Ahhh, how nice it has been to pack away the winter woolies and to get the swimmers on again!
Our 1000-odd kilometre run from Alice Springs to Mataranka was broken only by a couple of pit-stops for fuel and a nights rest at Bonney Creek. We passed through the small township of Aileron which had a massive sculpture of an Aboriginal man on the hill above the town and another of a woman, child and goanna which was in construction near the art shop. From Aileron you head further north to a spot which John McDougall Stuart believed to be the dead centre of Australia, although there are many theories on how to calculate this and it seems that now the most commonly accepted ‘Centre of Australia’ is Lambert’s centre , much further south, almost at the South Australian border. Which ever, we’ve been to Stuart’s Centre of Australia and not all that far from Lamberts! Heading further up the Stuart Highway strange things start happening and all of a sudden you are in Wycliffe Well in amongst the aliens! Apparently the UFO sightings in the area are so common that you’d be unlucky not to see anything if you stayed up all night. We didn’t stay, so I have no idea! We tried our luck for a late afternoon campsite at the Devils Marbles again, but it wasn’t to be… 4pm and all full up, so we continued on and found an almost as pleasant sunset scene at a roadside rest stop near Bonney Creek, all rested up we made the final dash north to Mataranka and the first of our swims.
Bitter Springs at Mataranka would have to rate in the top five things we’ve seen so far, it is stunning. The warm thermal spring flows into a deep creek that washes down amongst lilies, pandanas palms and paper bark trees. You get into the water and float down the warm, crystal clear water for about 100 metres, climb out, walk back up the track and do it all again, over and over and over! There are lots of little fish in the water, the kids saw a fair sized turtle and there is a lot of birdlife. Because the water is so clear everything is very easy to see. The springs at Mataranka Homestead (the site of Elsey Homestead from the book ‘We of the Never Never’, which I have just finished reading and totally recommend) are not nearly as nice in our opinion. The water is just as clear and warm, but not flowing nearly as much – more like a pool than a creek. It’s obviously more favourable to the older generation though because as you approach the water you do wonder whether on entering you suddenly age 30 years… after all, everyone in the water was at least over 60!
While at Mataranka we stayed at Territory Manor Park, a great campsite with loads of grassy, shady sights, but also home of the famous Barramundi hand feeding. The owner of the park gives a twice daily chat about Barra and feeds his 7 or 8 ‘pet’ Barra by hand. If he’s lucky (and he was at both the feedings we attended) he can get hold of a fish by it’s mouth and then lift it out of the water. The fish don’t seem to overly mind and once they are lowered back into the water they will come back for their little fish ‘reward’. The kids get a chance at catching a Barra too, although with the bait just tied loosely to the end of a piece of string I’m sure there’s never been a successful fisherman in that pond.
We are now entering territory where Ben and I have travelled before, about 15 or 16 years ago and that time in a VW Combi. It will be interesting to see what has changed in that time and what we can remember seeing before! Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk, meaning ‘song of the cicadas’ to the Aboriginal owners) was just as spectacular as I remembered it, although I have no recollection of the facilities as they are at the gorge now, so I guess they are vastly different. We hiked up to the top of the first gorge, just out from the campground. To walk to any of the further gorges was really beyond the reach of the kids, still we had a brilliant view. There are thousands and thousands of flying foxes hanging from the trees at the bottom of the gorge. We managed to be swimming just as they were getting ready to wake up for the evening too – check out the sky behind the children in the photos below.
After Katherine we stopped at Edith Falls for what seems like the first of a million water falls, I’m sure my retelling of all that we stopped and looked at will quickly become very tedious, but rest assured they were all impressive in the ‘flesh’ and all the better when we were able to swim right under them.
I’m amazed by the amount of thermal pools in this area, I had naively thought that the springs at Mataranka were all you got. We ventured out the the Douglas Daly Hot Springs, party with the hope of being able to get out to the reputedly spectacular Butterfly Gorge, but the track was still closed to the gorge when we went through. We camped for a night at the hot springs though, with what must have been every bogan from Darwin. We’d unknowingly timed our stay with the first long weekend in the NT for a month (apparently that’s a long drought for long weekends here) and the campsite had only just been reopened again after the wet season, so all the locals were desperate to be here. Needless to say it was packed. The hot springs themselves were ok, far too shallow to swim in and the water temperature varied a huge amount depending on how close you were to a spring – you either got burned or had cold stream water. The idea of wallowing in a few feet of still water with a stack of rev-heads could not really compare with the clear flowing waters of Bitter Springs! A little further down the road at the Douglas Daly Conservation Park was a far nicer spot to camp, but we only discovered that the following day and by then Ben was itching to get to Daly River to get his fishing rod out again.
Our journey to Daly River ended up being a little disappointing in the fishing department, not for the lack of catch (although there was none of that either), but for the lack of ability to fish safely in waters that were supposedly teeming with Barra! Ben had hoped to get a fishing charter from here, but everything was booked out for the next 4-5 days. So we pumped up the zodiac and thought we’d go ourselves, but began getting a little nervous about that when the old timers from the park started telling us about the 5 metre crocs that were in the water at the moment. In the end we took the safe route and packed the boat away again and the boys, big and small, had to be content with a little fishing from the banks of the Daly. Very frustrating, but perhaps for the best as we did see a croc lurking in the shallows while we were at the rivers edge.
We struck a little out of the way gem on the way to Adelaide River when we took a 10 minute walk to Robin Falls. Not expecting to be able to swim here we were a little unprepared, so it called for a bit of getting back to nature for the kids. Too cold for Ben and I in the early morning shade!
Litchfield National Park was far more extensive than I remembered from our previous visit, after a bit of scouting around we ended up camping at Bluey Rockhole. This was a great shady spot, nice and near the river for more swimming, but the pit toilets have to be the worst smelling we’ve experienced so far… was definitely a matter of holding your breathe as you went! We spent three days in Litchfield NP hiking and swimming and generally having a bit of down time after some fairly busy weeks lately.
We’ve had a few words of wisdom from Tobey over the last week or so, but the most quotable would have to be when he was explaining the concept of speed to Indianna. It went something like this: “Flash (from League of Super Heros) is so fast he can get to the other side of the world in a few seconds and it takes a plane two whole days to fly to the other side of the world and it takes a car a whole year to drive around Australia!”. Nothing more to add to that!