Yarra River at Bend of Islands
Freshwater Swimming Holes in Victoria


 
The Yarra River at the Bend of Islands is like a relationship that you know is no good for you, but you still keep going back. The attraction of this swim is that it is the tallest single natural drop in elevation in the Yarra River, which creates some ferocious rapids that are exhilarating to ride. The islands guide the water into a deep constricted channel and a couple of shallower anabranches. From in the water directly below the rapids, I estimated the main drop to be around 1-1.5 metres, with a couple of smaller drops immediately below it over a length of about twenty metres. The rapids at the Bend of Islands Above: The rapids at the Bend of Islands (Order gifts or prints of this image)

To ride the rapids you will need to hop onto something buoyant. I used a boogie board, but found that it sat too low in the water and didn't provide enough protection for my legs and knuckles against the submerged rocks.
A better option would probably be an inflatable surfmat or rubber ring that sits above the water when you are riding on it. Approaching from below, once you are in the rapids, head to the left hand side where it is shallow enough to walk, then push yourself into the main current and fly downstream. The ride is remarkably fast due to the speed and power of the current, which makes this swim unlike any other in the mid-Yarra. Note that there is a deep hole at the bottom of the main drop, so make sure you push off from beside the main drop, and don't try and walk directly into it.

There are numerous hazards at this site that make it suitable only for experienced, well prepared swimmers who are comfortable taking risks. To run through the ones that I encountered, the hazards include sharp submerged rocks, most of which are slippery, the very strong current, deep holes in the water, snakes (on one visit I saw a black snake swimming across the anabranch to the main island, about half an hour after I had waded through the same water), mosquitos/midges (which rest or hover around the still water in swarms), submerged tree snags, European wasps (one hovered around me in the middle of the river), spiders (there are numerous webs spun across the access path), wombat holes, poor water quality, poorly defined property boundaries, no vehicle access, and poor or no access to emergency services if you need help. So don't say I didn't warn you! An anabranch at the Bend of Islands Above: The shallow anabranch that you need to cross to reach the main island at the Bend of Islands (Order gifts or prints of this image)

Access to this spot is difficult. To reach this spot from the Kangaroo Ground side of the river, you need to drive towards Oxley Reserve at the western end of Catani Blvd. Parking is non-existent on Catani Blvd, so I suggest you park in Henley Road and then walk down Catani Blvd. Between lot number 333 and 315 is crown land, with an easement running alongside the western edge of lot 315. The start of the driveway to lot 315 actually runs across crown land. Before you reach the property boundary of lot 315, look for an overgrown track that runs down towards the river. The start of this track lines up with a 4WD access road that runs up the hill along the eastern edge of Oxley Reserve. Follow this straight track down to the water, being careful not to veer to the left onto private property, heading towards the sound of the river. After a hundred metres you will see an anabranch running around the island at the Bend of Islands. From here you can choose to walk across the (mostly) shallow anabranch and onto the island, or head upstream or downstream to deeper water. I have only headed downstream and then swum with a pair of flippers against the current, up the main stem of the river. It's slower and harder work than walking across the island, but I only travel this way because I perceive there is less likelihood of encountering snakes. The public easement along the river bank here is typically more than 30 metres, so you can walk along the river bank without encroaching on private land. I advise you to view the extent of the property boundaries on Google Maps or the State Government Planning Maps Online before you go.

You can also access this spot via the Warrandyte State Park in Wonga Park on the other side of the river, but there is no vehicle access, so you would be left with a several kilometre walk along dirt tracks to reach the river here.

This stretch of the Yarra River is generally of better quality than upstream and downstream reaches, however for the most part the river suffers from the triple whammy of being an irrigation drain, a discharge point for leaky septic tanks, and an urban stormwater drain. The EPA provides daily forecasts of whether water is suitable for swimming. Note however that this is only a forecast using only one indicator of water quality. My advice when swimming in the Yarra is to never ever swim within 48 hours after rain (very high risk of water being contaminated), never put your head under, never swim with any open cuts or skin abrasions, and bring an extra bottle of tap water to wash your hands before eating after swimming.

Here is a video that I took when visiting the Bend of Islands over three separate visits. I chose not to swim the first time because the river was running too high (that was in spring), but was able to get into the water twice in autumn and loved it. I was able to make reasonable headway against the current with flippers, but I think I would have struggled without a pair. I also explored the area downstream of the Bend of Islands on my boogie board, travelling for about a kilometre downstream and then back up again, through some beautiful scenery in near silence.

Essential Information Before You Go:
Location: Catani Blvd, Bend of Islands, Warrandyte State Park opposite Oxley Reserve, 40 km north east of Melbourne
Latitude:-37.703743 Longitude:145.271418
Getting there: From the bridge over the Yarra in Warrandyte, head up the Kangaroo Ground-Warrandyte Road to Kangaroo Ground, then the Eltham-Yarra Glen Road to to Henley Road. Follow Henley Road for 4.7 km until you reach Catani Blvd. Thereafter, follow the directions in the text above.
Facilities: None
Entrance fee: None
Water clarity: Murky
Water temperature: Mild
Under foot: Rock, gravel
Maximum water depth: Greater than 2 metres
Suggested minimum swimming proficiency required: Experienced
Prohibitions including whether you can bring your dog: Signage is limited and planning scheme zones and overlays in this area are complicated. However, if approaching from the Kangaroo Ground side along the access route noted above, no cats or dogs are permitted, as the area is subject to a local council planning scheme that prohibits "the keeping of domestic pets...by residents and/or visitors". No disturbing plants or animals. No collecting timber. No shooting. The Yarra Brae side of the river is part of the Warrandyte State Park, and in this section no dogs are permitted, but you can ride your horse. There are no rubbish bins, so please take your rubbish home with you.
Sun shade: Shade available out of the water
Opening times: Always open
Wheelchair access: None
Accommodation Options: No camping is permitted in the Warrandyte State Park. If you are visiting Melbourne and want to stay near this swimming hole, you can try accommodation in Kangaroo Ground, which is roughly 5 km away from this spot.
Managing authority: Parks Victoria
Nearby attractions: Swimming in the Yarra River at Bourchiers Road, which is 2-3 km downstream.
Before you head out, make sure to read the swimming safety information, and re-read the notes above on hazards that I have encountered at this specific site.
Locality Map:
The marker indicates the approximate location of the car park at the start of the short walking trail to the tunnel outlet.
Change of Conditions:
I am not currently aware of any change of conditions reported at this site by the managing authority, or by swimmers on this website. If you are visiting this swimming spot and have any further updates on any change of conditions, let me know via the comment form below.
Comments:
If you would like to leave a comment about this swimming hole, please fill in the comment box below. I'm particularly interested in your experiences after visiting, and any changes in swimming conditions.

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