Tharwa Sandwash is a towering mound of sand banked up behind a rock in the middle of the Murrumbidgee River. You can swim on either
side of this small island, with a shallower, warmer but often more stagnant backwater on the near side of the island, or a deeper and
cleaner swim closer to the main current on the farthest side. Bring a large beach towel to lay back and relax on the sandy incline
of sand, while you warm up in the sun, protected from the wind, in between your swims.
Above: The sheltered beach on the leeward side of the dune
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To reach the Sandwash from the car park, you need to follow the wide walking track (closed to vehicles) about 150 metres upstream, at which point
you will see a little track that runs down to the river through a hole in the scrub. When the river is low, as it is most of the time during the warmer
months of the year, you can walk across to the sandbar without getting your feet wet.
Above: The view from the beach back towards the car park's riverside steps
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The water on the other side of the sand mound is best for swimming (as opposed to just splashing around), with a 20-30 metre long beach of
coarse sand. Close to the island, the water is still relatively calm, with not much of a current, but it can get deep quickly once you step a
couple of metres away from the beach. There are also some submerged rocks, but these are readily visible in the clear water. From the
island you can also swim or float the 150 metre journey back downstream to the car park. Look out for the bluestone steps for your spot to climb out.
Here is a video that I took of my swim at Tharwa Sandwash in mid-Autumn, when the river was reasonably low and
in good condition for swimming.
Tharwa Sandwash is one of six swimming spots that were formally recommended by the ACT Minister for Territory and
Municipal Services. The Minister described it as "another local treasure" (20/12/12). Bring a bucket and spade to see if you can find
the Minister's treasure.
Other Information Before You Go:
Smiths Road, Gigerline Nature Reserve, ACT, 38 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 and then Naas Rd to Smiths Rd, which is 1-2 km south of
Tharwa. Follow Smiths Road for 600 metres, and turn left onto a gravel road, just after crossing the bridge. Follow
the signs to Tharwa Sandwash - the car park is about 600 metres along this gravel road. To reach the Sandwash you
need to walk about 150 metres upstream from the car park, and then follow a short, narrow track through a gap in the scrub
on the left hand side to reach the river.
Car park, picnic tables, walking trail
Maximum water depth:
Greater than 2 metres
Suggested minimum swimming proficiency required:
Experienced. The water depth increases quickly away from
the sand bar and there are submerged rocks. There is a shallower, calm backwash between the shore and the
sandbar which would be suitable for inexperienced swimmers, but this area can have stagnant water of poorer
quality for swimming if it hasn't been recently flushed.
Prohibitions including whether you can bring your dog:
No dogs, no camping, no fires, no fishing. There are no
rubbish bins provided, so take your rubbish home with you. Collection of standing or fallen timber is illegal.
Limited to no shade available out of the water. The sand bank can provide shade very late in the day.
No shade available in the water.
No camping is permitted at Tharwa Sandwash and there are no campgrounds in the Gigerline Nature Reserve.
Tharwa Sandwash 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 Bridge Recreation Area
, which is roughly 3 km downstream in Tharwa.
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 Sandwash.
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.