Discover Mandurah: A water wonderland and cultural gem

Julia D'Orazio — 31 May 2023
Western Australia's seaside city is brimming with colour and unexpected outdoor delights.

Mandurah is all about going with the flow. You can hardly escape the sight of water and it doesn't need much to encourage an active lifestyle. Western Australia's coastal city is bound by nature with vast waterways, soaring jarrah lands, calm beaches, autumn-coloured wetlands and rare rock-like thrombolites. Its cute mascot, the Indo-Pacific dolphin, animates the city's charm. 

Located just 70km south of Perth, the state's largest regional city is considered an extension of the west coast capital. If Perth is unhurried, Mandurah is in a permanently relaxed state. Like its bigger sister, it has a wealth of unique outdoor activities; however, its abundant wildlife makes it almost sinful to sit idle. With the minimal drive or boat time required to reach pristine surroundings, exploring is borderline effortless. The city's waterfront cafes, restaurants, bars and winery scene are just as enticing.

A burgeoning arts scene complements its natural assets. Much colour and character are peppered throughout with state-of-the-art sculptures, wooden fairy tale giants and 'crammable’ art trails. Yes, Mandurah thrives; it's a city that has undergone an illustrious transformation in the past few years. At the crux of it, Mandurah is a great add on to any Perth visit and appeals to all kinds of water babies, nature lovers and pleasure-seekers.

Enter water world

Mandurah is every bit the definition of a water world. The coastal city is in the heart of the Peel region, with its prized blue jewel, the Mandurah Estuary and Peel Inlet. It's rare to discuss the area, also known as the Peel-Harvey Estuary, and not acknowledge its enormity: it's more than twice the size of Sydney Harbour. This quiz night-worthy fact is something that tour guides and locals love to mention.

Mandurah Estuary (Image Visit Mandurah)

The complex waterway stretches 134sq km and is a hodgepodge of environments: shallow estuarine and saline waters, freshwater and brackish lakes and world-recognised wetlands. The Murray and Serpentine Rivers, which connect to the Indian Ocean via the artificial Dawesville Cut, feed into the waterway. It’s little wonder the waterway attracts more than 100 native and migratory bird species from as far as Alaska: an extra long-haul flight over 13,000km. With its sheer size and different sceneries, it's easily understandable why almost all the fun happens on or nearby water. 

Before I came close to anywhere near the seaside, I checked into the Mandurah Caravan and Tourist Park. The park offers powered concrete slab sites, some with private bathrooms, and unpowered grassed sites. It is a quirky place to call home with its fusion of Balinese and Tiki decor around the park, such as lion statues and wooden huts. It offers a slice of island life off the main drag, Pinjarra Road. From here, it's a 10-minute drive to the city centre, where real adventures await.

Murray River (Image Tourism WA)

Take me to the river

I bid farewell to the mainland to get my bearings in this southern city. Mandurah offers multiple excursions to experience its calm waterways, including jet skiing, novelty eco barbecue boats, scenic day cruises and a longer stint on a houseboat. Okay, I needed to be more game for the first option, but a day voyage to the Murray River provided a good insight into life on the water.

Locally owned Mandurah Cruises offers affordable lunch cruises from the town centre to the mouth of the Murray River. It is considered the state's most historically rich, utilised by Indigenous people and European settlers.

Creery Wetland Nature Reserve

Lasting 4.5 hours, it passages 'Dolphin Highway' along the Mandurah Estuary and passes red-tinged Samphire Creery Wetlands and Channel Island Nature Reserve. Bird lovers would appreciate the cruise, with plenty of bird sightings along the way. Exotic birds fanning their wings toward the sun is a common sight. So too are a bevy of black swans bopping along calm waters. 

It's not all about staying afloat, as we had a chance to step back in time to visit Coopers Mill. Accessible only by boat, the far-flung heritage-listed stone windmill at the tip of Cooleenup Island dates to 1846 and is a striking reminder of the area's agricultural legacy. Further up the banks of the river are houseboat moorings and homes dwarfed by looming jarrah forests. Its rural surroundings and modest houses starkly contrast the other seaside residences Mandurah is most famous for.

Getting caught up in window shopping for dream real estate is easy. Mandurah's famous canals are lined with mansion after mansion, with the most opulent million-dollar-plus manors boasting a private jetty to make the most of a picturesque location. Residents can cruise on a whim, spot passing dolphins, go fishing and cast a net for a Mandurah speciality — blue swimmer crabs — just off their doorstep. What a life.

Mandurah's own Venetian-style canals (Image Tourism WA)

Speaking of making the most of a good locale, come Christmas time, these canals are illuminated by what has become a city tradition, the Mandurah Christmas Lights. Canal residents go big by decorating their homes with excessive lights and festive displays. The area beams as bright as a mini-Las Vegas, with the neon spectacle reflected on the water, making it a glitzy affair. Night cruises operate over the festive season to make the most of the magical sight.

Artful trails

Mandurah may be big on nature, but its cultural scene is just as alluring. In recent times, the city has added artistic flair to its waterways. A dedicated Instagram Trail features 12 installations along Mandurah Ocean Marina, Mandurah Estuary and Mandjar Bay. Each artwork is distinct, some gimmicky and made for capturing, while others offer a place for reflection.

Mandurah War Memorial (Image Visit Mandurah)

The Mandurah War Memorial along the western foreshore is one of those to encourage contemplation. A series of white pillars convey the soldiers’ courageous crossing into conflict. Another one that provokes a sense of place is the foreshore's newest icon, The Meeting Place. Mandurah's latest marker fuses the city's past and present by exhibiting timber remnants of the Old Mandurah Bridge, encircled by an immersive eight-metre-tall contemporary sculpture. The circular structure projects sound and a multicoloured LED light show (at night) responsive to the estuary's current.

Kwillena Gabi Estuary Pool (Image Tourism WA)

Other snap-worthy attractions include the new Kwillena Gabi Estuary Pool along the eastern foreshore. The circular pool's name translates to 'Dolphin Waters', with a chance of seeing dolphins from this unique public pond high. Another architectural marvel to make the trail is Mandurah's version of the Venetian canals. Named after its European inspiration, it boasts a scenic lifestyle framed by modern high-rises and beautiful arched bridges.

The trail also features impressive 3D-illusion art paintings on public walls and floors, made for Instagram life-size frames and mural art — artworks to capture a selfie.

A giant adventure

Dolphins are not Mandurah's only endearing residents. 

Late last year saw the arrival of the Giants of Mandurah by Danish artist Thomas Dambo. The 'world-leading recycle artist' designed five fairy tale-like wooden giants as a free outdoor exhibition across Mandurah's various sceneries. Unfortunately, one giant, Vivi Cirkelstone, got burnt with a replacement soon to come. The giants are up to five metres tall and made with disused pallets and timbers. Like a fairy tale, spotting these doe-eyed residents involves a bit of adventure. 

Santi Ikto 

The whereabouts of these colossal characters are an exciting mystery to solve. Grab a map from the Mandurah Visitor Centre for a self-guided expedition to discover these giants in 'secret locations'. There's a message behind the fun run-around, with each discovery promoting sustainability with treading the giant's surrounding environments respectively. 

Seba's Song (Images Visit Mandurah)

Need help to crack codes? There are ways to dispel the mystery. The Bike Kiosk, next door to the visitor centre, offers a fun way to visit two giants — Santi Ikto and Seba's Song — on a guided e-bike tour. Trust me, it's worth opting for an e-bike to conserve leg power. I felt immersed in a storybook as I cycled from one guardian of the sea to the next, passing through extraordinary scenes. The tour covers slightly over 30km and skirts coastal bushlands in Halls Head, the channel's tip and through native bush corridors. It's nothing short of enchanting.

Savouring a taste of Mandurah

Another surprise about Mandurah is discovering its little-known winery scene. 

Kaleidoscope Tours runs intimate tours in the region, including all-day winery tours to showcase the region's fine drops. At the helm is former South African safari guide Paula, who joked, "Instead of taking people to the wild, we get wild." She didn't need to do much to garner enthusiasm. The tour makes three pitstops to the region's secreted vineyards and a hearty brewery lunch stop.

Northern Geographe winery, Vineyard 28, offers a taste of Italy with Italian-style wines, with speciality drops such as light dry red nebbiolo and table red dolcetto. The palette is sure to be cleansed at Lake Clifton Winery. This cleverly hidden vineyard is different from your average wine producer. It offers a range of fruit wines and funky concoctions. Unique blends include ginger, mango, and pear wine, all akin to a liquid dessert.

Peel Estate Wines (Image Visit Mandurah)

The tour also includes a stop at the Peel region's oldest vineyard, Peel Estate Wines. The award-winning vineyard's rustic setting and cellar door mezzanine overlooking aged wine barrels make it an enchanting visit. A drop of its delectable Zinfandel equally matches its warmth and cosiness. 

It's not all about tasting the finer things in life, as we came full circle to appreciate Mandurah's beauty spots. The tour includes a visit to Lake Clifton Thrombolites in Yalgorup National Park. Thrombolites, a series of rounded rock-like growths in shallow waters, are one of Earth's earliest life forms, some dating roughly 570 million years. These Mandurah residents are considered relatively young, however, around 2000 years old. It's easy to observe these rockstar retirees by taking a stroll along the boardwalk that extends over the lake.

Thrombolites in Yalgorup National Park (Image Tourism WA)

Mandurah covers a range of nature-based attractions, including wooden giants, living rocks and rolling vineyards against a tranquil backdrop — no wonder it delights on all fronts. 

Acknowledgement of Country

Mandurah resides on Gnaala Karla Booja country with the traditional custodians, the Binjareb people. It was first named 'Mandjoogoordap' (now known as Mandurah), which translated to 'meeting place of the heart'.

Fast Facts

Mandurah Caravan and Tourist Park
P: (08) 9535 1171

Kaleidoscope Tours
P: 0404 754 777

Mandurah Cruises
P: (08) 9581 1242

The Bike Kiosk
P: (08) 9513 1707


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Julia D'Orazio and supplied