North Fremantle River and Beach Walk
Start - Cnr of Bruce and Burns St
Length - 6km (Loop)
Rating - Green
Terrain - Pavement, Beach, Limestone Path
Vertical Climb - 118m
Time - 2-3 hours
Signed - No
Date Walked - 9th February 2020
Best Time - All Year Round
Traditional Custodians - Wajuk People
Directions - From the centre of Fremantle take Queen Victoria St north and over the traffic bridge. Turn right onto Swan St and enter the Northbank precinct. Turn right onto Burns St and find a park where there is a free spot. The walk starts by the river at the end of Burns St.
The Walk - With my Fremantle Walks page needing a much deserved upgrade, I was keen to get out and re-do the North Fremantle River and Beach Walk given how much I love the area. The start point at Northbank was where I first lived when I moved out of home in my early 20s and looking back I was really spoiled by that. I have extremely fond memories of getting home from work in the summer and riding my bike down to Port Beach for a walk and then watching the sunset while I had a dip in the Indian Ocean. It was an idyllic lifestyle and over my time there I had great fun exploring the surrounding area on foot and discovering all the cool places around here.
With a fantastic re-shoot of the East Fremantle Swan River Walk the previous afternoon, I was up early to take in this walk as I think it is better experienced in the morning. Wanting to get to the cliffs above Rocky Bay for the sunrise, I then realised that the lighting wouldn't be great for the first half of the walk so altered my plans accordingly. If I'm in the mood for a long walk, sometimes I'll add the extra 6km on and walk from my house but with limited time before the UV and heat set in, I decided to drive to the start. Parking at Northbank can be a bit tricky with the medium density arrangement and limited street parking means a free spot might not always be available. If it isn't then there is parking across Queen Victoria St near the Swan Hotel. With a peaceful and sunny morning upon me, I walked down to the river and gazed upon the uniquely Northbank style of building. Designed to feel like a little European village, I really enjoy the layout and density of the area. It feels very different to almost everywhere else in Perth and I wish it was adopted in more places given how sprawled out Perth has become. Heading off towards the Stirling Hwy bridge, follow the path all the way under the bridge, admiring the very One Tree Hill style river court that is located under the concrete behemoth (and where I used to shoot some hoops on the 9ft ring).
Keep going along the path to where they have done some rehabilitation works on the riverside vegetation including the excavation of a little inlet/channel that I'm not sure is meant to be permanently filled with water but I've never seen it be more than a small puddle. The rehabilitation is great and as you cross over a couple of bridges you can see all the fantastic work they have done to promote a healthier river system. Reaching Gilbert Fraser Reserve, you get a large expanse of grass that is perfect if you want to kick the footy, run laps or let the dog off the lead (provided there is no organised sports going on). It's also the home of a training/competition area for fire brigades and that's what all the tarmac, buildings and metal contraptions are on the river side of the oval. One feature of the reserve is the old grandstand on the northern side that I am happy still survives today. I used to love sitting there when my cricket club had a fixture here and it's just a nice place to sit if you're passing through on a walk. Leaving Gilbert Fraser on the south east side of the park near the large pine trees, you keep following the river as it passes a very solid anchor and on towards Pier 21 Apartments. Another lovely marina spot along the river full of rich people's boats, it has a feel about it that always makes me feel like I am on holiday, even if it's a dreary Tuesday afternoon in May.
All along this area there are little mosaic or marine themed pieces in the pavement that are cool to look at (and also inform if you don't know your knots or terms for direction on a boat). At the end of the pavement section you reach a little park near the WA Water Police headquarters and you must head inland to continue the walk. Follow the limestone cliffs of Harvest Rd and then take your first right up the hill of Corkhill St then right again onto Ainslie Rd. This will take you up above where you have been walking with some views across the river and back towards the harbour. At the end of Ainslie St to your right, you come across the limestone/sand path that will be home for the next little stretch. I was so pleased when I found this path as I don't think it is well known, expect to locals, yet provides a great spot to get away from the usual pavement bashing of an urban walk (if you ignore the houses to your left). The area on Cypress Hill has been rehabilitated with new vegetation and a couple of rock seats that you can use to have a rest. Information plaques from what I assume is an old heritage trail are still here and tell of what the first people used this area for. It's a great insight into what life on the river was like before it became sanitised with mansions and urban development. Continue along the trail north as it skirts between the limestone cliffs and the buildings.
There are cool views down to Rocky Bay and some lovely trees to admire here including an ancient one that has grown sideways as a result of the extreme wind this area would have been subject to before the houses became giant wind breaks. Reaching an open area of grass, there is a path leading down the cliff to Rocky Bay and for the first time that I can remember, it wasn't closed off due to "Cliff Risk". They must have fixed it up so I ventured down the stairs and was excited to see a little beach and rocky area to explore. Just before you enter the beach there is a sign letting you know of the presence of the Waugal Cave in the cliffs. You can see the structure from the stairs (please respect the area and do not go into the cave) and a little information board tells you that this is the place where the Waugal slept after creating a large flood that separated Wadjemup from the mainland. I had a bit of a wander along the beach and the rocks here, finding the old soap factory tunnel that felt very much like a hiding place for Pennywise but actually goes deep into the cliffs. Having spent quite a bit of time here I headed back to the beach where a man had set up on the rocks and was having a fish. Climbing back up the stairs you then keep heading north and onto the pavement where you continue on, past another lookout until you reach the Vlamingh Parklands.
This concludes the "River" part of the walk (for now) and soon you will reach the "Beach" section after walking through the beating industrial heart of North Fremantle. Head north west through the park until you reach Thompson Rd and follow this north as it then curves west towards the ocean. The industrial area of North Freo is a quaint mix of old warehouses, factory units and housing that has a real charm about it. Adding a sprinkle to life in what can be a dull landscape were some brilliant yellow sunflowers rising up into the air and some bougainvillea attached to the fence of the old Matilda Bay Brewery. Reaching Stirling Hwy you get a better look at the facade of the brewery (which was up for lease if you're interested) and an introduction to the stunning ocean views that will be home for the next section. Cross the highway and continue west along the pedestrian overpass as it seemingly extends all the way to the horizon. Taking you over the abandoned railway yard that has become the subject of many redevelopment conversations, I kind of enjoy having the empty space there. At the end of the overpass I whipped out my long lens and started taking a heap of photos of the Fremantle giraffes in the distance and down towards the surf lifesaving event going on at Leighton Beach. Like I said in the East Freo walk, I think this will be a permanent addition to every hike as it makes for some really cool shots. I loved being able to zoom in all the way and pick out the Wadjemup and Bathurst Lighthouses on Rottnest, made even better by a large ship hanging about offshore.
Making my way down to beach level, this is the start of the Mosman Dog Beach and a place I visit quite regularly over the summer with my bork buddies. If you want to add another 3-4km of walking then head north along the beach where there is a natural turnaround point at the South Cottesloe groyne before heading back and continuing the loop. Taking the path south towards the Leighton Beach Development (or alternatively the beach if you don't have a dog), this is a popular recreation area similar to the one found in the northern suburbs near the MAAC Dive and Snorkel Trail so always be mindful of other walkers, runners and cyclists. Soon you'll reach the new grassed area in front of the Fremantle Surf Life Saving Club that is home to the Orange Box kiosk/cafe. A great place for breakfast or a coffee after a morning beach visit, I love how they've done this area and it was certainly popular on this visit although the weekend nippers program may have something to do with that. Continue all the way to the always special Bib & Tucker before taking a left and heading towards the Leighton Beach Redevelopment. If I had the money I would love to live here as it's the perfect mix of beach and parkland that is close to Fremantle and right next to the train line into Perth. While still being finished, what is there is great and I loved the seven mosaics up the middle of Freeman Loop that tell different stories from local indigenous culture. At the end of Freeman Loop you cross at the lights and head south along the railway line to the crossing, admiring the local icon that is the Dingo Flour Mill off in the distance.
After crossing the railway line head towards Stirling Hwy and begin what is a necessary part of the walk that can be a bit unpleasant given the traffic of Stirling Hwy. The buildings around here are still full of character with the old Rose Hotel now renovated and a couple of quirky houses to your right (including more sunflowers). This used to be my walk home when I lived in North Freo so I know it well and although it's changed slightly over the years, the character still remains the same. After passing the empty block that is the site of a company selling mature grass trees, dragon trees and boab trees, you reach Queen Victoria St and the end of the traffic. I love this little stretch of North Fremantle, home to the antique district (that runs parallel to the hammock district), plenty of iconic North Freo businesses like Mojos Bar, Flipside Burgers, Propeller and Mrs Brown Wine Bar. As is becoming popular around Perth and Fremantle, there are a couple of murals here (although the Coca-Cola one is an old advertising campaign) including a classic beach scene from Leighton that is cleverly masked as a Gage Roads ad. Continue along Queen Victoria St past the Post Office and cross Tydeman Rd at the traffic lights.
Up ahead is the famous Swan Hotel, a pub with working class origins and a lovely looking building. I love that it has stayed roughly the same over the years and remains an unpretentious place to enjoy a drink or two for those that don't want fusion tapas, small batch craft beers or artisan inspired cocktails. Cross Queen Victoria St at the Swan Hotel and head back into the Northbank precinct. Over the past couple of decades the area has been slowly built up and it's starting to get a lived in feel with less empty blocks and a good barrier of buildings blocking out the wind and sounds coming from the west. Continue down towards Pensioner Guard Rd and take a right to follow this all the way back down to the river. I passed my old street and the park that was right outside the place I lived and it brought back some very pleasant memories. Reaching the river again you get views of the river, the shipping container rainbow art piece and the old Queen Victoria traffic bridge that has been earmarked for replacement soon (where I hope that they keep it as a green pedestrian bridge). All that is left is to walk along the path back towards the start and you've finished the loop. If you haven't already enjoyed a cafe stop along the way then I highly recommend heading back to Queen Victoria St or Leighton Beach to cap off a lovely walk with a feed.
Final Thoughts - This area means a lot to me given my history with it but taking that away, it's a really great walk that combines a lot of different aspects that make North Fremantle such a diverse place.
Being able to walk along the limestone cliffs of Rocky Bay then head through the interesting industrial area before having easy access to the pristine beaches that make Western Australia famous is a very fortunate experience.
If you're after a new walk for yourself or with your dogs away from the usual pavement bashing then this one will leave you engaged and happy at the end. I can't recommend it enough.
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