The Murrumbidgee River spreads out quite wide at this natural ford underneath Tharwa Bridge. For swimmers this creates
a long section of shallow water to plonk yourself down in, or for splashing about on a hot day. The tall bridge provides
shade over the water, even in the middle of the day, so it's a well protected swimming spot for those who burn easily in the sun.
Step off the small beach on the downstream side of the bridge, and walk directly out into the shallow water. The river is
split either side of the central pylon, with slightly deeper water behind a small rock wall on the opposite side of the river.
Above: The small beach on the downstream side of the bridge
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To reach the swimming spot you need to walk about 70 metres from the car park with your gear.
It's all downhill along a mown lawn that is wide enough for ball games or a frisbee. I also ventured a couple of hundred metres downstream along the gravel road
that runs parallel to the river, but access to the water was generally not as good and there is no formal car parking apart from the turning loops.
The bridge is quite long and tall, and because it only has a single lane, the traffic crawls across it. This means that the noise from cars passing
over the bridge is very low, and doesn't detract from the swim, even with a regular flow of traffic.
Above: Looking down to the water along the length of the bridge from the car park
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Conditions here can change dramatically in wet weather, and when you look up at the bridge from below, remember that the deck of the bridge is
set just above the highest flood level on record, when the river would have been well over a hundred metres wide. According to information boards on
site, prior to the bridge being built, several people drowned in wet weather trying to cross the river at this natural ford. The bridge was regarded
as so important, that a public holiday was even declared for its opening in 1895, making it both the oldest and most celebrated bridge in the ACT.
Other Information Before You Go:
Tharwa Bridge Recreation Area, Tharwa Drive, Tharwa ACT, 35 km (approx. 30-40 min. drive) south of Canberra Central.
From Canberra head south along the Monaro Hwy / Tharwa Dr, Tuggeranong Pkwy or Yamba Dr to the
suburb of Gordon. From Gordon head south along Tharwa Dr. Turn hard right into the gravel road immediately after crossing the
Murrumbidgee River bridge and then immediately right again to reach the little car park underneath the bridge. The river is about a
70 metre walk downhill from the car park.
Car park, picnic tables, toilets, powered barbecues. No bins are provided, so take your rubbish home with you.
Maximum water depth:
Less than 1 metre (noting that sands can shift around in the vicinity of bridge pylons, possibly
creating deeper holes after floods)
Suggested minimum swimming proficiency required:
Beginners (under supervision) during low flow conditions, experienced
swimmers only at other times.
Prohibitions including whether you can bring your dog:
No dogs, no camping. Collection of standing or fallen timber is illegal.
Shade available under the bridge in and out of the water. Shade available in the picnic area as well.
No camping is permitted at Tharwa Bridge.
Tharwa Bridge is within easy reach of Canberra for a half-day trip. If you are visiting Canberra and want to have better
access to this swimming spot, you can try
accommodation in Greenway (Tuggeranong)
which is the closest of Canberra's commercial centres to this swimming hole.
Nearby attractions: Tharwa Sandwash
, which is roughly 3 km upstream in the Gigerline Nature Reserve.
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 managing authority provides general advice on site about swimming
in the ACT's rivers that there are strong currents, shallow water, submerged objects, deep water, slippery and uneven ground, steep banks and snakes.
The managing authority also advises that mobile phone reception is not reliable throughout the Murrumbidgee River corridor, so do not depend
on your phone for safety or directions.
Water quality in the Canberra area can sometimes
be unsuitable for swimming. For regular updates on whether the water quality at this site is suitable for swimming,
see the ACT Government's
water quality alerts
. Signs on site indicate when the river is closed for swimming due to poor water quality.
As a general rule, don't plan to swim here after rain because the river may be closed to swimming due to agricultural runoff from upstream
areas (i.e. animal faeces, fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides, etc.).
The marker indicates the approximate location of the car park at Tharwa Bridge.
If you would like to leave a comment about this swimming spot, please fill in the comment box below.
I'm particularly interested in your experiences after visiting, and any changes in conditions, etc.
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© Brad Neal 2019. All rights reserved.