1 December 2019

Canberra Day Trips: The intriguing disappearing lake - Lake George

| Canberra Day Trips
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Lake George when empty, above, and filled with water, below. Photos: Paul Costigan.

If you’ve ever made the trip from Canberra to Sydney by road, you’ve probably driven past the mystifying Lake George, or Weereewa in the local Indigenous language.

And even if you’ve not made the trip yourself, you may have heard that the natural attraction – which is sometimes completely dry while at other times has had waves big enough to sail on – is shrouded in mystery and urban myths.

Here’s a closer look at the intriguing body of water which is an easy day trip from Canberra.

Before you set off on your drive to Lake George, here are some fun facts about the destination.

  • When full, it’s one of the largest inland freshwater lakes in Australia, with a size of around 155 square km. The road follows one of the edges of the lake, which is 25km in length and around 10km in width. The lake bed is mostly flat and extremely shallow.
  • The inland lake is almost as salty as seawater when full.
  • The lake is known to rise and fall – and it’s all due to natural processes of rainfall, run-off and evaporation rather than some of the far-fetched theories about underground caves systems.
  • The shallow lake (it’s only an average of two metres deep at its peak) can whip up dangerous swells – so much so that in 1956, five Royal Military College cadets drowned in a yachting accident while sailing on the lake.
  • Around 1870 there were so many Murray Cod in the lake that a trawler worked the lake, commercially netting the fish. Unfortunately, soon after the trawler arrived, the lake did one of its famous disappearing acts and shrank, and the fish subsequently died due to lack of water.
  • Pleasure craft including paddle steamers once plied the lake’s waters taking tourists for scenic cruises, with several sailing clubs building clubhouses at the lake.
  • More recently, the lake was home to public art consisting of a herd of zebras at a Driver Reviver stop by the lake’s shore. While the zebras were a hit with tourists, they were removed after the leaseholder of the land complained. These days though, the lake is mostly used for grazing by actual animals rather than artistic ones.
  • If you’d like to know more about the lake, Paul Costigan wrote about it in his Canberra Tales.

So what is there to see at Lake George?

  • There are rest stops along the lake’s edge along the Federal Highway that provide a view over the lake and the landscape around it. Most have ample parking as well as basic picnic facilities and toilets.
  • Our favourite pick of the rest stops is right at the southern tip of the lake. If you’re coming from Canberra, you’ll see signs off the highway to Weerewa Lookout. From there you will have sweeping views of the lake and it’s a quieter spot away from the highway noise if you were keen on a picnic.
  • Not far away are the Lake George Wineries if you’d like to sample a local drop or two, and if you’re visiting in spring, don’t miss Tulip Top Gardens.
  • Tim the Yowie Man runs a Mysterious Lake George and Haunted Collector tour where you can discover more about the mysteries of the lake at several lakeside stops, walk onto the lake bed, and check out a little-known canal built by convicts.

Getting there

Lake George is on the Southern Tablelands between Canberra and Goulburn and runs for several kilometres adjacent to the Federal Highway. It’s an easy drive north of Canberra.

Key details

  • Duration: Less than an hour’s drive from most parts of Canberra.
  • Distance from Canberra: Around 40km from the city, but considerably less from North Canberra.
  • Recommended for: Anyone with an interest in geology, history, and the occasional conspiracy theory.

Have you heard any mystical claims about Lake George?

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