HOT SPRINGS, COOL POOLS

Warm up, cool down – cen­tre your­self at these top ter­ri­tory des­ti­na­tions, what­ever the weather.

Camper Trailer Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS CATHER­INE LAW­SON picS DAVID BRIS­TOW

Cen­tre your­self, Ter­ri­tory style

Carved with a labyrinth of deep, rocky gorges and har­bour­ing emer­ald rivers and pip­ing hot springs, the North­ern Ter­ri­tory is a sur­pris­ingly good place to get wet de­spite its rather ‘croccy’ rep­u­ta­tion.

From Dar­win to the Red Cen­tre, a string of nat­u­ral springs fill translu­cent pools, some of which sim­mer away at a win­ter-warm­ing 34˚C. These stel­lar swim­ming des­ti­na­tions not only in­dulge weary trav­ellers, but are also great places to get walk­ing, en­joy a bush camp and en­counter unique Aussie wildlife.

MATARANKA’S TWIN SPRINGS

Shaded be­neath the world’s largest stand of Livis­tona rigida fan palms at the head­wa­ters of the Roper River, Mataranka’s steam­ing springs top this list. Ac­ces­si­ble and idyl­lic, these translu­cent pools are pro­tected within Elsey Na­tional Park (NP), filled by nearby Rain­bow Springs at a rate of 30.5 mil­lion litres per day.

Freshwater croc­o­diles sun them­selves down­stream of the ther­mal springs, and Mataranka’s vast colony of lit­tle red fly­ing foxes cre­ate a stun­ning sun­set spec­ta­cle when they de­part their day­time roosts in num­bers of up to 250,000. The camp­ground at Mataranka Home­stead pro­vides a con­ve­nient base for daily soaks in the plunge pools (visit mataranka­home­stead.com.au for more).

Close by, Bit­ter Springs must be Australia’s most un­usual inland snor­kel­ing site: a translu­cent stream that car­ries you in its warm, min­eral-rich cur­rent as you drift and dive through ther­mal bub­ble trails ris­ing from the deep. There’s ex­cep­tional vis­i­bil­ity and on a frosty win­ter’s morn­ing this spot is sheer heaven. Easy ac­cess into and out of Bit­ter Springs make this an ad­ven­ture for all ages. Visit at day­break for the best chance of soli­tude.

Location: The Mataranka ther­mal springs turn-off is sign­posted on the Stu­art High­way, 1.5km south of Mataranka. To reach Bit­ter Springs, head 2km north of town and fol­low the signs.

Camp­ing: Jal­mu­rark camp­ground in Elsey NP pro­vides hot wa­ter show­ers, toi­lets, ta­bles, fire pits, gas bar­be­cues and bins. Camp­ing cur­rently costs $6.60/adult (half-price for kids) and $15.40/fam­ily. Pric­ing un­der re­view.

Con­tact: nt.gov.au

THE BUT­TER­FLY OA­SIS

Nes­tled be­neath a trick­ling wa­ter­fall, this shady oa­sis takes its name from the thou­sands of com­mon crow but­ter­flies that rise in flut­ter­ing clouds from the cool, stone walls that sur­round But­ter­fly Springs. It’s an im­mensely pic­turesque spot and the only safe swim­ming hole in re­mote Lim­men NP, where es­tu­ar­ine croc­o­diles are found in large num­bers.

After a long hot hike through the dra­matic sand­stone pil­lars of Lim­men’s South­ern Lost City, But­ter­fly Springs pro­vides de­li­cious re­lief and is deep enough for a proper swim.

Linger here for the day and make use of the springs’ spa­cious, shady camp­ground with wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble toi­lets, ta­bles, fire pits and bud­get fees of just $3.30 for adults (half-price for kids).

The short walk­ing trail that con­nects the camp to the wa­ter’s edge leads be­neath fra­grant fern-leafed gre­vil­leas that at­tract great flocks of sul­phur-crested cock­a­toos. Laz­ing in the shallows, you might spot azure king­fish­ers and all kinds of wa­ter­birds that stalk the pur­ple wa­ter lilies down­stream.

But­ter­fly Springs is ac­ces­si­ble only to self­suf­fi­cient trav­ellers with 4WD ve­hi­cles.

Other top spots in Lim­men NP in­clude the enor­mous Lo­marieum La­goon be­hind St Vid­geon Ru­ins for its in­cred­i­ble birdlife, and To­mato Is­land (Mun­bililla) where you can launch a boat and wran­gle bar­ra­mundi on the Roper River.

The best time to visit is May to Septem­ber.

Location: Turn off the Car­pen­taria High­way 26km south of Bor­roloola, travel 50km and turn north into Lim­men NP. Camp­ing: But­ter­fly Springs camp­ground pro­vides wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble toi­lets, ta­bles and fire pits (no pets). Camp­ing overnight costs $3.30/adult, $1.65/child (aged 5-15 years) and $7.70/fam­ily. Con­tact: nt.gov.au, www.sa­van­nah­way. com.au and www.ntlis.nt.gov.au/road­report for the lat­est road con­di­tions.

BULEY ROCKHOLE

These oh-so-beau­ti­ful rock pools might at­tract a big win­ter­time crowd of Dar­win day-trip­pers, but if you overnight here, you’ll most likely find Buley Rockhole bliss­fully de­serted at dawn.

Spring-fed and ut­terly gor­geous, this is one of my favourite NT des­ti­na­tions: easy to ac­cess and im­pos­si­ble to leave. Find a favourite spa pool and slide on in, or spend time ex­plor­ing up­stream, leapfrog­ging be­tween the palm-fringed pools.

Buley Rockhole is ac­ces­si­ble with a 2WD via sealed roads, but its camp­sites are best suited to small rigs. Trav­ellers seek­ing more el­bow room can overnight at nearby Wangi Falls camp­ground.

En-route to Litch­field, con­sider a stop at Berry Springs Na­ture Park, a lush, trop­i­cal swim­ming and pic­nic park lo­cated 57km south of Dar­win along Cox Penin­sula Road. This small re­serve pro­tects two deep pools, large enough to cope with the crowds that con­gre­gate creek­side with their pic­nic bas­kets and Es­kies on hot week­ends.

Berry Springs Na­ture Park is open year round (8am-6.30pm) and pro­vides bar­be­cue fa­cil­i­ties and a kiosk. Na­tive plants flower from March to April, and the Mon­soon For­est and Wood­lands Walk pro­vides an easy walk­ing loop. The best time to visit is April to Novem­ber

Location: Litch­field NP is found 129km south of Dar­win via the town of Batch­e­lor.

Camp­ing: At Buley Rockhole you’ll pay $6.60/ adult, $3.30/child (free for kids less than 5 years) and $15.40/fam­ily overnight, no gen­er­a­tors or pets per­mit­ted.

Con­tact: nt.gov.au or www.tourism­topend.com.au

PANDANUS POOLS

Just five min­utes from the cen­tre of Kather­ine, trav­ellers lounge in clear, com­mu­nal pools and float down­stream in the shade of over­hang­ing pandanus palms and tow­er­ing pa­per­barks. Kids clam­our to swing off a tree rope and just about ev­ery­one else gives in to the glo­ri­ously tran­quil­lis­ing ef­fect of the 32˚C cur­rent flow­ing through mon­soon for­est into the Kather­ine River.

Handrails and stone steps pro­vide easy ac­cess to the Kather­ine Hot Springs, and you can pic­nic on the stream’s grassy banks in be­tween steamy dips. Trav­ellers with bikes on board can ex­plore the cy­cle and walk­ing trail that links Knotts Cross­ing on the Kather­ine River’s south­ern side to the hot springs and

Low Level Na­ture Re­serve, loop­ing back on the river’s north­ern bank to reach High Level Bridge.

Location: Head west on the Vic­to­ria High­way to­wards Ku­nunurra and fol­low the signs to the river. Camp­ing: Riverview Tourist Park pro­vides the clos­est camp­sites (www.riverview­touristvil­lage.com.au), while 40km north of Kather­ine, the na­tional park camp at Leliyn Falls has ex­cel­lent fa­cil­i­ties (gas bar­be­cues, pic­nic ta­bles, toi­lets, hot show­ers and a kiosk).

Con­tact: www.vis­itkather­ine.com.au

FLOAT THE RED CEN­TRE

At the dark­ened en­trance to Red­bank Gorge, cathe­dral-high walls tower above a chilly pool that dis­ap­pears into a nar­row, twist­ing chasm of mar­bled red quartzite. High above, minia­ture cy­press pines and ghost gums cling to the cliffs, and noisy crows swoop through the gorge, dar­ing vis­i­tors to brave the icy wa­ters.

At first light the ris­ing sun ig­nites Red­bank’s rosy rock faces, but dur­ing win­ter, you might want to wait for the mid­day warmth be­fore brav­ing the wa­ter. Fol­low the easy walk­ing trail from camp armed with wa­ter toys and noo­dles (1km/20mins) and en­joy a de­li­cious float, gaz­ing up­wards at Red­bank’s nar­row­ing rock walls. For soli­tude and stars, Woodland camp­ing area is my pick of Red­bank Gorge’s two great bush camp­grounds, with spa­cious sites tucked into the scrub.

Location: Ac­cess is via a sealed sec­tion of Na­matjira Drive, 25km west of the turn-off to Glen He­len Gorge.

Camp­ing: Woodland camp­ing area pro­vides free gas bar­be­cues, fire pits, pic­nic ta­bles and toi­lets. Overnight camp­ing fees cost $3.30/ adult, $1.65/child and $7.70/fam­ily. Con­tact: nt.gov.au and www.dis­cov­er­centralaus­tralia.com

TJUWALIYN’S HOT SPOT

The big, pop­u­lar camp at Tjuwaliyn Hot Springs

To reach Tjuwaliyn (Dou­glas) Hot Springs, you pass through a pretty lonely stretch of scrub, so it comes as a sur­prise to dis­cover the vast win­ter­time con­gre­ga­tion of trav­ellers that con­verge on this big, free-range camp.

What lure the crowds are the steam­ing un­der­ground springs that bub­ble to the sur­face at a red-hot 60˚C! Some of the sandy pools along the Dou­glas River are lit­er­ally boil­ing, so test the tem­per­a­ture care­fully be­fore tak­ing the plunge and keep chil­dren within reach.

This site re­mains an im­por­tant cer­e­mo­nial place for In­dige­nous Wag­i­man women to teach girls about adult life and rit­u­als con­tinue to­day, oc­ca­sion­ally clos­ing the park.

At all other times, it’s trav­ellers who gather here, but with such a spa­cious, free-range camp, it feels con­vivial rather than crowded. There are two ar­eas to ac­com­mo­date those with gen­er­a­tors and those with­out, and the river­side sites even of­fer a lit­tle shade.

The park is ac­ces­si­ble to con­ven­tional rigs and opens dur­ing the dry season (April to Novem­ber).

Location: Turn off the Stu­art High­way 6km north of Hayes Creek and fol­low Do­rat then Ool­loo Roads for 31km.

Camp­ing: Fees are $6.60/adult and $3.30/ child; toi­lets, bar­be­cues, fire­wood, wa­ter and pic­nic ta­bles pro­vided.

Con­tact: nt.gov.au

TAKE THE PLUNGE

In Kakadu’s deep south, a cor­ru­gated track leads to a se­cluded croc-free wa­ter­hole within Bu­lad­jang or Sick­ness Coun­try. Nes­tled be­neath a steep rock­face on Wa­ter­fall Creek, Gun­lom Plunge Pool is a re­li­able, year-round swim­ming hole: deep, icy and easy to reach (no sweaty hike re­quired).

A great way to kick-start the day if you’re overnight­ing in Gun­lom’s nearby camp­ground is to climb the kilo­me­tre-long track that leads to a scenic view­point high above the falls, then scram­ble back down and throw your­self into the pool to cool off.

Pic­nic and camp­ing fa­cil­i­ties at Gun­lom in­clude hot show­ers, toi­lets, a kiosk, grassy camp­sites, and there’s an area re­served for trav­ellers re­ly­ing on their gen­er­a­tors, too. The best time to visit is April to Septem­ber and don’t miss Kakadu’s Mah­bilil Fes­ti­val in Septem­ber.

Location: From Kakadu’s south­ern bound­ary head 11km north and an­other 37km on the groomed, un­sealed road to Gun­lom. Kakadu NP en­try fees are $25/adult, valid for two weeks (free for kids un­der 16 years and NT residents).

Camp­ing: $15/adult, $7.50/child, $38/ fam­ily (hot show­ers, toi­lets, kiosk, gen­er­a­tors per­mit­ted, BYO drink­ing wa­ter).

CloCk­wise top left: Bit­ter Springs is a unique place to snorkel; The But­ter­fly Oa­sis is the only safe wa­ter­hole in Lim­men NP; Hello mum! Cather­ine en­joys a quiet mo­ment with her beau­ti­ful baby at Mataranka’s Twin Springs ahead of the crowds.

CloCk­wise top left: Although Berry Springs Na­ture Park is close to Dar­win, its two pools are large enough to cope the crowds; Cool­ing off up­stream at Berry Springs; Iconic pandanus palms at Kather­ine Hot Springs; Camp­ing down­stream from Leliyn Falls; Buley Rockhole is ac­ces­si­ble with a 2WD.

CloCk­wise top left: The icy wa­ters at Red­bank Gorge are best en­joyed at noon;

The sandy pools at Tjuwaliyn Hot Springs. Some can reach up to 60ºC, so test first; The large, pop­u­lar camp­ground at Tjuwaliyn Hot Springs; The Red­bank Gorge is an easy 1km walk from camp.

This page: Gun­lom Plunge Pool of­fers re­li­able year-round swim­ming, with no sweaty hike re­quired!

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