“Swimming in the Red Centre?

Yeah, is that before or after my beach escape to Alaska? Ah wait, no, I’m busy backcountry skiing Sudan then.”

The concept of paddling in the outback is understandably confusing. It’s a camel-packed desert after all, with summer mercury levels often tickling 45 degrees celsius. But like Donald Trump holding America’s presidential reins, the world is full of surprises.

The West MacDonnell Ranges extend west from Alice Springs and lay host to a number of extraordinary waterholes. We recently travelled through the Red Centre with Tourism NT and as experienced wild swimmers, our snouts were attuned to all manner of wild waterholes to cool off in.

What we found completely blew us away. Here are our favourites:

1. Udepata (Ellery Creek Big Hole)

A special meeting point for the Arrernte people on the fish and honey ant dreaming trail.

ellery creek laura bell


Nestled within the wild swimming wonderland of the West MacDonnell Ranges National Park, Udepata is remarkable. With plenty of places to chill and relax within the towering red cliffs that surround the waterhole, it’s somewhere you could easily wallow away a day doing some hardcore chilling (there’s also a campground here).

Don’t try and swim to the bottom though, rumour has it it’s over a 1km deep. #holdontoyourgopro


How To Get There

Roughly 40 minutes (88km) West of Alice Springs, off Namatjira Drive (the 1km gravel road to the car park is 2WD accessible) within the West MacDonnell National Park

2. Yapalpe (Glen Helen Gorge)

Named by the the Arrernte Aboriginal people, who referred to the Finke River as ‘Larapinta’ meaning ‘serpent’.


Low Res NT Tourism Henry Brydon glen helen wild swimming


This swimming hole pole-vaults the concept of a roadhouse into road-tripping Narnia. A short stroll from the car park and accommodation guides visitors to a serene hideaway on the Finke River, with shaded banks set beneath huge quartzite cliffs that transform in colour as the sun does her thing.

You’ll share the spot with a throng of birds, reptiles and marsupials. For the tough-fingered there are deep-water soloing opportunities, as well as a cheeky rope swing and secret beach if you swim through to the right.


How To Get There

Glen Helen is located 1.5 hours (132 km) west of Alice Springs on Namatjira Drive within the West MacDonnell National Park

3. Kwartatuma (Ormiston Gorge)

A sacred site of the Western Arrernte people.

Low Res NT Tourism Henry Brydon ormiston gorge


Only 500m from the car, Kwartatuma has a large open beach that’ll make you think you’re on the coast, not in the Red Centre. A huge pool surrounded by sandy verges creates the perfect opportunity for a group charge into the water.

To truly earn a dip though, you should attempt the 3-4 hour Ormiston Pound Walk, a loop hike from the car park. You can rely on this one to deliver the goods all year too: it’s a permanently filled waterhole.


How To Get There

Drive 1.5 hours (135km) west of Alice Springs. Located within the West MacDonnell National Park

4. Yarretyeke (Redbank Gorge)

Yarretyeke’s dreaming story is connected to the Euro (a small kangaroo) but further information is restricted to initiated Aboriginal men.


tourism nt redbank gorge wild swimming


If you’re starting to get a little picky on your magical mystery swimming hole tour, then maybe a slot canyon would tickle your fancy? There are plenty of hiking and camping options nearby too so give yourself plenty of time here to discover the area.

Yarretyeke (Redbank Gorge) is also a bird watching paradise – Grey Honeyeaters and German backpackers are seen here on occasion. Tip: pack some kind of floatation device (preferably in the shape of an obscure tropical fruit) and let the good times roll.


How To Get There

Drive 1 hour 45 minutes (156km) west of Alice Springs via Larapinta and Namatjira Drives and you’ll find Yarretyeke (Redbank Gorge) at at the base of Rrewtyepme (Mt Sonder) located in the West MacDonnell National Park.