‘Professional Punting’ has a new meaning in Australia and it’s nothing to do with horses, but with boating in both luxury and style on the stunning ten-acre Ornamental Lake in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Melbourne.
What could be more relaxing than strolling, and now punting on the lake of one of the oldest and most renowned of Australia’s early botanic gardens, which is a treasured part of Melbourne’s heritage and cultural life dating back to early settlement.
It’s no surprise really, Melbourne people are so very avant-garde and always at the forefront of fashionable trends, although this one looks set to stay and become a traditional aspect of the whole gardens experience.
It’s also a first for Australia and for Melbourne.
The discovery of the fantastic Punt Tours and their all new rides was made when I was enjoying my first daily walk to the gardens for the New Year and came across the hand crafted punt boats, jetty and ticketing box.
The punts being used at Melbourne are extremely decorative, taking their format from those for hire at Cambridge and Oxford in England, where people have been boating, or punting on the Thames for more than a century. Made from Jarrah and Victorian Ash, the punts have been lovingly crafted to the classic ‘Cambridge design’ and then fitted out with delightful seats with damask cushions.
The stylish jetty has been put in place nearby to the central café hub on the edge of the gardens biggest lake with ticket selling on site as well as by phone.
Sitting back and entirely relaxing while Grant, who looked most very stylish standing on the stern in his taupe trousers, red vest, striped tie and red ribbon decorated boater, poled me around was a special treat and a very pleasant, peaceful interlude.
There are plans afoot co-proprietor of Punt Tours in Australia Nicki Baird was telling me, to also include a champagne repast on the lake while you glide along, with the tour company working with the nearby café to also provide boxed lunches and beverages.
Marketing opportunity prospects abound!
This very welcome addition to daily life in the gardens will happen ever day except for Xmas Day and weather permitting, a necessary thing to say about any outdoor ‘leisure’ activity in Melbourne.
Punt Tours are ‘professional punters’ who will give you and your loved one, family and friends a guided half hour tour while telling you about the history of the gardens, the wildlife and the plants you are passing.
The unhurried tour included navigating the new and many man-made islands on the lake, which are covered in very special plants. They are an aspect of a major ongoing ‘wetlands’ project in the gardens, where water quality is receiving special attention, safeguarding the lake’s ecological environment.
A punt is basically a flat-bottomed boat and they have been used for centuries on rivers and lakes all over the world to ferry people from one side of the shore to the other.
In the early days of the colony in Australia they were a must to navigate waterways and harbours prior to bridges being built.
Punting on the River Thames gained great popularity in the summer time during the late Victorian and Edwardian age in England, when life was taken at a far more leisurely pace than today.
It has enjoyed a resurgence of interest and popularity in recent years, as the frenetic pace of life has people searching once more for ‘quiet time out’ in a place that’s easily accessible.
It’s interesting to note that Punting on the Avon in Christchurch New Zealand is one of its ‘special attractions’ and it’s also amazing that no one has thought of starting it here before.
Good on Nicki and Wesley Golledge for being prepared to take the risks involved, spend two years negotiating it all so that they can enrich our cultural and leisure life.
The Royal Botanical Gardens are easily accessible in Melbourne, nearby the city they are in South Yarra nearby to Government House, the War Memorial, the Domain Road Restaurants and Cafe’s and all the sporting arenas.
Tourists staying in the city can enjoy a leisurely walk out from Federation Square along the Yarra (Alexandra Avenue) to reach it, or catch a tram or train.
It differs from a gondola at Venice, which while it is also flat-bottomed, is propelled by a giant oar.
In England punting today takes place in many destinations, and it will be interesting to see if other gardens in Australia that have a lake follow suit.
Centennial Park in Sydney comes to mind as another perfect place to punt if the trustees there can get their heads around it.
In fact in Melbourne the black swans are so immensely curious they swim right alongside giving ‘punters’ a close up personal encounter of the delightful nature kind.
Must say that I personally enjoyed my time out afloat immensely, although from my perspective the addition of a tenor singing nearby would have been nice, a welcome addition. After all we are a multi cultural society and so we could do it a bit differently to the Poms, bless them.
The Punt Tours people are friendly, the atmosphere divine, the pace relaxed and the whole experience entirely pleasurable.
What more could anyone wish for.
Carolyn McDowall, Writer, Publisher, The Culture Concept Circle 2013
Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne
Length of Tour: 30 Minutes
You can book a family, adult or child ticket and children four years of age and under travel free.
Enquiries 0481 455 410
Summertime 10am to 6pm
Wintertime 10am to 4pm
Nearest Entrance Gate A,
Corner Alexandra Avenue and Anderson Streets, South Yarra