Ther­mal springs

Our sun­burnt coun­try boasts some fas­ci­nat­ing wa­ter hotspots.

Australian Geographic - - CONTENTS - By Ellen Ryk­ers

HOT SPRINGS ARE most of­ten as­so­ci­ated with vol­canic ac­tiv­ity. But in Aus­tralia, where there is no ac­tive vol­can­ism to stoke na­ture’s steam­ing caul­drons, our ther­mal springs have a dif­fer­ent ori­gin.

Ground­wa­ter seeps through por­ous bedrock and cir­cu­lates in deep un­der­ground reser­voirs where its tem­per­a­ture is raised by heat ra­di­at­ing from Earth’s molten core. Thou­sands, even hun­dreds of thou­sands of years, af­ter en­ter­ing the ground, this heated wa­ter rises un­der pres­sure and out through nat­u­ral cracks or drilled bores to emerge as ther­mal springs. Aus­tralia has many of these hot wa­ter sites – due, in part, to the Great Arte­sian Basin, which un­der­lies al­most a quar­ter of the con­ti­nent. This vast, an­cient, nat­u­ral wa­ter re­serve is the world’s largest and deep­est arte­sian sys­tem.

1 DAL­HOUSIE SPRINGS, Witjira Na­tional Park, SA

On the Simp­son Desert’s western edge, wa­ter bub­bles to the sur­face at more than 120 lo­ca­tions around Dal­housie Springs.

Here you can watch a spec­tac­u­lar out­back sun­set while soak­ing in the 37°C to 43°C min­er­alised wa­ter of the main spring. As the only per­ma­nent wa­ter for kilo­me­tres in all di­rec­tions, these springs cre­ate true desert oases. The Lower South­ern Ar­rernte and Wangkan­gurru peo­ple have used them for mil­len­nia and the springs also sup­port unique aquatic life, in­clud­ing en­demic fish species such as the Dal­housie hardy­head.

2 INNOT HOT SPRINGS Net­tle Creek, QLD

Ac­cord­ing to the Dream­ing of the Mamu peo­ple, the Innot Hot Springs were cre­ated when a hot stone was placed in the belly of a large sea tur­tle that trav­elled in­land to Net­tle Creek, where she warmed the waters. Nes­tled in far north Queens­land’s Ather­ton Table­land, the area’s sul­try waters have drawn vis­i­tors for thou­sands of years. In the 1890s, a health re­treat was es­tab­lished at Innot Hot Springs where wa­ter can reach up to 75°C straight from Net­tle Creek.

3 HAST­INGS CAVES AND THER­MAL SPRINGS Hast­ings, TAS

Hast­ings, a tiny vil­lage south of Ho­bart, boasts im­pres­sive dolomite caves and a smat­ter­ing of ther­mal springs. Wa­ter from moun­tains to the west soaks into the Earth, where it’s heated by hot rocks deep un­der­ground be­fore bub­bling back to the sur­face at Hast­ings. Here, you can soak in 28°C wa­ter sur­rounded by lush tree ferns. Take a walk through tem­per­ate rain­for­est to the con­flu­ence of two creeks – one warm, one cold – and dip your hand in to feel the dif­fer­ence.

4 MATARANKA THER­MAL POOL AND BIT­TER SPRINGS Elsey Na­tional Park, NT

Mataranka is home to stun­ning turquoise springs, at­tract­ing thou­sands of vis­i­tors yearly. About 100km south-east of Kather­ine, 34°C wa­ter rises into the idyl­lic Bit­ter and Rain­bow springs, and pools be­neath pa­per­barks and cab­bage palms. A mas­sive lime­stone for­ma­tion un­der­lies this re­gion, stretch­ing east to the Queens­land bor­der. Wa­ter seeps through it, heats un­der­ground, then wells up stained vivid blue by dis­solved lime­stone.

5 ZEBEDEE HOT SPRINGS El Que­stro, WA

In the heart of the Kim­ber­ley’s El Que­stro Wilder­ness Park, warm wa­ter cas­cades through tiered pools at Zebedee Springs. Lush Livis­tona and Pan­danus palms brush the clear waters that gush from a fault line in sheer sand­stone cliffs and may orig­i­nate from as far away as New Guinea. To re­duce en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pacts on this scenic spot, the 26°C to 34°C springs are open to the gen­eral pub­lic only from 7am to noon.

6 PARALANA GEO­THER­MAL SPRINGS Arka­roola, SA

You won’t want to soak in these springs be­cause they’re heated by de­cay­ing ra­dioac­tive ele­ments. Ura­nium-rich gran­ites un­der­ly­ing the North­ern Flin­ders Ranges heat wa­ter em­a­nat­ing from the 1-bil­lion-year-old Paralana fault sys­tem, at tem­per­a­tures of 40°C to 62°C. Radon gas bub­bles up here in two small ther­mal ponds, mak­ing the area one hun­dred times more ra­dioac­tive than most parts of Aus­tralia. Antarc­tic ex­plorer and ge­ol­o­gist Dou­glas Maw­son stud­ied these springs in 1927 and the al­gae and bac­te­ria sur­viv­ing in them re­mains a source of fas­ci­na­tion for sci­en­tists today, hint­ing at what life on Mars could be like.

7 PENIN­SULA HOT SPRINGS Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula, VIC

Af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing ther­mal springs in Ja­pan in the early 1990s, Vic­to­rian broth­ers Charles and Richard Davidson wanted to tap into Morn­ing­ton Penin­sula’s geo­ther­mal po­ten­tial. Aquifers of hot wa­ter had been dis­cov­ered here in 1979. To ac­cess the 54°C wa­ter, the broth­ers drilled a bore 637m into the Earth. Today, this balmy wa­ter fills lux­u­ri­ous ar­ti­fi­cially con­structed pools tucked in the bush just 90 min­utes drive from Mel­bourne.

8 BORE BATHS Light­ning Ridge, NSW

Opals aren’t the only un­der­ground trea­sure at Light­ning Ridge. Aus­tralia’s opal cap­i­tal also boasts sooth­ing arte­sian bore baths of wa­ter main­tained at a tem­per­a­ture of 40°C to 50°C and which orig­i­nates from deep within the Great Arte­sian Basin. The Light­ning Ridge bore was sunk in the early 1960s by lo­cal gra­ziers, pro­vid­ing a much­needed per­ma­nent wa­ter source for the opal-min­ing town. Today, weary fos­sick­ers and vis­i­tors soak in the free com­mu­nity baths be­neath the daz­zling out­back night sky.

9 MOREE BATHS AND SWIM­MING POOL COM­PLEX Moree, NSW

Min­eral baths were first es­tab­lished at Moree in 1895 af­ter a bore drilled here brought

41°C wa­ter to the sur­face. In 1965 the area drew na­tional at­ten­tion when it be­came the stage for a sem­i­nal mo­ment in the Abo­rig­i­nal civil rights move­ment. Moree was a key stop on the Free­dom Rides led through coun­try NSW by stu­dent ac­tivists to high­light racial seg­re­ga­tion. Here, ac­tivist Charles Perkins led lo­cal in­dige­nous chil­dren into the baths, de­fy­ing a by-law ban­ning Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple, and a bit­ter protest erupted. The baths are now on the Na­tional Her­itage List.

10 ARTE­SIAN MUD BATHS Eulo, QLD

Around Eulo in south-western Queens­land, smooth grey mud oozes out where a ‘su­per-group’ of Great Arte­sian Basin springs bub­bles to the sur­face. These sites are home to many rare and en­demic species, in­clud­ing grasses, fishes, crus­taceans and in­sects. As a per­ma­nent wa­ter source in a semi-arid land­scape, the springs have also sus­tained peo­ple for thou­sands of years. There are records that two of the springs were once sites of inns, where the wa­ter was used to brew beer. Now you can bathe here in min­er­alised mud in a rus­tic bath­house.

The waters of Mataranka Ther­mal Pool and Bit­ter Springs are be­lieved to have ther­a­peu­tic prop­er­ties, and are guar­an­teed crocodile­free ex­cept dur­ing ex­treme flood­ing.

A daily dip in the Light­ning Ridge Bore Baths is a must af­ter opal fos­sick­ing.

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