Cascades is a fishing area, swimming hole and a scenic lookout along the Queanbeyan River, downstream from Googong Dam - half an hour south west of Canberra city. For the locals of Googong and nearby Queanbeyan, it is a popular place to visit in the summer months to cool off in the fresh, icy waters - even though there are warning signs advising against it. I have personally been meaning to visit this area, after watching a stunning YouTube clip from a local who flew a drone over the gorge - see the video here. In the clip, you can clearly see the lookout over the gorge, so I set off from Canberra to track it down and appreciated the views and pristine, quiet wilderness.
The cascading water of Cascades (spot the fly fisherman on the right of the photo!)
To get there, drive along Googong Road, past the township of Googong and down through the gates into the national park. On the way along the winding road, look out for the Cascades turn-off on the left hand side. Less than 50 metres down the road, there is another sign to turn right into the car park for the walk. When you first drive in, it doesn't look like the start of a scenic walk, as there is a buzzing electricity substation to the right and an old office building to the left, which is the Googong Pump Station. At the end of the car park however, is a small sign which sends you in the right direction. Although it is just a 100 metre walk to the lookout and gorge, it certainly feels like an unusual adventure awaits!
After walking a short way through the bushland, next to the Googong Pump Station, the path then turns right and leads out onto a closed-off, sealed road. Walk along this road to the end and you will see warning signs explaining the rules and safety restrictions of this popular area. Although many people swim in at Cascades in summer, it is advised not to do so, due to the changing water levels and dangerous conditions. Although Googong Dam itself is a water supply for the area and you can't swim in it, this part of the Queanbeyan River, on the other side of the dam wall, isn't part of the water catchment. Please read all the warning signs, as there are some serious risks - including the fact that the water from this alpine dam is icy cold! For fresh water anglers however, there is a good supply of fish to hook up in the moving, cascading water.
Signage at the start of the walk down to the lookout
From the signage, it is then another short walk through the bushland to the lookout to Cascades Gorge. The lookout is very rocky and uneven underfoot, so ensure you wear sturdy shoes with good grip. From the end, you can look right and see all the way up to the high wall of Googong Dam, with waterfalls of fresh water traversing through cracks and crevices between the boulders on the way down. In the opposite direction, further downstream, there are beautifully clear and calm pools which reflect the sparkling sun.
On my visit, I looked down to the pools amongst the cascading water and there was a fly fisherman trying his luck in one of the pools down below. To get down there, there is a path just near the lookout which takes you down to water level and the falls.
Cascades is a little off the beaten path, however this secret locals spot is simply stunning, with high cliff faces and clear, running water cascading down into dark, sparkling pools. If you have time, why not walk down the path and sit on the rocks and take in the serenity of this quiet, unique location.
After enjoying the view, I started to walk back along the sealed road back to the car and I was startled by a large animal that came out of the bushes next to the road, about 20 metres in front of me. I expected to see a kangaroo - however a large feral deer galloped clumsily across the concrete roadway to the other side of the road and then promptly disappeared! I stopped in my tracks to take in the moment. I felt like I had just experienced a rare moment of wild, un-tamed beauty, in a location to match.
* See here for more walks around Googong Dam and Foreshore, just a short drive further on from Cascades. On the way, also check out the Googong Dam Lookout from the other side and learn more about this pristine, alpine dam.