Ask a few Australians where to go wild swimming and they will readily give you a list of a dozen or so spots they love. But they won’t tell you their absolute favourites. That’s because the best natural swimming spots are the ones you have all to yourself, even in the middle of summer (perfect for social distancing). Fortunately, in a country as big as Australia, there are plenty to go round. So get your gear off (all of it, if you want!) and dive in.
1. Millaa Millaa Falls – Atherton Tablelands, Queensland
No, you haven’t stumbled onto the set of Fantasy Island, but it’s no wonder Millaa Milla Falls are among the most photographed in Australia. Lush green rainforest, fern trees and flowering plants surround this 18m waterfall, which tumbles in a broad white ribbon straight into a deep plunge pool ideal for swimming. Part of the popular Waterfall Circuit, you won’t have this place to yourself but it will still take your breath away.
2. Karijini National Park – Western Australia
It may be 1000km north of Perth, but the incredible geology at Karijini National Park draws intrepid wild swimmers and photographers alike. The rock layers of this iron-ore country are rolled and folded into multicoloured bands like a petrified sunset. And the many gorges fill with clear-blue water, the perfect antidote to summer temperatures that regularly top 40°C. At Kermit’s Pool rust-red rock layers stack up to form high walls around the deep-blue pool, while at photographer-favourite Spa Pool the rock walls change colour from chalk-white to crimson depending on the light and your perspective.
3. Greens Pool – William Bay National Park, Western Australia
One for anyone partial to an untouched natural shoreline, pure white sands and calm, ultramarine water. But the standout here are the beautiful boulders. Greens Pool is sheltered from wind and waves by a jigsaw-puzzle of beautiful sculpted rocks that take all the power out of the pounding waves, leaving the waters calm and clear for snorkelling, floating and learning to swim.
4. Wineglass Bay – Freycinet National Park, Tasmania
Stop by the Wineglass Bay Lookout on the walk down to this beach (21⁄2 hours return) so you can check it out from above. Wow! The brilliant white arc of sand curls delicately around an isthmus, gradually fading into turquoise, azure, and then deep blue water against the backdrop of the granite mountain range known as the Hazards. Yes, why not bring some wine glasses? And a bottle of Tassie pinot too. Given the chilly climate, best to come in summer, when you can expect to see your toes clearly through the transparent water.
5. Jellybean Pool – Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales
With a wide sandy river beach surrounded by the rocky outcrops and thick bush of Blue Mountains National Park, Jellybean is a top spot to cool off on a summer day. The tea-coloured water provides plenty of shady corners, but at only an hour’s drive from Sydney it can get pretty crowded. Camp overnight so you can visit at sunrise or sunset and avoid the masses, or swim round the bend a bit to find a spot on your own. On the way back, check out Red Hands Cave, where ancestors left red, yellow and white hand silhouettes on the wall between 500 and 1600 years ago – they’re still vibrant today.
6. Ormiston Gorge – West MacDonnell Ranges National Park, Northern Territory
In the desert, a magnificent water hole can be, well, holy. After driving for 90 minutes through red dust from Alice Springs, plunging into Ormiston Gorge in the West MacDonnell Ranges is an epic experience. Sacred to the Western Arrernte people, who know it as Kwartatuma, the waters reflect the surrounding country of towering red escarpments sprinkled in sage green vegetation contrasted against the deep blue sky. It was a favourite subject of local superstar, the late artist Albert Namatjira (1902–59) and coming here can feel like you have stepped inside one of his vivid, muscular paintings.
7. Turpin Falls – Victoria
Fancy a dip in a billabong (not the clothes brand; a branch of a river forming a stagnant pool)? Turpin Falls is a large, pretty – and often chilly – billabong near Kyneton, bordered on three sides by a 20m high rock wall. After heavy rain, waterfalls tumble into the pool and offer free deep-tissue massage. Bring your own inflatable flamingo.
8. Josephine Falls – Wooroonooran National Park, Queensland
This World Heritage–listed rainforest is drop-dead gorgeous, and home to the likes of platypuses, cassowaries and tree kangaroos. But wild swimmers have come for something else – the awesome natural water slide over a smooth granite rock into the aqua-green pool. Bring reef shoes as the river bed is really slippery.
9. Gunlom Pool – Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory
Accessed by a steep, hot scrub walk, visitors are well pleased to reach the cool relief of this large plunge pool fed by a seasonal waterfall. But it’s the view that floors you. Perched high in the escarpment, the pool looks out over a wide sweep of Kakadu landscape taking in three habitats – stone country, woodland and riparian (riverine) areas. Get your camera angled right and you will capture the water with an infinity pool edge on a vista that’s been voted one of the top 100 in Australia.
10. The Needles – Sydney, NSW
There are loads of gorgeous swimming spots near Sydney, but this local secret is special because you can completely shuck off the city in the 15 minutes it takes to walk here from suburban Woronora Rd (3km from Engadine train station). The unspoiled Woronora River, which augments the city’s water supply, is lined by virgin bushland, the odd rope swing and Sydney’s signature sandstone-studded ridgelines.