Heirisson Island sits in the middle of Perth’s Swan River and is the perfect place to experience some Western Australian wildlife and nature whilst remaining smack bang in the middle of the city. Located just a 15-minute walk or short bus ride from the City of Perth, this unspoilt island is a haven for all things nature and your chance to get away from the busy city life.
The single island does represent a bit of a paradox for locals, however. Heirisson Island exists both north and south of the river simultaneously, making it pretty much impossible to navigate. (Everything in Perth exists either north or south of the river)
Despite locals being confused about its existence, Heirisson Island is very easy to get to. Located between South Perth CBD and Victoria Park, there’s parking available or bus stops a short walk away.
When you do make it, you can choose to hang out at one of the many picnic tables, sprawl out on the grass by the water or just take a leisurely stroll around the island. There’s also a friendly family of kangaroos that live a short walk from the car park giving you the chance to get up close and personal with a real Aussie icon.
Heirisson Island is also an important Aboriginal cultural site and is referred to as Matagarup, meaning a place where the water is knee-deep. Matagarup Bridge, the large winding bridge that connects Optus Stadium to Perth city is also viewable from the islands northeastern edge, making for some amazing sunrises.
So if you’re thinking about checking out Perth’s own little island getaway, don’t put it off any longer. Head to this magnificent island and let nature begin.
Here are some of the best things to do while you’re there.
Visit the Kangaroos
Ok, this is probably the most well-known of all the activities people do on Heirisson Island and is definitely the most popular. Where else can you see Kangaroos freely roaming around literally minutes from the city centre? Heirisson Island is home to six Western Grey Kangaroos which are native to Western Australia.
The kangaroo sanctuary is located on the west side of the island, meaning if you park in the car park, you’ll need to walk over the causeway bridge.
Please be respectful of all native animals, including the kangaroos and ensure you never feed them. They are wild animals and should be treated as such.
The Heirisson Island wetlands are popular with fishermen as they contain some of the best fishing spots in central Perth. Fishing from the shore is permitted and does not require a fishing license. Just make sure you abide by the fishing rules and regulations, including
not keeping your catch unless it is to size.
Dolphins and sometimes sharks are known to frequent the swan river so keep an eye out for these beautiful animals and don’t go catching any of them.
Take in the View
Sometimes the best activity is one that requires the least amount of work. Sit back and enjoy the scenery while the native wildlife goes about their own business. The city views are incredible and you’ll be able to see the Matagarup bridge and Optus Stadium from multiple angles, including a spectacular sunrise on the eastern edge if you arrive early enough.
If sunsets are more your thing we encourage you to head to the western side of the island where you’ll be able to spend hours watching the sun slowly dip below the horizon and the Perth skyline as the city lights come to life.
Take a picnic or crank up the bbq
On the eastern side of the island, you can find well-maintained barbeque facilities and picnic tables. If you’d prefer to bring your own food, there is plenty of open space to spread out with a blanket and enjoy yourself.
Take a Walk
While you’re here you might as well take in all that the island has to offer and get on the walking path. A walk around the entire island will take about half an hour and there are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the sights. Keep an eye out for the different types of native flora and fauna and take some time to appreciate the fact that you’re surrounded by nature in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city of Perth.
For those with furry friends, dogs are only permitted on the eastern side of the island.
Save a moment of thought for the original owners of the land
Heirisson Island is an important site for Aboriginal people, so make sure you take a moment of thought for the people who lived there before the British settlers. It’s only through good fortune that this beautiful island has managed to remain untouched throughout Perth’s rapid expansion over the past century.
The island was traditionally the home of the Beeloo Noongar peoples and the mud flats that line the Swan River are thought to be the site of their first meeting with Europeans.
On the western end of the island, you’ll also find a statue of a local Aboriginal leader named Yagan. Yagan’s tale is one that still echoes throughout WA’s history today. Read more about Yagan here.
One thing that can’t be denied is Heirisson Islands stunning beauty and the island is a microcosm of Western Australia’s diverse flora and fauna. It’s well worth the trip and a great way to experience some natural beauty while still being close to the city of Perth and the Swan River.
Heirisson Island has a long and significant history for the indigenous people of the area. The area is home to the Beeloo Noongar people who lived by the Swan River and are the traditional custodians of the land. The low lying water and mud flats of the area, named Matagarup was an important crossing spot to cross the Swan River for the Aboriginal communities and individuals that would travel through the area.
Local Aboriginal history recounts that the Waugul, the Noongar representation of the Rainbow Serpent, created the Swan and surrounding rivers.
The first Europeans to visit the area were Dutch (Flemish) explorer Willem de Vlamingh in 1697, some 132 years before the Swan River Colony was established. Willem found as with the explorers who followed that the mud flats and chain of islands made travelling past this point in the river pretty much impossible by boat.
Heirisson Island gets its European name from a Frenchman midshipman who was onboard a scientific expedition French ship, that explored much of Western Australia’s coast, named the Le Naturaliste. The midshipman was Francois-Antoine Boniface Heirisson.
These early explorations up the Swan River are thought to be the site where the Beeloo Noongar people or at least a group of Aboriginal men and women came across Europeans for the first time.
English colonisation came to Western Australia and the areas around the Swan River in 1829 and Heirisson Island was quickly recognised as a place of strategic significance and was work on a bridge connecting North and South Perth was begun in 1839. The ’causeway’ would undergo a series of rebuilds and repairs until the bridge and single island we know today was opened in 1952.
Over the years Heirisson Island would find itself in the spotlight after a number of aboriginal protests and encampments were held on the island.
in 2012 a tent embassy was established on the island to protest over the government plans to end native title rights to large areas of land in the state. The tent embassy would grow in gather the support of locals, non-indigenous people, backpackers as well as some of Perth’s homeless people.
While in 2015 another ‘refugee camp’ was set up by aboriginal protesters in opposition to the government’s plans for future development of the culturally significant site.
Untitled Perth would like to acknowledge that Aboriginal land was never ceded to the British Empire and that the City of Perth and its surroundings are part of the Whadjuk Noongar peoples lands.
The background image is courtesy of Tourism WA