Waterfalls & waterholesin the Northern Territory
The Northern Territory is home to some of the most spectacular natural waterholes and waterfalls in the world – and not just in the tropical climate of the Top End.
In the arid desert lands of Central Australia, you’ll also find pristine, refreshing waterholes that will surprise, delight and refresh.
Waterfalls & waterholes near Darwin
Berry Springs Nature Park – just 50km from Darwin, is an idyllic spot for a swim and an ideal destination for a day trip during the dry season. The park has barbecue facilities, picnic tables, manicured lawns and shady areas to utilise and enjoy. The various shady pools along the creek are easy to access and perfect for swimming and snorkelling. It’s history as part of a World War II recreation camp - at a time when 100,000 armed forces personnel were based in the area - can be seen in the remains around the main pool.
Litchfield National Park is one of the most accessible parks in the Northern Territory. Just over an hour’s drive from Darwin and boasting sealed roads, car parks and public amenities, Litchfield is the perfect spot for a day trip or a weekend getaway, making it a favourite with Darwin locals.
Wangi Falls is an easily accessed must-see for all visitors to Litchfield. Two waterfalls from the rock escarpment cascade into the plunge pool below. Surrounded by monsoon rainforest, you can enjoy a picnic, a BBQ or a snack from the nearby kiosk. There’s even hot showers available if you decide to camp. Wangi Falls is closed during the wet season though, due to the potential for dangerous currents.
Florence Falls is also easily accessed via a short walk from the car park to the viewing platform. For swimming, take the stairs down to the plunge pool and cool off. This is one of the few waterholes open all year round. If you’d like to stay a little longer, there are campgrounds nearby.
Buley Rockhole is another great spot to relax and open for most of the year. A connected network of rock pools, Buley Rockhole lets you choose your own adventure. Follow the path right to the water’s edge and float around in your chosen rockpool or make your way along the rocks to the next pool, all to the soundtrack of the flowing water.
Tjaynera Falls (Sandy Creek) is a little more off the beaten track with a 1.4km walk required to get to the plunge pool at the base of the waterfall. You’ll need a 4WD to get to the car park and campground, but you’ll be rewarded with much less traffic and a lot less people than other areas of the park.
Tolmer Falls is arguably the most spectacular waterfall in Litchfield, thundering over two escarpments into the deep pool below. Swimming is not permitted here at all however, as the bottom of the Falls is home to several colonies of rare Ghost Bats and Orange Horseshoe Bats. A comfortable 800m walk from the carpark leads to two viewing platforms and a 45-minute loop walk follows a path along Tolmer Creek and a tributary, past pristine rock pools through typical Top End sandstone country.
For more information about camping around Darwin, check out our camping guide.
Kakadu’s waterfalls & waterholes
Within the 20,000 square kilometres of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park, a treasure trove of waterfalls, billabongs and waterways await.
Jim Jim Falls is an awe-inspiring 200m high waterfall with a crystal clear plunge pool at the base. It’s accessible by 4WD in the dry season, but you’ll need to be experienced and comfortable driving through dirt and soft sand. In the wet season, when the waterfall is at its strongest, the road is impassable so your best bet to see it in all its glory is on a scenic flight.
Just 10km from Jim Jim Falls is Twin Falls. Like Jim Jim, Twin Falls is accessible only by high clearance 4WD with snorkel, due to a deep water crossing at Jim Jim Creek. During the wet season, Twin Falls is also inaccessible by road.
Jarrangbarnmi Gorge (Koolpin) is a picturesque spot with cultural importance to the Jawoyn people. A 2km walk takes you along the banks of Vegetation Pool, Pink Pool and Black Pool and through protected land with incredible biodiversity and a number of rare species. This is a crocodile management zone so there’s no swimming here. Just enjoy the views from a safe distance.
Maguk (Barramundi Gorge), only accessible by 4WD and then a 1km walk is a hidden gem. A small waterfall drops into a large natural pool surrounded by tall sandstone walls. Stick close to the edge if you’re an inexperienced swimmer, otherwise you can swim right up to the waterfall. Enjoy a picnic and return home or find a spot at the nearby campground to make the most of the serenity.
No trip to Kakadu would be complete with a Yellow Water Cruise. Located on the Yellow Water Billabong, dedicated cruising boats will take you through this vibrant habitat so you can get up close to crocodiles, wild horses, buffalo, birds and fish. The best time for a Yellow Water Cruise is morning or late afternoon when the wildlife is most active.
Crocodiles are a fact of life in the waterways of the Top End. Anytime you’re going in, out on, or nearby the water, always be Crocwise and take notice of all warning signs.
Waterfalls & waterholes in the Katherine region
One of the unique things about the Katherine region, is its network of thermal pools and hot springs. Mataranka Thermal Pool and Bitter Springs are both located near Mataranka, publicly accessible and perfect for a dip after a long day on the road. Katherine Hot Springs is just a short drive from town and is accessible with a ramp, hand rails and rock steps. Facilities offered there include picnic areas, toilets and an on-site café. These areas are closed during the wet season though, as they’re subject to flooding.
Within the Nitmiluk National Park are lots of stunning waterfalls and waterholes. One of the most popular is Leliyn (Edith Falls). This stunning set of cascading waterfalls boasts a large pool at the base surrounded by paperbark and pandanus trees and is perfect for swimming. A kiosk on-site provides the option for you to enjoy a snack and a cool drink after your swim.
Also within Nitmiluk National Park is the world-famous Nitmiluk Gorge. It’s actually a series of 13 connected gorges formed by sheer sandstone cliffs. Swimming is only permitted in the second and third gorges during the dry season and not allowed anywhere else in the gorge system. Other options to experience and enjoy the surrounds include hiring a canoe, taking a relaxing cruise down the gorges or the aerial view with a scenic flight.
One of Nitmiluk National Park’s hidden gems is Sweetwater Pool – the final campground on the Jatbula Trail that’s only accessible by foot. It’s a 4.5km walk from Edith Falls but well worth the effort for those who make it, with the reward of multiple refreshing pools to enjoy after your hike.
An hour west of Katherine is Umbrawarra Gorge Nature Park, a beautiful isolated gorge and creek accessible during the dry season. From the main pool, you can only reach the other pools by swimming, wading or rock hopping. When you’re done swimming, check out the incredible Aboriginal rock art on the gorge walls. Camp sites are available here but there’s no fresh water so make sure you bring enough for your stay.
For more information about camping around Katherine, check out our camping guide.
Waterfalls & waterholes around Tennant Creek
Further afield, experienced campers with high-clearance 4WDs can head into the Davenport Ranges National Park. It’s a 250km drive from Tennant Creek and offers a campground next to the Old Police Station Waterhole. It’s a place of incredible wildlife diversity so take your binoculars.
Waterfalls & waterholes around Alice Springs
Despite being smack bang in the middle of the desert, with a bit of exploring you can find incredible natural waterways all throughout Central Australia.
Most of these waterways are found in the East MacDonnell Ranges and Tjoritja/West MacDonnell Ranges national parks. The remarkable MacDonnell Ranges appear to rise up from nowhere to dominate the landscape, with the two parks encompassing thousands of square kilometres of arid country.
From Trephina Gorge, a moderate to challenging Ridgetop Walk will get you to the John Hayes Rockhole, where you can swim during the warmer months. For Ruby Gap Nature Park, you’ll need to be an experienced off road driver to make it as the access road is a high-clearance 4WD dirt track.
Given the dry conditions, sometimes there’s just not enough water for swimming but these spots are still great for a walk or a picnic and some quiet time in nature. Campgrounds are available at Trephina Gorge, John Hayes Rockhole and Ruby Gap Nature Park, but only Trephina Gorge campground has drinking water so make sure you’re well prepared to look after yourself.
In the West MacDonnell Ranges, there are plenty of waterholes where you can find relief from the heat and wash off the dust of a day’s adventures.
Ellery Creek is a deep and shady spot easily accessed by gravel road (suitable for cars) and with a campground just metres from the water. It’s thought to be almost a kilometre deep so there’ll always be water for you to swim in.
Serpentine Gorge is a permanent waterhole, surrounded by a range of seasonal waterholes, that is the perfect spot for some birdwatching. If it’s been raining recently, you may even see some small waterfalls down the rocks. Swimming is not allowed in the gorge as it has special significance to the Western Arrernte people and their Dreamtime stories. You can access the gorge carpark by car but the dirt track can be tricky in wet weather.
Glen Helen Gorge is at the western end of the ranges and easily accessible by sealed road. It’s perfect for a swim and an even better spot to see the many species of fish and waterbirds who rely on it during the hotter months. Access is through the nearby Glen Helen Lodge with campsites available for hire.
Ormiston Gorge is an almost permanent waterhole – weather depending – and a beautiful spot for a swim in the warmer months. At its deepest point, it’s 14m to the bottom so the water can be very cold, even on the hottest day. The waterhole is just 500m from the visitor centre so it’s easy to access. This is an area of rich history with some plant species potentially millions of years old.
Redbank Gorge is a stunning waterhole located in a gorge that you have to work for. Walking along the creek bed to the gorge is only a kilometre each way but it will take you more than an hour return because of the unstable ground underfoot. This is not for the faint-hearted but if you do make the trip, prepare yourself with plenty of drinking water and avoid the hottest parts of the day. When you get to the swimming hole, you’ll appreciate the effort you made.
The water can be deceptively cold in Central Australia, even in the height of summer. Avoid spending too long in the water and take a flotation device for additional comfort.
For more information about camping, check out our camping guide.
Waterfalls & waterholes near Uluru
While you may not expect to find any waterways near Uluru, after heavy rain, the rock itself becomes home to dozens of waterholes and several impressive waterfalls. These waterholes can last for weeks and are teeming with life. They’re also sacred to the local Anangu people, so they’re not appropriate for swimming in.
You’ll be most likely to see rain on Uluru during the hottest part of the year – between November and March. You’ll just have to try your luck though – after all, it is in the middle of the desert.
General travel safety
Before heading out on remote roads, isolated walks or camping trips, find out where emergency call devices are located or travel with a satellite phone or EPIRB. Make sure someone knows where you’re going and when you’re due to return.
There are lots of great places to enjoy in the NT, especially if you love a hike. It’s important though that you prepare for the extreme conditions that await. Make sure you carry enough fresh water (1L per person, per hour) and and avoid physical activity outdoors in the hottest part of the day. Even in the colder months, it’s possible to become dehydrated and disoriented before you realise it.
The desert gets cold in the Autumn and Winter months of April to September so if you’re in Central Australia or the Barkly, make sure you have warm clothes before heading out to watch the sunset. The temperature can drop rapidly and often gets below zero degrees Celsius at night.
Crocodiles are a fact of life in the waterways of the Top End. Anytime you’re going in, out on, or nearby the water, always be Crocwise and take notice of all warning signs. Only swim in places where it’s marked as safe to do so.
The water can be deceptively cold – particularly in Central Australia – so avoid long swims and take a flotation device. Beware of submerged objects in natural waterholes that can cause injury or damage to canoes and kayaks.
Take care of your surroundings
When exploring the Territory, be mindful that we have a duty to respect the cultural significance of the land and to protect and conserve the flora and fauna it houses. Do not disturb or feed the animals, or unnecessarily impact on the vegetation of these unique and remarkable habitats.