One of the best ways to cool off in the Northern Territory would have to be at the Berry Springs Nature Park, an exquisite natural oasis with a spring-fed swimming hole hidden in lush tropical bush. It is certainly a peaceful place, but not necessarily private as it is regularly frequented by tourists and locals seeking respite from the stifling Darwin humidity.
The Berry Springs Nature Park, combined with the neighbouring Territory Wildlife Park, covers an area of approximately 820 hectares and is a popular spot for swimming, picnicking, and bushwalking. The best way to explore the enormous expanse of dense greenery is to wander along the walking trail. It is a leisurely track, about one kilometre in length, that encompasses two different habitats, the Monsoon Rainforest and the Woodlands Walk.
As a sanctuary for native flora and fauna, the park is truly a delight for nature-lovers. Wading birds like the white ibis are not shy in coming forwards, usually to pick up scraps left by picnickers. Water monitors, small wallabies, and carpet pythons are also known to inhabit the area, but it is the fish that are the most prolific and highly visible in the crystal clear water. If you feel a little tickle on your toes, it's just a friendly greeting from a freshwater prawn.
The park is formed around a large part of the Berry Creek catchment, which continues out to Darwin Harbour. It is the pools created by a low weir over the creek that are the main attraction of the park. A series of stairs leads to the three different swimming areas, so you can walk directly to your favourite or float between all three.
It begins with the bubbling little waterfall of Berry Springs, the smallest and shallowest of the three pools and the most suitable for young children. It then runs into two much larger and deeper swimming holes, known as the Main Pool and the Lower Pool, where there is ample room to splash around.
As the ultimate way to escape the tropical heat, a dip at Berry Springs is a rejuvenating and refreshing experience. The spring water originates deep within the earth and is loaded with minerals that colour it a beautiful turquoise hue. Due to the high mineral composition, the water feels terrific to the skin and the temperature is perfectly tepid for a pleasant and relaxing soak.
The water is so clean you can see every rock, pebble, and creature below the surface, which is reassuring if you've just been on the Adelaide River Jumping Crocodile Cruise and are a little nervous about entering the Northern Territory waterways.
It is also comforting to see so many other people in the water. There are signs around that warn of both fresh and saltwater crocodiles and advise of the management practices implemented to minimise their presence. So there is a slight risk involved, but it is generally considered safe for swimming.
Like much of Darwin, Berry Springs Nature Park has an interesting history. It was originally developed during World War 2 as a rest and recreation camp by the armed forces for the 100 000 personnel stationed nearby in the Litchfield area. Over the years it has been renovated somewhat, but there are historical remains evident around the pools. Today, it still serves the purpose of rest and recreation, yet another thing to thank the troops for.
Facilities available for use by visitors include picnic tables, barbecues, public toilets, interpretive displays, and onsite car parking. There is a kiosk for refreshments that is allegedly open every day during the busy season, yet on my most recent visit it was closed and looked as though it had been for some time.
The park is open daily from 8 am until 6.30 pm during the dry season (usually from late April to late December), but for safety reasons is closed for swimming during the wet season. There is shade available from the canopies of overhanging trees, but you will still require sun protection and insect repellent is advisable. You might also like to bring a mask and snorkel to observe life under the water.
The Berry Springs Nature Park is located in the mostly rural suburb of Berry Springs, less than an hour drive from Darwin on Cox Peninsula Road off Stuart Highway. The Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission website can provide further information (including up-to-date details on any closures).