It was nice to get back on the bitumen road again. The prospect of soaking in crystal clear hot springs after 700km of dirt road from Arnhemland was the major appeal drawing us to the tiny village of Mataranka. There is an odd hobby of the locals to dress termite mounds with T-shirts, rugby shorts, dresses, in fact quite a lot of different costumes. We saw a great selection from Santas to wedding dresses as we drove along but none of it was actually more visually appealing than the sight of the original unadorned version.
Mataranka was where the film “We of the Never Never” was filmed, a story about a Melbourne born upper class woman adjusting to life in the outback, set in 1902. Arriving in the village many half size characters, presumably from the movie, are scattered on the communal area opposite the shops and roadhouses. Half way down the main road a giant termite mound is signposted, though difficult to miss as it sits almost on the roadside.
We settled into a pleasant campsite nearby in Elsey National Park, next to the Roper River, famous (apparently) for Barramundi, though we caught nothing once more. On the 8km walk to nearby Mataranka Falls we noticed a crocodile trap, and then saw one just below the falls, so despite the clear waters once again it was a no swimming zone. Apparently there are normally swimming pontoons in the river but their absence was replaced with crocodile traps. The falls themselves were a little disappointing being a metre drop over a rock platform, but the walk along the pandanus-lined river bank was pleasant enough. The National Park appears to have large pests infesting the forest and I wasn’t expected to be kept up each night by wildly braying donkeys. Quite amusing in the location and far more preferable than having caravans on your doorstep as was the case in the parks near Bitter Springs. There was also evidence of feral pigs along the river.
Bitter Springs is a constant 30-32 degrees of sulphurous, gin clear water, that seeps from a deep aquifer and slowly meanders through a forest. People arrive in droves to sit on floating “noodles” and drift slowly down. Once or twice is probably enough but the kids insisted we revisited three days on the trot and spent quite a few hours there exploring every nook and cranny up and down stream. We found turtles and fish, and dived under the logs until all toes and digits went totally wrinkled in the warm water.
After some peace and tranquillity for three days with minimal driving it was time to start thinking about heading south into cooler climes, to collect school work from Alice Springs.