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Discover the best swimming locations in Victoria, Australia including Lake Catani and Buchan Caves Reserve.
Written by Jade Thrupp
The warm weather is finally here, and relief from steamy days often comes in hasty, varied forms. For those who don’t live near a beach, want an Instagram-friendly way to cool down or can’t afford to spend every weekend in an air-conditioned cinema, freshwater swimming spots can be a great way to lower your core body temperature.
Here is a list of the best spots in Victoria to quell the heat without the sandy aftermath; whether you prefer the cool rush of a waterfall, a tranquil billabong or swimming hole in the bush, or a placid lake.
Just be mindful that, unlike popular beaches, these swimming holes aren’t patrolled, so always take note of prevailing conditions. In particular, check the water temperature – even in summer, alpine lakes can be very cold – and also check water depths.
Once home to a swimming club in the 1930s, the rushing Turpins Falls and billabong waters near Kyneton make up one of the most popular freshwater swimming spots in central Victoria. If you’re not put off by the chilly waters, swimmers at Turpins Falls can enjoy the tranquillity of being surrounded by rock formations in relative seclusion. The heat may inspire Melbourne day-trippers due to its proximity to the city (100km) so, as long as you’re a proficient swimmer and agile enough to access the difficult route to the water, these farmland falls offer a great opportunity to escape the heat.
Accessibility: Can be difficult. No wheelchair access. Proficiency: High. Water levels: Currently high. Water temperature: Very cold. Facilities: None Restrictions: Access to the top of the falls is closed. Visitors are required to observe signage. Children should be carefully supervised at all times. Jumping from the cliffs is strictly prohibited. Location: 155 Shillidays Rd, Langley (15km north of Kyneton).
Buchan Caves Reserve
Buchan Caves Reserve in Gippsland offers one of the more varied swimming experiences in Victoria. For those looking for an alternative to the beach, this spot has something for everybody. Within the reserve lies A. E. Lind swimming pool, which has been carved into limestone bedrock and is fed by an underground stream. The filtered water is clean and extremely cold, so you might need to take a break by walking through the caves to reset your body temperature and satisfy your geological curiosity. Guided tours are available so, if you’d like to stay longer and explore between refreshments, there are plenty of camping facilities. There are even Wilderness Retreats for those looking for a more luxurious camping experience.
Accessibility: Pathways are safe, firm and have rails. Non-slip shoes recommended. Proficiency: Intermediate. Water levels: Swimming pool filled up for the holiday period. Water temperature: Cold Facilities: Limestone caves are open daily for guided tours. Camping sites and cabins are available. Restrictions: Visitors keen to take a dip should contact the Caves Visitor Centre (5162 1900) to check availability. Location: Caves Road, Buchan (55km north of Lakes Entrance).
Laughing Waters is a series of pools separated by miniature rapids on the Yarra River at Eltham. While the native bushland may give the illusion of isolation, this spot is only 30 minutes from central Melbourne. As this popular swimming hole forms part of the Yarra, it’s also subject to contamination issues, so make sure you don’t put your head under. There are also no toilets in the area, so you might want to keep your head above water anyway.
Accessibility: Good. Proficiency: Intermediate. Water levels: Maintained through the Yarra. Facilities: None Restrictions: Beware of potential issues with water contamination Address: Warrandyte State Park, Laughing Waters Rd, Eltham
Pound Bend Tunnel
Pound Bend Tunnel at Warrandyte holds the dual benefit of being both a popular freshwater swimming nook and a naturally occurring spa. The rushing waters formed through the Yarra’s diversion tunnel provide relief for aching bones and ailing muscles. For those swimmers who prefer calmer waters or aren’t in need of spa treatment, there are shallower pools nearby for a gentler swimming experience.
Accessibility: No formed pathways through picnic areas. Some wheelchair access provided. Proficiency: High through the tunnel. Gentler pools nearby for less-proficient swimmers. Water levels: Maintained through the Yarra. Facilities: Picnic area, toilets and canoe ramps. Includes an Aboriginal Interpretive Signage Trail to explore the history and culture of the Wurundjeri history and culture linked to the site. Restrictions: No camping. Restricted opening times. Address: Warrandyte State Park, Pound Bend Road, Warrandyte
Waterfall walks in the Otways
Within the Great Otway National Park are rainforests that provide cool respite in summer. Waterfalls scattered throughout are popular attractions that afford opportunities for both a refreshing dip and follower-inducing Instagram imagery. These include the well-known Erskine Falls (10km north of Lorne) and the striking Triplet Falls, plus Beauchamp Falls and Hopetoun Falls (all near Beech Forest in the heart of the Otways).
Accessibility: Paths to the viewing areas are short and easy, but walking tracks are more difficult. Proficiency: High. Water levels: Waterfalls flow more frequently after periods of rain. Facilities: Carpark, toilets and picnic tables. Address: Great Otway National Park.
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Gooram Falls lie within the Seven Creeks Wildlife Reserve near Euroa and are a beautiful series of tumbling cascades plus a picnic spot from which you’ll be able to take in the picturesque view of the waters and surrounding bushland.
Accessibility: Two-wheel drive access to carpark. Proficiency: High. Water levels: Depending on rainfall. Facilities: Picnic tables, fireplaces and toilets are available at the Gooram Falls Day Visitor Area. Address: 1981 Euroa-Mansfield Road, Gooram (20km south of Euroa).
Lake Bolac in south-western Victoria was created around 20,000 years ago when volcanic lava flow formed a depression in the plain. Today, far from volcanic eruptions, swimmers flock to this freshwater haven to escape the heat. Covering 1460 hectares, the lake is also a superb recreational area for fishing, boating and sailing.
Accessibility: Easy. Proficiency: Beginner. Water levels: Maintained through the summer Facilities: Camping and toilets. Restrictions: Dogs permitted on lead. Address: Frontage Road, Lake Bolac (60km south of Ararat).
Surrounded by the mountains of Grampians National Park, Lake Bellfield offers the opportunity through its chilly waters to escape the summer heat. It’s also a short distance from Halls Gap, where you can stock up for a picnic at the Lake Bellfield Picnic Area.
Accessibility: Easy. Proficiency: Intermediate. Water levels: High. Water temperature: Cold. Facilities: Picnic area and toilets. Camping is available nearby. Restrictions: Powerboats not permitted. Address: Grampians Rd, Bellfield (5km south of Halls Gap).
An oval-shaped gorge in picturesque surrounds, Blue Lake is found in an old quarry in Plenty Gorge in Melbourne’s outer north and sits between trees and a vertical cliff face. It’s a great place for Melbourne day-trippers to take a relaxing picnic by the cool waters.
Accessibility: No paved paths, limited accessibility. Proficiency: Intermediate/high. Water levels: High. Facilities: Camping available with restrictions. Toilets. Barbecues. Restrictions: Dogs are only permitted in specific areas. No fires in the park. Address: Plenty Gorge Park, Goldsworthy Lane, Plenty (via Greensborough).
Blue Rock Lake
Blue Rock Lake in West Gippsland features two designated swimming areas, including the popular area west of Willow Grove which includes a picnic area. The 50-metre wide swimming area offers a cool reprieve from the sun.
Accessibility: Easy. Proficiency: Beginners. Water levels: 2 metres-plus Water temperature: Mild. Facilities: Picnic tables, barbecues, toilets, carpark. Restrictions: Dogs must be on a leash. Camping, fires or errand rubbish not allowed. Opening hours and designated swimming areas apply. Address: Blue Rock Lake Recreation Area, Old Tanjil Rd, Willow Grove (20km north-west of Moe).
St Georges Lake
A popular spot at Creswick in Victoria’s Goldfields region, St Georges boasts sand and lawn areas for those looking to relax between swims. There is a shallow beach towards the western end of the lake but beware that it is also near a steep drop-off.
Accessibility: Easy. Proficiency: Beginners to experienced. Water levels: Maintained through summer Facilities: Free gas barbecue, toilets. Restrictions: No camping or powered boats. Dogs permitted on lead. Address: St Georges Lake Road, Creswick (20km north of Ballarat)
Lake Catani in Mount Buffalo National Park is home to clear water and a grand alpine landscape. For longer trips, it’s a great place to camp and has excellent facilities. If you’re able to get a booking on the campsite, you can fill your days with swimming, canoeing or cycling around the lake.
Accessibility: Easy. Proficiency: Medium. Water levels: Usually consistent, check with Parks Victoria. Water temperature: Cold. Facilities: Camping is available (bookings required), with toilets, hot showers and tables. Address:Mount Buffalo National Park (37km west of Bright).
A manufactured lake in the foothills of the Dandenongs east of Melbourne, Lysterfield Lake is perfect for water-based recreation. The lake contains clear water and is milder than some of the other freshwater spots on the list. If time permits, take time for non-water based activity such as the Acacia Nature Walk through the forest around the lake.
Accessibility: Some shores are inaccessible by foot. Proficiency: Beginner Water levels: Usually consistent, check with Parks Victoria. Facilities: Picnic area (including barbecues), parking and bike paths. Restrictions: Pets not permitted. Opening times and designated swimming areas apply. Address: Horswood Rd, Lysterfield (10km east of Dandenong).
While natural water environments can be a great alternative to pools and crowded beaches, they can also be deceptively hazardous. The Royal Life Saving Society’s Respect the River Project found that most drowning deaths in Australia occur in inland waterways. Between 1 July 2002 and 30 June 2017, there were 1113 drowning deaths in Australian rivers, creeks and streams, compared with 706 drownings at beaches and 634 in swimming pools.
There are numerous reasons why inland waterways present a drowning hazard. For instance, many swimming holes are noted as having very cold water and could therefore pose a hypothermia risk. Seemingly tranquil swimming spots may appear calm on the surface but be subject to sudden change in conditions, could have a strong current or undertow, be shallower or deeper than expected, or have objects below the surface. These spots are also not patrolled by lifeguards.
Click here more information on the statistics provided by the Respect the River projects