Top spots to cool off in the Top End.
The Northern Territory’s capital is blessed with beautiful beaches but cursed with enough crocodiles, sharks and box jellyfish to make a simple dip seem like a death wish. Two town beaches offer respite from the heat without the risk. The man-made (and safe) Darwin City Beach is five minutes’ walk from Smith Street Mall and has shade trees, a kiosk and a nearby wave lagoon. The Lagoon Day Spa at SkyCity hotel and resort has a 30-metre sun-lounge-lined beach at the edge of a meandering lagoon. The best bit? There’s a swim-up bar. The worst bit? You’ll have to book into the hotel or the poolside Endota Spa to get access.
Maguk and Moline (Ikoymarrwa) rock holes
These two 4WD-only swimming spots within Kakadu National Park both feature waterfalls tumbling into crystal pools flanked by some of the oldest rock formations in the world. Both have serenity in spades but Moline has the edge for its naturally landscaped surrounds, friendly fish and the thrill of wedging yourself beneath falls for a spa for one, NT style. It’s also not promoted in park guides, nor signed from the road, so there’s less chance of having to share this pristine setting with others. Rangers patrol both sites and clear out any crocs after the annual wet season but do check with staff at park visitor centres first before setting off for either.
Fed by fresh water from the Arnhem Land escarpment, the waterfalls at Gunlom fluctuate from torrent to trickle with the seasons. The falls and the main pool, where Hoges and Linda Kozlowski famously swam in the 1986 film Crocodile Dundee, are the obvious drawcards. However, Gunlom’s real treasure is hidden on high. Scrambling up (and back down) the rock face is not for the faint-hearted but the reward – Australia’s most photogenic infinity pool – is totally worth the effort. Shaded by paperbark and Gondwanaland-era Ambinik trees, with dreamy views across the South Alligator River valley, the series of tiered pools above the falls is one of the Territory’s – and Australia’s – most idyllic swimming spots.
Litchfield National Park
There are many reasons why Litchfield is Darwin’s favourite daytrip and most of them involve cooling off in croc-free rock holes and plunge pools. An easy 90-minute drive from town, this lush national park is rich in rainforest walks, see-through swimming holes and waterfalls that tumble down from Tabletop Range. Popular spots to take a plunge include the forest-fringed Florence Falls – best enjoyed after a hike to the viewing platform above the cascade – the chain of refreshing ponds at Buley Rockhole and the uncrowded 4WD-only Tjaynera Falls at Sandy Creek. Pack a tent and camp here for a few days for maximum refreshment.
Set within Elsey National Park, about 75 minutes’ drive from Katherine, off the Stuart Highway, the Mataranka hot springs don’t exactly offer a refreshing break from searing Top End temperatures. The thermal pools simmer at a constant 34°C, though palms shade the area, and the water is renowned for its healing properties. If you can’t stand the heat, head to Stevie’s Hole (closed seasonally) on the Waterhouse River for cool spring-fed waters. And if you can’t stand the drive from Katherine, there are closer hot springs just a couple of kilometres out of town.
See also: Our Insider's Guide to Darwin