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.
Above: The rapids at the Bend of Islands
(Order this image)
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.
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!
Above: The shallow anabranch that you need to cross to reach the main island at the Bend of Islands
(Order 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. 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.
Other Information Before You Go:
Catani Blvd, Bend of Islands, Warrandyte State Park opposite Oxley Reserve, 40 km north east of Melbourne
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.
Maximum water depth:
Greater than 2 metres
Suggested minimum swimming proficiency required:
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.
Shade available out of the water
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 check with the managing authority for any current change of conditions.
The marker indicates the approximate location of the start of rough track down to the river. If the map is not zoomed in locally, as can occur with some browsers, simply click or tap on "View Larger Map" below.
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