There's no shortage of swimming holes in the Territory, but you need to be sure you aren't sharing them with the crocs ...
WANGI FALLS, LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK
Just 90-minutes down the road from Darwin, this is the first of a few swimming holes you might encounter with what really amounts to a liability waiver; it boils down to an explanation that the area is managed for crocodiles and that they clear any that arrive in the wet season, but that isn't a guarantee they've got them all. Going by the numbers (of people, not crocs) here on any weekend during the dry season, there's a public vote of confidence in the croc-clearing program. The plunge pool below Wangi Falls is about as easy to get into as the shower, the forest is green and lush all around and the water is clear and deep, with the falls tumbling over the cliff way above. There is no entry fee for Litchfield.
FLORENCE FALLS, LITCHFIELD NATIONAL PARK
Photo: Tourism NT/Sean Scott
Florence Falls, about 30-minutes further along the road, upstages Wangi for setting and size but the trade-off is access. Wangi Falls is a stroll from its car park, whereas you need to tread 130 steep steel stairs there and back again for a swim beneath Florence Falls. That said, it's worth every step; it's like swimming in a crater, with huge rock walls framing the pool, water falling over the cliffedge and showering the swimmers below that are game enough to get under them. The only croc we saw there was of the blow-up variety, with a young girl and her dad paddling around and carrying impish smiles as they circumnavigated the pool.
GUNLOM, KAKADU NATIONAL PARK
Photo: NT Tourism
Deep within Kakadu and made famous in the first Crocodile Dundee movie, Gunlom is a pot of gold at the end of a bumpy track. There's a vast, easily accessible plunge pool surrounded by a picnic area just a couple of hundred metres from the car park; just the spot for people of all ages and abilities. For a bit more of a challenge, there's a steep and at times tricky track up to a series of natural infinite pools, fed by the Waterfall Creek. Despite its beauty and serenity, the Jawoyn people, traditional owners at Kakadu, refer to much of this region as Buladjang, or "sickness country" - it is known for its uranium deposits. The park entry fee is $25 for 14-days for an adult.
KATHERINE HOT SPRINGS
Photo: NT Tourism
These natural thermal springs are a stroll from the centre of Katherine, along the Katherine River. Back in the day, there was just one big pool, but that has been moulded and manipulated into a series of clear streams and channels and pools for all-comers to soak in, with disabled access included. The grounds are landscaped with a picnic area nearby and terraces to sit and contemplate the waters that stay at a temperature of between 25 and 30 degrees. It's a little odd, soaking in hot water in a hot climate, but the thermal springs have a very relaxed and restorative character, and there'll be a United Nations of languages soaking in them alongside you. There is no entry fee.
LELIYN (EDITH FALLS) NITMILUK NATIONAL PARK
Photo: NT Tourism
The Wangi and Florence falls pools in Litchfield seem immersed in their surrounding vegetation; whereas here in the dry season in Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) at the Leliyn pools there's a landscape of rich, red, craggy rocks. There's a pool near the car park and a short (2.6 kilometre loop) walk takes you to the upper pool, with views of the falls along the way. A longer (8.6 kilometre return) walk takes in the more remote and quite serene Sweetwater Pool. If you're heading back to Darwin after Edith Falls, be sure and stop at Mayse's Cafe in Pine Creek and treat yourself to a mango smoothie; every bit as good there as they are at the Parap Village Markets. There is no entry fee for the Leliyn pools
NIGHTCLIFF POOL, DARWIN
Darwin has three excellent public pools. At Casuarina there's a shade-covered 50-metre lap pool as well as toddlers' and wading/learn-to-swim pools. Parap, around the corner from the markets, has the best set-up, with 50-metre and 25-metre pools in a FINA-rated swimming complex that can host national and international training and competition. But for the setting, the Nightcliff Pool is the winner with its grassy verges, lazy palms for shade and views over the Darwin foreshore and out to the Harbour beyond. And after all that exercise you can reward yourself with a snack or meal at the adjacent Foreshore Restaurant. At any of the three pools, $4 will get you in the swim.