The Best Places to Cool Down in the Northern Territory
Beyond the deserts, rugged landscapes, and Uluru’s storied dust — the NT is home to some refreshingly cool sights that rival the region’s hot-ticket attractions.
The Best Places to Cool Down in the Northern Territory
1. Roll with the waves on Darwin’s waterfront
Grab your bathers and take a dip in Darwin’s Recreation Lagoon, five minutes from the city centre. Endlessly replenished with waves of fresh seawater and protected from the harbour by a seawall and stinger net, this harbourfront swim spot lets you paddle the sparkling Darwin Harbour in absolute safety.
Roll over to the adjacent Wave Lagoon and ride an ever-changing formation of wave patterns; splash around in gentle swells or boogie board 1.2-metre-high surf. On the fringes of the city, about six kilometres north, you’ll also find Lake Alexander - a swimming and water-sports mecca dotted with walking trails and lush lawns, perfect for picnicking.
Darwin Recreation Lagoon and the Wave Lagoon are at Darwin’s waterfront precinct, just a five minute walk from the CBD, while Lake Alexander in East Point Reserve is a 10 minute drive north of the city.
2. Cool off in Darwin’s free waterparks
If you like your water whirling, churning, and gushing down slides, then prepare for a splash of adventure at Palmerston Waterpark. Race down a six-lane waterslide, cool off under the curtain spray or soak each other in the teens’ play area, featuring cannons and buckets. Fifteen minutes north you’ll find Leanyer Recreation Park, a waterplay oasis complete with a swimming pool, kids’ paddling pool and three 14-metre-high winding waterslides offering 100 metres of adrenaline-boosting fun. There is also a skate park, basketball court and a playground, along with barbeque and picnic facilities – making it the perfect place for an afternoon away from the city.
Palmerston Waterpark and Leanyer Recreation Park are free of charge and are both a 20-minute drive from Darwin
3. Soak up wildlife and history in Berry Springs
A big and beautiful reserve begging to be plunged into, Berry Springs waterhole and its namesake Nature Park are some of the most picturesque places to cool off close to Darwin. Surrounded by blooming autumnal flowers, walkers can take a woodland trail through monsoon forest, admiring the native wildlife before dipping into the near-translucent pool. The Park is also dotted with interesting World War II remnants and the shaded picnic and barbeque areas provide the perfect spot to dry off and enjoy some lunch.
Berry Springs is just 40 minutes south of Darwin. If time permits, swing by the nearby family-friendly Territory Wildlife Park to see some of the Top End’s most iconic wildlife and aquatic life.
4. Plunge into the Top End’s picturesque Florence Falls
Tumbling through a pocket of monsoon forest, Florence Falls is the epitome of Top End cascades and one of Litchfield National Park’s major draw cards. Begin at the viewing platform to enjoy panoramic scenes across the gum-filled valley and spectacular double falls as they plummet into the swimming hole below. Wind down 130 steps to the valley floor and wade through the crystal-clear plunge pool to the thundering falls and embrace nature’s shower! Later, relax in the tiered pools of nearby Buley Rockhole and soak up the scenic bushland as the cool water rolls over your shoulders.
Litchfield National Park is located 1.5-hour drive from Darwin. Maximise your experience by booking a full day tour, stopping by Adelaide River enroute for an exhilarating jumping crocodile cruise where you can witness giant salties launch out of the water.
5. Reap the rewards of a challenging walk beneath Edith Falls’ cascades
One of the NT’s best swimming spots awaits at the base of Edith Falls (Leliyn) in Nitmulik National Park. Fringed with paperbark trees and pandanus shrubs in a picturesque bush setting, the sparkling plunge pool promises a refreshing oasis after a challenging walk along the Leliyn Trail. Follow the steep, rocky loop for 2.6 kilometres, stopping for a dip in the falls’ upper pool en route, or tackle the nine-kilometre round-trip trail to the tranquil Sweetwater Pool. For those taking on the multi-day Jatbula walking track, Edith Falls marks the finishing point — and what a reward!
Edith Falls is located a 45-minute drive from Katherine or a three-hour drive from Darwin. The most comfortable and popular months to visit the park are from May to September; the pools may be closed at times between November through to April, so plan your trip accordingly.
6. Bubble away in Katherine Hot Springs
Tucked behind the banks of the Katherine River lies an unexpected paradise — a pocket of relaxing thermal springs. Not just reserved for cooler climates, these welcoming warm waters are perfect for a soothing dip — especially in the fresher mornings when crowds are few. Averaging an idyllic 25-30 degrees Celsius and sourced by a natural spring, the shaded collection of bubbling turquoise pools are surrounded by grassy picnic spots and the brand-new Pop Rocket Café, serving toasties, coffee and more.
Katherine Hot Springs is conveniently located just a five-minute drive from Katherine township. Access to the pools may be restricted during the wet season (September – April) depending on the river levels, be sure to plan accordingly.
7. Go off-road and experience Maguk’s refreshing amphitheatre
A pristine bowl of water set in an amphitheatre of steep gorges lined with majestic Anbinik trees, Maguk’s waterfall-fed natural plunge pool in Kakadu National Park is a lesser-known paradise that requires a little effort to reap its rewards. Accessed by a 14-kilometre 4WD track, followed by a one-kilometre trapse through monsoon forest complete with a creek crossing, this secret spot is worthy of the journey. Float in the tranquil setting while rainbow doves soar above you and embrace the echo of trickling cascades as they spill down the rocky façade.
Maguk (Barramundi Gorge) is located within the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, a 3.5-hour drive from Darwin, and requires a 4WD to gain access. Maximise your experience by booking a small-group tour with an expert guide.
8. Find a sweet road-trip reprieve with a float along Bitter Springs
Grab your floaty and slip into a spring-fed sweet spot at Bitter Springs, a 500-metre natural lazy river that forms a winding watercourse through Elsey National Park’s tropical woodland. Lush palm trees provide a shady reprieve from the scorching sun while you glide downstream along the gentle current and wash away your worries in the warm azure waters, which sit at a pleasant 30 degrees Celsius year-round. An idyllic pit-stop on any NT road trip, Bitter Springs thermal pools are a bucket-list ticking item on a self-drive itinerary between Darwin and Alice Springs.
Bitter Springs are located a one-hour drive south of Katherine and just moments from the small township of Mataranka. Temperatures can soar to above 40 degrees in the summer months so be sure to apply plenty of sun cream and stay hydrated.
9. Escape the Red Centre sun with a dip in Ellery Creek Big Hole
Carved out by millennia of colossal floods, Ellery Creek Big Hole (Udepata) is a picturesque swimming spot fed by the rocky spine of the Tjorita / West MacDonnell Ranges Boasting Aboriginal and geological significance as well as marking a popular pitstop for those hiking the epic 231-kilometre Larapinta Trail, this iconic waterhole is an unmissable attraction for anyone looking to cool down in the Red Centre. Follow the three-kilometre Dolomite Walk through the rugged escarpment – clambering an arid landscape of tall red cliffs and sandy creek beds — before plunging into the Big Hole’s emerald refuge.
Ellery Creek Big Hole can be easily accessed via a one-hour drive from Alice Springs. Why not make a day of it and checkout neighbouring gorges — Redbank and Ormiston? Both are a further 50-minute drive west.
10. Admire Mount Sonder from Glen Helen Gorge
Located in the reaches of the Tjorita / West MacDonnell National Park the spectacular landscape surrounding Glen Helen Gorge is a sanctuary for the NT’s native wildlife. Featuring a towering sandstone gorge cradling a permanent waterhole fed by the Finke River, this inviting swimming spot is the perfect place to cool off in. Glen Helen Gorge is the perfect place to take in the changing colours of Mount Sonder — one of the highest points in Central Australia.
Glen Helen Gorge is located an easy 1.5-hour drive west from Alice Springs and the picturesque surroundings make for a colourful day trip. Alternatively, there are a few camping and boutique accommodation options available at Discovery Parks – Glen Helen.