Best spots to cool off in summer (that aren't the beach)

Backpacker at Beauchamp Falls

Jade Thrupp

Posted January 11, 2021

Beat the heat and crowded beaches this summer with these 12 top Victorian spots to cool off.

If you’re looking to avoid the beach crowds this summer, there are plenty of beautiful places around the state to cool off, from rainforests to rivers, waterfalls and lakes.

Just be mindful that unlike popular beaches, these spots aren’t patrolled, so if you’re planning on swimming always observe signage and take note of prevailing conditions. The Royal Life Saving Society reports that more drownings occur in Australian rivers, creeks and streams than at beaches.

So as well as the usual swimming safety precautions of following signage, avoiding swimming alone and keeping children within arm’s reach, it’s also important to check water depths and temperature before taking the plunge in inland waterways. Even in summer, alpine lakes can be breathtakingly cold and present the risk of hypothermia. Seemingly tranquil waters may also conceal a strong current or undertow, may be deeper or shallower than you think or can conceal objects below the surface.

And before you head into bushland areas, be sure to check prevailing conditions, including current fire or flood warnings.

Also be aware that water levels can vary depending on rainfall and seasonal conditions.

Lake Catani in Mount Buffalo National Park

Lake Catani, Mount Buffalo National Park. Photo: Getty Images

1. Pound Bend Reserve

Pound Bend Reserve at Warrandyte is a popular freshwater swimming nook with shallow pools for a gentle swimming experience.

  • Accessibility: Formed pathways through picnic areas. Some wheelchair access provided.
  • Swimming proficiency: Intermediate.
  • 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. Entering the nearby diversion tunnel is dangerous and not advised.
  • Dogs: Not permitted.
  • Location: Warrandyte State Park, Pound Bend Road, Warrandyte.

2. Lake Catani

Lake Catani in Mount Buffalo National Park is home to clear water and a grand alpine landscape. It’s also 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.
  • Swimming proficiency: Medium.
  • Water temperature: Cold.
  • Facilities: Camping is available (bookings required), with toilets, hot showers and tables.
  • Location: Mount Buffalo National Park (37 kilometres west of Bright).

3. Laughing Waters

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.

  • Accessibility: Access via the narrow and steep dirt road is poor.
  • Swimming proficiency: Intermediate.
  • Facilities: None
  • Restrictions: Due to narrow, dead-end access road, entry is not advised in times of high fire danger. Beware of potential issues with water contamination.
  • Location: Laughing Waters Road, Eltham

4. Waterfall walks in the Otways

Within the Great Otway National Park are rainforests that provide a cool respite in summer. Refreshing waterfalls are scattered throughout and, while swimming is not allowed, they offer a cool mist and opportunities for loads of Insta-friendly snapping. These include the well-known Erskine Falls (10 kilometres 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.
  • Facilities: Carpark, toilets and picnic tables.
  • Restrictions: Swimming not permitted.
  • Dogs: Not permitted.
  • Location: Various locations, Great Otway National Park.
Peregrine falcon

Spot a peregrine falcon in the Briagolong State Forest. Photo: Getty Images

5. Blue Pool

Situated in the Briagolong State Forest, Blue Pool is the perfect summer retreat. The popular swimming hole sits within a gorge in Freestone Creek and offers both cool, calm waters as well as all the natural delights the forest has to offer. Head to the Peregrine walking track and try to spot a Peregrine falcon.

  • Accessibility: Parking available. Accessible walking tracks throughout the forest.
  • Swimming proficiency: Easy.
  • Water temperature: Cold.
  • Facilities: Picnic spots, barbecues, shelters, toilets.
  • Dogs: Permitted on a lead.
  • Restrictions: No fishing, canoeing or kayaking. Periods of high visitation and lack of water flow may result in contamination from algal blooms. Contact 136 186 if you have any queries before attending.
  • Location: Freestone Creek Road, Briagolong State Forest.

6. Gooram Falls

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.
  • Swimming proficiency: High
  • Facilities: Picnic tables, fireplaces and toilets are available at the Gooram Falls Day Visitor Area.
  • Dogs: Not permitted.
  • Location: 1981 Euroa-Mansfield Road, Gooram (20 kilometres south of Euroa).

7. Lake Bellfield

Surrounded by the mountains of Grampians National Park, taking in Lake Bellfield’s chilly waters is a great way to escape the summer heat. It’s also a short distance from Halls Gap, where you can stock up on supplies for a picnic.

  • Accessibility: Easy.
  • Swimming proficiency: Intermediate.
  • Water temperature: Cold.
  • Facilities: Picnic area and toilets. Camping is available nearby.
  • Restrictions: Powerboats not permitted.
  • Location: Grampians Road, Bellfield (five kilometres south of Halls Gap).

8. Blue Rock Lake

Blue Rock Lake in West Gippsland features two designated swimming areas, including the popular area with a picnic spot west of Willow Grove. The 50-metre-wide swimming area offers a cool reprieve from the sun.

  • Accessibility: Easy.
  • Swimming proficiency: Beginners.
  • Water temperature: Mild.
  • Facilities: Picnic tables, barbecues, toilets, carpark.
  • Restrictions: Dogs must be on a leash. Camping, fires and rubbish not allowed. Opening hours and designated swimming areas apply. Blue green algae outbreaks may occasionally affect access.
  • Location: Blue Rock Lake Recreation Area, Old Tanjil Road, Willow Grove (20 kilometres north-west of Moe).
Beauchamp waterfall

Beauchamp falls in Great Otway National Park. Photo: Getty Images

9. St Georges Lake

A popular spot at Creswick in Victoria’s Goldfields region, St Georges Lake is big and allows for good water play, and also boasts lawn areas for those looking to relax between swims. The shallow ‘beach’ area is great for paddling, but be aware that it drops off steeply.

  • Accessibility: Easy.
  • Swimming proficiency: Beginners to experienced.
  • Facilities: Free gas barbecue, toilets.
  • Restrictions: No camping or powered boats
  • Dogs: Permitted on lead.
  • Location: St Georges Lake Road, Creswick (20 kilometres north of Ballarat).

10. Lysterfield Lake

A manufactured lake in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges east of Melbourne, Lysterfield Lake is perfect for water-based recreation. The lake contains two designated swimming beaches with clear water and milder temperatures. If time permits, enjoy the Acacia Nature Walk through the forest around the lake.

  • Accessibility: Visitors with limited mobility can enjoy Lysterfield Park, which has ramped access and accessible toilets. Some shores are inaccessible by foot.
  • Swimming proficiency: Beginner.
  • Facilities: Picnic area (including barbecues), parking and bike paths.
  • Restrictions: Opening times and designated swimming areas apply. Some areas marked as no swimming due to steep drop-offs and unknown depths.
  • Dogs: Not permitted.
  • Location: Horswood Road, Lysterfield (10 kilometres east of Dandenong).

11. Vaughan Springs

Drive an hour south of Bendigo and you’ll reach the cool, calm waters of Vaughan Springs. This waterhole includes grassy picnic areas, a kids’ slide and camping facilities for those who want to bask in the tranquil spring a little longer.

  • Accessibility: Good.
  • Swimming proficiency: Beginner.
  • Water temperature: Cool.
  • Facilities: Camping is available at the Upper Terrace Campground. Toilets and electric barbecues are available for cooking.
  • Restrictions: Fires aren’t permitted.
  • Dogs: Not permitted.
  • Location: Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park (120 kilometres north of Melbourne).

12. MacKenzies Flat Picnic Area

Pop a picnic basket and your bathers in the car and head to Mackenzies Flat. Here you’ll find perfect surrounds for a balmy day, with a lawn area and shallow water to splash around in.

  • Accessibility: Good.
  • Swimming proficiency: Intermediate.
  • Facilities: Picnic area, toilet facilities.
  • Restrictions: Camping and fires aren't permitted.
  • Dogs: Not permitted.
  • Location: The end of Lerderderg Gorge Road, Lerderderg State Park.

Safety first...

Before heading off remember to:

  • Familiarise yourself with bushwalking safety
  • Keep an eye on current incidents
  • Stay away from fire affected areas
  • Check in with the Country Fire Authority for a list of fire bans and ratings
  • Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return.
  • And when you’re there, always follow the signage, check water depths and temperature before plunging in, and never take your eye off children near water.

This article sources information, with permission, from the Guide to Freshwater Swimming Holes in Victoria, as published online at Swimming Hole Heaven in Victoria.

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