The Mighty Murrumbidgee is a natural playground for the people of Hay, and its best-kept secret.
Ask any of the locals in Hay what they get up to on the weekend and nine times out of ten you will get an answer that has something to do with the Murrumbidgee River. Thanks to the town’s consistently warm and sunny weather, the river regularly plays host to groups of people swimming, water skiing, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, socialising, bird watching, camping, and barbecuing.
This wide and gently flowing river snakes around the south end of the town. Its banks are lined with towering river red gums, and make a welcome contrast to the flat saltbush plains that dominate the landscape in every direction.
There aren’t many outstanding natural features in Australia that have been tenacious enough to hold on to their ancient names, but the ‘Murrumbidgee’ is one of them. The moniker means ‘big water’ in the language of the indigenous Wiradjuri people, and it is a lasting testament to the elusiveness of this river that such a hotspot of life evaded the eyes of white explorers long enough to avoid being renamed in honour of a prominent colonial.
It is perhaps this same elusion that leads so many unwise travellers to mindlessly accelerate across the bridge over the Murrumbidgee at Hay without stopping, but the rewards are great for those who are clever enough to make time for discovering the joys that lie along its ancient banks.
Nestled in between its wide curves are bushy walking tracks, sandy beaches, public art, picnic areas, and peaceful fishing spots where you can find locals enjoying themselves every day of the week.
If you are travelling in an RV then Sandy Point is the perfect place to set up camp. Provided by the local council, this large dog-friendly free camp is shaded by trees and provides barbecues, toilets and shelter within throwing distance of town. Best of all, there is a beach-like stretch of sand here beside the river – perfect for lying on a towel in the sun before jumping in the water to cool off.
It is on this beach that you will find the locals playing and socialising. They are an exceptionally hospitable bunch who are always happy to share a drink and a yarn with travellers.
Sandy Point has a boat ramp that sees regular use from people launching their tinny or to try their luck with a fishing line. Others prefer to launch their towboat and ride the surface of the water on skis.
“The river is gold for us,” sheep farmer Bruce Barnes told Travel In after taking us for a spin in his aquatic machine. “And skiing is Hay’s best kept secret.”
If you would prefer to stay dry then the cool and shady Bidgee Riverside Trail is an easy walk from Sandy Point. This trail leads you around the sculptures at Bushy Bend, with each sculpture paying homage to a different aspect of the region’s history. You can walk or cycle along this pleasant and flat track: the Hay Visitor Information Centre even offers bicycles that are free to hire and are perfect for exploring the majesty of the Murrumbidgee River.