Fifteen years ago I traded a corporate career for life on the river. Close enough to Melbourne to get a quick City fix, plus a great community with excellent coffee and four healthy active boys to keep me entertained, I've never regretted the change.
Published February 21st 2014
Cool-off for free in fresh clear water
Victoria has quite a range of river habitats, some quite close to the City
Head to a town that is on a river. Bright, Jamieson, Shepparton, Eildon, Lorne and Echuca spring to mind, but there are plenty of others. Keep a sharp lookout on the roads nearby for signs of swimming holes. An unexplained carpark, an old bridge with a worn path below, a dusty driveway with no fences, a picnic table in a clearing all suggest potential swimming opportunities.
Pick up a coffee and ask around, locals will know the best places to go. They may be a little reluctant to part with the information to protect their assets, but its worth persisting.
Find a shady spot but don't set up under gum trees
Try and keep base camp out of the sun. Check for ants, sharp rocks, glass, exposed roots and blackberries before setting up your gear.
Don't put your rug here - ant nests make for uncomfortable experiences
Jumping Jacks and Bull Ants are aggressive, large nasties that not only hurt, but can cause allergic reactions. Their hole in the ground nests are often clustered in bare patches of clear earth, just the sort of place you might set up picnic rugs. To spot them, look for small holes surrounded little mounds of dry dirt, like tiny volcanoes.
It is important to avoid gum tree limbs, which can fall from the healthiest looking trees with no warning at all. Now that many willows have been eradicated from our waterways, the best native riverside shade trees are leafy blackwoods.
Sunscreen can only go so far in a river situation, not to mention it's a drag having to haul everyone out to re-apply. Long-sleeved rash shirts are best, and a decent hat will shade faces. For those who are under the water more often than not, the lycra legionnaires hat with a long back flap is most likely to stay put.
Take twice the food and water you think you'll need
There is nothing like a river swim to build an appetite
River swimming makes for hungry people. Pack a picnic with drinks and snacks and then double it. Fast carbs are essential, a big bag of grissini for munching on the go, crackers, chips and plenty of fruit. Try and limit the packaging as you won't find rubbish bins on the river, but keep everything well covered to avoid attracting the flies and ants.
Check for hazards
Always check for hazards above and below the water
Rivers are constantly moving and moving things around. Never expect a spot that was safe last time to be safe again next time. Always check for submerged logs and snags and always go in feet first.
Make children aware of the current, wear river shoes and watch where you put your feet and hands.
A cheap pair of river shoes, aqua sandals or sneakers can save tender feet from the often rocky river bed. Not everyone treats the river with the respect we expect. Broken glass, torn cans, fish hooks and car parts are common river hazards that can turn a fun relaxing day into a long hospital trek.
Encourage the kids to point out glass rather than pick it up. Avoid sliding over submerged logs and steer clear of snags as these can harbour discarded barbed hooks.
Its tempting to grab hold, but razor grass cuts are nasty
Razor grass thrives on many river edges. This nasty native has razor sharp leaves that shred fingers when grasped, like a fist full of paper cuts. It usually grows in healthy clumps right where small hands are tempted to pull for assistance when getting out. Stay away. It stings for a long time.
If the river quality is good enough for you to swim in, then rest assured it is good enough for other creatures too. On very hot days, snakes take refuge in the water, just like us. While not at all interested in you, they will defend if threatened, so, never step over logs without looking on the other side, look before putting your hand on the bank (snakes curl up on warm river rocks) and resist the temptation to chase with a big stick.
It's hard to get the kids out of the water. Their teeth will be chattering, their skin blue, yet still they will swim. When they finally emerge, apart from being starving they will be very cold. Seriously. Even on a forty-plus day the river temperature may be as low as 20 degrees. Food and blankets and a short burst in the sunshine will restore warmth and good humour.
Take along flotation devices to enhance your swim. Nothing beats the old tyre inner tube for a Robinson Crusoe style trip with the current down the rapids.
There are plenty of good swimming holes in Victoria. I prefer sub-alpine rivers like the Acheron, Mitta Mitta, Howqua, Jamieson, Ovens and even the top of the Yarra. For deep fast water there's the Goulburn, Murray and sections of the Thomson. Where do you swim?