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.
Need to Know
Dip into these waterways on the 12 Day Savannah Explorer tour, which journeys from Cairns to Darwin. Here’s, what else you’ll experience.
Stay – Start off in luxury at the Shangri-La Hotel in Cairns, set on the Marlin Marina, with views of the Coral Sea. The Undara Lava Tubes are a treat in themselves, but so is staying in the refurbished Queensland Rail train carriages at nearby Undara Experience. There’s more Outback hospitality to be had at Adels Grove, where a soak in the spring-fed creek is the perfect way to end the day.
Drive – Explore northern Australia’s rugged terrain in the comfort of a custom-designed 4WD vehicle. On board is a two-person crew: a Driver/Guide who knows the country like the back of their hand, and a Tour Director, who will ensure that everything about your journey goes smoothly – not just the drive. Travelling by 4WD means you can access some of the region’s most remote and spectacular landscapes, from Cobbold Gorge along the Savannah Way to Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park to Roper River.
Do – See the Top End’s spectacular landscapes from the air not once, but twice. In Adels Grove, you’ll board a plane and fly over Leichhardt Country and Boodjamulla National Park. Then, in the Lorella Springs Wilderness Park, a scenic helicopter flight will take in the sensational sandstone outcrops known as the Lost City in Litchfield National Park.
Image credits: Tourism NT Kate Flowers and Tourism NT Shaana McNaught.