Adventure

The 9 Best Swimming Holes Near Darwin

It's like the world capital of natural plunge pools.

The Northern Territory has a reputation for being dry and sparse, but hidden among its desert landscape are oases of crystal clear waterholes, warm springs and cascading falls.

But first, a few points of administration. Most of the best swimming spots are open during the dry season (May to October), but this is the Outback, of course, and in the occasion of extreme weather or wildlife (yep, crocs), some may close to the public. Always check signage, obey information from parks authorities and seek appropriate national park entry passes.

Now that that’s taken care of, here’s our pick of the most impressive places to take a dip in the Top End.

#1 Buley Rockhole, Litchfield National Park

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Image: Kate McCabe

A favourite for locals and tourists alike, Buley’s is a cascading collection of rock pools that seems to go on forever. It’s only a 90-minute commute, so it’s not uncommon for Darwin locals to pack an esky and head to Buley’s for the day, an afternoon or a weekend camping trip.

Better still, bypass those expensive spa treatments and take a seat while fast flowing whitewater gives you a shoulder massage.

#2 Mataranka Thermal Pool, Mataranka

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Image: Kate McCabe

There are two absolutely mind-blowing swimming holes near Mataranka (about a 75-minute drive south of Katherine) and they both make the list. At the Mataranka Thermal Pools, springs bubble up at 34 degrees to fill a semi-man made pool of perfectly turquoise water under a shady canopy of stretching palms.

It can be crowded at times because it is a regular stop for tour buses and grey nomads, but there is plenty of room for all. Bonus fact: the waters here are believed to hold healing powers for all your aches and pains.


#3 Bitter Springs, Mataranka

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Image: Kate McCabe

The second swimming hole at Mataranka is Bitter Springs and it’s often overlooked, despite being an even more unreal experience than the Mataranka Thermal Pools. At Bitter Springs, underground warm springs have produced a 100-metre stream lined with native reeds and plants. Bring along a tube or noodle and float with the current from one end to the other.

There are ladders at both ends for easy access, but this swimming spot is not for the faint of heart – it’s deep, it flows fast, and overhead is a rather intense gauntlet of intricate weavings by our eight-legged friends. Arachnophobes, do not enter.


#4 Jim Jim Falls, Kakadu National Park

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Image: Taryn Stenvei

Jim Jim Falls is one of the better known places to splash about in the World Heritage–listed Kakadu National Park. Nested inside a deep gorge, the only way to reach it is via a rugged 4WD track so, during the wet season, it’s often inaccessible (check opening dates in advance).

he falls themselves are a sight to see, dropping an extreme 200m down to the natural swimming hole below. The plunge pool is breathtakingly huge and difficult to capture on camera. At the risk of sounding cliché, it really must be seen to be believed.


#5 Tjaynera Falls, Litchfield National Park

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Image: Taryn Stenvei

You didn’t hear it from us, but Tjaynera Falls is one of Litchfield’s best kept secrets. Like Jim Jim, it’s accessible only via a 4WD track which means, on a quiet day, you might be lucky enough to have the place to yourself. To take a dip here you need to walk 1.4 kilometres from the car park before you reach the swimming hole.


#6 Edith Falls, Nitmiluk National Park

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Image: Njbawden / Flickr

Edith Falls sits among the red rock landscape near Katherine Gorge, just over three hours from Darwin. It’s perched at the base of Nitmiluk National Park (the gateway to Kakadu) and it’s well worth turning off the main highway to find it.

Cool off by taking a paddle in the two separate pools at the top or bottom of the falls. Otherwise, it’s a short hike to nearby and secluded Sweetwater Pool, where – if you’re lucky – you might share the water with a few turtles.


#7 Florence Falls, Litchfield National Park

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Image: Alan Lam / Flickr

A stone’s throw from Buley’s, the plunge pool of Florence Falls is a clear, deep and shady place to swim that’s surrounded by towering rock walls. Use your swimming skills to fight the strong current and get right up under the twin falls, or pack a snorkel and goggles to check out the huge barramundi swimming below.


#8 Berry Springs, Berry Springs Nature Park

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Image: Ken Hodges / Flickr

A little closer to Darwin, the Berry Springs Nature Park is a popular swimming hole among families and day-trippers alike. It’s well set up with picnic areas, BBQs and a kiosk. There’s a collection of warm, clear pools and whitewater torrents, made accessible with ladders and pontoons.


#9 Gunlom Plunge Pool, Kakadu National Park

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Image: Travel NT

This is easily the most Instagrammable spot on the list. Gunlom Plunge Pool is hidden at the top of a waterfall, so the hike to reach it is steep but the reward is ever so sweet. The water here is cool and refreshing, and the views over Kakadu are to die for.

This has to be one of the world’s most beautiful natural infinity pools. Bravo, Mother Nature. Bravo.

(Lead image: RJCox / Flickr)