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Bypass the beach scene for a change
Tired of those pesky sand-in-your-togs moments? The great Australian outdoors is not just about beautiful beaches. From tumbling waterfalls and lush infinity pools to limestone lakes and naturally occurring thermal springs, there are heaps of other ‘au naturel’ ways to cool off if you’re fanging for a swim.
Not officially a state, but certainly worth a mention for some of the most remote and stunning waterholes in the country. Just outside of Darwin you’ll find Berry Springs, an idyllic outdoor haven with two giant pools and lots of little waterfalls that are so crystal clear you’d be daft if you forget your snorkel.
The Litchfield National Park has a heap of great splashing spots, including Buley Rockhole with its unique rock shelves, The Cascades that require a bit of a pre-dip rainforest trudge, Florence Falls with its natural rock cathedral, and the 84-metre-high Wangi Falls whose waters plummet into a sparkling pool at its base.
Kakadu National Park’s Gunlom Falls offers not just waterfalls, but a naturally constructed plunge pool and brilliant views to go along with it (think lush riverine outlooks), and towards Katherine lies the secluded Bitter Springs with its tranquil waterholes that are naturally heated by spa-like thermal springs.
Not far from downtown Brissy, you’ll find Mount Tamborine’s Cedar Creek Falls and Rock Pools, whose crisp waters will offer sweet relief on a searing summer day, or there’s Cedar Creek in Samford, which is a vast swimming hole beneath the hilly shadows of beautiful Mount Glorious.
Further up the Queensland coast outside of Cairns is Millaa Millaa Falls, an 18-metre plunge waterfall that’s surrounded by tropical ferns (the odd platypus is also said to frolick about here), and Josephine Falls in the Wooroonooran National Park that features naturally constructed granite-rock waterslides.
And for a lesser-known spot behind Crystal Cascades in Cairns itself, the Fairy Falls will delight with its deep plunge pools perfect for lazy back-floating if you’re prepared to tackle the steep boulder climb to get there.
New South Wales
Twenty or so minutes south of Byron sits a large basin within a rainforest gully. These are the Killen Falls, which feature a shallow-ish waterhole and a cave retreat where you can watch the waterfall majestically cascade around you.
Further south are the Figure 8 Pools in Sydney’s Royal National Park, whose distinctive shape has been formed by the merging of two sinkholes, and further north up the coast you’ll find Karloo Pools. These require an hour’s trek to get to, but the shimmering, rocky-ledged result at the end is to die for.
South-west of Sydney in the Bargo River Gorge lies the Mermaid Pools, an adrenaline junkie’s dream with a jump of around 10 metres needed to access it (don’t worry, getting out is a lot easier thanks to a strategically placed rope).
And if you’re day-tripping it further south in New South Wales, be sure to check out Mumbulla Falls in the Biamanga National Park for a rock pool with a built-in waterslide, and Nethercote Falls in Pambula, where you’ll find a divinely deep pool nestled within the borders of a leafy green valley.
The closest state park to Melbourne, Warrandyte National Park Reserve features its own natural swim spa (called Pound Bend), which was ironically born from long-ago gold-seeking construction in the Yarra River. It didn’t work, but fortunately for you, the set of rapids at the tunnel outlook is the best way to spend a hot day outside of a water park.
Close to northern Strathbogie, you’ll find Polly McQuinns, a sunny swimming hole with a not-so-sunny past. Apparently, an early settler (named Polly because he couldn’t grow a beard) stacked his horse on the bridge here and drowned in its bottomless waters. Fun!
MacKenzie’s Flat Picnic Area in the Lerderderg State Park is worth a look for its shallow, fast-flowing waters (pooches are also welcome here), and Turpin Falls in Langley is great for a spot of rock ledge cliff-diving if you’re up to it (good luck).
After Victoria’s largest waterfall? Then head for the 35-metre MacKenzie Falls in The Grampians. A half-hour trek will have you in the guts of it, with heaps of swimming action here, all beneath the rainbow-hued mists of Mother Nature.
The Peninsula Hot Springs in Fingal is possibly a little ‘non-organic’ for some, however its natural thermal mineral waters will definitely satisfy if you can’t afford a human massage, and for a road-trippin’ adventure, head out to Wingan River territory (in far East Gippsland), where you’ll find Croajingolong National Park. This is an 88,355-hectare Unesco World Biosphere Reserve, and an oasis of billabongs, swimming holes and freshly flowing creeks.
As the driest state on one of the driest inhabited continents in the world, South Australia is unfortunately a little under par when it comes to out-of-the-ordinary places to have a nature splash. However, close to Mylor in the Adelaide Hills, you may chance upon the long lost swimming hole that lies on the upper reaches of the picturesque Onkaparinga River.
Way down Port Lincoln way in Sleaford, you’ll find Whalers Way, a unique swimming spot among the rock pools and frenzied ocean sprays of the Southern Ocean. It’s a hazardous walk and a little more salty (and turbulent) than some would like, but still worth a visit for its Instagrammable factor.
And if you’re seriously searching for a non-beachy way to cool off, take up the road-trip challenge and set your sties on Dalhousie Springs. Around 21 hours from Adelaide in the Witjira National Park, this one edges the Simpson Desert and offers a 38-degree hot spring experience.
At around 2,529,875 square kilometres in size, it’s not surprising that you’re going to have to travel a bit further afield to discover a swimming hole in Western Australia that takes your fancy. But let’s start locally (around an hour’s drive from Perth) with Serpentine Falls, where you’ll be able to cool off surrounded by wildflowers and wildlife (kangaroos, possums and the like).
Further afield, Fern Pool in the Karijini National Park offers a refreshing spiritual experience (it’s a significant Aboriginal site), and Emma Gorge in the El Questro Wilderness Park is worth the hour’s hike for a unique waterfall experience beneath its towering cliff walls.
Mitchell Falls visitors will appreciate the journey it takes to get there – it’s a 500-kilometre drive north of Broome and then a 3K bush track hike, however, the site of its four-tiered waterfall will astound.
And further south-east, the man-made Lake Argyle (which is a mere 2,173 km from Perth), will be a site for dry eyes with its endless expanses of vividly blue waters (it’s huge and around 22 times larger than Sydney Harbour).
Because Tassie’s so chilly (the maximum sea temperature in summer is only around 21 degrees), you’ll want to be fairly brave to take a dip here, however, the Corralyn Swimming Hole in Launceston is a decent option, with its crisp mountain rapids requiring a bit of nimble negotiation.
And for a ruggedly different experience (as opposed to the more famous national parks like Freycinet), head to the Douglas Apsley National Park on the east coast, where you’ll find a waterhole here that’ll test your mettle in terms of temperature limits.
Lastly, if you’re really keen for an icy splash, there’s nowhere more challenging than Lake St Clair (about 50 clicks from Queenstown).
Australia’s deepest lake, this beauty was carved out by glaciers millions of years ago and is surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks. Literally breathtaking.
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