Best places to swim in Australia: 11 beautiful places to take a dip beyond the beach

It is hardly surprising that Australia is a nation of beachgoers, given all that lovely coastline we have to work with. However, the allure of those seductive stretches of sand sometimes leads us to overlook other, equally enticing swimming spots away from the shore. From waterholes to waterfalls, thermals springs to limestone lakes, here is our pick of the best places to swim beyond the beach. 

Flying high: Mitchell Falls, WA

For most visitors to Mitchell Falls, the journey is part of the challenge. To get to this spectacular four-tiered waterfall, one of the best-known sights in the Kimberley, intrepid travellers drive 500km north of Broome, then hike the last three kilometres along a bush track. Unless, that is, they decide to hitch a lift on a helicopter. The chopper ride to Mitchell Falls is popular not because it saves you those last three kilometres, but because of the stunning views to be savoured along the way. Thrilling as the chopper flight is, we suggest hiking at least one leg, so as to take in the ancient rock art along the way. The workout also makes it all the more satisfying when you do finally plunge into those pristine pools.

Hidden depths: Piccaninnie Ponds, SA

This pristine lake near Mount Gambier is a well-kept secret among the dive fraternity, who cherish not only the massive underwater cavern that lies beneath the surface, but also the startlingly clear water, filtered by the area's limestone. With visibility up to 40 metres, it's not just divers who get an eyeful: grab a snorkel and float across the top of The Chasm and you will be stunned by how much you can see. Whether you decide to snorkel or dive, you will need to get a permit, obtainable through National Parks South Australia.

Sitting pretty: Gunlom Falls, NT

There is always something new to see in Kakadu. Driving through this ever-changing landscape you see all kinds of wonders, from termite mounds that soar into the sky to dense stands of spiky spear grass, from shy wallabies to dancing brolgas. Alternatively, you could just sit at Gunlom Falls and watch it unfold in front of you. The lovely plunge pool atop a waterfall is not only a great place to cool off: it also has one of the best views in the park, giving you an overview of Kakadu's diverse landscapes, from verdant riverine areas to dense woodland and harsh stone country.

The city swim: North Sydney Olympic Pool, NSW

Bondi Beach may be Sydney's most famous swimming spot, but serious swimmers have a special fondness for the glamorous North Sydney Olympic Pool. These lovely art deco baths are located right on the edge of Sydney Harbour. On one side they flanked by Luna Park; above, the Sydney Harbour Bridge looms imposingly. Although the complex includes an indoor pool, hardy swimmers keep clocking up the outdoor laps even in winter, just for the delight of seeing ferries chug past and admiring the mighty monolith overhead.

Chill out: Lake St Clair, Tasmania

It takes a certain strength of character to go swimming in Tasmania's chilly waters, nowhere more so than Lake St Clair, Australia's deepest lake. Carved out by glaciers millions of years ago, the lake sinks down to a depth of 200 metres. Surrounded by snow-capped peaks and pristine bush, this is one of Tasmania's most beautiful spots, where you have a good chance of a wildlife encounter with echidnas, wombats or wallabies. Still sound a bit too rugged for you? Take heart – there is luxury accommodation available right on the lake, at the new Pumphouse Point.

Buried treasure: Emma Gorge, WA

There are few landscapes in Australia as spectacular as El Questro Wilderness Park in the Kimberley, riven with spectacular gorges and bush-covered ranges. This timeless landscape is a great place to feel the raw power of nature, and one of the area's most appealing attractions is the waterhole in Emma Gorge. This is not a quick dip option: most visitors take about an hour to hike through the ancient gorge to where a waterfall feeds the secluded waterhole. Beneath the towering cliff walls, the crystal-clear waters make this an unforgettable place for a swim.

Hot stuff: Bitter Springs, NT

The area around Elsey National Park, just outside Katherine, has a special place in the history of Australian literature: it was the setting for Mrs Aeneas Gunn's classic outback novel, We of the Never-Never. Today, it has another claim to fame, a tranquil waterhole whose waters are heated by a thermal spring that lifts the water temperature to more than 30 degrees. Two-legged visitors aren't the only ones who enjoy the warming waters: native wildlife and birds also enjoy a soak in the heated pool. Sit still for long enough and you never know which animals may appear on the banks.

Rock star: Wylie's Baths, NSW

Sydney's ocean baths are adored by locals, and few have as fervent a following as Wylie's Baths at Coogee Beach. It's a no-frills, no-fuss affair place, a tidal pool on a natural rock platform filled by ocean water pouring in over the sea wall that could be the backdrop for a Max Dupain photograph. At high tide, the waves can pummel their way into the pool with surprising force, but that wildness is exactly what the locals love most about Wylie's.

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Man-made wonder: Lake Argyle, WA

Lake Argyle from above is such a startling sight, you could be forgiven for thinking you are dreaming. Flying over this man-made lake in the eastern Kimberley, the bright blue waters lapping against the rust-red cliffs are as vivid as a Technicolour movie. Lake Argyle is perhaps the largest geographic feature that most Australians have never heard of. Formed by the damming of the Ord River, the lake is 22 times larger than Sydney Harbour, and is an oasis for local wildlife. There are plenty of bays and beaches in which to take the plunge, and the water temperature is pleasant all year around.

Hidden in plain sight: Fairy Falls, Qld

Psssst, want to know a secret? While most of the waterholes near Cairns are beloved by locals and visitors alike, a few hidden gems have yet to be discovered by the crowds. Our favourite, the tranquil Fairy Falls, is hidden in plain sight right near the popular Crystal Cascades. It involves a steep climb over boulders, but once you get there, the experience of swimming in this deep plunge pool surrounded by high walls is well worth the effort. Just remember: keep it to yourself.

Take the plunge: Mermaid Pools, NSW

There are two ways to enter the bush-fringed sandstone swimming hole that is Mermaid Pools, southwest of Sydney. Are you game to jump in from a height of 10 metres? No? Then you are going to have do it the hard way, and jump in from a height of 20 metres. Fortunately, getting out is easier than getting in: there is a handy rope you can use to pull yourself back up. This is just one of a number of swimming holes in the Bargo River Gorge, but watch your footing along the track: the territory can be treacherous.

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