The Northern Territory’s Best Swimming Holes

As the monsoon rains peter out in April or May, the ground dries up and waterfalls slow to a trickle in the Northern Territory. But the water remains stored in deep plunge pools, and roads that were recently flooded open up for adventurous swimmers. Water-bound crocodiles are less of an issue in the dry season, but always research your swimming spot and check for posted signs before jumping in. On cooler days, hit the hot springs around Mataranka, keeping your eyes peeled for sea turtles.

Litchfield Park Road
Even in the cooler months, Darwin can be a hot, scorching place. Make a day trip to the waterfalls and plunge pools of Litchfield National Park, a one and a half hour drive from Darwin. Swim in the crystal-clear swimming hole at the base of Florence Falls and bushwalk through monsoon rainforest to Walker Creek. For the acqua adverse there’s wildlife and birdlife, ranges and rainforest to explore. Picnic next to fruit bats at Wangi Falls and see sweeping valley views at Tolmer Falls. There is a wildlife cruise on the Reynolds River, part of a working cattle station. You can join up with Aboriginal owners of this land, the Wagait people. Find out more at the Litchfield National Park website.
Located on Waterfall Creek in World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, the Gunlom Falls infinity pool is the perfect combination of waterfall and plunge pool, with gum trees for shade, picnic areas nearby for snacking and camping, and hiking paths that provide panoramic views of the floodplains of southern Kakadu. The waterfall is at full throttle during the summer monsoon season, but access is limited so helicopters and floatplanes are your best bet to see the cascade show. But in the dry season, from April to October, travelers can drive and walk to the swimming holes, though four-wheel drive is often necessary. The pools are monitored for crocodiles, so check the signs before entering, even in the dry season when sightings are less likely.
Kakadu NT 0822, Australia
Kakadu’s tallest waterfall turns on in the tropical summer (book a scenic flight to see it in full force), but in the dry season, between June and November, Jim Jim Falls transforms into a deep swimming hole surrounded by boulders and 500-foot cliffs. To get here, turn east off the Kakadu Highway 43 kilometers south of the Bowali Visitor Centre. Then travel 60 kilometers down a four-wheel-drive track, which easily takes two hours each way. Several tour companies include Jim Jim in their itineraries for travelers who don’t want to drive on their own. Either way, the rewards far outweigh the trek, and the views are spectacular.
Stuart Hwy, Mataranka NT 0852, Australia
About 65 miles south of Katherine’s famous gorges and waterfalls lies the local’s secret that is the Mataranka Hot Springs in Elsey National Park. Between May and September, the water is calm and, in some places, 93 degrees Fahrenheit. The best areas to soak are in the Bitter Springs and Mataranka thermal pools; the former is deeper and quieter while Mataranka forks off into a peaceful stream that reaches a bridge and ladder. In both places, the water is turquoise and transparent, shaded by Mataranka palm trees and festooned with wildlife such as barramundi and even freshwater turtles—don’t forget your snorkel!
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