Queensland’s secret freshwater lakes and swimming holes
Put the hose down and step away from the sprinklers, folks. There’s no need to go DIY if you’re looking for an alternative to the salty seas.
From volcanic craters nestled in World Heritage-listed rainforest to tea tree-infused lakes and outback waterfalls (yeah you heard me), it ain’t just our coastline that’s pulling out all the stops when it comes to water glory.
See for yourself when you dip into Queensland’s lesser-known freshwater lakes and swimming holes.
Lake Wabby, Fraser Island
Lake McKenzie might be the most popular lake on Fraser Island, but lemme tell you, she ain’t the only one worth getting your kit off for.
If you’d prefer a touch more seclusion, set your sights on Lake Wabby.
A unique body of water unlike any other on the island, it’s a phenomenon in its own right because it’s made of not one, but TWO different types of lakes: a window lake – formed when the ground level falls below the water table – and a barrage lake – formed when a sand blow blocks the waters of a natural spring.
But it’s the enchanting deep green waters which make the steep 3.1km return journey from the lookout 100% worth it. Bordered by a giant sand dune on one side and lush forest on the other, it doesn’t even seem right that this natural wonderland should exist in such desert-like scenery.
*FYI, you might want to get in quick before the dune’s inevitable march westward completely swallows it up! (Okay so probably not going to happen for at least a century or so, but hey, you’d want to make sure you see it before it does.)
Blue Lagoon, Moreton Island
Formed through natural catchments of rainwater over thousands of years, Blue Lagoon is so much more than just a refreshing break from the salty beaches of Moreton Island.
One part freshwater, one part tea tree oil, the lake has been naturally infused with rejuvenating properties which are said to do wonders for your skin! Some locals even believe swimming here can slow down the ageing process.
There’s only one way to find out… dive in! And if you want to squeeze in the rest of Moreton’s magical sights in a weekend, just follow this 48-hour itinerary.
Bjelke-Petersen Dam, Moffatdale
You’ll be saying “dam” when you come across this mass expanse of freshwater goodness in the middle of South Burnett.
Covering a whooping 2,500 hectares and surrounded by native bushland, Bjelke-Petersen Dam – also known as Lake Barambah – is a haven for all types of water fiends, with boating, skiing and fishing all on the cards.
Pack some snags for a BBQ picnic on the grassy banks, keeping an eye out for resident koalas, kangaroos, pelicans and swans for that Nat Geo-worthy Insta shot.
(Psst, don’t care much for the outdoors? Drop off your brood and wine-hop just five minutes to Dusty Hill and Bridgeman Downs Cellars to sample the local produce.)
If one day on the water just isn’t enough, you could always extend your visit with a stay at the Yallakool Caravan Park located right on the dam’s edge (cabins, caravan spots and camping available).
*Before casting your rod for some golden perch and Australian bass, make sure you pick up your permit from the kiosk.
Combo Waterhole, Kynuna
man waterhole, the myth, the legend.
Not only is the Combo Waterhole in Kynuna a welcome refuge from the outback heat, but it’s said to be the place that inspired Banjo Patterson’s Waltzing Matilda, where the jolly swagman jumped into the billabong and where his ghost may still be heard to this day… pretty cool, huh?
Get schooled on the history of Australia’s adopted national anthem as you follow the self-guided trail (it will be impossible not to hum along) before setting up under the shade of a Coolibah tree for a picnic and dip.
Lake Fred Tritton, Richmond
What’s the cure for fossil fever, you ask? Why, Lake Fred Tritton, of course!
It’s pretty easy to catch the ailment out here in Richmond, one of four main hot spots along Outback Queensland’s Dinosaur Trail. So after all that digging (literally and figuratively) why not treat yourselves to a change of scenery.
Lake Fred Tritton isn’t just a lake, but a paradise for this inland community, boasting sandy beaches, a water park, playgrounds, free picnic facilities, and the opportunity to get on the water for some skiing and kayaking.
And did we mention the fishing is pretty decent, too? Stocked with over 18 species, you’ll find red claw yabbies, barramundi, sooty grunter, sleepy cod, archer fish, forktail catfish, golf grunter… you get the drift!
Lake Eacham, Atherton Tablelands
Fringed by World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics Rainforest, this bad boy isn’t just another clear blue lake perfect for a hot summer’s day (or really any time of the year here in Tropical North Queensland, am I right?!).
Lake Eacham is what’s known as a maar – a volcanic crater formed by massive explosions.
Yep, so you’re essentially swimming in a giant crater which blew up when magma and groundwater came into contact, eventually forming into this stunning retreat over the last 10,000 years or so. Mind = blown.
Work up a sweat along the lake’s 3km circuit track first and see the rainforest from the eyes of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land – or go for a paddle to spot turtles along the water’s edge – before jumping in.
Afterwards, head to the Teahouse Cafe over at Eacham’s twin crater, Lake Barrine, for a cup of locally-grown tea with a side of their secret-recipe scones, which go back four generations.
Brown Lake, North Stradbroke Island
There’s no point denying that Straddie’s stunner beaches are the major drawcard tempting visitors from Brisbane’s mainland, but they aren’t the only aqua stars of the island.
Meet Brown Lake, a natural perched lake just a short drive from Dunwich made of pure rainwater and tinged brown by the native tea trees. Like Blue Lagoon on Moreton Island, the calm tea tree-infused waters are believed to have a nourishing effect on the body, but its magic doesn’t stop there.
Brown Lake – whose traditional name is Bummiera – is one of two sacred lakes on the island acknowledged by the local Aboriginal people as the home of the jargon snake spirit yuri Kabool (the second being Blue Lake, also known as Kaboora).
Both were approached with great reverence, with many refusing to enter the waters without a special acknowledgement from the spirit to do so.
While this ritual may not be practised today, it’s still important to recognise and respect the cultural significance of the lake (and if you find yourself here on a quiet day, rest assured you’ll definitely still feel its magic).
Lake Nuga Nuga, Emerald
So good they named it twice.
Taking the crown as the largest natural water body within the Central Queensland Sandstone Wilderness, the lake remains a low-impact, nature-based water refuge for those craving a peaceful country escape.
With no motorised toys permitted, the lake remains true to its tranquil aesthetic, with only the gentle sounds of lake-goers swimming and kayaking its calm waters.
Although it’s known to completely dry up in times of drought, if you time your visit with the right season, you could also catch a glimpse of the lake’s famous waterlilies adding purple bursts of colour to the sandstone landscape.
Tip: Don’t forget your camera and binoculars. As well as being a valuable habitat for waterbirds, the landscape scenery shots to be had are solid gold (or purple, or pink, or all three!).
Finch Hatton Gorge, Mackay
Freshwater rock pools, tumbling waterfalls, lush sub-tropical rainforest trails… we can see why a day trip to Finch Hatton Gorge is the favoured local pilgrimage during summer.
Not only do you get the chance to whet your appetite for adventure when you make the one-hour journey west from Mackay, but you get to tick off a visit to one of the most ecologically diverse national parks in Australia.
Don your best active wear because you’re going to have to work for the reward here.
The most popular trail is the Araluen Cascades, a 2.8km return circuit which takes you to the lookout and rock pools of the Araluen Waterfall.
If you’re keen to work up more of a sweat, you can keep going to reach the large rock pool and granite boulders of the Wheel of Fire – just keep in mind that a moderate level of fitness is required, as the track takes on uphill sections with more than 300 steps. #werkit
*Take care when swimming and obey all warning signs.
Lake Awoonga, Gladstone
Swimming? Check. Fishing? Check. Water sports? Check.
Lake Awoonga you ol’ hat trick, you.
Located just half an hour from Gladstone, the free recreational facility is open year-round to cater to your water action needs.
From reeling in some barra or mangrove jack at the purpose-built fish hatchery to busting out the kayaks and stand-up paddle boards (you can also rent them out from the lake’s boating and leisure hire centre), you can go as hard or as cruisey as you’d like here.
Landlubbers aren’t left out either with landscaped walking trails and shady picnic spots perfect for curling up with a good book.
If you’re a bird lover, prepare to enter heaven as you play eye-spy with a southern squatter pigeon or a red goshawk (around 25% of Australia’s bird species can be found here if you keep your wits about you).
Behana Gorge, Cairns
Beat the heat and crowds when you venture off the tourist track to the fresh mountain water of Behana Gorge.
Your journey begins at the base of the famous Walshs Pyramid, half an hour south of Cairns (turn off the main highway onto Behana Gorge Road and follow until the sealed walking track starts).
From here it’s a solid 45-minute trek up steep hills to reach your destination, but oh, does the physical exertion pay off.
Cascading waterfalls, crystal-clear rock pools, plenty of spots to spread out over… it will feel like you’re very own slice of tropical paradise.
And if you want to take your Behana experience up a notch (or 10), you can hit up Behana Days where, starting from the top waterfalls, you can abseil, cliff jump and rockslide your way down the gorge.
Five Mile Creek, Cardwell
Just 10 minutes south of town is Five Mile Creek, a deep freshwater swimming hole surrounded by rainforest and topped off with a newly spruced swimming platform.
Bring your kayak and explore the creek system or simply relish the glassy waters, keeping an eye out for turtles and little fishies who’ve popped in to join the fun.
If you plan on sticking around for most of the day, pack some lunch and cook up at the picnic and BBQ facilities on site.
Indarri Falls, Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park
Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park is pretty much as Outback as it gets.
But despite its desolate location (we’re talking wayyy west near the border about nine hours from Mount Isa), thousands continue to flock here each year to revel in its sandstone ranges, World Heritage fossils, and spectacular gorge country.
And who could blame them when treats like Indarri Falls await?
The waterfall separates the upper and middle gorges in Lawn Hill Gorge and can be accessed via a 3.8km walking track or canoe (available for hire at the camping grounds).
Both ways are ridiculously scenic, but I’d recommend journey a la canoe. Starting from the canoe hire landing spot, you’ll paddle the still waters upstream through the spectacular orange sandstone walls of the Middle Gorge before reaching the falls for a well-deserved swim.
Word of advice… don’t forget the GoPro.
Tip: If you’re starting your road trip from Cairns, check out this 6-day itinerary that will get you here along the Savannah Way.
Nandroya Falls, Palmerston
No. Words. Needed.
But just so you have a little background info on this beauty, she’s nestled in one of the oldest living rainforests in the world about two hours south of Cairns in Palmerston.
To bask in her waterfall porn, follow this 6km circuit track winding along the upper valley of Douglas Creek before reaching the narrow 50m drop into the base of the falls.