Canoeing the Margaret River with Margaret River Discovery Co. Credit Tourism WA.

The rivers of the Margaret River Region are as integral to the magic of the South West’s landscape as the sea, trees and beaches.

From the magnificent Blackwood to the secluded Margaret River and the world-class Vasse Wonnerup Wetlands – the rivers of the Margaret River Region each have their own flora, fauna and adventure to offer.

Blackwood River Houseboats Augusta
Blackwood River, Augusta.

Pamela Winter has been running Blackwood River Houseboats since 2001 and says that the experience of lazily guiding your houseboat through the waterway as it winds through 28km of national park is a revelation for many guests.

“It is a pretty laid-back break that really makes you stop and rest,” says Pamela. “It is beautiful to get rocked off to sleep at night, and often it is just you and the Milky Way because there are not a lot of people on the river, particularly midweek.

“One customer came back just today calling it a ‘hidden gem’ saying he was shocked by how few people there were along the way.”

Graeme Challis of Augusta River Tours has grown up on the river, and has amazing local knowledge of the area – and plenty of stories to tell. He says that the fact the Blackwood is the longest flowing river in the south west makes it really special, and because it is always changing there is so much to see. From the Rivermouth to the Hardy Inlet, the scope of wildlife is incredible.

It is unusual not to encounter the resident pod of dolphins along the route (particularly in summer) and the abundant birdlife is always a feature. There’s a strong local pelican population, avocets, spoonbills, pied oystercatchers and a flock of musk ducks who scurry along the surface of the river flapping their little wings and disappearing when they dive.

Blackwood River Houseboats Augusta
Blackwood River Houseboats.

Windsurfing champ and lifelong water sports enthusiast Simon Peters hosts a Stand-Up Paddle Scenic River Tour on the Blackwood where participants learn how to steer a board through the fallen logs on the narrow Chapman Brook on the way to the bigger waterway.

“Wobbly knees gradually get strong and within five minutes most people start to feel confident on the basics as we paddle along through the natural forest,” says Simon. “It’s completely safe, of course, but the natural bush of the surrounding park and the sense of isolation and wilderness gives it a real adventure feel.”

Helen Lee, also known as The Bushtucker Woman, runs the Bushtucker Canoe Tours on the much smaller Margaret River and says if you want seclusion then this is the river for you.

Helen has been working on the river with local and regional conservation groups for 25 years and has seen it transformed back to good health through good management practices. Named by The National Rivers Council as one of the best kept eco systems in Australia, Helen thinks the river itself is the jewel in the Margaret River Region.

“The river has gone from being quite a backwater when I first started, where the banks were exposed to too much heat because the town was basically using up all the water, to a place teeming with long-necked turtles, fish and marron,” she says.

Helen counts the relative difficulty of access as a plus and says once there, among the paperbark trees in an area she calls nature’s dining room, you are in for a truly unique experience. A number of tours include a showcase of wild foods found in the area. Her must-try pick is the Carpobrotus Virescens (also known as Pigface) which, if turned upside down and squeezed, pops out a juicy, high in vitamin C delicious fig.

the natural bush of the surrounding park and the sense of isolation and wilderness gives it a real adventure feel

Vasse Wonnerup Wetlands Birdwatching
Birdwatching at the Vasse Wonnerup Wetlands

If birdlife is your particular passion, the Vasse Wonnerup Wetlands, fed by the Vasse river on the outskirts of Busselton, is said to have the highest concentration of birdlife in Australia and is listed under the Ramsar Convention as a wetland of international importance.

The wetlands cycle through dramatic seasonal changes from abundant flooding to shallow mudflats, and play host to changing populations of over 90 species of birdlife, many of them rare.

Some are locals, some are only visiting but all are visible from well-placed hides and a network of walk trails.

Even if you don’t know your tattlers from your warblers or your shovelers from your coots this is an experience to covet.

Fast Facts

Rivers of the Region

Blackwood River – The River begins at the junction of Arthur River and Balgarup River and travels in a south westerly direction through Bridgetown and Nannup until it discharges into the ocean at Hardy Inlet near Augusta. It has 41 tributaries and at 300km, it is the longest river in the South West.

Margaret River – This river arises from a catchment of 40sqkm in the Whicher Range and extends for 60km. The middle passes through land cleared for agriculture and viticulture and the mouth of the river is a small estuary, closed to the Indian Ocean by a sandbar.

Vasse River and Vasse Wonnerup Wetland – The headwaters of the river are in the Whicher Range and flow in a northerly direction through Busselton and thereafter the Vasse Estuary to the Indian Ocean via Wonnerup Inlet and Geographe Bay. The basin area is over 230km and the length is 32km. The Vasse Wonnerup Wetlands receive flow from the Vasse, Sabina, Abba and Ludlow rivers.

Margaret River Discovery Tours
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