In summer Cardwell in North Queensland Australia is hot and sunny. With marine stingers and crocodiles known to inhabit the Ocean that shimmers across to Hinchinbrook Island and north to the Family Group of Islands, it is a priority to find a safe and pleasant way to cool off.
Cardwell is a small community strung out beside the coast. The highway goes right through town with houses and shops on one side and the ocean and off-shore islands on the other. The view is enchanting and I dare anyone to drive on by without stopping to enjoy.
When driving from the south look out for the Information Centre flags on the left once in town. You can pick up maps and information about Cardwell swimming holes and drives here. The town itself is a thriving but small regional centre with one street housing a variety of tourist and local services.
Luckily there are plenty of free to the public Cardwell Swimming Holes that are freshwater and safe to swim in. The most Instagram famous of these is the Cardwell Spa Pools, but there are four obvious choices listed from south to north.
To arrive at Cardwell drive 2 hours from Townsville to Cardwell, a distance of 165 km or 2.25 hours from Cairns to Cardwell, a distance of 182 km.
Cardwell is only 61 km north of the fishing village of Lucinda.
Stop at the Hinchinbrook Island Lookout on the Cardwell Ranges for views of the Hinchinbrook Channel.
The first Cardwell swimming hole encountered from the south, the direction we arrived from, is Five Mile Creek Swimming Hole which is as the name suggests, 5 miles or 8 km south of Cardwell.
What You Will Find in This Post
Five Mile Swimming Hole Cardwell
When we visited Five Mile Swimming Hole in July 2020 during Dry Season, the swimming area situated on Damper Creek was very clear, pleasantly deep and long enough to accommodate a crowd. We could see through the water to scattered round stones with plenty of sand between. I personally find clear water with sand underfoot, comforting.
With a Cardwell Ranges backdrop and a mixture of Bottlebrush, Mahoganies and Pendas crowding the banks, look for darting blue dragonflies over the water. Traditional Girramay people often camped on creek banks like these.
Don’t discount this swimming hole just because it’s the first of four you will encounter from the south. I would happily jump in here if the weather was hot.
There is an information board, large grassed area, picnic tables and toilets. To make it even more appealing, the swimming hole is only a short drive off the highway on a good dirt/gravel road.
The next three swimming holes are on the Cardwell Forest Drive which is accessed from Cardwell.
View from Cardwell Lookout.
Cardwell Forest Drive or Cardwell Loop as it is sometimes known, leads to Cardwell Lookout (don’t miss the fabulous views) and three Swimming holes including the Cardwell Spa Pools.
Turn left at the Big Crab in Cardwell and before long you’ve crossed the train line and are on a good dirt gravel road. The turn off to the Lookout is on the left.
Attie Creek Swimming Hole Cardwell
The first swimming pool on the drive is Attie Creek. This is Cardwell State Forest land and for the most part signage is good. The forest is in a state of regrowth having been devastated by two cyclones, the last of which being Yasi in 2011.
The Dark Green Timber Sign at the junction has Attie Creek written in white. Turn left, but if you start wondering if you’re on the right road just keep on following the arrows, also white on a green background.
On Arriving at the Swimming hole carpark there are two options. Walk to the right some 700 m uphill to the falls which are actually in Girringun National Park, or down to the left about 50 m to a small swimming hole.
We chose the latter and there was only a trickle of water falling into that pool which although clear, had some green mossy rocks that looked slippery. As it was dry season we decided the 700 m walk to the waterfall was not warranted.
Also we had our Toy Poodle with us and didn’t think we should take her into National Park.
Dead Horse Creek Swimming Hole Cardwell
Back on the main Cardwell Forest Drive there were the usual jokes along the lines of “Hope the dead horse has been moved”.
Turning left at the Green and White signs we headed toward the creek. It’s quite a long drive and once again we were guided by the arrows.
The main swimming hole is at the base of a big sloping rock. The pool has the beginnings of an intriguing smoky blue colour in the water and the surrounding rock was rough and textured so would not be slippery when wet.
The water looked inviting but as it was tiny, would be best with only a few people. Adventurous swimmers can clamber downstream a bit (it’s not easy) to find more intimate little swimming holes.
Cardwell Spa Pools
This photo shows how blue the pool can look. It is taken on my IPhone 6.
Further along the Forest Drive we noticed a group of cars on the left. This alerted us to the most famous of the Cardwell swimming holes. Maybe because of it’s popularity, the Cardwell Spa Pool is not signposted at all.
Photo on Marty’s Pentax DSLR.
There is an info post in the car park, followed by a very short walk down to the pools.
It was easy to see where the spa pool would be when the water was rushing. A small spa sized rock pool is visible at the end of the walkway. The water of Scrubby Creek enters from the left and after rain forming a natural bubbly spa before exiting into the main swimming hole which stretches far to the right.
I imagine the area could get quite packed in Summer.
Photo on Pentax DSLR.
What Causes the Water Colour of Cardwell Spa Pools
Scientists explain the turquoise water colour as microscopic plants forming a carbonate, which in turn binds to tiny clay water particles, forming Mari. Mari reflects and refracts and combined with the original phytoplankton causes the colour.
Shortly after rejoining the gravel Cardwell Forest Drive, the road dips into what would be a creek crossing in the Wet Season. If there are no cars behind you, look to the left and snap a photo looking directly back up the creek.
In no time at all turn right onto the sealed Ellerbeck Road which reconnects to the highway north of Cardwell.