Mataranka Hot Springs
Mataranka and Elsey National Park
Author – Felicity McNaught
Mataranka Materalises Like An Oasis In The Desert
Mataranka – On the almost 1,500 kilometre haul from Alice Springs to Darwin—18 hours minimum drive time, not accounting for rest stops—there are only a handful of towns and attractions to keep travellers enthused. There’s the majestic Devil’s Marbles National Park with its giant boulders and the nearby town of Tennant Creek with its man-made watering holes, but even they can’t save you from the unyielding Territory heat that even in the dead of winter can make the most seasoned traveller question why the hell they didn’t just fly. And then, like a fabled oasis in the desert, the small township of Mataranka materializes, complete with palm trees, sandy-bottomed thermal springs and gorgeous turquoise natural lagoons, and everything is suddenly ok again.
Believed to have therapeutic powers, both Mataranka Springs and nearby Bitter Springs are part of the Elsey National Park and offer weary travellers the chance to take a much deserved and unbelievably refreshing dip into 33-34° Celsius waters. At the more famous of the two springs, Mataranka Thermal Pool, water rises from deep underground at the rate of 30.5 million litres per day to provide a scenic swimming spot surrounded by palm trees and tropical rainforest. You can lounge in the shade of pandanus, paperbarks, and palm forest at the spring-fed pools, where every muscle in your body can relax and you can forget for a while that you have some 5 hours driving still ahead of you. Sadly, the pools themselves have a somewhat artificial feel and look more like a large designer pond than a natural wonder. The resident Little Red Flying Fox colony are fascinating to watch, especially at dusk when the foxes take flight en masse in search of food.
Your Aussie Holiday recommends visiting the underrated and glorious Bitter Springs for a far more natural experience. Located about 2 kilometres from the main Mataranka township, Bitter Springs is set amongst palms and tropical woodlands and boasts crystal clear water home to the occasional friendly freshwater crocodile and lined by river banks lush with grasses and trees, native wildlife and birds that are attracted to the permanent water source and dense vegetation. You can swim 120 metres upstream past long rushes, or float downstream on the natural current, effortlessly enjoying the picturesque scenery, or watching rainbow bee-eaters fly, feed, and perch in the tree-tops. There is also a pleasant 1.5 kilometre loop walk around the Springs with interpretative signs, as well as barbecues, tables, and eco-friendly amenities.
Elsey National Park encircles the Roper River and features rainforest, paperbark woodlands, and tufa limestone formations. The River offers excellent canoeing (hire available), and abundant wildlife spotting opportunities, especially during the cooler early mornings or late afternoons when wallabies, goannas, monitors, and freshwater crocodiles can be viewed. The National Park is a popular place with boating and fishing enthusiasts who come in droves to fish the abundant barramundi in residence. Ideal boat or canoe launching points are 4 Mile and 12 Mile for those keen on a day of exploring, paddling, or fishing and there are also numerous scenic walking tracks through pockets of rainforest, with wildlife observation points and camping areas available.
In addition to its natural attractions, Mataranka is also well known as the setting for the autobiographical story We of the Never Never by Jeannie Gunn, who wrote of her hardships and experiences on Elsey Station, a remote Northern Territory farm, at the turn of the century. In 1981 her book was made into a film and a replica ‘Elsey Homestead’ built for filming where people are now able to stay and soak up the historic atmosphere.
Activities/Attractions In & Around Mataranka:
- Swimming: In the crystal clear waters of Bitter Springs and Mataranka Thermal Pool, and in the Roper River (selected areas only)
- Canoeing, Boating/Fishing & Bushwalking: In the 13,840 hectare Elsey National Park.
- Barramundi Feeding: At the Territory Manor Motel, where you can witness the spectacle of enormous barramundi being plucked from a billabong, and learn how the fish live, change sex and breed on the twice daily tours at Territory Manor. 10:00am and 1:00pm.
- We of the Never Never Museum: Records Mataranka’s pioneering heritage and features displays about the North Australian Railway, the Overland Telegraph Line construction, World War II and the area’s traditional Aboriginal custodians, the Mangarayi and Yangman people. Open Monday to Friday 9:00am – 5:00pm
- Stockyard Gallery: Browse exhibits from local Aboriginal art, pick up a didgeridoo, postcard, whip or spear, and enjoy homemade iced coffee and scones in the cafe’s garden.
- Cutta Cutta Caves National Park – 60 km north of Mataranka, these limestone caves host resident colonies of rare orange horseshoe ghost bats.
- Mataranka’s Bushman’s Carnival: Held in August, this popular event features campdraft, rodeo and gymkana.