Experience this ancient lake when dry - or with water
Lake George is an unusual natural attraction, located 30 minutes north of Canberra's CBD on the Federal Highway to Sydney. Of course, when the word "lake" is used, we all picture a beautiful blue lake where people can fish, swim or simply admire its shimmering vision out in the natural landscape. Unfortunately, Lake George is usually none of these things, as in recent decades it has dried up in the "once in a millennia" drought and now sits as a vast and empty landscape. The lake bed is huge - over 25km long and 10km wide - so as you drive down the highway the flat plateau is a striking landscape against the distant hills and wind farms. It now has grass, sheep and fences zig-zagged over it, as farmers make the most of its dry state and fertile land. Between the late 1980s and mid-1990s however, the lake was full of water and it was a popular recreation area for locals and tourists, just off the highway. It even lapped the Federal Highway on its western edge. As Lake George has no rivers running into it and relies on rain to fill it up, it has remained empty for decades.
In September 2016 however, after one of the wettest winters on record, water once again returned to Lake George. Three months later in December 2016, it is still there.
Sadly the water won't last much longer as it evaporates in the Summer heat, however tourists and locals are rejoicing as the lake they remember from their youth, is now partially full once again. There are two high vantage points in which to view the lake at any time of the year. The first and most popular, is the Weereewa Lookout off the highway, named after the word the local indigenous people called the lake. On our recent trip north along this highway (December 2016), this Lookout had dozens of cars pulling in, with photographers set up with tripods capturing the water in the best light. On the way back however, we had it (almost) to ourselves.
Another vantage point, and a personal favourite, is from the Lerida Estate Winery and café just a few minutes drive further down the highway. This winery has a stunning view of Lake George even when it is dry, so with the lake partially full it would be a scenic masterpiece. Owners of Lerida Estate Winery have told local news reporters they have seen a large increase in the number of people coming up to enjoy their café and Cellar Door. With such spectacular views over the vineyards to the water below, it is easy to see why. Although this is an ideal time to visit this winery, at the time of writing, it is a relaxing winery to enjoy all year around, with live music often heard on Sundays. See here for more details.
View of the dry Lake George Basin from Lerida Estate Winery
If you are feeling energetic, Lerida Estate Winery also has a Lake George Range Walk behind their winery, so you can see the magnetic view from an even higher vantage point. This walk takes approximately two hours and involves a climb up to Carter Trig at the top of the Lake George (Cullerin) Range - which is a 206m ascent. Walkers can do the walk during the winery's opening hours, which is 10am - 5pm, 7 days a week. This is a popular walk on weekends in particular, as walkers can finish with a delicious lunch or late brunch from Café Lerida - open on weekends only.
Lake George can be enjoyed all year around from these vantage points, as the flat, green basin is also a scenic view even when dry. At the time of writing, however, with the lake partially full, it has almost a magical quality about the light reflecting off the water. As people view the water from the Lookout, winery or even as they drive past, there is a sense of awe about the sight, as everyone can appreciate the natural phenomenon before them. Unfortunately, it may be a long time before we see water on this ancient lake again. Why not go for a country drive this weekend and experience the mystery and magic of Lake George - wet or dry, it is a natural beauty like no other.
The Federal Highway, winding past Lake George with water - as it did decades ago