Our sunburnt country boasts some fascinating water hotspots.
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.