Friday, 15 January 2016

Freshwater Swimming in the Yarra River near Melbourne

Summer heat getting to you but you don't like baking beaches, sun-blasted sand, full parking lots with exorbitant fees, ques and crowds?  

The Yarra is the river that flows through Melbourne after a scenic 242 kilometre journey.  Most Melbournians would be unwilling to swim in the lower half of the river because of pollution, as well as its muddy nature.  The Yarra has a lot of sediment suspended in it and is almost never crystal-clear to look at, even higher up, where it is a tea-colour like rivers in Yorkshire, England, for example.  

In its upper stretches though, the river drains vast areas of protected pure mountainous forests and makes for excellent swimming in the warmer months.

If you know of other places, please add more areas in the comments section!

River traveller, Aussie style
A lot of people kayak down the river from as high up as Reefton, or drift down it on tyres or inflatable beds etc.  This can take a long time and carry you far from roads, so make sure that you know the area first.  Most hot days though, you will see little convoys of river-travellers going from one spot to another around Warburton, Millgrove, Yarra Junction and the Home Hotel.

The Upper Yarra (source)

From December to March, visit the EPA site to see how clean the water is HERE.  Usually people avoid swimming for two days after a lot of rain, which can wash things into the river.

Be aware of sunburn, snakes, and please don't leave litter.  Even better, bring a bag and take some home if you find any.

A great idea is to wear old runners or better yet 'surf or river shoes' because most of the riverbed is stony pebbles higher up the river, or mud lower down.


There are lots of places here, usually about waist-deep in summer.  You can access places from Jumping Creek reserve, but usually people swim off the rocks by the main bridge at the top of the town or at the famous Pound Bend.  As the name suggests, this is a deeper area at a large curve in the river, with the added interest of a historic tunnel from the gold mining era to explore.  Lots of good shallow pools for young children too.  Turn off from Warrandyte onto Everard Rd and you will see several swimming areas all along the river.  You can park above Pound bend and descend steep steps to it, but it is better to actually go into the reserve through the gate and park at the bottom right by it.  Koalas live along the river as well.

Yarra Junction

Behind the Doon Reserve caravan park, there is a small shallow beach, which can get crowded and noisy.  There is also foot access to a small shoulder-deep river bend nearby, where you can jump in and spend 15 minutes or so drifting around the bend on a lilo with a short walk back.  Accessible and popular with locals.


Just off Warburton Highway on Dee Rd, there are several areas offering great swimming.  Look for the roadside parking areas, including one by a small concrete water tank with steps.  This great area is about shoulder to waist deep and has small rapids as well as calm pools.  One of the best areas, being quiet and clean, with a cafe nearby.


Millgrove rapids


Definitely the King of Yarra swimming areas, the river behind the shops in town is excellent, with rocks, deeper ares and shaded grassy areas.  Easy access to beers, coffees and the Rainbow Ice Creamery is a bonus.


There is also a great spot just up the highway on the other side of East Warburton past the caravan park, where a signpost indicates the 'river walk'

Warburton East

Warburton East

McMahons Creek 

There is swimming at Little Peninsula Tunnel but I don't recommend it, since the pleasant picnic area that seems great for swimming is just upstream of the tunnel miners made in pioneering days.  Drift too far downstream and it is possible (likely) to get carried along downstream into it.  Going through the tunnel is downright risky, as I know from experience!  Drop into the brilliant Reefton Pub instead!

The pool around the exit of the Big Peninsular Tunnel is a bit better for a dip.


Laughing Waters is quite well-known, and can get fairly busy on hot days.  Parking can be a squeeze.  Good for a dip, but It can be underwhelming if you have explored other areas, as it is just a broad bend in the river much like many others, with some deep areas and a few rocky outcrops on the far side.  Tends to be muddy underfoot and litter from fishermen can be a problem, including lines, hooks and discarded smelly bait.  In general, the water quality is not great by the time you get this far downriver.

 Access is reasonable if you are driving from Eltham, but otherwise Warrandyte might be a better bet for swimming.  However, it is a fine place for drifting along on a lilo.

Mt Lofty, Wonga Park

This is one of the best areas around to see wide views of the ranges and bump into tame kangaroos.  Easy access from Lower Homestead Rd leads to a parking area by a canoe ramp.

Follow the path downstream for 5 or so minutes where the river makes an enormous, wide, slow bend and you will see several swimming spots.  One of the more popular ones is just past a very long bench at some small rocks and there are others further up.

As with any area this far down that is so slow-flowing, it must be said that with the muddy banks and murky water, it might be more fun to kayak or float along on a lilo than swim.  This doesn't stop people though, especially around the rope swing with its long drop.

Despite its name, you can get to the top of Mt Lofty in no time and it is not even steep, since you drive almost to the top.  To visit the little peak, park by a gate on the way back home and hop up the track for a few minutes.  The view is excellent.

Strong rope swing at Mt Lofty is popular with the teenagers

Bend of Islands

This is more of a long-lost adventure zone. For most Melburnians, it will be a long and intricate drive, but anyone living in the North East might like to see the Yarra at this fast-moving and rocky section.  The pictures below are taken in late summer, when swimming was easy enough.  At other times, the rapids could be quite fast-moving as the river splits apart and races through rocks around the eponymous islands.

This area is only a short walk from the car, but when you arrive, the river bank is quite narrow and wild.  There are remains of an old seat and canoe ramp, suggesting it was once better known.  

Park in Henley Road, as otherwise passing places will be blocked on Catani Blvd.

For access, you are looking for a short, overgrown path starting here:

Pink ribbon tied to trees helps leads you to the riverbank.

For extra detail, see my map:

For more instructions, I can do no better for directions than to point you to Brad Neal's excellent webpage, which has a link to a video showing where to go. 

The area that you arrive at (above) is quite good, but to see the best area, wander upstream about 50 metres and cross to the far bank.  This turns out to be an island, and a much larger area opens up (below).  I used two large fallen trees to cross and hardly touched the water until I was ready.  There are a couple of houses around, but you would likely have this area to yourself for hours apart from the wombats.

Kangaroo Ground

You can drive right down to the river at Bourchiers Road, turning off from the Kangaroo Ground-Yarra Glen Rd at the bend near the old (1851) cemetery.

This open, accessible and long-popular area has had its problems in the past, having had a reputation for skinny dipping shenanigans.  Outrageously, the council put up a gate for a 'trial closure' as late as 2018 to stop EVERYONE from getting in, despite it being a public road, allegedly  This all seems over now.

The area you arrive at is a tiny pebble beach, with more entry points scattered along the left bank for quite a long way upstream.


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  3. Superbly written guide, wow! I never knew most of these areas existed, such as Mt Lofty. I've driven past that turn off hundreds of times. What a view!!!

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