For days when a chlorinated, crowded pool just won’t cut it, escape to Melbourne’s best rivers, lakes and beaches to swim your summer-lovin’ heart out. Here is our guide to Melbourne's best natural swimming spots.
Warrandyte National Park
The closest state park to Melbourne, Warrandyte has a delightful reserve called Pound Bend where you’ll find a naturally occurring swim-spa. What?! Yep, the tunnel was constructed through a loop in the Yarra River in the late 19th century to change its course that so miners could dredge for sweet, sweet gold. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any. But fortunately, because rivers don’t like being redirected much, it created a set of rapids at the tunnel outlet. You can spend a whole day letting the gushing waters wash over you, or go a bit further downstream for a gentler swim. The lightly-wooded landscape is gorgeous, and there’s a rustic picnic area with wooden benches, toilet facilities, swaying eucalypts, and curious wildlife.
A little bit closer to home, you’ll find Brighton Beach, home to the distinctive bathing boxes that feature on nine out of ten postcards of Melbourne. Built well over a century ago to uphold Victorian standards of morality and prevent ladies from spontaneously falling pregnant while changing into their swimming togs, they transform the Brighton seaside into a multi-coloured ‘must-see’ for locals and tourists alike. As for the water, well, it’s not bad either. When the wind picks up, there are some pretty decent waves for surfers, and the proximity of cafes, restaurants and galleries just sweetens the deal.
Narre Warren North
About 40 minutes drive from the CBD, Lysterfield Lake is the best place to go if you’re serious about water-based activities like sailing, canoeing, kayaking and windsurfing. Two constructed beaches at the south-eastern end of the lake offer designated swimming areas, while the western and northern shores of the lake are pretty, but inaccessible by foot. The lake once supplied fresh water to the Mornington Peninsula, but since 1975 it’s been purely a recreational zone for sunbathers on towels and mountain bikers with chiselled calf muscles. The area is crisscrossed with tracks and trails for walking, and there are even facilities for horse-riding.
Old Hepburn Pool
Old Hepburn Pool dates back to the 1930s and is hidden away in a deep gully several hundred metres from the main road in Hepburn Springs. It was constructed in a creek to host the Victorian Swimming Championships and proved outrageously popular as a local swimming spot until 1969, when the cheeky folk of Daylesford built an Olympic-sized pool and stole all its thunder. Luckily, a group of locals remembered it and refurbished it in 1993. It’s the only natural ‘bush’ pool of its kind in Victoria and holds an aura of mystery (who was Hepburn? Why was he so old? Who cares?), as well as cool, refreshing water.
St Kilda Beach
Come on, you can’t live in Melbourne and not go to St Kilda Beach at some point. Aside from the fact that its shore is basically Melbourne’s Bondi, with ridiculously attractive people rollerblading along the promenade and sustaining sand burns in vigorous bouts of beach volleyball, it’s got that glitzy boardwalk feel; that certain sparkle in the sand. Besides swimming, it’s the perfect place for sun-bathing and people-watching – make sure you squeeze in a visit to the kiosk at the end of St Kilda Pier and check out the colony of little penguins at the breakwater. You can even take your dog to a long stretch of dog-friendly sand next to West Beach Bather's Pavillion. Plus, it’s home to Ben & Jerry’s Open Air Cinema, screening mainly comedies and childhood classics from the 80s over summer.
MacKenzie's Flat Picnic Area
Drive west from the CBD for about an hour and you’ll find Lerderderg State Park, a tranquil oasis of native bushland and near-pristine stream. Our pick of the park for a leisurely swim is MacKenzie’s Flat Picnic Area, which lies within easy walking distance of the access road and has shallow, fast-flowing water. There’s a well-maintained picnic area with long tables, coin-operated barbeques and toilet facilities - and if there are too many people about for your taste, you can take a 3km hike up to Grahams Dam or head west to Shaws Lake. Some spots in this State Park are dog friendly - just check the state park website for updated details. Keep an eye out for sulphur-crested cockatoos, which nest in the gorge and fly out to feed in the open grasslands.
Half Moon Bay
As well as being one of the most picturesque places in Melbourne, Half Moon Bay is a great spot to swim. So-called because of its crescentic shape, the surrounding cliffs near Black Rock lend a sense of majesty to the shore, and the nearby pier provides a great point to swim to or jump off. The bay is pretty popular for boating and boasts a boat launching ramp, as well as the remains of the HMVS Cerburus. This obviously wasn’t a great battleship success story, however its half-sunk history sure is interesting, and you can munch fish and chips from the kiosk while you check it out.
Peninsula Hot Springs
Like Paris, a trip to the Peninsula Hot Springs is always a good idea. The pools are filled with natural thermal mineral waters which bubble up from deep underground and reputedly have powerful healing properties. Two main facilities provide recreational spa experiences, while the private Spa Dreaming Centre offers private pools and an array of pampering spa treatments to revitalise mind, body and soul. Whether or not you believe in the therapeutic benefits of hot springs, the café in the spa centre makes it well worth the day trip, and other sensory highlights include a cave pool, a hilltop pool, and massaging thermal showers.
Sitting pretty between St Kilda and Brighton, Elwood’s beaches are long stretches of sand lined by parks, shops, and bicycle tracks. The best place to swim is in front of the Elwood Life Saving Club where there are also a couple of kiosks, BBQ areas, and a restaurant. The calm waters are patrolled by lifesavers and ideal swimming, sailing, windsufing, and boating. Sometimes there are even waves big enough to surf. The best way to get here is by bus – the 606, 600, 922 and 923 will drop you about a 10 minute walk away.
Like Williamstown Beach, but less busy, this beauty is one of the better-kept secrets in Melbourne. The sandy strip runs on for 1.3km and there are picnic areas in foreshore reserves at either end of the beach. Interesting sculptures dot the esplanade, and the pier is a favourite for sunset strolls. There are plenty of cafes and old-school fish ‘n’ chippies about for a post-swim snack, and the annual Altona Beach Festival includes a street parade and art exhibition.
Image credit: Henry Brydon
Looking for other places to take a dip around town? Here are Melbourne's best swimming pools!