Not a fan of crowded beaches or community pools on a 34-degree day? Neither. Frustrated with the sweltering heat, we decided to steer away from the mayhem and head towards Lerderderg National Park, approximately 50 minutes north-west from the northern suburbs of Melbourne. This 20,180-hectare park boasts six scenic bushwalks, one of which enticed us more than the others due to its close proximity to the water and popular swimming holes.
Turning off from Lerderderg Gorge Road just before the Lerderderg River intersects it, we found Mackenzies Flat car park. Here, we were provided with ample parking, toilets, a well-maintained lawn, barbeques and tables, all of which face out onto the Lerderderg River. This spot itself is ideal for a shallow, knee-deep splash if you're planning on having a barbeque and staying put by the lawns. However, if you're in search of a body of water to fully submerse yourself into, I suggest you take the well-signed pathway toward Grahams Dam.
This particular walk involves following a clear dirt pathway that meanders through the native bushland, leading you directly to the dam. We visited in a dry month (February 2017) so were able to walk directly on the river bed itself for most of the way. Walking on the river bed was a novel way to take in the splendour of the entire gorge; however, it proved to be tough on our calves as the river bed stones made for a very uneven terrain. I would strongly recommend walking shoes or quality reef walker shoes for such an activity.
Walking on the river bed for quite sometime, we began to wonder if all the pools of water had dried up. There wasn't a body of water in sight. Then we began to notice moss, native bushes and plants we knew only grew in the presence or close proximity of water and river banks. Small stagnant pools of water started to show up as we continued on.
Once our calves were well spent, we decided to climb up the river bank wall and settle for the designated walking track. Here, mountain grey, manna and yellow gums towered over us as we walked through a wide variety of native vegetation. I've been told that koalas live amongst the manna gums, but we unfortunately did not encounter any. We passed many kangaroo and wallaby droppings but the chances of seeing them in the sweltering heat at that time of the day was low. The park is also home to echidnas, greater gliders, mountain brushtail possums, the bent wing bat, the powerful owl and the wedge-tailed eagle!
The path began to rise above the gorge and before long we came across what appeared to be a deep pool of water with a couple of people swimming in it. This was the halfway point between MacKenzies Flat and Grahams Dam. We decided to stop off here to take a dip, exhausted from the short walk due to the increasing heat. To get to this pool, we had to leave the path and climb back down to the river bank level. We were so surprised to find the water crisp and cool - cold enough to send shivers up our spines! It was such a welcome change from the dry heat. The water quality was in pristine condition and turbidity was low, making for beautifully transparent water. At this point of the year, the middle of the pool was deep enough to dive or jump into, and once submerged in the water, neither my friend or I could stand up. Always walk into the water first to determine depths of various parts of the pool.
After cooling down in the water, we got out to continue our walk to Grahams Dam. The track began to rise above the gorge again, presenting us with breathtaking views of the towering and thick vegetation.
Only another 15 minutes up the track and we found ourselves at this gorgeous spot, also known as a popular watering hole. Only knee-deep in height, Grahams Dam is ideal for a quick, cool dip, and then perhaps a picnic by the banks where there is ample space to sit down and relax.
There is the choice to continue on to Grahams Dam Circuit Trail, but we decided to escape the heat and walk back to the car.
Tanya holds a strong passion for the conservation and preservation of local ecosystems. She recently completed her Masters of Science, focusing on the biodiversity of fauna in Port Phillip Bay and its relationship with seagrass meadows.
All images courtesy of Tanya Rajapakse.