Swimming in Australia's Top End

16 July 2012
Read Time: 2.9 mins

The tour guide jumped out of the four-wheel drive half truck/half bus and greeted me with a warm smile. After he introduced himself as Luke, he then asked the pertinent question, "Do you have your swimming stuff in your day bag." I didn't but luckily I could easily remedy the situation.

As a travel copywriter for Flight Centre, I had signed up for a five-day tour of Kakadu and a nine-day adventure through the Kimberleys with Adventure Tours, one of Australia’s leading all-inclusive tour organisers for travellers keen to experience Australia.

As I was soon to discover, swimming in some of the region's most beautiful waterholes, rivers and gorges would become a daily ritual for the trip - not because we didn't have showers at the camping sites but because this is the place to enjoy freshwater swimming at its most pure.

Here are my favourite swimming sites throughout Kakadu and the Kimberleys.

 Manning Gorge


Manning Gorge
Around half way along the famous Gibb River Road, we camped for the night near Mount Barnett - a fantastic camp ground next to a beautiful river. The early morning activity for the following day was hiking around an hour from our tents through Manning Gorge. The walk along the gorge wasn't particularly special; however the first glimpse of water cascading from the layered rocks into the river below is a magical image that will stay with me forever. Splashing around at a waterfall in Manning Gorge was a highlight of the trip. After swimming behind the falls, I decided to climb up the rocks for a phenomenal view across the region. At the top of the falls, there’s also another beautiful waterhole to dive into.

Jim Jim Falls
The centrepiece of Kakadu are the Jim Jim Falls, one of the highest water features in the National Park. I was particularly lucky to see these falls as the road was only opened a week before my arrival. There are two options for swimming at the Falls – you can either head directly to the falls themselves or divert to the nearby 'beach' area and enjoy the slightly warmer waters. Of all the hikes we took in Kakadu, I also most enjoyed the hike towards Jim Jim.



Within the national park of Kakadu, it was the serenity of Gunlum that captured my imagination. Many people talk about a special feeling in Kakadu - a sacred place that dates back millions of years. I most felt these ancient spirits at Gunlum. The camp site is spectacularly located against sheer cliffs on either side. We arrived late afternoon and the group headed straight for a swimming hole near the camp ground. But the true wonder of the location is the swimming opportunity at the top of the range. The following morning we embarked on the walk up the hill, which is relatively easy – it takes around 15 minutes. But once you're up the top, you have the opportunity of enjoying a waterway that looks out across the entire region.

Barnett River Gorge
Most swimming destinations were simply that; we'd hike to the waterhole, dump our stuff and plunge into the crystal clear waters. However the Barnett River Gorge was different - it was here that swimming became part of the journey. Travis, our guide through the Kimberleys, waxed lyrical all morning about the Aboriginal rock art located in the area. But the only way to see the art was to hike for around 20 minutes, then swim up the river for about 500 metres and then continue walking for another 20 minutes or so. I couldn't help but think that there wasn't really a dedicated path - but that made the experience all the more exciting. We were exploring the heart of Kimberleys - for real.

Zebedee Hot Springs
Near the homestead of El Questro lies the Zebedee Hot Springs, a natural phenomena that really is hot. This was a wonderfully therapeutic way to begin the day – to lie back and allow nature to sooth weary muscles. The short walk to the springs is also fascinating, as the terrain is different on either side of the track. While you're in the region, it's worth walking up to Emma Gorge and the more adventurous will appreciate El Questro Gorge.


 Lake Argyle with the Infinity Pool


Lake Argyle Tourist Village
While not strictly a natural wonder, it would be remiss not to mention the infinity swimming pool at the Lake Argyle Tourist Village. The pool has been designed to maximise the terrific views across Lake Argyle, Australia's largest man-made lake. Unfortunately for most of the group, the water in the pool was just a tad too chilly for our liking - even though Max, a brave British lad decided that temperature was immaterial and jumped straight in. As part of the adventure, we took a guided boat trip around the lake - where we had the opportunity of having in depth conversations with the local freshwater crocodile population.

Contact your Flight Centre consultant to arrange your Northern Territory or Western Australia holiday. Lyndon also works as a freelance copywriter.

Lyndon Barnett

Guided by curiosity and a sense of adventure, Lyndon travelled independently to 69 countries on six continents. As such, travel is Lyndon's only addiction. He enjoys with equal measure - scaling the peaks of a South American mountain at altitude, attending opera in a European Opera House or hunting for a bargain in an Asian market.