Take the plunge this summer
There’s something about summer that brings back memories of childhood.
Is it the smell of the barbecues sizzling away with a hint of a water fight ready for action in the backyard? Or perhaps it’s the swift ice-cream licks to avoid the dreaded sticky fingers? Or maybe it’s the Tarzan swings taking you to infinity and beyond and then straight into the depths of the cool, dark water below.
As I park outside Calembeen Park, Creswick, I feel like I’m at the entrance to Jellystone Park. The sign is made out of concrete and pebbles which you have to duck to see due to a large and very beautiful Californian redwood planted many years ago covering up the archway.
This place is reminiscent of the many parks I visited as a child during the summer holidays, riding my bike in my togs alongside my siblings or other kids from the neighbourhood, with a dollar in my wrist purse strapped around my arm with velcro, ready to be spent at the tuck shop.
The popular Calembeen Diving Tower is the ultimate in childhood dreams. It’s a legend of the region and an icon in its own right. It’s even heritage listed.
The tower’s colourful three story ledges in the 1960s colour palette is reminiscent of Yves Saint Laurent’s classic Mondrian dress and the painted steel structure pops out against the corsican pine-lined lagoon in the background. The tower is tempting, but is certainly not for the faint-hearted.
I’ve seen brave kids as young as five jump off this tower, complete with an inflatable vest and a high-pitched squeal. I’ve also seen many adults belly whack and bring themselves up to the water’s edge coughing and spluttering. It’s joyful to watch the many kids (and adults) take the plunge off the edge and into the deep while you sit along the grassy knoll on your towel admiring the view.
Perfect for a picnic and a whole day’s entertainment, Calembeen Park is definitely a family destination. With three pools – the deep lagoon for deep diving into, a second adjoining lagoon for a casual splash and then a separate pool for the little ones – the location provides the backdrop for a perfect summer’s day.
Calembeen Park is of historical significance to Victoria. Built as a swimming pool around 1910, the site was a former shallow gold mine and then later a Chinese settlement. In 1916, local primary schools from around the region began using the pool for lessons and carnivals. Later, the annual Miss Creswick competitions were held on the boardwalk. It was also during this time that over 2000 pines were planted around the park, creating the shady water’s edge that you can see today.
Over the next 25 years change rooms, rafts, seating and timber diving springboards were added to the location, drawing in large crowds from Creswick and beyond. The iconic stone archway was built in 1952 and the current colourful steel diving tower added in 1960, replacing the timber boards.
When you arrive, be sure to check out the toilets and change rooms for a classic Australian caravan park vibe, complete with the perfect curved cream bricks of the post-war period.
On the other side of Ballarat, approximately half an hour from the CBD, is another lagoon located in the quiet town of Rokewood. The Rokewood Lagoon is run entirely by the community, opening in mid-December and running as a functioning outdoor swimming area until March. There is a small honesty fee to be paid upon entering of around $4.
The enticing lagoon features an abundance of concrete picnic tables around the perimeter, ready to place a wet towel on during a blisteringly hot summer’s day to avoid a burnt bum. Each table seems to be strategically placed under a shady gum tree in anticipation of soggy cheese and tomato sandwiches and deviled eggs. If a classic egg and sanga picnic doesn’t tickle your fancy, there’s a mega-sized barbecue area under the pergola. I’d secure a spot early on a warm evening, as I suspect there would be a queue for the ‘que.
Whilst it wasn’t in action when I was there, a limp Tarzan swing floating in the breeze provided anticipation for an excellent summer to come and the wooden jetty makes the perfect stretching post after a hot summer’s day at sunset.
Rokewood is a small town with only a few shops in the main street. The local general store has everything you need, snack-wise (including the classic chicken Twisties) to see you through your half-hour rest between swims.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to heat up before they cool down, about 15 minutes’ drive from Ballarat you can find Devils Kitchen. A popular haunt for rock-climbers and bushwalkers, this spectacular geological reserve has incredible basalt columns encouraging you to look up and then down below.
Covering both sides of the Woady Yaloak River, these fascinating views of rock formations create the perfect cover for a hot summer’s day. Pair this view with a swimming hole and a picnic area and you’ve got yourself an entertaining day of swimming, snacking and celebrating nature at its finest.
Swim safe this summer!
Words by Ali Webb. As printed in Uncover Summer 2019