East Fremantle Swan River Walk
Start - The Left Bank
Length - 5km (Loop)
Rating - Green
Terrain - Pavement, Beach, Limestone Path
Vertical Climb - 63m
Time - 1-2 Hours
Signed - No
Date Walked - 8th February 2020
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Wajuk People
Directions - The start point for the walk is under the Stirling Hwy Bridge on the corner of Riverside Rd and Andrews Rd. There is normally plenty of parking both there and along Andrews Rd unless there is an event on at the Left Bank.
The Walk - I love Fremantle and it's been my home for the majority of my adult life so it's about time I started showing it some love for the website. There is so much going on here and a great variety of places to visit and history to explore that I've started designing walks in various parts to showcase what I love about the area. The East Fremantle Swan River Walk was one of the first Fremantle pages I produced back in the early days of the website and if I'm honest it was really terrible with some bad photos and a questionable layout (you can still see it if you visit archive.org and search for this url). Starting in the summer of 2020 I've decided to re-do those posts, sometimes with just updated photos like Booyeembara Park and the Fremantle City Tourist Walk but this particular walk I decided needed a complete overhaul.
With that in mind I headed down to the Left Bank on a cloudy Saturday afternoon with my camera and set about experiencing a walk that I enjoy quite a bit. I've re-mapped it a little bit from the original layout to make it a proper loop and include some vantage points that I think are quite special. Standing under the concrete behemoth of the Stirling Hwy traffic bridge you can look up and down the river as it reaches the harbour and eventually the Indian Ocean. A feature of Fremantle Port are the giraffes (or dinosaurs) and from here you can see them off in the distance. Taking a photo of the Bon Scott mural on the wall of the bridge, I pressed start on my watch and began the walk. The first half of the route takes you along the paths and beaches that runs right next to the river and is a popular recreation spot for a lot of locals. Back in my younger days when I lived in North Fremantle I would cross the bridge on my runs and pound the pavement here. With a much cruiser method of moving this afternoon I was simply going to enjoy myself and take many photos. Passing the Left Bank, it was very busy with people pouring in for dinner and to enjoy their Saturday nights so feeling very conspicuous, I took a couple of quick photos and moved on.
Moving on you see the sign for the Niergarup Track, something I would take in on the return section but this is a cool spot with the always in flow Bicentennial Falls located near the stairs. It's part of a bigger park up on top of the cliffs and is a spot I don't think many people know about, especially if they don't live in the area. Further on you pass what used to be the Red Herring restaurant, a building that extends out over the water and was a lovely spot to have dinner (or have your wedding reception like my sister did). Nowadays it is a franchised Dome, which I think takes away from the character of the area but some people might disagree. Past the Dome is a palm tree lined stretch of pavement and grass that has been converted into an exercise area by the Town of East Fremantle with lots of the pseudo exercise equipment that can be used for sit-ups, pull-ups etc. It's always in use when I walk by so it's great that people find it purposeful and it adds to the sense of community in these areas. Next up is the Marine Education Boatshed that is used by the Dept of Transport as a safety and education centre. Along the rocks and around the building is where you often find a large variety of bird life ranging from shags to the iconic Black Swans to what I was lucky enough to see up close on this visit, a White-faced Heron.
After taking the sweeping bend that forms a little bay, you can either keep going on the path next to the road or take the beach as a shortcut. A small pocket of remnant vegetation provides a barrier to the road and you never know what you'll find washed up on the beach (like the large mullet I found on this walk). Watching out for traffic as you cross the boat loading area of the car park, head towards Zephers Café and the extended beach section of the walk. A popular place right in front of John Tonkin Park, the beach is a great place to let your dog off lead so it can stretch its legs. They are in the process of rehabilitating this area and have installed limestone groins at the end of each little headland to try and stop erosion. They provide a nice spot to sit and relax or bring a chair and cast a fishing line into the river. At the end of the beach you re-join the path and head east along the marina section of the river. Home to the Swan Yacht Club and a number of other smaller outdoor groups, it's an interesting walk as you go between working boat yard to recreation area to passing restaurants. Stay between the yellow lines for safety when you are passing through the boat ramps and make sure you are respectful of the people carting gear around in the trolleys. Past the rowing and dragon boat clubs you reach a small park next to another beach with a playground and gazebo. Around the corner is a boardwalk section and the home of Eat Greek Restaurant (buffet style meals that is highly recommended).
Another series of jetties full of expensive boats calls this place home and makes the area feel lived in. Continuing on you find another park with more exercise equipment and then it's back to being next to Riverside Road as you head up the hill and away from the river. Runners and cyclists will know this sweeping turn, especially if your legs are feeling tired or it's at the end of the really long run/cycle. It's not a large hill that takes you up past EJ Chapman Reserve (another good dog friendly oval) and the Tricolore Soccer Club (where I played a few games as a youngster). This is the least entertaining section of the loop as you take a right and follow the path along Preston Point Rd. It's not all bad with a look from above at the old Leeuwin Barracks, a place with a sketchy history and now marked for residential redevelopment. Entering the hilly parts of East Fremantle, the pursuit of views and square footage has created a bit of a soulless gathering of McMansions along here, all competing in the areas of size and gaudiness. There is a small nature strip to the left as you walk down, showing off some bare limestone that is all gnarly and weathered. Turn right when you reach the roundabout and follow this back down towards the river. A left turn following the path and soon you'll reach the beginning of the Niergarup Track to the right of another mansion that at the time of writing is still yet to be finished.
Climbing up the stairs, this is a really cool part of the walk that I don't think many people know about (I don't see many people up here on my walks). Skirting a path between the edge of the limestone cliff and more mansions, the elevated position provides a fantastic perspective of the river, harbour and beyond to North Fremantle. With the sun now beginning to set behind the clouds, I was hoping for a really cool light show as I made my way to the spot I used to love watching the sunset from. It was shaping up to be a good one with the familiar orange glow of Fremantle starting to form (although the night time glow I refer to is from the harbour lights). Winding your way along the edge of the cliff you get a mix of great views and interesting finds such as the large fig tree (that was close to ripe when I visited) and the information boards that tell you the indigenous and colonial history of this part of the Swan River. At the end of the path you reach Merv Cowan Reserve and an area that if you've never visited is a bit of a cool find. A series of rapids leads down the hill with grassed areas and gazebos all around, creating an English manor style feel to the park. Created as part of the 1988 Bicentennial celebrations (the same ones that created a series of hiking trails all over the state), it has remained in place since and is the perfect spot if you want somewhere out of the way to read a book or have a picnic.
The large grassed area leading up the hill is the most popular spot as you get great views overlooking the river, harbour and ocean. The giraffes are in full view and the sun was right behind them, creating dark silhouettes that I always love photographing. There were a few groups with picnic rugs setup to watch the sunset and while it's a nice spot, I have another one just up the hill that I prefer. Crossing Angwin Street there is a run down looking set of stairs that takes you up higher to Surbiton Road where the views really open up. It's not as comfortable as sitting on the grass but I used to love reaching this point on a run and staring out over the harbour and ocean at night. On this walk I had brought my zoom lens (which I will be taking on every hike from this point on) and it was great to get some closer shots of the giraffes, ships and the passing trains. With the light fading and the sunset fizzling out somewhat, I continued up and over Surbiton Road and down a series of steps at the end of the road. Going past a mural for the Australia II yacht that won the Americas Cup and subsequently turned the world's attention to Fremantle in the 1980s, the finish to the loop takes you along Preston Point Rd again and then right along Canning Highway. Passing the new Richmond Quarter development and the East Fremantle Town Hall, take a right onto Andrews Rd and you're back at the Left Bank. So that was the East Fremantle Swan River Loop, a scenic way to explore East Fremantle on foot with plenty to see, do and eat.
Final Thoughts - I may be biased because this area is my home but Fremantle is a great mix of old, new, work and play. This walk showcases that mix a feel for the working harbour but also the relaxed pace of recreation and suburban areas.
Stop at any number of spots along the river and look out for birds, dolphins or just people watch.
East Fremantle isn't just a great place to live, it's a great place to visit so if you're headed to Fremantle for a weekend visit then maybe think outside the box and go somewhere quieter.
I hope you enjoy the walk and make sure to tag any photos of your Fremantle walks on Instagram with #thelifeofpy.
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