From Cape York to Kings Canyon and the Kimberley, there are dozens of places to get wet when you adventure inland. These top croc-free waterholes are guaranteed to cool you down and blow your mind!
TWIN FALLS, JARDINE RIVER NATIONAL PARK, CAPE YORK, QLD
Tackling the rutted, washed-out track that leads to this unexpected, forested oasis demands patience, but all is forgotten once you’re finally floating beneath Twin Falls, dangling your dusty red feet in the cool current.
This sublime, spring-fed swimming hole would shine anywhere in the state, but it’s a rarity in a region where most waterways are the domain of big estuarine crocodiles.
The pools stay full year-round, fed by water seeping through sandstone bedrock into Canal and Eliot Creeks before they join forces to swell the Jardine, Queensland’s largest perennial river.
It’s is a peaceful spot for offroad travellers to unwind, wandering between the national park’s excellent campground and the two tiers of irresistible pools beneath Twin Falls.
You can swim beneath Eliot Falls and at the Saucepan, too, and there are big campsites tucked into bushy nooks, with facilities impressive for such a remote location: wheelchair-accessible toilets, drinking water, picnic tables and fire pits (no generators allowed).
- Eliot and Twin Falls are signposted off the Bamaga Road, 119km north of Bramwell Junction.
- Book campsites in advance as there is no mobile coverage at the campground ($6.15/person).
KING EDWARD RIVER, NORTH-WEST KIMBERLEY, WA
In the Kimberley’s north-west, where the King Edward River divides the countries of Ngarinyin and Wunambal peoples, travellers can find respite at an idyllic waterfront camp surrounded by 40,000-year-old rock art.
Known as Munurru, this sacred dreaming place records ancient tribal battles of Wandjina spirits, ceremonial Gwion-Gwion (Bradshaw) scenes and mesmerising paintings of long-extinct animals such as the thylacine. In all, these are some of the oldest and most intriguing art works you are ever likely to find.
It’s true that getting to King Edward River demands a good dose of determination: the Kalumburu Road is seasonally closed and usually corrugated, and the causeway across the King Edward River can be deep.
Claim one of the spacious, grassy nooks for your camp, then head for the deep, clear pools to float beneath the corellas that congregate noisily at sunset. Just downstream, where the river slips and slides over polished rock, King Edward Falls fills a picturesque rock amphitheatre that glows amber and gold as the sun dips low.
The free-range campground provides good facilities for such a remote location and Munurru’s twin rock art sites are signposted close to camp and easily explored via foot trails that pad through the grasslands.
- King Edward River campground is signposted 8km off the Kalumburu Road, about 180km north of the Gibb River Road, which opens to 4WD traffic at the end of the wet season.
- Time your trip between April and November, expect high water levels early in the dry season and check road conditions before setting out.
- Camping costs $10/adult ($2.20 per child), payable on site (no bins, no pets, bring drinking water).
TJUWALIYN HOT SPRINGS, DOUGLAS RIVER, NT
To reach Tjuwaliyn (Douglas) Hot Springs you pass through a pretty lonely stretch of scrub, so it comes as a surprise to discover the vast wintertime congregation of travellers that converge on this big, free-range camp.
What lures the crowds are the steaming underground springs that bubble to the surface at a red-hot 60˚C!
Some of the sandy pools along the Douglas River are literally boiling, so test the temperature carefully before taking the plunge and keep children within reach. This site remains an important ceremonial place for Indigenous Wagiman women to teach girls about adult life and rituals continue today, occasionally closing the park.
At all other times, it’s travellers who gather here, but with such a spacious campground, it feels convivial rather than crowded. There are two separate areas to accommodate those with generators and those without, and the riverside sites even offer a little shade.
- Turn off the Stuart Highway 6km north of Hayes Creek and follow Dorat then Oolloo Roads for 31km.
- The park is accessible to conventional rigs and opens during the dry season (April to November).
- Camping costs $6.60/adult (half-price for kids) and there are toilets, barbecues, firewood, water and picnic tables provided.
WEANO GORGE, KARIJINI NATIONAL PARK, WA
Across the Pilbara’s vast spinifex plains, twisting waterways, carved deep into the Hamersley High Plateau, plunge dramatically over sheer cliffs, sculpting and scouring out slender pathways and filling tantalising, fern-fringed pools.
Take a walk here and you’ll quickly find yourself rock-hopping barefoot and shimmying through slender rock chasms to plunge into some secret spa pool, hidden from sight.
This is exactly what you can expect when you tackle the adventurous wet-walk through Weano Gorge to Handrail Pool.
The gentle trail that lures walkers into the gorge quickly becomes an invigorating, watery pathway. The unexpected lack of a conventional track sharpens your focus as you search constantly for foot holes.
When you finally find your rhythm, splashing through shallow pools and shuffling along thin rock ledges, the gorge opens up to reveal a stunning amphitheatre that cradles Handrail Pool between soaring rock walls.
Equally breathtaking is the final challenge to get swimming: a sheer, slippery drop over the waterfall’s edge that demands a careful climb via an old ‘handrail’ to reach the chilly pool.
Plunging straight into Handrail’s deep, bracing pool is quite an experience and certainly gets your heart racing!
You can then easily while away the hours, baking and lazing on warm rock slabs in between chilly dips, picnicking and gazing up at the tiny wedge of blue sky high above.
- Travel Rio Tinto’s Rail Access Road from Karratha to Karijini.
- National park entry costs $12/vehicle and bush campsites at Dales Gorge another $10/adult ($2.20/child).
- Winter’s warm, clear days are ideal for bushwalking and early winter rains trigger wildflowers to bloom.
EWENS PONDS, SA
Offering one of Australia’s most surreal snorkelling experiences, Ewens Ponds on the South Australian-Victorian border harbours no bright corals or spangled tropical fish.
In this trio of frigid inland pools, freshwater springs feed a strange underwater world where snorkellers push past tendrils of lurid green algae anchored to limestone floors, and glide through reeds as they navigate shallow swim-throughs.
Discovered by Thomas Ewens in the late 19th century after his dog chased a kangaroo into the water, the crystal-clear ponds have incredible clarity.
Snug inside a wetsuit to ward off the 10˚C temperature, fin down through streams of bubbles rising 11m from the limestone floor, ducking under overhangs in search of the pond’s rare inhabitants: 10cm-long galaxiids, the parasitic pouched lamprey – the most primitive of all fish surviving in the world today – and South Australia’s own Ewens pygmy perch that hides amongst the reeds and under ledges.
Ewens Ponds is permit-and-fee-free: simply turn up, slide in and start swimming, completing as many circuits of the chilly pools as you can bear!
- Ewens Ponds is signposted off Port MacDonnell Road, 36km south of Mount Gambier.
CALVERT RIVER, SAVANNAH WAY, NT
Nestled beneath shady paperbarks where the Calvert River cascades into a series of clear, shallow pools, offroad adventurers will relish this picturesque camp on the northwestern side of the causeway crossing.
Despite offering nothing more than a spacious pull-off, this is easily the best place to camp on the long, bumpy stretch between Borroloola and Hells Gate.
Dunking yourself in the Calvert’s chilly cascades is a delicious and rare experience on this estuarine crocodile-inhabited route, so don’t pass it up, even if you reach camp before its time to stop for the day.
Arriving early means you’ll have time to explore downstream and discover the incredible tufa waterfall that stretches about 100m above the eastern riverbank.
Constructed from layers of calcium carbonate deposited by lime-rich water draining into the Calvert, fragile tufa (pronounced too-fa) covers a steep bank above the river’s rocky pools. It’s often reduced to a trickle late in the winter dry season, but that’s the only time of year you are likely to be able to negotiate this spectacular unsealed route.
- The Queensland to Northern Territory section of the Savannah Way is accessible from about April to October, depending on seasonal rainfall, and is best tackled by 4WD vehicles towing sturdy rigs with enough clearance to cross shallow causeways.
- The Savannah Way crosses the Calvert River 175km east of Borroloola and about 140km west of Hells Gate.
- Camping on the Calvert is free but there are no facilities.