Parks Victoria advises that while natural pools and waterfalls may look like inviting places to cool off, swimming at these spots can be dangerous. There may be strong currents, debris and other hazards in the water. Beware of unstable edges and check safety signs. Only swim at beaches, rivers or lakes where swimming is permitted and never swim alone. If you’re heading out of the city, check the Vic Emergency and Tourism Australia) websites for information on bushfire-affected areas, road closures and other travel alerts.
Let’s be honest. The long sandy stretches of beach near Sydney and the Gold Coast are a bit, well, showy aren’t they? A touch crass? When it comes to swimming, us Victorians might not have the beach game won, but we do have plenty of understated beauty when it comes to earthy gorges, flowing rivers and cascading waterfalls.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of the most gorgeous natural swimming spots close to the city for the summer months. These spots are unpatrolled, though, and come with risks. So swim safe and with a buddy, and do your research – check news sites and online swim safety resources, or call the local council for advice – before you dive in.
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Best for: the illusion of isolation
Less than an hour’s drive from Melbourne, Laughing Waters is a number of spacious swimming holes and miniature rapids on a section of the Yarra River. Surrounded by native bushland, it’s a natural swimming sanctuary with a soundtrack of water bubbling and rushing over rocks that gives the impression Mother Earth is amused.
Spots on the riverbanks are limited (as is parking – get there early) so bring a li-lo or blow-up dinghy for a true sense of space. It’s also worth noting that the track to the river is narrow and steep, and potentially dangerous on high fire risk days. Once there, take a dip in the cool, deep water or lounge in the little rock pools that feel tailor-made for a summer’s day.
Best for: tubing and canoeing
The city-adjacent swimming escape of Pound Bend was formed in the late 19th century, when the Yarra was diverted in order to mine for gold. The miners didn’t find any, but this location has since become a goldmine in its own right for sweaty city-dwellers keen for a cooling dip.
Located just 28 kilometres north-east of Melbourne (around a 40-minute drive) in Warrandyte State Park, the freshwater spot runs almost in a loop, so you can park your car, float downriver in a li-lo (or tube or canoe) and end up at virtually the same spot you started. There are some rapids along the way, but if you’re in the mood for calmer waters there are also shallow pools nearby.
The man-made tunnel here is dangerous and should be avoided, and water levels can fluctuate after heavy rain, so use caution. After your swim, enjoy a picnic on the banks or in the surrounding parkland, and make use of the facilities – Pound Bend is one of the few swimming spots on our list with a toilet nearby.
Best for: beach babies at heart
I know we said beaches were showy and crass, but honestly there’s nothing like having salt in your hair and a cool sea breeze to dry your skin. And you don’t have to play fisticuffs with the shore break this summer just to take a dip in the ocean.
When the tide is out, a visit to the Sorrento rock pools is a great place for starfish spotting in between dips. Unlike many other rock pools, these are actual pools as opposed to puddles, so swimming isn’t just an awkward laying-down-flat movement. Bring a snorkel for maximum sea-creature visibility.
Best for: your fairytale fantasies
Hedged by ferns and teeming with birdlife, Jebbs Pool on the Great Ocean Road’s Cumberland River trail feels like a set from Disney’s 1992 classic FernGully. Check out the miniature natural water slide (beware the all-too-common bum scrape), smooth rocks for picnic perching and the multitude of small pools for plunging, or wander upstream to find a more secluded spot.
Best for: a picnic with your buddies
Stop by the supermarket for supplies before setting off to this swimming spot, one of the few in our list with barbeque facilities nearby. Mackenzie’s Flat at Lerderderg State Park is only an hour’s drive from the CBD and boasts a spacious expanse of pristine water for all your summer-day splashing needs.
The Lerderderg River (or “the Lerdy”) winds its way through the trees and spreads out at Mackenzie’s Flat into stone-skipping heaven. After a swim, pick a picnic spot under the draping peppercorn trees for your feast.
Please note that the BBQ facilities at Mackenzie's Flat were recently impacted by flooding and will be closed until further notice. The picnic area remains open.
Best for: road tripping to your dip
If you have the time for a longer drive, several natural swimming spots are worth the petrol money this summer – especially if you carpool.
Lesser known Gooram Falls is about two and a half hours from Melbourne, within the Seven Creeks Wildlife Reserve, and has a series of cascading waterfalls as well as a bush-fringed picnic area.
Blue Pool is a deep, clear swimming hole in a gorge on Freestone Creek in Briagolong State Forest, East Gippsland. It’s about three hours from Melbourne, with tall rock walls surrounding the space.
It’s a bit of a drive at three and a half hours one-way, but Ladies Bath Falls at Mount Buffalo is as beautiful as the water is frosty. The crystal clear mountain creek water is a good option for a splash on a hot summer’s day, and it’s also just 400 metres from the edge of the road, so carrying in a picnic is very doable.
Just over four hours from the city, Lake Catani is an artificial lake in Mount Buffalo National Park. A favourite throughout summer, the occasional alpine breeze provides extra relief from the heat.
This article was originally published on 10 December 2019. It was updated on December 11, 2023 to reflect new information and remove out-of-date details.