About Edith Falls (Leliyn)
Edith Falls, which is also known by its Aboriginal name Leliyn, was a series of waterfalls and swimming holes in Nitmiluk National Park.
In fact, its popularity due to camping as well as swimming options (especially since it’s actively managed for saltwater crocodiles) might make this the most accessible waterfall in the reserve.
Heck, the size of the plunge pool at the base of Leliyn could very well make this place the largest natural waterfall swimming hole that is open to the public.
That said, while the temptation is great to just aim for the big swimming hole fronting the base of Edith Falls, I would highly recommend doing the entire 2.6km Grade 4 Leliyn Loop Walk.
That’s because the walk encompasses more impressive waterfalls and higher swimming holes on the Edith River while also providing lookouts along the way.
Indeed, when we first came to Leliyn in June 2006, we hastily only checked out the swimming hole and bottom tier of the falls.
It wasn’t until June 2022 that we came back and finally completed the experience.
The hike was made even more atmospheric considering that we did it in the mid-afternoon when the surrounding rocks were glowing red and orange as the sun was getting lower on the horizon.
Swimming Options at Edith Falls
Although the Edith River has multiple plunge pools within the Edith Falls series of cascades and waterfalls, only the lower plunge pool and the plunge pool at the uppermost of the falls can be used for swimming.
The plunge pools in the middle tiers do not have sanctioned access.
It’s worth noting that given the size of the plunge pool at the foot of Leliyn, it made me wonder how the authorities can invite people to swim there.
Well, it turns out that in 2017, the authorities installed a “crocodile exclusion barrier” underneath the footbridge spanning the mouth of the large plunge pool downstream of Leliyn Falls itself.
This was in response to the first ever estuarine (saltwater) crocodile caught in the lower Leliyn Falls pool earlier that year.
The permanent barrier can be raised to keep crocs out during the Dry Season (typically May through October) while the barrier can be lowered in the Wet (typically November through April) to allow debris and sediments to pass.
As a result, there are numerous signs (especially at the lower pool) indicating whether swimming is open.
Now while crocs are one public safety threat that is actively managed at Edith Falls, the size of the plunge pool and the lack of a life guard means that drowning is an everpresent hazard.
Therefore, I’d recommend wearing a life jacket (or at least a floatation device like a floating noodle) even if you’re a strong swimmer to at least minimize the chances of you tiring yourself out (while enabling you to go a little closer to the falls).
If you have young ones, definitely keep an eye out on them given how extensive the lower plunge pool is.
That said, I did notice that there was a secondary and tertiary plunge pool entrance where there wasn’t as much open water, and we noticed more families and kids were at this part of the swimming hole as opposed to the main one.
By the way, the upper plunge pool is at the half-way point or opposite end of the Leliyn Loop Walk, which I’ll describe below.
Trail Description – The Leliyn Loop
During our June 2022 visit, my Mom and I did the Leliyn Loop in an anticlockwise direction so this is how I’ll describe our experience.
From the car park and cafe area (see directions below), we followed a well-developed walkway for about 200m through some picnic grounds towards the fringes of the lower plunge pool.
It was here that we first encountered a plunge pool entrance that seemed to be used more by kids and families before reaching a second, deeper, and more open plunge pool with an entrance platform that was used more by adults.
Just before the second entrance, the track veered to the right and went to a footbridge traversing the Edith River just downstream of the large swimming hole area.
Beyond the bridge, the Leliyn Loop Track climbed up a series of mini-switchbacks and steps with the odd rest bench sprinkled along the way.
Given that this climb was pretty exposed to the hot afternoon sun, it took a bit out of us (part of what made this a Grade 4 hike) so we were glad to have brought a lot of water.
After about 400m beyond the footbridge, the climb started to level out and there were scrambling opportunities to get towards the edge of the escarpment for a nice elevated view back towards the car park and campgrounds.
The Leliyn Loop continued to meander and weave between boulders and shrubs before reaching a signed trail junction with the Bemang Lookout spur at about 1.1km from the lower footbridge.
The Bemang Lookout was perhaps where we got our best views of Leliyn Falls (Edith Falls), especially its middle and upper tiers fronted by a large but inaccessible plunge pool.
Continuing beyond the Bemang Lookout, the Leliyn Loop then continued another 400m or so before making a steep rock-stepped descent towards the mouth of the upper pool of Leliyn.
Along the way, there was an overlook peering downstream past the bottom of the middle waterfalls, and we also managed to get very nice reflection shots of the upper pools backed by the uppermost of the Edith Falls.
After roughly 700m from the Bemang Lookout, after crossing a few footbridges at the mouth of the upper pools, there was an informal (and slippery) scramble to the plunge pool fronting the uppermost tier of the falls.
Given the amount of hiking it took to get here (my GPS logs said we went nearly 2km to get here), this spot offered a more intimate swimming experience.
Once we had our fill of this spot, we then went up a combination of metal steps and rock steps for about 300m to another trail junction for the Leliyn Lookout, which itself was another 50m to the left.
This particular lookout was mainly for the large forbidden plunge pool looking towards the brink of the lowermost of the Leliyn Falls, but I didn’t find this lookout to be nearly as interesting as the Bemang Lookout on the other side.
Anyways, after having our fill of the Leliyn Lookout, we then went the final 900m or so back down to the Leliyn car park to complete the circuit.
It’s worth noting that even though the signs suggested that the Leliyn Loop Walk was 2.6km (taking 1.5-2 hours), according to my GPS logs, Mom and I had walked closer to 3.6km in total taking us nearly 2.5 hours.
I’d imagine the extra time and distance was covered by our detours to each of the lookouts as well as the little scrambling detour we took to the uppermost plunge pool and uppermost tier of Leliyn Falls.
Finally, given that this waterfall faced west, I was glad we did the excursion in the afternoon (even though it was the hottest time of the day) because the soft lighting on the surrounding rocks made this place magical.
I could totally see why some people claimed that this was one of the best spots in the Northern Territory to see the sunset, which would be even more feasible if you’re camping here.
Edith Falls resides in Nitmiluk National Park near Katherine in the Nothern Territory. It is jointly administered by the Jawoyn People and the Northern Territory Government. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
The turnoff for Leliyn was off the Stuart Highway about 42km north of Katherine or about 48km south of Pine Creek.
Once on the well-signed turnoff, we then continued to drive about 19km on the paved access road leading to the big car park at its end.
From Pine Creek, this drive took us about 50 minutes though it really depends on how often (and when) you encounter slow-moving road trains (basically big rigs that haul at least 2 or more trailers).
For geographical context, Pine Creek was 92km (about an hour drive) northwest of Katherine, 145km (about 90 minutes drive) southeast of Batchelor, 213km (under 2.5 hours drive southwest of Jabiru, and 225km (about 2.5 hours drive) south of Darwin.
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