The Northern Territory is so hot, a beautiful cool plunge pool will call you from far far away but this state is not called crocodile country as a joke. There are many amazing places to take a dip but you need to check there aren't any crocodiles also taking a dip. We've chosen the spots that appear to be the safest but most have had a sighting somewhere near, at some point in the past. Please check before you go, ask locals, check the water, look for signs and if in doubt, don't jump in.
Gunlom pools are Instagram stars, often tagged as Australia's 'secret spots' although you could argue that these falls were no longer a secret after they featured in the film, ‘Crocodile Dundee’. Imagine an infinity pool at a resort but replace the concrete with natural rocks, and chlorinated water with the fresh waterfall variety, and then add stupendous wilderness views and you’ve got Gunlom Plunge Pool in Kakadu National Park. There are three pools here and from the top of Gunlom you’re rewarded with awesome vistas of the park (that end up on Instagram). Located on Waterfall Creek the best way to enjoy this walk is to bring your lunch and enjoy the grassed, shady picnic area after a dip. If you're staying over at the popular camping area (not far from the pool and waterfall), you'll find solar-powered hot showers. All round, totally awesome.
The Aboriginal name for Florence Falls sounds better: Karrimurra (although the name does remind us of Florence & The Machine as the water cascades over red rocks like Florence’s mane of hair!). The water here spills over a series of tiers that range from 9 to 15 feet, which are stunning to look at and ensure a good plunge pool at the bottom for a long cool dip. Karrimurra is easy to get to from the car park. You can take the Shady Creek Walk, which is helpfully shady in parts, that’s 1.2km return. Or the Florence Creek Walk that is only 3.2 kms and also easy. Plus it’s on the boundary of Litchfield National Park, on a sealed road, 80 kms south of Darwin. Easy and refreshing all round.
Another 100 (ish) kms on from Ellery Creek is Red Bank Gorge/Rwetyepme which is still part of the West Mac Ranges, so the water in this gorge is still fantastically chilled. Sitting at the base of Mt Sondor, which must be a distant second cousin of Mt Gondor (from Middle Earth), Rwetyepme is home to many endangered animals. You won’t find any orcs, or crocs, you will find dingoes and eagles. The best way to experience this gorge is on a rubber tube or air mattress as the water is so cold, prolonged exposure even in summer can lead to hypothermia. We’re not kidding about the chill factor. But you will find it welcome after taking the two km return walk along the creek bed from the car park.
Ellery Creek Big Hole has, you’ll be pleased to know, a big hole full of cold water that is just the business on a hot day. Formed over thousands of years of flooding, the waterhole is a significant geological site, that is fed by ranges in the west (which means the water comes from high up and is always consistently short-stiffeningly cold). This is one of the largest waterholes along the West Mac Ranges that you can wade into and only the hardiest of souls will be lounging around in this water for hours because of the chill. But it's beautifully inviting for a quick dip, especially after the 3 km Dolomite walk to see the surrounding mammoth rock formations.
Ellery Creek (or Udepata) is around 50 kilometres west of Standley Chasm along Larapinta Drive, which is gravel but OK for two-wheel drive. Camping’s permitted (for a fee).
Sometimes natural thermal pools can feel like a bath too many people have soaked their gammy toes in, but the beauty of Mataranka is that the pool is fed by a spring that pumps 30 million litres of water into it per day, from the Daly and Georgina basins. So, in a word, fresh! The pool is consistently at 34 degrees, an ideal temperature to soak travel weary limbs. Plus it’s also a beautiful turquoise colour surrounded by Mataranka Palms, so yeah, you’re in a shampoo ad here. Mataranka’s also a stone’s throw from the Roper River and you can camp overnight.
NB, there was one croc sighting in this pool September 2017. Enter at your own risk.
The irony of the Motor Car Falls is that, after driving yourself into Kakadu National Park in your vehicle, you need some sturdy shoes to motor yourself into these falls. The trek, which is part of the Yurmikmik Walks, is 7.5 km and takes about four hours (return). But it’s secluded and totally worth it. The pools are pristine, fed by a splendidly small waterfall surrounded by some lush monsoon forest that keeps everything nice and shady. You’ll feel like you are in the middle of nowhere (you are) with one of nature’s secrets all to yourself (not guaranteed of course in the peak of summer). Even though you’re going to a pool of water, don’t forget to take drinking water with you.
The plunge pool at the Jim Jim Falls has to be seen. People try to take photos for Instagram but the sheer magnitude of the three cliff faces surrounding this (freezing cold) plunge pool never quite capture it. It’s only a short walk from the carpark, which includes some serious rock scrambling, but once you inch closer to the pool the walls enclosing you get more and more impressive. There is a second pool further back that does have a sweet little sandy beach, which is also a popular spot for a dip. The Jim Jim Falls are most impressive, like all falls, after some good rain in the wet season. Don’t be surprised if you find a bit of a trickle if it’s stinking hot.
The beaches at Darwin are not recommended because of two very good reasons. Crocs and sharks. So the good people of the local Darwin municipality have an option that will cool you down on a hot day - outdoor pools that come with water slides. And the kicker is that these pools are totally absolutely free. There are grassy patches for lounging, sprinklers, a playground and slides for big and small kids.