5 Incredible Swimming Holes in Kakadu

June 29th, 2017


Gunlom Falls swimming hole Kakadu

With its vast borders – granting the national park the same amount of land space as Switzerland – Kakadu hosts all six of the Top End’s ecosystems. These include savannah woodlands, tidal flats and hills, basins, stone country, wetlands and flood plains.

Most enticing for the wild swimmer however are the park’s southern regions, where soaring cliffs give way to spectacular waterfalls. It’s here that some of the most remote, pristine and beautiful Northern Territory swimming spots can be found; and the best thing is, if you time your trip right, you might just nab a waterhole all to yourself.

Just as beguiling as its natural beauty is the power of Kakadu’s Indigenous culture. Calling the park home for more than 50,000 years, local Aboriginal groups include the Bininj in the north of the park and the Mungguy in the south.

Traditional hunting still takes place here, and there’s quite a smörgåsbord of species to sustain this practice. Kakadu is home to 10,500 varieties of fauna and 2000 types of plants. The latter serves as a rich source for the preparation of bush medicines, too.

Swimming Holes of Kakadu

Here’s our list of the best swimming holes Kakadu has to offer, as well as pointers on a few of the cultural, culinary and medicinal riches to be found at these sites.

1. Gunlom Falls: Lower pools

Gunlom is where you’ll find one of the park’s biggest draw cards: a waterfall that travels through a saddled copper escarpment, plunging 100 meters to a base pool fringed with trees.

While the upper pools seem to net most of the glory, at least in terms of reputation, the lower swimming hole is just as special. Bush tucker which can be gathered by Aboriginal people within the park, such as shrimp and long-necked turtles, are more readily found in the lower pool, and it’s a whole lot easier to reach as the upper swimming holes are located a kilometre overhead.

Traditional custodian Violet Smith says of this sacred site:

“Come to our country. That’s good. Long ago we Jawoyn lived here. The old people have passed on. It’s okay for you to go around here. You stay maybe two nights, then you go back to your country.”

That amount of time allows ample hours for you to luxuriate in the bottom pool and then strap your walking shoes on and make the climb to the top pools for an unmissable sunset.

2. Motorcar Falls

This well-kept Kakadu secret is reached via a 7.5km return trail within the Yirmikmik series of walks. Here, a path follows an historic vehicle track first travelled in 1946 by Paul Allmich, an old tin miner, who bogged his Chevrolet truck at a site now known as Motor Car Creek. This part of the creek is sometimes home to crocs though so don’t don your cozzie just yet and read up on how to be Crocwise.

Step your way through open woodlands dotted with cathedral termite mounds until you come across a knot of mangroves. Open sesame! You’ve arrived at the swimming hole.

A giant, flat boulder serves as a stage for this gob-smacking waterfall – the perfect spot to perch upon for lunch. For most of year, lacewing butterflies feed on minerals secreted from nearby rocks and the swimming hole’s waters teem with fish.

While splashing about, take a peek into a thin split in the rock face, just to the left of the waterfall stream. You’ll discover a narrow, enchanting swimmable cave.

Motorcar Falls is open all-year-round. No matter what the season, though, you’ll have trouble tearing yourself away from this life-sized tropical terrarium.

3. Kurrundie Falls

Trek another two kilometres beyond Motorcar Falls to Kurrundie Falls. During dry season, this walk is lined with dry, towering spear grass – a fire target during wet season lightning storms.

According to World Expeditions Top End guide Daniel Rose, Kakadu sees more of these strikes than any other part of the globe. One way to tell that the storms are approaching, he says, is to look out for aljurr, electric blue and orange Leichhardt grasshoppers.

Indigenous people believe aljurr to be the children of Namarrgon, the god of lightning.

“When these bright-backed insects show up, you know it’s the end of the build-up season and the rains are about to come,” Rose says.

Banggerreng, known as the ‘knock-em- down’ season – one of six in the local Aboriginal calendar – is so named because the weight and strength of the monsoon rain flattens the spear grass to the ground, creating a blanket of long, broken needles.

Once at Kurrundie Falls, a cluster of huge boulders provides a great viewing area from which to admire the swimming hole below.

On its far side, the falls feature a slip of polished rock that leads to a waterfall so artful it’s reminiscent of a modernist sculpture. Water travels through a paperclip bend before cascading in a shower of beads to a second pool at its base.

Dip your feet in for a muscle-soothing soak and keep your eyes peeled for ngalmirla-mirla, peregrine falcon, flying from the cliffs, or barkk, black wallaroo, hopping among the rocks.

4. Jim Jim Falls

Jim Jim Falls Swimming Hole Kakadu
Arguably the most jaw-dropping site in Kakadu, Jim Jim Falls sees whitewater tumble 150 meters over dark red cliffs to a deep green pool at its feet. This swimming hole bleeds into an enticing jade pool, before it morphs into a river and ambles further downhill.

The swimming hole – a hard one kilometre walk from the car park – ticks many boxes on a wild swimmer’s checklist: the falls are stunning, remote, require a little effort to reach, and a plunge here carries a hearty whiff of intrepidness.

The latter takes the form of crocodile sightings, but not those of the deadly kind. Jim Jim has a healthy population of freshwater crocodiles that won’t bite unless seriously threatened.

During the dry season, rangers monitor the main swimming areas for saltwater crocs, as they do with all swim spots listed here (except Moline Rockhole). This doesn’t guarantee that swimming holes are croc-free though and you should always look for signs and ask for up-to-date information locally.

Laze on the white sandy banks at the foot of the waterfall if you can’t find the nerve for a splash – though we seriously hope you do.

5. Moline Rock Hole

This is the most hidden gem among Kakadu’s dress folds. Fittingly, it’s unmarked. As mentioned, it’s also unmonitored by rangers, so be mindful of croc danger. That said, this is a beloved spot among locals.

Once you’re at the southern end of the park travelling along Kakadu Highway, look for the dirt track turn-off five-kilometres after the ranger’s station.

Moline doesn’t have the pulling power of the more famous swimming holes like Gunlom, but it sparkles with clarity and its clandestine existence adds a special je ne sais quoi to swims here. These are enjoyed inside a wedge-shaped pool that ebbs between sloping rocks.

The swimming hole’s entry area features a flat bridge of sorts, providing a great location for a picnic. See if you can spot some local bush foods while you lunch, although you’ll have to find them elsewhere to taste them as its prohibited to pick them inside the park.

Marlak, or billy goat plum, grows in this region of the park. Its fruit resembles a small fig.

“This is bush tucker super food. A single plum has almost 3000mg of vitamin C. That’s 50 times the amount you’ll find in an average-sized orange,” says Daniel Rose.

Bush apple can be found about Moline Rock hole’s traps, too. Crushing the apple’s tiny florets releases a Granny Smith apple scent: the perfect perfume to mask sweat should things warm up.

Then again, as an antidote to Kakadu’s heat, there’s always the option of taking a swim – the sweetest, wildest kind around.

*All swimming holes in the top end potentially house saltwater crocodiles. Whilst the National Parks put in a great deal of effort to keep some swimming holes croc-free, this is never guaranteed and all swimming is at your own risk. Read signs, ask for information on the current croc status of the places you want to swim and make your own judgement. Read here for more info on how to stay safe around crocs.

Article by Jennifer Pinkerton

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