Australia may be the driest continent on earth and currently in the middle of the worst drought and bushfires in living memory but paradoxically it is also home to some of the most beautiful inland swimming spots in the world no matter how tumultuous the weather is.
From the far north of the nation to the sparse and seemingly barren desert interior there are hidden gems to be found. At times they are often mere waterholes a few metres deep and a few metres wide fed by underground springs, in other places they are vast lakes full to the brim with fresh water fed by massive tropical rains. Come with me and explore some of them.
I’m going to start in the far north of South Australia at a place called Dalhousie Springs (or Witjira National Park). A true oasis in the desert, featuring 120 springs surrounded by lush greenery and abundant wildlife. The park sits on the edge of the Simpson desert in the far north of South Australia amid endless sand dunes and stark gibber plains. Dalhousie has been used by aboriginal people for thousands of years as a source of food, shelter and medicine. You can swim in the main spring’s warm water and experience a unique toe curling wonder at the same time. Home to a unique species of fish known as the Dalhousie Harydhead and found nowhere else in the world it will come up and nibble on your toes. At first it is a strange experience but after time you go with the flow. The springs are naturally warm and in the middle of winter when the outback can be bitterly cold provide a welcome relief. If you are lucky enough to be visiting after a soaking rain you’ll be rewarded with the ephemeral wildflowers bursting into bloom.
Now to the far north of Australia and most people have heard of Kakadu. Well there is a saying amongst those who know better – Kaka – don’t. While there is no doubt Kakadu it magnificent it has been overtaken by commercialism and is tired and overused. By contrast Litchfield National Park some 120km south of Darwin is a gem and a true wildlife oasis. Its home to several stunning waterfalls that cascade into crystal clear pools, iconic magnetic termite mounds and clusters of weathered sandstone pillars.
Swimming under the falls and relaxing in waterholes is a favourite pastime for visitors and locals alike. I will never forget swimming in the crystal clear waters and treading water under water as hundreds of litres of water poured from above. It was truly a soulful experience and one you should experience in life.You can shelter from the heat (and it does get very hot) in the shady monsoon forests in the ancient gorges created thousands of years ago. It is a haven for hundreds of native bird species and the plateau supports a rich range of woodland flora. A word of warning. While crocodiles are not a major problem in this area they do inhabit the northern parts of Australia so observe all signs before you jump in the water. Crocodiles love to eat humans!
The Snowy Mountains region has been devastated by the recent bushfires in Australia and visitors need to check before proceeding. By and large all national parks, which have been almost obliterated, are closed until further notice but like it or not this is a major tourist area and as the towns begin to recover they will need visitors to sustain their livelihoods. Hidden amongst all this carnage is one of the most magnificent lakes in Australia. Part of the massive Snowy hydro scheme is Lake Jindabyne. Jindabyne is a two hour drive from Canberra and is well worth the journey. It is massive and if you are so inclined hire a canoe and gently cruise over the water and enjoy the silence and the beauty. If you enjoy swimming this is one of the safest spots around to swim in and of course fish are in abundance. It will take time for this region to recover but it cannot recover without your help and there is no better way to help than by visiting when the time is right. Give it some consideration. Apart from Lake Jindabyne the Snowy Mountains region is truly magnificent. In winter freezing cold stream flow into small lakes and waterholes as well as the bigger Snowy Mountains lake scheme so if you are game to take a winter dip why not try.
I hope you have enjoyed this quick look at some of the most fascinating waterholes in Australia. It may be a very dry land ravaged by drought and bushfires at the moment but it is also a land of mysterious beauty and if you take the time to discover will reward you with some astonishing gems. Next time I’ll explore some more fascinating areas of Australia Down Under.