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Swim in a Victorian River

Home > Melbourne > Adventure | Environment | Escape the City | Swimming Pools | Unusual Things to do
by Lisa Nolte (subscribe)
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
Victorian river rapids
Victoria has quite a range of river habitats, some quite close to the City

This summer, forget the sunbaked local pool and crowded, shadeless bayside beaches.

Pack up the car early and head inland to one of Victoria's great country rivers. There really are plenty of riverside options to choose from within striking distance from home.

If you have always wanted to try river life, but have been unsure of where and how, the following tips may be helpful.

How to find a swimming hole

In general, rivers in Victoria are not private, there are a few exceptions, and these are usually marked clearly by the owners.

dusty country driveway Victoria
A dusty driveway with no fences could point you in the right direction


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.

bullant hole ant nest
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.

rash shirt river swimming
Wear a rash shirt as shade can be intermittent


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

Grissini riverside snack
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

Logs and river 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.

riverside razor grass
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.

Take large towels & blankets

River cliff cold water
Even on hot days the river can be freezing cold

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.

Have a great time

fast running river
Take a tyre tube down a fast running river


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?
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Why? Enjoy the pace of riverside life
When: When it gets too hot to stay at home
Where: Wherever a clean river flows
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Hello Lisa,

This is great post. Love it!
Anyway, if you don't mind, can you please tell us where exactly each photo taken?
That might help us a bit to google where it is.

Thanks
Zac
by muham (score: 0|5) 2086 days ago
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