at ‘The Cut’ – the channel that connects the lagoon to the Indian Ocean. For a change of pace, take the Mangrove Walk in East Bunbury through the 2500-year-old white mangroves.

Frankland River

Length: 162km
Noongar name: Kwakoorillup (Bibbulmun Noongar)

A boat driving across blue waters surrounded by forest
Walpole/Nornalup Inlet

A fan of freshwater crayfish? Pack your scoop and drop nets and make your way to the Frankland River near Nornalup and Walpole

Upstream from the river mouth – not far from the Giant Tingle Tree – you’ll find the famed Circular Pool. In summer, the water is calm enough for a relaxed day of kayaking, and the pool crawls with marron. Remember: you must have a license to catch them for consumption. In winter, rapids form at the pool entrance, churning the water up and depositing a cappuccino-like foam on the surface. 

Closer to the Walpole townsite, the river opens onto the vast Nornalup Inlet. Explore it with the expert guidance of Gary Muir on his informative WOW Wilderness Ecocruise, or go it alone with a few peaceful days on a Houseboat Holidays vessel.

Donnelly River

Length: 151km

Dotted along the banks of the serene Donnelly River, you’ll spy 42 completely off-grid huts. They’re a part of the historic Donnelly River Settlement, owned by locals and passed down from generation to generation. The best way to see them is to jump in your boat and cruise down the river, offering a friendly wave to any locals out front as you pass by.

While you’re on the water, why not try your luck angling? The river is teeming with black bream, herring, and European Perch. The Donnelly is a highly significant waterway in the South West as it’s the only one that contains all of the region’s endemic species, including the likes of the salamander fish (better known as the Axolotl) and cobbler. 

Kalgan River

Length: 140km
Noongar name: Kalganup (Minang Noongar)

Take the Luke Pen Walk Trail through the saltwater paperbarks and shore rushes, playing a game of wildlife ‘spott-o’ along the way. The 9km trail follows the banks of the Kalgan River just north of Albany, and there are plenty of birds, roos, and reptiles that call the bushland home. Visit in spring to see the curry flowers and tree hovea blooming, or in winter to hook the bream at their biggest. If you’re more interested in watersports, launch your canoe from the west side of the river at Lower Kalgan Bridge and go for a gentle paddle downstream.

Discover more of the South West’s pristine waterfalls and waterways.

About the Author

Monique Ceccato

Monique is a creative and freelance writer from Perth.

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