25 January 2023

Beat the heat in the capital's natural swimming areas

| Marg Wade
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The Murrumbidgee River Corridor

The Murrumbidgee River Corridor is the perfect spot to get back to nature. Photo: Marg Wade.

When the weather is warm, and you are keen to go for a picnic or a swim, there are so many local options you can choose from.

Manuka Pool, Canberra’s oldest swimming pool (opened in 1931), with its grassed area and shade trees, Big Splash Waterpark at Jamison with its popular water slide, or Dickson Pool, a family favourite, may well be on your list.

We are also fortunate to have access to natural swimming areas along the 66 kilometres of the Murrumbidgee River’s journey through the ACT, from Angle Crossing in the south to Uriarra Crossing in the north. The Murrumbidgee River Corridor provides opportunities for bushwalking, camping, picnicking, seeing wildlife and birds, as well as swimming, fishing and canoeing. Recreation areas have mown picnic spaces, barbeques, playgrounds and designated walking trails.

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A popular part of the Murrumbidgee River Corridor is the Cotter River. This is accessed from Cotter Road. The Cotter is named after Garret Cotter, a convict who was banished “beyond the limits of location” after being accused of horse stealing in 1832.

The area was (and remains) important to Indigenous groups around the region, particularly for the annual Bogong moth feast that occurs each spring. Gatherings would take place at Uriarra Crossing upstream from the Cotter to eat the moths, a rich source of protein and fat. This feast was an important occasion, providing an opportunity for Indigenous groups to gather, establish cultural links, and trade with one another.

The Cotter recreation area consists of three main areas: Cotter Bend with a wide pool and sandy beach, Cotter Avenue with a great children’s playground, and Cotter Campground. All are excellent places to spot wildlife, especially in the early morning or early evening. You may be fortunate to sight platypi or wombats. This year, particularly after the recent rains, birdlife and native animals are abundant.

The Cotter Dam Discovery Trail is a short wheelchair-friendly walk to view the Cotter Dam enlargement. The Cotter Dam was built in 1915. The dam wall has been raised twice since, most recently in 2013. The wall is now 83 metres high and 125 metres downstream from the original dam, making the dam almost 20 times its original size.

To view the expanse of the Cotter Catchment, you can take a moderate 800-metre walk on a well-defined track to the Cotter Catchment Lookout. You will need to take Cotter Road, turn right onto Brindabella Road, follow for about 2 kilometres and you will see a small car park on your left. This walk is well worth the view of the catchment. Continue on and it extends to the top of Mount McDonald.

Cotter Catchment

To view the expanse of the Cotter Catchment, you can take a moderate 800-metre walk on a well-defined track to the Cotter Catchment Lookout. Photo: Marg Wade.

Not far from the Cotter is Casuarina Sands. This area is also great for picnics, swimming and fishing, kayaking or canoeing. After a swim, you could walk upstream to the historic pumping station designed by chief government architect John Smith Murdoch, who designed many of Canberra’s early buildings.

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Pine Island Reserve is on the city’s south, not far from the suburb of Greenway. Named after a small pine plantation, Pine Island looks good after recent rains, with fresh sand and recently upgraded facilities.

Throughout the Murrumbidgee River Corridor, take care in and around water. Do not consume alcohol and swim. Please leave the area clean and tidy. Note that there are no bins, so remember to take your rubbish home with you. Please do not feed the wildlife. No dogs are allowed, except in designated areas such as Uriarra Crossing. (Further information about where you can take your dog for a swim can be found here.)

For the trivia lovers, our third prime minister, John Christian Watson, ‘Chris’, loved fishing in the waters of the Murrumbidgee River Corridor. He organised a fishing party of his parliamentary colleagues in 1907, together with Queanbeyan Age founder John Gale. It was over lines cast into these waters that lobbying by Watson and Gale about the suitability of this location for a national capital, with its pristine water supply, took place. So fishing in the Murrumbidgee River Corridor led to the decision to choose the Yass-Canberra area as the new Federal Capital.

What’s your favourite spot? Let us know in the comments.

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