Beautiful Waterholes & Waterfalls in the Northern Territory

The waterholes and waterfalls in the Northern Territory provide a relaxing break from the heat and dust so today we asked some of our friends, who have been to the NT recently to share their favourite places to swim in the Northern Territory.

This post contains affiliate links. Our full disclosure policy is here.

Bitter Springs, Mataranka

The area around Mataranka, just over 4 hours south of Darwin, is dotted with thermal springs. While the Mataranka Thermal Pool, near Mataranka Homestead and the Elsey Homestead Replica, is probably better known, my pick of the waterholes is Bitter Springs.

Bitter Springs Shandos
Bitter Springs

Delightfully blue-hued crystal clear water flows through the natural pools, set amongst lush palm trees. It’s very popular to drift along with the current, relaxing with a pool noodle. 

Thanks to being a larger area than the Mataranka Thermal Pool, Bitter Springs is usually less crowded. Plus it has been left in a more natural state, although there is still an accessible walking path around the swimming area and steps with a handrail.

Note that the springs are usually closed during the wet season, when the area floods and crocodiles may enter the pools.

Where: To access Bitter Springs, take the turn-off at the northern side of Mataranka. The springs are less than 3km down a sealed road, just within Elsey National Park, with no entry fee payable. A car park is adjacent, with only a short walk to the pools.

Bitter Springs is best visited between April and October, during the dry season, although they still may be closed if they spotted crocodiles during the rest of the year.

Stay: A convenient spot to camp is the adjacent Bitter Springs Cabins and Camping, with plenty of shady powered and unpowered sites, less than a 10-minute walk from the pools.

Suggested by Shandos Cleaver who shares has written about travelling the Northern Territory with your dog.

Buley Rockhole

One of the coolest waterholes in the Northern Territory that should end up high on your travel wishlist for Australia is, without a doubt, Buley Rockhole. It is within Litchfield National Park, just off of Litchfield Park Road on the way to Florence Falls and boasts multiple water pools on various levels that are interconnected by tiny falls.

waterfalls in the northern territory
Buley Rockhole Rockhole

Besides the beautiful location, what makes this waterhole and waterfall so spectacular are the vivid water colours in deep blues and greens paired with the surrounding red rocks. The surrounding nature is pleasantly lush and truly inviting for a little hike.

The waterholes are perfect for floating around, but not deep or long enough for long swims. It’s really just to refresh your body and rest your soul.

The waterhole can be visited with a tour but it is also entirely possible to come here from Darwin with your regular 2 WD, and there is a carpark with a BBQ area and toilet facilities. The area is free to visit and open most of the year.

You can take a one-day tour to Litchfield from Darwin if you don’t have a car.

This way, you can make it an extended afternoon stay. Be aware that you may encounter wildlife, particularly if you are having a little outdoor picnic. It’s part of the fun. (Just don’t get too close or provoke any of the wild animals. Don’t feed them either.)

Suggested by Annemarie from Travel on the Brain

Ormiston Gorge

An easily accessible swimming hole in West MacDonnell National Park is Ormiston Gorge. Getting to the swimming hole is super simple. It’s barely 500m from the Ormiston Gorge parking lot and the walk is flat. The parking lot is accessible by a well-maintained road off Route 2, about 135 km west of Alice Springs. 

There’s a little campground at the parking area should you wish to spend the night. There’s also a little kiosk that sells drinks and snacks at the campsite.

The walk to the swimming hole is part of a longer loop hike through the gorge that you can embark on, known as the Ormiston Pound Walk. After the hike, it can be quite refreshing to swim in the cold water.

West MacDonnel
Ormiston Gorge

The swimming hole is small, but large enough to float freely around even if other people are there too. The water can get up to 14m deep depending on the season and people who cannot swim should be careful getting in too deep. It’s also quite cold, so be prepared to shiver a bit as you get it. The national park will warn you about hypothermia if you stay in too long. That’s a tad bit overkill, but it is pretty darn cold.

Ormiston Gorge is a brilliant spot to stop on a trip around the Australian Outback or a good little day trip from Alice Springs. 

Suggested by Chris from Around the World With Me

Redbank Gorge

This stunning Northern Territory waterhole is at Redbank Gorge, in Tjoritja/West MacDonnell National Park. It is at the western end of the range 155 km from Alice Springs along Namatjira Drive (aka the Red Centre Way), and you can also get to it from Hermannsburg or Kings Canyon via Larapinta Drive. The waterhole is actually a series of pools between the towering red rock walls of Redbank Gorge.

Redbank Gorge Curious Campers
A Curious Camper at Redbank Gorge

From the main road, there is a 5km dirt track to the Carpark. On a good day you could get through in a 2WD, but a high-clearance vehicle is the best option. After the rain, the track might be impassable.

You don’t need a park pass to get into Redbank Gorge and anyone can visit, no special permits or tours are necessary.

From the carpark it is a 2km return walk to the water. The trail starts as a compacted path, but most of the walk is through a sandy, rocky creek bed. It is an awkward walk, and you will want decent shoes for the hike there and back. The flies can be bad so you might want a fly net to preserve your sanity (thankfully they don’t follow you into the water).

In winter, the water will be cold so brace yourself if you go for a dip. In warmer months, it is refreshingly cool. The gorge looks spectacular from the water, also keep an eye out for the birds that fly down out of the walls for a drink.

The best bit is swimming and rock hopping from one pool to pool. Take care though, the rocks get slippery when you are wet. A great way to enjoy the waterholes is on blow up pool toy, floating through Redbank Gorge is an amazing experience.

Suggested by Steve and Natalie from Curious Campers

Southern Rockhole

Southern Rockhole is a seasonal waterfall hidden within Nitmiluk National Park. It’s only accessible either by boat, or via a 4 kilometre hiking trail. A popular journey is to hike the Windolf bushwalking track into the canyon and take the boat journey out along the famous Katherine Gorge.

Southern Rockhole Northern Territory
Southern Rockhole

The spot itself is home to a crashing fall which lands upon a cool and calm sanctuary. The waterhole itself is quite calm despite the disturbance of the falls and has a few spots where you can stand under the falls and listen to the water. Surrounding the waterhole is an abundance of warm flat rocks and sand, where you can relax and listen to the wildlife.

As this exclusive waterfall spot is only accessible seasonally, varying seasons can bring flooding and rising waters… which means crocs too! The best time to visit the area is over the cooler dry seasons of May to September.

Because of the seasonality of the waterfall, sometimes it’s not advertised online and can only be found at the visitors’ centre – this is based on a regular judgment by the park rangers.

Boat tickets can either be bought online or within the visitors’ centre for 9am or 11am, with returns at 1pm and 3pm. To get to the visitors’ centre is a quick 30minute drive from the quant and quiet town Katherine, a well-known destination in the Northern Territory.

Suggested by Holly from That Traveller

If you are a waterfall lover don’t miss the Atheron Tablelands in QLD, the Waterfall Way in NSW and the Gold Coast Hinterland.

Got a question? Head over to our Australia Travel Tips Facebook Group and ask a local.