The Outback Waterhole – Is it better than a beach holiday?

The Outback Waterhole – Is it better than a beach holiday?

Sand, water and floating on an inner tube sounds like a great 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.

outback waterholes
Ripley (aged nearly 4) at Ormiston Gorge 

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….so to speak.

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!
outback waterhole
You can’t see from the picture, but there is a rope swing hanging out of the tree for the brave. 

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!

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

The night sky in Central Australia is something not to be missed and 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 however, I thoroughly enjoyed the 1km walk into the waterhole and due to its location, it’s possible you might 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 here as you can swim up the narrow chasm and float back down on it.

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The walk in to Redbank Gorge on a dry river bed wedged between two gorge walls
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We forgot to bring our floaty!
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The walk in to Redbank Gorge….nearly at the swimming hole

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.   Hubby doesn’t agree as there is no surf…but at least there is no crocodiles!

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 the icons:

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!



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 in the walk 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:

If you are short on time, Qantas and Virgin Australia have regular flights into Alice Springs where you can hire a car.  If you have the time, the drive into Central Australia is very rewarding in itself regardless of which iconic road you choose to get there.

Getting around:

Car hire, both 2wd and 4wd is available from several operators in Alice Springs.  Various day tours are also available from several operators in Alice Springs but most only visit Ellery Creek and Ormiston Gorge.

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 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.

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.

Want to discover more awesome places for your next family getaway?

For more blog posts, articles and photographs of my travels through Central Australia with kids (The Red Centre), please check out this page: Central Australia & Northern Territory

For information on all of my destinations, check out this page: My travel destinations

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