Top Springs and Swimming Holes in the Northern Territory
Lee Atkinson shares his guide to three of the Top End’s most sublime swimming spots – Lorella Springs, Mataranka’s thermal pools and Litchfield’s waterfalls.
The Japanese sing the praises of “forest bathing”, known as shinrin-yoku. It’s the healing art of immersing yourself in a forest atmosphere. But in the Top End, forest bathing is taken a little more literally. Up here, where it’s always hot and steamy, bathing in the forest means getting wet in the wild, floating in plunge pools beneath waterfalls, cooling off in hot springs and paddling remote waterways. Here are three delightful northern dips…
1. Lorella Springs
One of the Top End’s most underrated spots, Lorella Springs, a 400,000-hectare wilderness park on the edge of the Gulf of Carpentaria, is criss-crossed with a network of tracks that lead to rivers, billabongs, several crocodile-safe swimming holes, flooded gorges and lily-covered wetlands. If you can’t get in the water, then being on the water is the next best thing, and there are canoes and kayaks left at various waterways that you are free to use. But it’s the eponymous springs that flow between the campground and the rustic outdoor bar and dining area that lure most people in. Just warm enough not to be cold, floating among the water lilies while gazing at the stars above is one of those once-in-a-lifetime magical moments that you can do here every night.
2. Mataranka Hot Springs
You know you’re in the tropics when a hot spring feels cool. The thermal pools of Mataranka – about an hour’s drive south of Katherine – rise up from an underground spring at a temperature of around 30°C, which makes them lukewarm rather than hot, but still a delightful way to relax. Surrounded by paperbark and palm forest, the pools, which are part of Elsey National Park – made famous in the novel We of the Never Never by Jeannie Gunn – are crystal clear, with a sandy bottom. They are widely believed to have mystical healing properties that soothe all aches and pains.
3. Litchfield’s Waterfalls
Getting wet in the wild is an adventure when you’re floating beneath a waterfall in a seemingly bottomless inky-black plunge pool in the heart of crocodile country. Litchfield National Park, 120 kilometres south of Darwin, is one of the Top End’s most popular spots, and it’s easy to see why, with its thundering waterfalls, prolific bird life and gigantic termite mounds – all aligned north-south to keep the inside of the mound from being overheated by the sun.
The reason most people come here is to swim in the waterholes and pools – checked for crocs after every wet season. Favourite spots include Buley Rockhole, a chain of spa-like pools linked by small cascades, and Wangi Falls, where a segmented waterfall drops into a large plunge pool in the rainforest. It is the most accessible of the swimming holes. Florence Falls is another popular spot, although you’ll need to climb down a 15-metre stairway to get there. Taking a dip in a resort pool will never seem quite so exciting again.
Image credits: Tourism NT Kate Flowers and Tourism NT Shaana McNaught.