MacKenzie Falls has a deep swimming hole at its base that is surrounded by rock, with the powerful falls streaming in
at the top. I was fortunate enough to swim at this spot prior to the managing authority's ban on swimming here in 2004. The
ban followed shortly after a multiple drowning in the pool in 2004. In that incident, a young girl apparently slipped into
the water accidentally off the rocks and three non-swimmers jumped in to try and rescue her, and unfortunately lost their lives.
The rocks are hard to grip along the sides of the pool, which gets deep almost immediately near those sides. The currents
are strong and the spray is forceful where the waterfall first enters the pool. It is only at the pool outlet that you can enter and exit the water reasonably easy,
and away from the waterfall base where the pool is relatively calm and tranquil for swimming.
Above: Swimming in the pool at MacKenzie Falls in the Grampians before swimming was prohibited here
To focus for a moment on the attractiveness of this swim, it is a wonderfully large and deep pool in a part of
Victoria that is notoriously hot and dry. The upstream reservoir provides a continuous release of water down the falls
to keep the local platypuses happy and to supply water to the town of Horsham, so even in a drought when every creek in
the area has run dry, there is still fresh water in this pool.
The rocks at the pool outlet also provide good protection for swimmers from being washed downstream. Lastly, because
the gorge is fairly narrow, there is good shade early and late in the day. Notwithstanding the risks for inexperienced
swimmers, the only downside to this swim is the long, steep walk from the car park down to the water.
Despite the ban, people continue to swim at MacKenzie Falls and in early 2018 there was another drowning which appears to
have occurred in similar circumstances to that in 2004. That is, a non-swimmer has slipped in off the rocks on the edge of
the pool, straight into deep water, and drowned.
My personal view is that, whilst those drownings are tragic, prohibiting swimming here is an overbearing response and may not
address the real risk, which seems to be inexperienced swimmers slipping in off the rocks, who had no intention of going into the water.
Prior to 2004 there have been, to my knowledge, no reported drownings. The ban has been widely ignored by swimmers and in that
respect is ineffective anyway. Resolving these issues to a satisfactory level or risk for swimmers of different experience levels can
be difficult, but options to improve access without increasing risk could involve better fencing and signage at the site to deter
non-swimmers from going anywhere near the water's edge, or a local lifeguard employed on summer weekends by the managing authority.
This swimming hole lost its former spot in my top 50 in Victoria for the obvious reason that swimming is no longer
permitted here. If you are looking for non-prohibited swim in the Grampians area,
grab a copy of the guide to Freshwater Swimming Holes in Victoria.
Essential Information Before You Go:
Wartook Road, Grampians National Park, 18 km west of Halls Gap and 270 km
(approx. 3.5 hrs drive) west of the Melbourne CBD.
Take the Western Hwy to Ararat then the Ararat-Halls Gap Rd to Halls Gap.
From Halls Gap take the Northern Grampians Rd for 18 km then turn right into Wartook Rd
and follow the signs to the falls nearby.
Car park, public toilets, visitor centre
Maximum water depth:
Greater than 2 metres
Minimum swimming proficiency required:
Not applicable, swimming not permitted
Prohibitions including whether you can bring your dog:
No swimming, no cats or dogs
Limited to no shade available in or out of the water, except early and late in the day
There is camping at unpowered sites throughout the Grampians National Park, which you can book through the managing authority.
If you are planning to stay overnight in the area but don't want to camp, you can try
accommodation in nearby Halls Gap
Hepburn Shire Council
Nearby attractions: Venus Baths
swimming hole near Halls Gap.
Before you head out, make sure to read the
swimming safety information.
The marker indicates the location of the pool.
If you have any memories of swimming at MacKenzie Falls when it was still legal to do so, I would love to hear about them. Please fill in the
comment box below.
© Brad Neal 2018. All rights reserved.