Stingers (jellyfish) and Crocodiles are a real threat in Far North Queensland.
Beaches are often closed because of one, or both, of these factors. It’s something that can be very frustrating when it’s hot and humid and you just want to dive into the sparkling turquoise water.
So where can you get out of the heat and dip into cool, refreshing water – safely?
As we stood at the open-air reception desk of our ‘resort’ accommodation (said with tongue firmly in cheek), sweat pouring down our backs from the humidity, we were eager to find somewhere cool to be for a while.
We were in tropical Queensland after all. What better way to cool off than a swim? Our ‘resort’ pool was not the answer. Even with the massive sun sails screening much of it the brutal heat prevailed. Wading in to the centre where it should have been cool, it felt like a luke warm bath. Gross.We quickly hopped out seeking the sanctuary of our air-conditioned room to look for plan B.
When we picked up our rental car, the assistant pointed out a few swimming holes on ourmap. We weren’t too sure of what to make of it, but it sounded good. As we sat in the air-conditioning we realised: This could be our Plan B. The problemwas that they were an hour and a half south of where we were staying.
Before we ventured anywhere, we had to buy some beach towels. Our ‘resort’ charged extra for them and we had not brought our own. So off to Kmart we went. We circled the entire store three times. This is a beach town…right?!? Where in the hell are the beach towels? Finally, we asked someone where they were hidden.
They were out of stock we were told because it was ‘out of season’ – uh, okay. The look on our faces must have reflected our thoughts because they simply nodded and suggested we pick up some extra-large bath towels for $7/each.
As we checked out, looking like the tourists we were, we asked if there was anywhere we could swim close by. We were told of a watering hole where the locals like to hang out.
“There are no crocs there, right?”
The checkout chick (sorry if that’s not ‘PC’) smiled and said “No crocs. It’s too high up. It’s completely safe. You’ll love it. It’s really beautiful.” The woman standing behind us, waiting to check out, nodded in agreement.
“It’s amazing,” she said.
With towels sorted and swimsuits in the car, we followed her directions.
‘Amazing’ was an understatement.
We found our cool, refreshing water. It was not only invigorating but the scenery was absolutely stunning. (And no, I’m not talking about the locals sporting ‘outdoor lifestyle’ physiques). The place was gorgeous.
Cascading water flowing down on multiple levels and clear enough to see the rocks at the bottom of the river. No wonder the place was called Crystal Cascades!
Simply nirvana. And, we found more hidden treasures!
So, here we share the local’s knowledge:
Approximately 17km north of Cairns, this is a freshwater swimming hole hidden within a tropical rainforest. A series of waterfalls flow into large clear pools surrounded by huge granite boulders. There are a couple of stairways that go down to calmer pools along the way, but it’s worth the 1.5K to the top for the Falls.
You arrive into a large parking lot. It was almost full every time we visited, even mid-week. While bathrooms are available, it wasn’t too surprising tosee the locals changing at their cars, But I wasn’t as game (this time). There are also gas BBQs and picnic tables for all to use, readily available and maintained by the area council. It’s perfect for a day out all around.
To get to Crystal Cascades:
Self-drive is the only way, unless you pay for a Taxi to take you there and pick you up.
From Cairns: Take Highway 91 or the Cairns Western Arterial north. Turn left on Redlynch Connection Road. You need to stay in the left lane as you approach the roundabout following the Redlynch Intake road all the way to Crystal Cascades.
This was one of the recommendations from the car rental guys. It’s another freshwater swimming hole seemingly in the middle of farm land. The locals delighted in sliding down huge granite slabs into a deep pool of water at this one. As a mumma-duck, this freaked me out. I could imagine one of them hitting their head as they slid their way down the rock. I just couldn’t watch.
This swimming hole was crowded too, despite the rain and the hike it took to get to the water fall. When we debated swimming there, but decided we’d be wet from the rain, so what did it matter if we are in a swimming hole in the rain? We were drenched by the time we arrived at the swimming and drenched again by the time we returned to the car. But, we had dry clothes to change into, so it was all good.
To get to Josephine Falls:
Drive south towards Townsville (the Mulgrave Road becomes the Bruce Highway). It is approximately 75 km from Cairns to Mirriwinni, just south of Babinda. Take the turn off to Mount Bartle Frere, the highest mountain in Queensland and you will then just need to follow the signs to Josephine Falls for around 8 km.
I would call this the kiddie pool. It was a large, shallow freshwater swimming hole. Many families were around to enjoy it although the rain had many scrambling for their cars.
We didn’t swim in this one, as we’d just come from Josephine Falls, but we did take a walk to explore more of why it was called the Boulders. The walk itself is worth the visit. You get to see why it’s called the Boulders. Water rushes through massive granite formations. It’s also a sacred and significant spot to the Indigenous people.
The legend says:
“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.”
To get to The Boulders:
This area is just beyond Josephine Falls.
Drive south towards Townsville (the Mulgrave Road becomes the Bruce Highway). It is approximately 75 km from Cairns to The Boulders. At Babinda, take the turn off to Mount Bartle Frere, following the signs to Josephine Falls. Rather than taking the turnoff to Josephine Falls, continue for another few kilometres, following the signs for The Boulders.
Cairns Esplanade Lagoon
Okay, this one wasn’t told to us by a local and it’s usually filled with tourist a plenty…but it’s a great place for a refreshing swim.
Located in the city of Cairns along the Esplanade, this is a 4800-square meter saltwater swimming pool, patrolled by life guards. It ranges from 89 centimetres to 1.5 meters in depth, with disabled accessibility at one end. It even has underwater benches to sit and enjoy the people watching. It’s a tourist mecca. You can watch the backpackers with their six packs all day long if you wished, and yes, it is an alcohol-free area. Bathrooms are available, including showers. There are restaurants available everywhere which gives you plenty of opportunities for a picnic – or you can use one of the Esplanade’s 16 BBQs available.
To get to The Cairns Esplanade Lagoon:
Follow the signs in the city of Cairns to the Esplanade. You will find the pool smack bag in the centre. It’s located on the foreshore of the Trinity Harbour front if you want to be technical.
Know of any other ‘secret’ swimming holes in the Cairns area?
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