Swimmingin the Northern Territory
The best way to cool down after a day in the Territory is to find a pool, waterhole or beach to take a dip. You’ll be surprised by just how many hidden swimming spots there are, even in the desert.
If there’s one thing you need to put on your Northern Territory bucket list, it’s finding a natural waterhole and taking a dip amongst nature. From the Top End down to the arid zones of Central Australia, there are sparkling waterholes to be discovered all over.
Maybe a beach is more your style across the Top End? With soft sand and cool water to entice you on a hot day, find your nearest patrolled beach and take a well deserved dip.
If you’re not sure about swimming with nature, don’t worry. There are plenty of pools across the Territory. Take the kids to one of the water parks in Darwin, swim at one of the caravan parks or hotels in Katherine and Tennant Creek, or just enjoy a swim-up bar at your hotel in Alice Springs.
The rules for swimming across the Territory are simple: obey all signs to keep you and your family safe.
Swimming around Alice Springs
As a town smack bang in the middle of the desert, you might be surprised to find that there are plenty of places to swim outside of hotel pools. The rocky landscape of the East and West MacDonnell Ranges have created a number of accessible and refreshing waterholes for you to take a dip.
Alice Springs CBD
Within the town of Alice Springs, the most accessible place to swim is the Alice Springs Aquatic and Leisure Centre. It has a heated indoor pool, spa, a pool with disability access, lazy river and two waterslides so everyone can enjoy a nice cool swim on a hot – or cold – day. There’s a kiosk and café and free BBQs so you can make a day of it.
There are other pools in Alice Springs but they’re attached to hotels so to access them you’ll need to be a paying guest. The best of these is the Crowne Plaza Alice Springs Lasseters Hotel pool and swim up bar or the BIG4 MacDonnell Range Holiday Park with swimming pools and a waterslide.
Tjoritja West MacDonnell National Park
In the West MacDonnell National Park there are a number of refreshing natural waterholes to enjoy. Follow all the local signage to keep yourself safe.
Redbank Gorge is 156km west of Alice Springs, a popular stop along the Red Centre Way at the base of Mt Sonder. The water in this gorge is known for being extremely cold so be prepared and if possible, take a pool noodle, lilo or other flotation device to assist with your swim.
Heading back towards town, Glen Helen Gorge and Ormiston Gorge are both permanent waterholes nestled in amongst large quartzite cliffs. Glen Helen is home to an important species of migratory birds so bring your binoculars for a spot of bird watching after your swim.
Ellery Creek Big Hole is the most accessible of the natural waterholes along the West MacDonnell Ranges with wheelchair access into the waterhole.
While Simpsons Gap and Serpentine Gorge – also on the Red Centre Way – might look inviting after heavy rain, these are sacred areas and no swimming is allowed.
East MacDonnell National Park
The East MacDonnell National Park is also home to some spectacular natural waterholes. Trephina Gorge and the nearby John Hayes Rock Hole are seasonal waterholes, perfect for swimming after rain. They’re both accessible by 4WD on a gravel path with a short hike required to get to John Hayes Rock Hole. Bush campgrounds are available in both locations.
Ross River Resort is also a great spot for swimming, but you must be a paying guest to access the pool.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Swimming within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is limited to accommodation spots, as natural waterholes in the area are not safe for swimming. Ayers Rock Resort and its 8 hotels including the Ayers Rock Campground each have their own pools for use by guests, except the Emu Walk Apartments where guests are welcome to use the pool at the Desert Gardens Hotel.
Kings Canyon & Watarrka National Park
Take a dip in Tennant Creek
Swimming spots in Tennant Creek might be rare but they’re worth checking out.
Tingkkarli/Lake Mary Ann, just north of Tennant Creek, is large enough for swimming and canoeing. Follow the bike path from town, have a picnic or enjoy a BBQ.
Further out from town in the Davenport Ranges National Park, is the Old Police Station Waterhole. It’s the closest permanent swimming hole to Tennant Creek where you can set up camp and enjoy some peace and quiet.
Cool off in Katherine
Within Katherine itself, the Katherine Hot Springs are a series of clear pools on the edge of the Katherine River. The springs have been made accessible with stairs, ramps and easy entry points. Enjoy a picnic or a BBQ and take in the scenery on one of the nearby walking tracks.
Nitmiluk National Park
While the body of the Katherine River is not safe for swimming, there are plenty of places within Nitmiluk National Park (including Katherine Gorge) where you can take advantage of the wet season waterfalls and natural waterholes.
Edith Falls is one of the most popular spots where you can watch a stunning waterfall from either the bottom or top pools and choose from a range of connected swimming spots. If you’re a hiker, you might like to check out the swimming holes along the 62km Jatbula Trail including Crystal Falls, Sweetwater Pool, Sandy Camp Pool, Edith River Crossing, 17 Mile Falls, Biddlecombe Cascades and Northern Rockhole. Numbers are limited on the trail so you’ll need a permit and approval before setting off.
60km south of Katherine is the town of Mataranka, a pastoral town made famous by the novel We of the Never Never, written by Jeannie Gunn. The Mataranka Thermal Pool, Rainbow Springs and the nearby Bitter Springs, just 2km away, are spring-fed thermal pools, ideal for a relaxing swim at any time of the day. These are open most of the year with short closures during the wet season for visitor safety.
Laying back in Litchfield
Litchfield National Park is one of the best places to head if you want access to a range of different swimming spots all within one park. Litchfield has lots of options including Wangi Falls, Buley Rockhole, Florence Falls, Walker Creek and Tjaynera Falls/Sandy Creek Campground. You can camp at or near most spots with swimming open during the dry season. Florence Falls is open year-round, with Buley Rockhole open most of the year.
Aquatics in Arnhem
Town Beach in Nhulunbuy is patrolled between May and October for swimming and surfing.
Keeping it cool in Kakadu
If you’re visiting Kakadu National Park, you probably aren’t expecting to swim thanks to all the crocodiles. But there’s plenty of places where you can have a dip most of the year.
The Jabiru Swimming Pool is an obvious choice, located in the heart of the township servicing the national park. The pool is Olympic-sized with shade covering and a toddler pool plus a BBQ area. Within the complex there’s also a beach volleyball court, mini-golf and a playground.
In the national park itself, most swimming spots are accessible from the major campgrounds. Jim Jim Falls plunge pool, Twin Falls upstream swimming holes and Maguk falls and plunge pool are all great for a swim and are accessible by 4WD. Jarrangbarnmi (Koolpin) Gorge waterfall and plunge pool is only accessible on a hiking track.
Dip your toes in Darwin & Surrounds
Pools & water parks
Within Darwin itself, there are plenty of places to swim when it gets warm. Casuarina, Parap, Nightcliff and Palmerston all have public pools with kiosks and some with BBQ facilities.
Palmerston Water Park and Leanyer Water Park are large-scale water play areas with a range of different swimming zones for kids of all ages. Both water parks feature water playgrounds and water slides with BBQs and picnic tables on-site.
The Darwin Waterfront features a Wave Pool alongside a free Recreation Lagoon which are both great options to cool off in. The lagoon is surrounded by a sea wall so it’s safe for swimming and is patrolled by lifeguards. For parts of the year, an inflatable obstacle course is available in this area with a beach volleyball court and beach available all year round.
Just next to the lagoon is the Wave Pool. Grab a boogie board or inflatable tyre and take on the waves. Waves run for a set time every 20 minutes, so between wave sets you can relax in the water or hop out and lay back on a sun lounge.
Hit the beach
The ocean water of Darwin is enticing on a warm day so finding a patrolled beach where it’s safe to swim is a must. Mindil Beach, Casuarina Beach and Nightcliff Beach are all patrolled in the dry season. Mindil Beach is patrolled seven days a week with Nightcliff patrolled on Sunday and Casuarina patrolled on Saturday and Sunday. Follow the directions of lifeguards and swim between the red and yellow flags to have a safe and enjoyable time in the water.
Natural swimming holes in Darwin
Beaches, rivers and creeks in the Top End look welcoming during the humid months but they’re not for swimming unless signed as safe. Crocodiles and stingers may be present so always obey the nearby signs.
Lake Alexander at East Point is an artificial lake and only a 10-minute drive from Darwin city. It’s ideal for a swim, canoe, kayak or stand-up paddle board. BBQs, a playground and public toilets are available.
Swimming just outside Darwin
Further south of Darwin, the Howard Springs Nature Park is ideal to mix some wildlife spotting and some swimming. There are a number of rockpools supported by a small waterfall as well as a toddler pool for the little ones. The spring-fed waterhole is home to many turtles and not suitable for swimming.
Berry Springs Nature Park is another great spot for a swim and open most of the year unless there’s been heavy rainfall. There are picnic facilities on site along with BBQs and a kiosk. Right next door is the Territory Wildlife Park if you’d like to make a day of it.
Lake Bennett is 80km south of Darwin and is a small artificial freshwater lake surrounded by private cabins and a resort. It’s safe to swim with access available to the public only through the resort where you can also hire canoes and kayaks or enjoy the on-site spa.
With such a warm climate, swimming in the Northern Territory can be great fun but it’s important to stay safe. Remember that it’s not advised to swim in the wet season between November and April.
Follow all signage and only swim where it’s marked safe to do so.
Check if the park is open
Before heading off on a great adventure, make sure you check whether your swimming spot is open. Many natural waterholes in the Top End are closed during the wet season when it’s unsafe for swimming. Public pools may also be closed during storm activity.
Beware of submerged objects
Don’t dive into waterholes unless it’s marked safe to do so. Natural waterholes can have unpredictable depth changes and can be hiding submerged objects like rocks and branches that can cause serious injury.
Desert water can be cold
Even though you’re in the middle of the desert, the water in many of the natural waterholes surrounding Alice Springs can be very cold. Being submerged in cold water for extended periods of time can cause fatigue and hypothermia. Swim with flotation devices to avoid trouble and if the water’s cold, get out regularly to warm up.
Even in the shade you can get sunburnt. Remember to slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade and slide on your sunglasses.