6 of the best North Queensland waterholes

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While touring in the tropics can be hot in summer, there is no better time to enjoy a swim in the many mountain streams that flow out of the rainforest-clad mountains.

WORDS by Steve Farmer

There are good reasons to head for north Queensland during the warmer months – camping spots aren’t as crowded, the countryside is greener and caravan parks are often cheaper, to name just a few. And, of course, some travellers are limited to the summer months by work commitments or school holidays. However, the heat and humidity can make life in the tropics a bit uncomfortable outside of winter, and it can be a major negative for many travellers. But out of that negative comes a positive – the swimming is great!

I’m not suggesting you swim in the sea – crocodiles and deadly marine jellyfish are at their worst between November and May. A safer alternative is the freshwater streams that rush out of the backdrop of mountains lining the coast between Townsville and Cairns.

There is no better way to spend a hot northern Queensland summer’s day than lounging back in the cool clear waters of a rainforest stream as it tumbles and gurgles its rocky path from the misty peaks of nearby mountains.

If this sounds like your kind of summer holiday (and it definitely will be if you have kids onboard), why not make these swimming holes a feature of your road trip between the north’s two major cities?

To make it easier, I’ll tell you about some of our favourite spots to cool off along this section of coast. All are easily accessible by conventional vehicle with a caravan, are just a short drive off the Bruce Highway and there’s not much more than an hour’s drive between them.Many also have camping grounds or caravan parks nearby, allowing you to spread your journey over a number of days or weeks and enjoy all the aquatic delights that this piece of coast has to offer. Beat the heat and swim your way north!

JOURAMA FALLS, PALUMA RANGE NP

Getting there

The turn-off to Jourama Falls is about 90km north of Townsville and 24km south of Ingham. From the highway to the camping area is 5km and involves crossing Waterview Creek via two causeways. Despite being covered by water for much of the year, the causeways are usually passable to most vehicles and caravans. However, caution is advisable after heavy rain and this park may be closed during times of flooding.

Facilities

The day visitor area is located between the two causeways. Facilities include composting toilets, cold showers, picnic tables and gas barbecues. All water should be treated for drinking.

The swimming

There is a swimming hole on Waterview Creek in the day-use area with a bank-side platform and ladder making it easy to take a dip. There are other swimming spots further upstream near the camping area and the second causeway. A 3km-return walk will take you to the Jourama Falls Lookout and more swimming spots.

The camping

The camping area is large and shady and just beyond the second causeway. It is suitable for tents, camper trailers, caravans and motorhomes. Facilities include picnic tables, gas barbecues, composting toilets and a shower cubicle. Open fires and generators are not permitted. This is a popular national park (especially during the school holidays) and advance bookings are advisable.

FIVE MILE CREEK

Getting there

Five Mile Creek is located 45km north of Ingham, 8km south of Cardwell and is 700m west of the highway. The turn-off is sign-posted on the northern side of Five Mile Creek. The access road is unsealed but in good condition. There is plenty of parking space and room for vehicles towing caravans. This is a quick, easy stop for a swim and a cuppa.

Facilities

Facilities include toilets, gas barbecues, bins and picnic tables. But a bit more shade in the picnic area would be nice.

The swimming

Cement paths and stairs lead to the bank-side platform and the stainless steel access ladder into the swimming hole. The hole is deep at the access point, but the bottom rises up into rocky shallows at the bottom of the hole. Bullrouts (freshwater stonefish) are known to inhabit this creek and suitable footwear is recommended when swimming or wading here. This is a popular swimming hole with tourists and locals, especially on summer weekends. To avoid the crowds, time your visit for early morning.

The camping

Camping is not permitted here. There are a number of good caravan parks in Cardwell, just a short drive to the north.

MURRAY FALLS

Getting there

There are two turn-offs from the highway. The southern one is 21km north of Cardwell and the northern one is 16km south of Tully. These access roads join up and it is about 20km from both turn-offs to Murray Falls. All except the last few kilometres are sealed.

Facilities

The day-use area is on the left beside the river as you arrive. Barbecues and picnic tables are the only facilities here. Toilets and cold showers are a short walk or drive away in the upper-level camping area.

The swimming

There are access tracks to swimming spots on the river from the day-use area car park. There is no swimming or even access permitted in the upper area closer to the falls, as slippery rocks have resulted in serious injuries and deaths here in the past.

The camping

The camping area is huge, with tall trees providing scattered shade to much of the area. Facilities include toilets, showers and fire rings. Bring your own firewood.

You can see the 30m-high Murray Falls from the lookout at the end of a 300m boardwalk, which starts at the top of the camping area. There is another, 1.8km walking trail at the bottom of the camping area which leads through rainforest to another lookout above the falls.

ALLIGATOR’S NEST

Getting there

Finding this excellent swimming hole just 7km north of Tully can be tricky. Call at the Tully tourist information centre on the highway and ask for directions.

Facilities

Alligator’s Nest has toilets, picnic tables, and gas barbecues. Nature compliments these man-made facilities with a large, grassy picnic area and lush, fringing rainforest.

Alligator’s Nest is popular on weekends, so avoid the crowds by visiting midweek.

The swimming

The swimming hole, at the junction of two mountain streams, is large and deep with a sandy bottom. The streams flow clear and cold for much of the year and are lined with rainforest.

Entry to the swimming hole is super-easy with steps leading down into the water.

The camping

Camping is permitted at Alligator’s Nest, but there are several caravan parks in nearby Tully and Mission Beach as well.

Josephine Falls/Golden Hole

Getting there

Golden Hole and Josephine Falls are just a few kilometres apart and you can visit both in an afternoon. Turn off from the highway a few kilometres south of Miriwinni or 20km north of Innisfail. About 6km from the highway, the road forks with the left branch leading to Golden Hole and right to the carpark at Josephine Falls. The final leg into Josephine Falls is an easy walk along a 700m sealed walking track.

Facilities

Facilities at Josephine Falls include toilets and picnic tables. This is a very popular swimming hole and parking can be at a premium.

Facilities at Golden Hole include a sheltered picnic table and toilets. 

The swimming

The track into Josephine Falls leads to a platform overlooking a large, rocky swimming hole and rock slide. The boardwalk continues upstream to two more viewing platforms, but access to the creek is not permitted. Josephine Creek can rise quickly after rain to become a dangerous torrent. Don’t swim during periods of heavy rain and always be aware of creek conditions, especially during the wet season.

Swimming at Golden Hole isn’t as popular, probably because crocodile sightings have been reported. 

The camping

Camping is not permitted at either Josephine Falls or Golden Hole. Caravan parks and free campgrounds are available at Innisfail and Babinda.

The Babinda Boulders

Getting there

Turn off the highway into the main street of Babinda and follow your nose. The Babinda Boulders lie about 7km beyond town along a sealed road.

Facilities

There are toilets, picnic tables and barbecues in a large, well-grassed area surrounded by rainforest.

Parking can be pretty tight, especially if you are towing a van and particularly on weekends, so consider leaving the van in Babinda if you’re just visiting on a day trip.

The swimming

The main swimming hole is at the junction of two creeks, right in front of the picnic area. The hole is large and deep in places, but is easily accessed by a set of steps. Go early to beat the crowds.

Under no circumstances should you enter the water downstream of the picnic area. This area, known as the Devil’s Pool, has claimed many lives over the years. A walking track leads to lookouts overlooking the creek and the huge, water-worn boulders which give the area its name. Stay within all barriers and do not leave the track!

The camping

There is a small, free camping ground with a two-night maximum stay. Facilities include toilets, showers, barbecues and picnic tables. No open fires are allowed and no generators between 9pm and 7am.