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

Travelling Well | Jade Thrupp | Posted on 10 October 2018

Beat the heat and crowded beaches this summer with these 15 top Victorian spots to cool off.

The warm weather is on its way, and if you're looking to avoid the beach crowds, 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. In particular, check water depths and temperature – even in summer, alpine lakes can be very cold. 

Lake Catani Lake Catani,

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

Turpins Falls

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 (100 kilometres) 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.
  • Swimming proficiency: High.
  • Water levels: Medium.
  • Water temperature: Very cold.
  • Facilities: Footpath and viewing platform.
  • Restrictions: Access to the top of the falls is closed. Visitors are required to observe signage. Children should be carefully supervised at all times. 
  • Dogs: Permitted on a leash.
  • 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, 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. A Stairclimber is available for visitors with a disability to enjoy the Fairy Cave within the reserve. 
  • Swimming 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.
  • Dogs: Not permitted. 
  • Location: Caves Road, Buchan (55km north of Lakes Entrance).
 Backpackers at Beauchamp falls in Great Otway national park Victoria Australia

Beauchamp falls in Great Otway National Park, Australia. Source: Getty Images.

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.
  • Water levels: Maintained through the Yarra. 
  • 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: Warrandyte State Park, Laughing Waters Rd, Eltham

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 throughout December and try to spot a Peregrine falcon.  

  • Accessibility: Parking available. Accessible walking tracks throughout the forest.
  • Swimming proficiency: Easy.
  • Water levels: Dependent on seasonal conditions. Lack of rainfall throughout dry periods may affect water levels. 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.
  • Water temperature: Cold.
  • Facilities: Picnic spots, barbecues, shelters, toilets.
  • Dogs: Permitted on a lead.
  • Restrictions: No fishing, canoeing or kayaking.

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.
  • 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. Entering the nearby diversion tunnel is dangerous and not advised. 
  • Dogs: Not permitted.
  • Address: Warrandyte State Park, Pound Bend Road, Warrandyte.
Two boys in a swimming hole on a beautiful summer afternoon

Two boys in a swimming hole on a beautiful summer afternoon. Photo: Getty Images.

a couple watch the sun set over lake catani

Lake Catani.

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 (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.
  • Water levels: Waterfalls flow more frequently after periods of rain.
  • Facilities: Carpark, toilets and picnic tables.
  • Restrictions: Swimming not permitted.
  • Dogs: Not permitted.
  • Address: Great Otway National Park.

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
  • Water levels: Medium..
  • Facilities: Picnic tables, fireplaces and toilets are available at the Gooram Falls Day Visitor Area.
  • Dogs: Not permitted.
  • Address: 1981 Euroa-Mansfield Road, Gooram (20km south of Euroa).

Lake Bolac

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.
  • Swimming proficiency: Beginner.
  • Water levels: Maintained through the summer through rainfall. Dry periods expected this season.
  • Facilities: Camping and toilets. 
  • Restrictions: Boats permitted. 
  • Dogs: Permitted on lead. 
  • Address: Frontage Road, Lake Bolac (60km south of Ararat). 

Lake Bellfield

Surrounded by the mountains of Grampians National Park, enjoying 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 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).
Peregrine Falcon perched

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

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 levels: 2 metres-plus
  • 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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

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 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).

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.
  • Water levels: Usually consistent, check with Parks Victoria.
  • 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.
  • Address: Horswood Rd, Lysterfield (10km east of Dandenong).
Gooram falls seven creeks wildlife reserve watering hole Gooram Falls, Victoria. Source: Parks Victoria
Gooram falls seven creeks wildlife reserve watering hole Gooram Falls, Victoria. Source: Parks Victoria

Gooram Falls, Victoria. Source: Parks Victoria.

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 levels: Low to medium. Maintained through the Loddon River. 
  • 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.
  • Address: Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park  (120km north of Melbourne).

MacKenzie’s 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.
  • Water levels: Low to medium.
  • Water temperature: Cold. 
  • Facilities: Picnic area, electric BBQs, toilet facilities.
  • Restrictions: Camping and fires aren't permitted. 
  • Dogs: Not permitted.
  • Address: The end of the Lerderderg Gorge Road, Lerderderg State Park.

One more thing…

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.

It’s also important to check the prevailing conditions before heading into an area at risk of natural hazards. During the dry season, make sure that you’re aware of where current fires are burning and which areas pose a risk of bushfires.

Remember to:

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