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Walking time: 2 hours
Distance: 4.75 km
Spectacular bridges, Indigenous history, sculptures, Southbank Promenade, the Melbourne Aquarium and the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre feature on this walk of discovery along the north and south banks of the Yarra River.
Federation Square (1) Flinders Street Station (2) Melbourne Visitor Centre (3)
Federation Square is a centre of cultural activity for Melbourne. Positioned on the city’s busiest intersection across the road from Flinders Street Station and the most prominent section of the city’s busy tram network, it brings together several creative institutions, cafes, bars and is home of the Melbourne Visitor Centre.
Princes Bridge (4) Yarra River (5) Alexandra Gardens (6)
From Federation Square, walk south along Princes Bridge over the Yarra River and follow the ramp down to the riverside in Alexandra Gardens and then walk under the bridge. There have been three bridges on this site, each larger than the last. The first was built of timber and named after the Prince of Wales in 1845.
You will pass the giant steel sculpture ‘Dervish’ the 1981 work of Melbourne-born sculptor Clement Meadmore, which has a current market value of around $500,000.
If you have time, take a boat’s eye view of the city with a leisurely scenic cruise, romantic gondola or water taxi ride. Ask for tickets and information at one of the information booths along the riverside.
Southbank Promenade (6)
Walk past the Southgate, restaurant and shopping precinct along Melbourne’s Southbank Promenade. Before European settlement, this area was a lush wetland teeming with fish and birdlife, extending from the banks of the Yarra to what is now Albert Park and supporting the indigenous peoples of the Woiwurung and Bunurong communities. But in the 1850s it became ‘Canvas Town’, where migrants and gold seekers first pitched their tents. Today, it’s a booming stretch of apartments, offices, hotels, shops, restaurants, squares, visitor attractions and urban art – once again a meeting and socialising place as it was for the original inhabitants of the area for thousands of generations. And a great place to view the contemporary city skyline.
Southbank Pedestrian Bridge (7)
Cross the Southbank Pedestrian Bridge which marks where a significant creek or tributary into the Yarra River once flowed. Elizabeth Street now covers where the creek originally ran, and still flows underground.
Flinders Walk (8) Sandridge Railway Bridge (9) Queen’s Bridge (10)
Heading west along Flinders Walk, pass under Sandridge Railway Bridge and you come to Queen’s Bridge just beyond the Banana Alley Vaults. In 1910, some 20,000 people watched Houdini dive into the river from this bridge, locked in chains. After 25 seconds, he came up laughing. Houdini’s spot was well chosen. The river is shallow here, where a three-metre waterfall originally prevented saltwater from entering the river. It was also the only place for miles where Aboriginal people could cross the river over a reef of rocks. They believed the falls were created by Bunjil (the eagle hawk), and in its original form the area was a habitat for animals and resources that weren’t found anywhere else.
In 1835 John Pascoe Fawkner’s ‘Enterprize’ sailed up the Yarra from Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) to create a commercial settlement. For the Indigenous people who had lived along the river for thousands of years, the landscape would change forever.
Enterprise Wharf (11) Constellation (12)
The Yarra’s waterfall was destroyed in the mid-19th century to allow the tall ships access to the wide basin or ‘pool’ of the Yarra, now recreated near Enterprise Wharf. Five carved figureheads titled Constellation evoke the spirit of these ships. However, the destruction of the waterfall also ruined the ecology of the area with salt water now flowing into the freshwater wetlands.
Immigration Museum (Formerly Customs House) (13)
Early port facilities were also located here, as well as bond stores and the Customs House, now the Immigration Museum. After gold was discovered in 1850 in Warrandyte, north east from Melbourne, thousands of people from all over the world descended on the city in their quest for fortune, and this natural harbour was their first port of call. The impact on the local Kulin population was devastating – the destruction of natural food sources and the introduction of diseases meant that the 1839 population of 1225 Indigenous people was reduced to just 181 by 1863.
Enterprise Park (14)
Enterprise Park is the site of the ‘Scar Project’. Traditionally, Indigenous people would take pieces of bark from some trees to make canoes, shields or baby cradles, and these ‘scar trees’ would serve as a signpost for other clans to know they had entered the land of another community. These trees are rare today, but for Aboriginal people they are very precious. The ‘Scar Project’, located here on the ‘pool’ of Melbourne, is representative of these scar trees and was constructed by Indigenous artists who used original wharf poles from Queens Bridge.
Melbourne Aquarium (15)
Walk past the popular Melbourne Aquarium that features a breathtaking underwater wonderland where children and adults can enjoy ‘fish-eye’ views of sea life and its many different creatures.
Batman Park (16) Spencer Street Footbridge (17) South Wharf (18) Dukes and Orrs docks (1875) (19) Polly Woodside (20)
Then cross to Batman Park and take Spencer Street Footbridge to South Wharf, and follow the river concourse to Dukes and Orrs docks (1875), now home to Polly Woodside.
Seafarers Bridge (21)
The Seafarers Bridge next to Dukes Dock will take you across the Yarra to the southern end of Docklands, Melbourne’s newest community, now home to thousands of residents and headquarters for several of Australia’s most successful companies. A ‘work in progress’, there’s a fantastic collection of outdoor public art throughout Docklands, and a growing number of restaurants and bars, events and parks and gardens.
Webb Bridge (22)
On South Wharf, continue to the spectacular Webb Bridge – a snaking pedestrian and cycle link between the Southbank promenade at Yarra’s Edge and the Docklands. Designed by Melbourne artist Robert Owen with architects Denton Corker Marshall, the design is an analogy of Koorie fishing traps, drums, baskets and the gestural flow of the river below.
South Wharf (23) Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre (24)
Walk back along the river past the retail outlets located in South Wharf. The Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, made up of convention and meeting spaces and a huge exhibition hall, it is the first ‘6 Star Green Star’ convention centre in the world and is a technological marvel designed with the environment in mind using fresh air, natural light and solar power. The entry-level foyer has an 18-metre-high glass wall façade overlooking the Yarra River. Every angle and level provides spectacular views of the city.
Take a leisurely stroll along the river as you walk back to Fed Square.