Humans like water. In fact, they mostly are water. And many of them love getting wet. Swimming and diving - in fact water sports of all kinds are popular, especially when it's hot. Really hot. So what better place to cool down than at a natural stream and waterfall area? An almost perfect place can be found just outside of a small town in North East Victoria, Australia. This swimming hole is an idyllic spot for seeing the beauty of the bush while enjoying a quick dip in the wet stuff in the heat of the harsh Aussie summer.
Where Is It?
The Gorge, as it is called locally, since it's a deep ravine, is actually more correctly named the Spring Creek Cascades. They are to be found on the outskirts of Beechworth, an old gold-mining town established in 1852 during the heady days of the Australian Gold Rush. Beechworth is located almost halfway between the two major cities of Melbourne and Sydney off the Hume Highway, in amongst the foothills of the Australian Alps. Other nearby towns include Wooragee (wu-rah-jee), Yackandandah (yak-an-dan-dar), Wodonga (wa-don-gar), Tarrawingee (tar-a-win-jee), Wangaratta (wan-gar-at-tar) and Tamgambalanga (tam-gam-bal-an-gar)1. Reachable by car from the aforementioned Hume Highway, there are also regular train services between Melbourne and Wangaratta available, with connecting bus links on to Beechworth.
The town offers much for the tourist, having once been touted as the possible capital of Australia due to its vast deposits of wealth. There is a vast array of sites of interest not only in Beechworth, but also in much of its surrounding area, which includes snowfields, wineries and natural wonders. The small town with a population of around 4,000 is not only a wonderful place to get away, but is steeped in history with cultural links to Aboriginal communities, famous Australian explorers like Robert O'Hara Burke, a Chinese gold mining community, and bushrangers such as the celebrated Ned Kelly.
How Do I Get There?
The swimming hole is almost smack-bang in the middle of the Gorge Nature Reserve, part of the Beechworth Historic Park. The Spring Creek Cascades are in fact partly natural, partly man-made, being mostly Spring Creek, a watercourse that developed due to the spring thaws of nearby snow-capped mountains Mount Buffalo and Mount Bogong. When gold was discovered in the creek, miners then cut away at the granite outcrops of the watercourse in the attempt to discover rich veins of gold in the quartz there. The creek was crossed by a small bridge in order for supplies and other gold mining equipment to be available to the miners, and it is under this bridge that the swimming hole can be found. It is accessible either by walking along tracks through the bush from the town, or along a one-way covered road that travels from one side of Beechworth Historic Park to the other.
It is best to walk to the swimming hole from the centre of the town, as Beechworth is not large with most attractions within the town in walking distance, hence there not being any major public transport. Bicycles can be hired for those wishing to get about a little faster. The geographical centre of the town is marked by the intersection of Ford Street and Camp Street. Four large buildings surround the intersection, the most noticeable being the Post Office Clock Tower. Opposite this is the Old Bank of Victoria Gold Depository which locals commonly refer to as 'the Rock Cavern' due to it being a tourist attraction containing interesting geology of the region. Renamed 'Beechworth Gold', it is now a gold and jewellery store that also houses local artwork. On adjacent corners are the old Bank of New South Wales building and what everyone in the town will call the 'Dolphin'2, a two-storey hotel-like structure which has been for most of its modern life a cafe (what is sometimes referred to as a 'greasy spoon') or milk-bar3. It is between these two edifices you must pass to begin your expedition.
Travel down Camp Street following signs to the Powder Magazine, a large fortified building built in 1859 to hold gunpowder used by miners to blast at the granite outcrops. It will take about 20 to 30 minutes at a nice leisurely stroll and you will pass by the Fire Station and the 'Hibes' (Hibernian Hotel) on your right. On your left will be a number of small shops and the local doctors' surgery. After a short time you will be greeted with a vista of the outlying bush, Beechworth Historic Park. A large hill will take you down to the Powder Magazine, at an incline of almost 30 degrees, so vertigo is a possibility. Once at the Powder Magazine you will pass by an old Miners Cottage into the bush. Here there are two routes to the swimming hole. You can either walk along the covered road, or take the less travelled but shorter walking tracks through the bush.
By taking the road you are choosing the longest route to the swimming hole, a trip of around 30 minutes. It is easier on the feet, however you have to contend with traffic (cars, motorbikes, bicycles, horses, and anything else that happens to pass by kicking up dust and dirt). The benefits of using the road is that there are some natural rock formations along the way that have been named due to their resemblances to certain objects and things. This can be amusing and helps pass the time along the way. There is also far less chance of losing your way.
Through the Bush
The walking tracks through the bush to the swimming hole are the preferred routes of locals, but anybody can make their way along them to the water. An experienced orienteer will find the going easy, and anyone else will find it mildly challenging, a trek of around 15-20 minutes. The tracks dip down into the bush and run along a narrow valley, then rise back up and connect with the covered road near to the bridge over the cascades. The benefits of taking the walking tracks are that you have more chance of seeing native fauna including rock wallabies, snakes (most commonly the brown snake or red-bellied black snake) or even a grey kangaroo. If taking the route at night4 you may also see common nocturnal animals like bats, ring-tailed possums or even the rare brush-tailed phascogale. Listen closely and you will hear barking owls and at twilight the sounds of cicadas. Best of all, during the day you will not have to contend with noisy traffic and be able to take in the beauty of the natural flora (wildflowers) and fauna.
Once at the bridge you can either take a quick route to the swimming hole from the road, or pass over the bridge to a natural rock formation in the shape of steps that takes you down to the water. It is not advisable to jump off the bridge into the water as the drop of 20 feet will surely injure you severely or result in loss of life.
What Can I Do There?
Well, it's a swimming hole. You can go swimming in order to keep cool. The best times of year for swimming there are in the summer (early December through until late March). However, the scenery is representative of most of the Australian bush so any time of year it is a scenic spot. The amateur and professional landscape or wildlife photographer may also enjoy what the Spring Creek Cascades have to offer, so taking along a camera is worthwhile, especially as it is highly possible to catch a glimpse of native animals in their habitat5. Remember though, the area is a historic park and nature reserve, so it's vital to treat it with respect. Take home what you brought with you, not anything extra and definitely not anything less6.
The Main Attraction
To the upper side of the swimming hole is a deep pool underneath a small waterfall. This is where most will come to swim. The natural course of the water makes other small pools and a slight crevasse that flows under the bridge. This area is frequented by family groups during the day as it is close and easily accessible. It can be busy during the height of summer and in the mid to late afternoon, but eases off towards evening. It's usually slightly less cramped downstream too.
Many young people (and some of the old ones too) take it upon themselves to leap from the top of the small waterfall into the deep pool. The pool is approximately 10-12 feet deep, so dangers of hitting bottom when diving in are very limited. The favoured dives are the 'pindrop' and the 'cannonball'.
Underneath the waterfall a small natural water-worn outcrop has formed, just enough room for two bottoms to sit comfortably in privacy behind the waterfall. For the romantically inclined, night-swimming in the pool, with interludes under the waterfall on this 'love-seat' under the light of a full moon on a hot summer night, can provide the ingredients for a successful date.
Other natural rock pools have formed along the stream in the granite outcrops, perfect for either small children or infants to dip into or keeping a six-pack of beer7 ice-cold. The cascades are fairly open to the sun, but there are some areas under the shade of 'gum'8 trees that you can sit and relax, either reading a book or soaking up the atmosphere. For this reason it is a popular picnicking spot and just along the road over the bridge is space for several vehicles to park9. The only disadvantage to the area is that if you need to 'go', there aren't any facilities. However, it is acceptable, if you can't 'hold' it, to disappear a short distance into the bush and hide behind a convenient tree while you relieve yourself.
For the More Adventurous
To the other side of the bridge, downstream, there are larger pools and larger waterfalls, but because of steeper inclines into the valley this environment is to be approached with care. For those wishing to have a little more privacy away from family groups this particular part of the cascades is best. There are large sections of smooth granite leading down to the water where it's possible to lay down a towel and sunbathe. Some might prefer to do this naked; the surrounding bush provides good cover from prying eyes.
For those more interested in water, there is a small pool much like the one upstream, but not as deep, so diving is out of the question. However, the waterfall is just as appealing (although there is no seating outcrop underneath). Above the waterfall are two smaller pools that collect a rush of the stream, creating mini spas. This rush of water has also created a natural tunnel which smaller adults and children like to swim through. If you trek a little further downstream you will find a larger waterfall that drops about 20 feet. You can walk to stand underneath this; however, the water is too shallow for swimming. The waterfall is an attraction in itself though.
Is It Dangerous?
As with any human activity, there are inherent dangers. Whilst walking through the bush it is wise to be wary of snakes, as many of the native varieties are venomous. At the swimming hole there is a fair amount of algae and lichen, so be careful of slippery rocks. If you choose to hunch along the rocks on your bottom be prepared for your bathing costume to turn a lovely shade of green. There is also an above-ground pipeline (now in disuse) that runs level with the cascades. This can get very hot in the summer and if a bare limb is to come into contact with it could produce a nasty burn. Some like to walk along its length, however it does rise fairly high above the ground and you could slip off and injure yourself.
There are many other native animals to be wary of other than snakes. Bull-ants, flies, mosquitoes, spiders, leeches (although the water usually runs too fast for them to live in the pools), wasps, bees and even drop bears or bunyips. Most of these animals will stay away from you if you leave them alone. There is also the minor risk of being caught in a bushfire; however, you're in a pretty good place if that happens, seeing as you'll be surrounded by water. The number one danger however is sunburn. Take precautions and adhere to the slip, slop, slap rule10.
What Should I Take?
For a fun day at the Gorge Swimming Hole? A towel, hat and sunscreen, your swimming costume or trunks, some good footwear, a bottle of drink and a group of friends with the desire to get wet.