Australia, Central Australia, Northern Territory

The Outback Waterholes – Are They Better Than a Beach Holiday?

The Outback Waterholes

Are They Better Than a Beach Holiday?

Sand in your bathers, cold water, floating on an inner tube, and the hot sun on your neck.  This  sounds like a typical day at the beach right? Except this is the middle of Australia, and the closest beach is a 12 hour drive south to Port Augusta,  or a 14 hour drive north to Darwin.

The waterholes in Central Australia have a lot more to offer than you may realise.  There are three spectacular swimming holes within a day trip from Alice Springs that challenge the notion of summer holidays on the coast.  In fact, not only do they challenge them, they blow them out of the water!

Best of all, there is no entry free to all three of these waterholes and camping is available at a very reasonable price.

Ellery Creek Big Hole

Ellery Creek Big Hole is the closest, located 80km west of Alice Springs in the stunning West MacDonnell Ranges.  See my post on Ellery Creek Big Hole here: Ellery Creek Big Hole with Kids (Central Australia)

outback waterholes
The water was freezing but the only one who seems to care is me!

Ormiston Gorge

Ormiston Gorge is your next stop in the West MacDonnell ranges, 135km west of Alice Springs.  This one is probably the most photogenic and really showcases the fascinating geology of the ranges.  See my post on Ormiston Gorge here: Ormiston Gorge with Kids (Central Australia)

This water hole is fantastic as there is heaps of sand for young kids to play in.  It’s not the annoying kind of sand that sticks to everything either. There were a few adults here stretched out on towels, reading books under the shade of glorious white Aussie gum trees.  Just perfect!

outback waterhole
Ormiston Gorge is REALLY pretty! You cant tell from this photo, but there is heaps of sand to play in too.

The night sky in Central Australia is not something to be missed.  The camp grounds here, away from the light pollution of the modern world, offer up a pretty memorable viewing experience.

Redbank Gorge

Last but not least, my personal favourite at approximately 152km west of Alice Springs, is Redbank gorge.  It’s not quite as pretty as Ormiston Gorge, but I thoroughly enjoyed the 1km walk into the waterhole and due to its location, it’s possible to get the whole place to yourself.  See my post on Redbank Gorge here: Redbank Gorge with Kids (Central Australia)

Don’t forget to carry in an inner tube or some sort of flotation device as you can swim up the narrow chasm and float back down on it.

outback waterhole
We forgot to bring our floaty!

All three of these outback waterholes are unique, worth the visit and are a fantastic alternative to the usual beach holiday.  But are they better than a holiday at the beach?

I certainly think so! Especially considering their proximity to some big Australian icons such as Kings Canyon, Uluru and Kata-Tjuta.  The calm water and wide open spaces makes me less anxious about travelling with the kids too, as does the lack of rips and stingers.

Hubby doesn’t agree as there is no surf!

Speaking of these big icons; check out the route we took here: Central Australia Road Trip With Kids (The Route We Took).  If you are self driving in a 4WD,  you can follow on to the well known Mereenie Loop as a very picturesque alternative route to hitting up these icons.

All of these awesome natural wonders are great destinations with kids and should be on every family’s bucket list.  See my posts below for more information:

Kings Canyon Rim Walk with kids (Central Australia)

Uluru with Kids (Central Australia)

Kata Tjuta with Kids (The Olgas) in Central Australia

So what you are waiting for? Come and decide for yourself.  I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Travel Facts and Resources


The outback waterholes in the West MacDonnell ranges can be enjoyed by people of all ages and are a great destination for families.  Very young children will most likely need assistance walking in to Redbank gorge.


Entry is free to all three swimming holes.  There is a small fee for camping which varies between camp grounds.

Getting There and Getting Around


You can fly into either Alice Springs or Yulara from capital cities in Australia, and either hire a vehicle or book a tour from there.

Find some great flight deals here:

Awesome tours from Alice Springs can be found here:

When to go

You can visit any time for spectacular scenery.  However, due to the cold water temperature; you should really only swim in the warmer seasons.  The water is apparently so cold that hypothermia is an issue in the colder months.

Where to stay

There are various accommodation options in Alice Springs to suit all budgets.  Camping is available at all three waterholes should you wish to stay longer than a day trip.  Availability is on a first in first served basis therefore you need to get in early during peak times.

You can find some great deals here:

Glen Helen Lodge, located approximately 130km west of Alice Springs, has camping and simple accommodation available.  You can also get your permit here if travelling the iconic Mereenie Loop road through to Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park.

Looking for Inspiration for Your Next Getaway?

For more blog posts, photographs and information on my travels through Central Australia with kids, check out this page: Central Australia with Kids

For more information on ALL of my travels, please check out this page: My travel destinations

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outback waterholes
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