Northern Territory swimming holes and waterfalls: The top 10 places to swim

Wild swimming, it's more than a phrase; it's an entire movement, a wave of people who are shunning concrete and chlorine for wilderness and waterfalls. What began in the United Kingdom about a decade ago has Aussie-crawled its way across the seas, washing up on Australian beaches, bays and billabongs with an adventurous twist of its own. See www.wildswimmingaustralia.com

Here are 10 of the best in the Northern Territory. Sure, there are crocs in the Top End (obey signs and check for updates and closures on www.nt.gov.au ), roads can be inaccessible during the wet season (October-April) and walking trails are always tougher than you think, but that's what puts the wild into the swimming.

1. MAGUK, KAKADU NATIONAL PARK

An emerald pool, screened by pandanus palms, misted by a waterfall and circled by some of the oldest rocks in the world is the prize for those who make the one-kilometre trek through Maguk's plush, yet rock-strewn, monsoon forest. The plunge pool is deep and clear, so bring your snorkel, goggles and underwater camera. Rangers patrol the region, clearing out any crocs after the wet season, but do check at the Visitor Centre first. See www.kakadutourism.com

Getting there: An hour's drive south from Cooinda followed by a 14-kilometre 4WD trip off the Kakadu Highway.

2. BITTER SPRINGS, ELSEY NATIONAL PARK

Don't let the name mislead you; this is one of the sweetest swimming spots in the Territory. And warm too, the spring-fed waters a toasty 34 degrees. Wade into the jade-green waters and drift with the flow along the pandanus-lined stream – just make sure you don't miss the exit ladder. The region was made famous in Jeannie Gunn's novel We of the Never Never. See www.nt.gov.au

Getting there: Elsey National Park is two kilometres from Mataranka (sealed road) in the Katherine region. The springs are an easy 20-minute walk from the car park.

3. ELLERY CREEK BIG HOLE, WEST MACDONNELL RANGES

High red cliffs, a large waterhole and a sandy creek fringed by gums makes this one of the prettiest waterholes in the West MacDonnell Ranges. But there's a price to pay for this beauty – the water is bone-shatteringly cold, so cold that people have ended up with hypothermia. Float on your back and gaze up at the rock sandwich, laid down over a 400 million-year period. See www.northernterritory.com

Getting there: 80 kilometres west of Alice Springs, via Larapinta and Namatjira drives. Access is by 2WD, however the last two kilometres is unsealed.

4. FLORENCE FALLS, LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK

This double waterfall wins the trifecta – easy access, spectacular monsoon forest and a crystal clear plunge pool. Known as Karrimurra to Aboriginal people, it's where the men would take the younger boys to discuss initiation and other facts of life. Take a moment to absorb the power of this spiritual place and think about those who have stepped this way before you. See www.northernterritory.com

Advertisement

Getting there: Litchfield National Park is near Batchelor, 120 kilometres south-west of Darwin.

5. JIM JIM FALLS, KAKADU NATIONAL PARK

5. Jim Jim Falls - supplied Tourism NT View of young couple at a distance standing on rocks near Jim Jim Falls plunge pool during dry season str20-trav10swims

Getting to Jim Jim Falls is one of the toughest side trips in Kakadu – 65 kilometres of unsealed roads (4WD only) followed by a difficult 900-metre trek into the gorge. It's also a lottery – the falls dry up in the dry season, the access road is closed in the wet (or if there are croc sightings) and sections can become off-limits due to cultural reasons. But when the planets align a swim from the sandy beach beneath the 200-metre cliffs is as good as wild swimming gets. See www.kakadutourism.com

Getting there: The start of the Jim Jim Falls access road is 43 kilometres south of the Bowali Visitor Centre near Jabiru.

6. ORMISTON GORGE, WEST MACDONNELL RANGES

Out of all the gaps and gorges in the West Macs, Ormiston is the most impressive. Comprised of orange and red quartzite, and formed by massive geological forces, the gorge cuts some 300 metres deep through a high ridge. The near-permanent swimming hole is the ideal spot to cool off after hiking the Ormiston Pound Walk (three to four hours). See www.northernterritory.com

Getting there: 135 kilometres west of Alice Springs via the Larapinta and Namatjira drives.

7. GUNLOM PLUNGE POOL, KAKADU NATIONAL PARK

Located on Waterfall Creek, Gunlom offers two options – a flat walk to the plunge pool at the bottom or a steep walk to nature's finest infinity pool at the top. While the plunge pool is the easier option you'll kick yourself if you miss the sweeping views across the southernmost parts of Kakadu from the top. Bring a packed lunch to enjoy at the shaded picnic spot once you're back down. See www.kakadutourism.com

Getting there: 200 kilometres south of Jabiru along the Kakadu Highway. The access road is unsealed, but fine for most 2WDs in the dry season.

8. REDBANK GORGE, WEST MACDONNELL RANGES

8. Redbank Gorge - supplied Tourism NT Road Trip, Explorers Way

Tucked at the base of Mount Sonder, this near-permanent waterhole just begs for a pool float or airbed for drifting through the narrow gorge. Allow 20 minutes for the one-kilometre walk in, following the sandy (and rocky) creek bed. Being a good distance from Alice Springs, Redbank gets fewer visitors than other swimming holes. See www.northernterritory.com

Getting there: 156 kilometres west of Alice Springs via Larapinta and Namatjira drives, followed by a five-kilometre access road (unsealed)

9. SOUTHERN ROCKHOLE, NITMILUK NATIONAL PARK

9. Southern Rockhole - supplied Tourism NT str20-trav10swims

Never have swimmers had it so easy. Swap the four-kilometre (each way) hike for a ferry ride ($28 return), which will bring you within 150 metres of the swimming hole and waterfall. The final trail involves a fair bit of rock-hopping, so a moderate level of fitness and mobility is required. The season is short and swimming is only permitted when Parks and Wildlife give the go-ahead. See www.nitmiluktours.com.au

Getting there: Entrance to the national park is 30 kilometres east of Katherine on the sealed George Road.

10. TJAYNERA FALLS (SANDY CREEK), LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK

Less crowded than other parts of Litchfield (partly because the access road requires a 4WD) this plunge pool and waterfall is a 1.4-kilometre walk from the car park. Surrounded by paperbarks it is a cool and shady spot in which to escape the heat of the day. The historic Blythe Homestead, once home to the pioneering Sargent family, is nearby. See www.northernterritory.com

Getting there: Litchfield National Park is near Batchelor, 120 kilometres south-west of Darwin.

Kerry van der Jagt travelled with the assistance of Tourism NT and Tourism Australia.

Comments