About 2 years ago I got back from living in Tropical North Queensland. I spent the better part of five years living in Cairns and I absolutely loved it. I loved the lifestyle, the social life, diving on the reef, exploring the rainforests, and hunting for the next swimming hole. I’m even going to go as far as saying that I loved the weather! Crazy I know, but you really do acclimatise and end up cold in winter.
If you ever get the chance to visit Tropical North Queensland then Cairns is the place to visit. I’ve put together a list some of my favourite water holes in and around Cairns.
It’s a serious tourism town, that mixed with the warm night air means you can walk up the esplanade at 10 O’clock at night and still find it bustling. There are ice cream shops, the night markets, bars, restaurants and live performers, as I said, the place is buzzing.
It’s nice in the evening to go for a walk up the esplanade but during the day it gets a tad warm & humid, especially if you’re not used to the heat. Normally the beach would be my next port of call in this situation but up there most of the time they just don’t cut it. The water is bath-water warm and is brown half the day because of the tide coming in and you have to swim inside the stinger nets. This is when we would go and find a nice swimming hole to cool off in! It’s amazing how much cooler the freshwater water holes are compared to the beaches.
1. Crystal Cascades (Crystals)
Located at the end of Redlynch valley is a well-known line of swimming areas known as Crystal Cascades. 17.5 kilometre drive from Cairns city centre (20 minutes driving time) “Crystals”, as the locals call it, is a must to visit when in Cairns. Unfortunately, with no public transport servicing the area a car is a must to reach it. But fortunately, because of this fact, the area is never overcrowded with tourists.
To get there just follow the Redlynch Intake Road into Redlynch valley until you can’t go any further, yes, it’s as simple as that! Once you run out of road you will be in the Crystal Cascades car park. From here you set off on foot on the sealed cement path following the signs. The walk itself is easy and follows the flowing river further into the valley. Lining the path are many staircases which give you access down to the water, take your pick as each of these spots make for a great swim! Just be careful of the rocks which are slippery when wet.
Crystals is a great spot to bring the family as there is council maintained toilets and BBQ picnic areas lining the pathway.
So grab a picnic, your mates or the kids and head on down and cool off in the shade of the beautiful tropical rainforest.
Here’s a google map for you.
2. Fairy Falls
This spot is one of my top places to visit in Cairns period! It’s a little off the beaten track and it’s suitable for anyone that’s immobile or really young children.
To access it, park in the Crystal Cascades car park at the end of Redlynch valley. The track is at the far end of the car park from where you drive in and leads off into the rainforest. The walk is roughly ten minutes and is along a well-defined track. The track is a bit tricky in places so bring some proper shoes.
Once there you’ll see that the walk is well worth it. When you reach the end you will emerge upon a hidden waterfall, framed on both sides by sheer rock walls. With the sun sparkling down through the rainforest canopy above it’s not hard to see where it got its name. There is definitely something magical about this place.
From your first vantage point you won’t be able to see, but below the fall is a deep pool no more than 10m in length and deep enough to jump into making for a secret shimmering pool that allows you to swim right below the waterfall. There are also rocky ledges you can jump off into the pool, remembering to always check depths before doing any jumping in!
The water is always cool and generally flowing year round, so have a dip and then relax in the cool shade listening to the sound of the falls. Make sure you’re extra careful during the rainy season as the waterfall gets quite powerful and dangerous.
Getting it all to yourself is just magical and will happen more often than not. This is still one of the locals best-kept secrets (….was?) which is surprising considering the track to get to it is at the back of a tourist swimming area!
If you click here you can see an awesome 3D image of it.
Or you can click here to get directions to check it out first hand.
3. Oasis Swimming Hole
The Oasis Swimming hole is another local gem that you would never know about unless you spoke to a Redlynch Valley estate resident or know where to look. Hidden at the far end of the Redlynch Valley estate there is a small turn off onto a street called Dwyer place. On the right-hand side of this tiny street, there is an opening and a track that leads into the rainforest that borders the estate. After a 2 minute walk down this track and you will reach the Oasis.
There are no close facilities at this swimming hole as it is not very well-known.
The Oasis is a deep swimming hole in the turn of the creek. The shallow rapids at the river bend help to create the deep and almost still pool with a rocky beach on the western side of the creek, great for catching some sun. The deep pool and the surrounding trees create the perfect situation for a good old-fashioned rope swing! Or if you’re feeling brave there is a tree on the other bank which the locals climb and jump out of! (Not for the faint hearted).
Oh and don’t forget to bring your snorkel! As the creek if full of fish, turtles and even the occasional eel! I know, gross, but they mainly keep to themselves. Keep your eye out for the local Jungle Perch which the fiancé used to love to watch cruise about.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of this one and couldn’t find any online either. That’s how secret it is! So you’ll have to follow these directions and check it out for yourself.
4. Behana Gorge (Clamshell Falls)
Unlike the other three, this one has a bit of a trek to get to it. It’ll take you about 40mins from Cairns City to get there travelling along the Bruce Highway. After about 30km you turn right onto Behana Gorge Road, you just follow this road to the end where you’ll reach a dirt car park and the start on the track.
The path follows the gorge most of the way but there is limited access down to the water until you reach closer to the end. This just means that you should only go here if you’re up for a medium grade hike as there are some steep hill sections and a fair distance to cover, about 5.5kms. Behana Creek is one of the main water supplies to the South of Cairns, So on the plus side, the path is fully sealed and you can ride your bike if you have one.
With that being said the reward is well worth it. Along the way, you will pass breathtaking views of the gorge and raging rapids. At the end of the walk, you reach an opening in the foliage where you are standing at the edge of the gorge looking up at the waterfall. At the base of the tumbling water, you’ll find a large set of pools which you can swim in. You will also most likely have the pools to yourself, and even if that’s not the case there is a lot of room to share.
Due to the length of the track, you’ll often find that you have the pools to yourself, and even if that’s not the case there is a lot of room to share.
If this sound like your cup of tea make sure you pack a towel water bottle and a bite to eat as once you have cooled off it’s such a nice place to share a lunch and relax before taking the easier walk back!
Please take into account the weather when doing this walk as the path gets slippery and the waters get dangerous if there has been significant rain. Use good judgment and never swim in flood waters.
Follow this map to get you to where you need to go.
Liking the look of these water holes but need some gear to help you get there? Then check out this awesome exploring gear!
4. Babinda Boulders
One Hour south of the Cairns City and you can turn off right into the small town of Babinda. Road signs then direct you towards the swimming hole which is surrounded by lush rainforest. It is a fast flowing tropical creek perfect for afternoon dips in the cool water to combat the tropical heat.
The creek is lined with huge boulders which the clear fresh water winds between and fills large pools which are perfect for swimming.
Again, it amazes me how cold the water is even during the summer months, it’s definitely worth the drive to come down here for the day and cool off with a couple of friends or family.
Babinda Boulders holds great significance to the local Aboriginal people. There’s a dream time story told by elders about Babinda Boulders.
‘Babinda Boulders is the home of the devil’s pool and according to legend a beautiful girl named Oolana, from the Yidinji people, married a respected elder from her tribe named Waroonoo. Shortly after their union, another tribe moved into the area and a handsome young man came into her life. His name was Dyga and the pair soon fell in love. Realising the adulterous crime they were committing, the young lovers escaped their tribes and fled into the valleys. The elders captured them, but Oolana broke free from her captors and threw herself into the still waters of what is now known as Babinda Boulders, calling for Dyga to follow her. As Dyga hit the waters, her anguished cries for her lost lover turned the still waters into a rushing torrent and the land shook with sorrow. Huge boulders were scattered around the creek and the crying Oolana disappeared among them.
Aboriginal legend says her spirit still guards the boulders and that her calls for her lost lover can still be heard.’ – www.cairnsattractions.com.au
Just behind the Boulders is Mt Bartle Frere, Queensland’s tallest mountain, from which Babinda Creek’s cool water originates. If you’re a keen hiker you can do the hike to the top of Mt Bartle Frere. I recommend doing it as an overnight hike but if you’re super keen it can be done as a day hike if you prepare yourself properly.
To get to Babinda Boulder just follow this map.
So that’s my top 5! I hope you enjoy them as much as I have in the past.
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