Tharwa Sandwash is a swimming area on the Murrumbidgee River, 30 minutes south of the CBD. It is part of the Gigerline Nature Reserve along the riverside, with scenic views up to Mount Tennent and surrounding mountain ranges. This remote swimming area has an unusual name - with Tharwa the name of the closest town and Sandwash referring to the vast amount of sand along this section of the Murrumbidgee River. The combination of remote wilderness, river views, mountains and rolling hills at this bend in the Murrumbidgee River, makes this the ideal city escape - back to the simplicity and beauty of nature.
I must admit, I wasn't sure what to expect when arriving at Tharwa Sandwash, as the ACT Government website doesn't provide many photos or details. I knew it was a river swimming area upstream from Tharwa Bridge swimming area, which I had been to before, as well as just 10 minutes from Angle Crossing, which I had also visited just a couple of weeks ago, from the other side of the river. Perhaps because I wasn't expecting much, I was then completely taken aback by the rugged beauty and rural peace of this unique location. It is this quietness that also attracts the local birds, with 128 species of birds found within just two hectares of this protected national park.
When you first drive to the area, there are a few places to park your car, when trying to find the ultimate swimming or picnic spot to spend the day. The first place I visited was near the single lane bridge that goes over the Gudgenby River (which meets up with the Murrumbidgee River), just a few minutes from the end of Smiths Road. Although I visited in winter, it was easy to imagine this area around the bridge full of locals during the warmer months - lounging on rocks and paddling in the water. It would also be a good spot for toddlers to bring their buckets and spades and have a little splash in the shallows.
The actual entrance and signage to Tharwa Sandwash can be found over the bridge and then take the short, unsealed road on the left-hand side. You can either park your car on this side of the bridge to explore, or keep driving up to the main gate and signage to Gigerline Nature Reserve. From here there is a 5-minute walking trail down to the swimming area, where you can look down to the left and see the Gudgenby River and to the right is the Murrumbidgee River. Both rivers meet at the end of the trail. Both sides also twist and turn and have little sandy beaches along their length, that you can easily cut through the grass and shrubbery and walk down to.
As I walked along this path, I saw the biggest kangaroos I have ever seen in my life, so be aware that you may spook a few on your walk - and they may spook you in return!
At the end of the walking trail the two rivers meet and there are little entrances down to the riverside, so you can choose your own personal swimming spot. If you visit in the cooler months, it is a quiet and relaxing place to just sit and admire the natural beauty of this area. On my visit I could hear faint sounds coming from the Outward Bound camp across the river. For the people who visit this camp, they have this wilderness and refreshing swimming hole literally right on their doorstep. Also in this area it is advised that you watch your step, as there are large, recently-dug wombat holes positioned in the soft earth.
If you are happy to continue exploring, hop back in your car for a few minutes drive on an unsealed road to the official Tharwa Sandwash Reserve picnic area. There is plenty of parking in this area, a couple of picnic tables, deeper water swimming, more wombat holes and the entrance to the 2km Tharwa Sandwash Track along the river (see here for details, under Walking Trails). When you take the walk upstream, you will find more scenic and sandy areas to swim and spend the day, with plenty of sandy hills to lay out your towel. If you prefer to swim up and back however, there are stairs coming up from the river to make getting back up onto the bank easier. Please be aware that swimming is at your own risk along the whole Murrumbidgee River corridor.
Tharwa Sandwash picnic and swimming area. Walk up the path about 150 metres for more sandy swimming areas
In Canberra, we are fortunate to have the Murrumbidgee River Corridor so close to the city, so that we can access these natural and scenically beautiful recreation areas each weekend. Although there are closer swimming areas to the city, such as Cotter Avenue and Uriarra Crossing, if you are looking for another option this summer for a river swim, then why not give Tharwa Sandwash a try. Although summer is the ideal time to visit, it is also a scenic place to visit in the cooler months to enjoy its natural beauty, take a short walk, skim some stones, have a picnic and simply enjoy this pristine and protected wilderness, right on our doorstep.
Discover all the little beaches that make up Tharwa Sandwash, just 30 minutes from the CBD