You don’t have to beat a path to the nearest ice-skating rink or air-conditioned cinema to escape the heat this summer. Here are five other ways to cool off with your kids in the great outdoors.
With a number of rivers including the Molonglo, Cotter and Murrumbidgee snaking along the fringes of our suburbs, Canberrans are blessed with dozens of freshwater swimming spots to take a dip.
Tim’s pick: This is a hard one. If you have dogs in tow, Uriarra Crossing is your best bet (they are allowed there), and if you don’t want to walk far from your car then Casuarina Sands is hard to beat. However, if you are willing to face a steep post-swim walk back up those stairs, then with its multiple swimming holes and shaded beach, Kambah Pool is arguably the best all-rounder.
Chill factor: Tie up a hammock and spend the afternoon swaying to the gentle breeze, or, if it’s really hot, partially submerge a waterproof chair in the shallows for a refreshing natural spa.
Tip: If you visit early in the morning you’ll have every chance of spotting one of the many wombats that call Kambah Pool home. Oh, and if you prefer to swim with your kit on, make sure you head to the main beach, and not the beach downstream of the parking area, which is clothing optional.
Don’t miss: As part of a project to revegetate the banks of the river, rangers have recently planted a number of trees along the Murrumbidgee River Corridor, including at Kambah Pool. You can do your bit by using water containers left by the rangers to give the thirsty trees a drink.
Did you know: According to Dr Fiona Dyer, an associate professor in water science at the University of Canberra's Institute for Applied Ecology, the water temperature in swimming holes in our rivers can vary significantly. After a string of hot days, it may be up to 32 degrees near the surface of a shallow pool (really!). If you are desperate to cool off, then according to Dyer you need to “dive to the bottom of the deeper pools, where the water temp mid-summer can drop to as low as 18". That’s got to be more fun than sticking your head in the freezer!
Take me there: Kambah Pool is accessed via Kambah Pool Rd, Kambah.
Although much-maligned for its changeable water quality, if conditions are right Canberra’s centrepiece Lake Burley Griffin still remains the watery playground of choice for some.
Tim’s pick: If you are going to dip more than your big toe into the lake, the western basin of Lake Burley Griffin is generally much cleaner than the eastern and central basins. Judi Barton of Farrer and her two girls Heidi and Emma Young often “enjoy a splash and a swim in the area around Black Mountain Peninsula and Weston Park”.
Chill factor: The top half-metre or so of water can heat up considerably during periods of hot and sunny days, but wherever your legs are dangling it will be much colder. Phew!
Tip: Paddle a canoe or inflatable boat to one of the lake’s several islands for a Robinson Crusoe-style picnic.
Don’t miss: Check out theswimguide.org for updated water quality information on a comprehensive list of places to swim in the ACT, including our lakes. Please note, swimming in Canberra’s lake should be avoided for several days after heavy rainfall, as bacterial levels are strongly affected by such events.
Did you know: In 1964, the world’s first hovercraft races were held on the western side of Springbank Island, facing Black Mountain Peninsula.
Take me there: Weston Park is accessed via Banks or Brown Street in Yarralumla and Black Mountain Peninsula via Lady Denman Drive.
With expansive and well-thought-out plantings, some of Canberra’s suburban parks are a surprising oasis during a heatwave.
Tim’s pick: John Knight Park in Belconnen. No, not the popular play equipment near Lake Ginninderra, rather the lesser-known upper reaches of the park. Sit back and relax while the kids have fun jumping across the stepping stones which criss-cross the network of man-made ponds.
Chill factor: In shade at any time of day and with water trickling down a man-made creek, it can be up to 10 degrees cooler here than out in the searing sun. Often a welcome breeze will blow in across the lake, funnelling cool air up this gully like a natural air conditioner. Divine!
Tip: Pack a picnic basket or pick up your favourite take-away, for once you lob here, you won’t want to leave.
Don’t miss: The disc golf course, hidden away beneath the casuarinas near the top of the park. It’s rarely used and has to be the most shaded course in the country. BYO disc.
Did you know: The park took its present form in the 1980s as a result of a major program of construction arising out of the parliamentary joint committee’s consideration of the lake's foreshores under the leadership of Senator John Knight.
Take me there: John Knight Park is best accessed via Townsend Place, Belconnen.
Usually protected from the pounding surf and winds, ocean pools are a haven for families if you are prepared for a long day trip.
Tim’s pick: While the stretch of coast just north of Wollongong is blessed with a series of ocean pools, tucked away at the bottom of 88 steps and hacked into a rugged rocky coastline, Bermagui’s Blue Pool on the far South Coast is by far the most spectacular. It also boasts the coldest water, perfect for relief on those summer scorchers.
Chill factor: Early mornings are popular with regulars; some brave them all year round. Once the sun is overhead snorkelers flock to the pool for the opportunity to eyeball the marine life.
Tip: Be careful not to stub your toe at the northern end of the pool which narrows into a small cleft in the rocks, allowing only room for one swimmer at a time.
Don’t miss: Overlooking the Blue Pool, perched atop the cliff like an eagle’s eyrie, is a cantilevered lookout where you can check the conditions before traipsing down all those stairs. Colourful tiles depicting shoals of fish and whale tails decorate the pavement, hinting that this is also a whale-watching spot when the wonders of the deep are migrating.
Did you know: Although it is man-made, the pool is so well-established that it has become a shelter and ecological nursery for many marine creatures, some of which, including crabs and marine snails, are known to live in the pool their whole lives. Others, such as fish and nudibranchs, are only present in the pool for part of their life-cycle.
Take me there: Bermagui is a three-hour drive via either Cooma (Brown Mountain) or Braidwood (Clyde Mountain). The Blue Pool is located off Scenic Drive.
What kid doesn’t love a theme park? And, let’s face it, most also enjoy swimming. Combine the two and you have summer school holiday nirvana.
Tim’s pick: While Big Splash in Belconnen is the biggest water park in the ACT, for the ultimate water park experience you should pack the car and make a day trip to Jamberoo Action Park, just inland from Kiama and home to the 270-metre long Funnel Web. It’s apparently the longest, biggest, most exhilarating water thrill ride in the world. Go on, I dare you.
Chill factor: With dozens of aquatic adventures, from the gentle ‘River Rapids’ to the adrenalin pumping ‘Perfect Storm’, there is virtually no chance you will overheat. In fact, on cloudy and cool summer days, my kids have been known to wear their wetsuits in the wave pool.
Tip: Secure your valuables in a locker at the park – they cost $10 and can be reopened as many times as you like.
Don’t miss: Avoid the queues at the kiosks and ease the pain on your back pocket by taking along an esky chock-full of your own drinks (non-alcoholic) and tucker. The Yowie clan often grabs a pie from the Robertson Pie Shop (20 minutes’ drive from Jamberoo) on the way down. Yum.
Did you know: If you plan on visiting more than once (between now and the end of the season on 28 April), buying a season pass can save you money.
Take me there: Jamberoo Action Park is a 2.5-hour drive from Canberra. Entrance fees apply. More: jamberoo.net
SAFETY WARNING: When near water please supervise all children, regardless of swimming ability, with an appropriate level of care and diligence.
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