Wednesday, February 8, 2017

MATARANKA THERMAL POOLS

visited NOV 2016



WHY MATARANKA?
I thought it a bit of a waste of resources and effort to haul my tent stuff thousands of kms to DARWIN and then hundreds of kms south just for 3 nights at NITMILUK GORGE. So I did some research for another good camping spot at some nearby touristy attraction . MATARANKA HOMESTEAD TOURIST RESORT and its adjacent THERMAL POOL seemed to fit the ticket nicely.


WHERE THE HELL IS MATARANKA?
MATARANKA TOWN is 105km south of KATHERINE on the STUART Hwy, the main road to ALICE SPRINGS (another 1075km south). 


MATARANKA HOMESTEAD RESORT and MATARANKA THERMAL POOL are a further  9km. To get to the homestead you need to turn right off Hwy1 2km south of town and go 7 km east. Fortunately the GREYHOUND BUS will go in to the resort if needed.
The "WRONG" place-mark is where both GOOGLE MAPS and GOOGLE EARTH reckon MATARANKA HOMESTEAD TOURIST RESORT is - in fact there is nothing there but a straight bit of tarmac - you need continue another 3.5km to the end of the sealed road to reach the resort and pool.

ELSEY NATIONAL PARK
The MATARANKA THERMAL POOLS are within ELSEY NATIONAL PARK above. But note how the MATARANKA HOMESTEAD TOURIST RESORT (yellow X) and of course MATARANKA township (blue X) are not. I've got an idea the original founder of HOMESTEAD RESORT got in before the state decided to declare a NP in the area.
The dark brown cross represents BITTER SPRINGS THERMAL POOL just within the NP - more down page.
ELSEY NP is obviously much smaller than those at LITCHFIELD and NITMILUK - let alone the giant KAKADU.
Once again, this image should expand if clicked on a PC.




MATERANKA HOMESTEAD TOURIST RESORT
This place has the best resort pool I've seen - simply because it is right next to the THERMAL POOL. A neat set-up: no upkeep costs (NT NATIONAL PARKS looks after this) but has a beautiful pool for guest use not to mention to attract guests and passers-by - the resort gains from the many day-trippers and locals attracted by the pool - a lot of these people are drawn into the excellent bar/restaurant area after a dip. Jeez, all of this is enough to make an accountant smile. And I gotta tell you, tezza's accountant friend, FASTCASH KEYNES, doesn't smile all that often.

The resort's location is no stroke of luck - the original developer was a WW2 soldier stationed at the nearby army camp - he saw how popular the pool was with his buddies, locals and passers-by, so after the war bought some land right next to it (I think this was before the NP was established) and built his resort.


LOTSA ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS
This place is not small and has many accommodation alternatives - motel rooms, self serivice cabins, powered sites for vans and campers + un-powered areas for same . Note the backpackers' section has been closed down. The campgrounds are huge, extending to the top and right borders of the image - there's 100 powered sites and way more un-powered, and yet you are advised to book ahead in the high season. This place is real popular.
It is literally next to the THERMAL POOL - abt 250m from the PARKING AREA, less from the RESTAURANT/BAR/BISTRO.
The parking area is for both the restaurant/bar/bistro area and the thermal pool - there is no closer parking.
The dirt area on the southern side of the CABINS is an airstrip which runs for about 1km to the south-east.
The dirt road you can see running south east out of the image abt 1/3rd the way up the right margin runs for 1km - more or less parallel with the river (mostly about 150m to its south) and then turns south inland, turning again to the east to link up with the end of the airstrip. I'm not sure of this road's function: there is no settlement down there - however during WW2 there was an army camp somewhere in the area.  The road does at times become a substitute for the walking track along the river.
I forgot to add a linear scale - it is 360m in a straight line between CABINS and LITTLE ROPER R place markers.
MISTAKE! - I incorrectly labeled the river - it is actually the WATERHOUSE which joins the LITTLE ROPER abt 2km south east to become the ROPER R.

NOT EXACTLY CROWDED
Part pf the northern camping ground. I think the busiest of my 3 nights had 2 small campervans, a large one, a car with tent and a motorcycle with tent - plus me. The eastern camping ground which is maybe 3 times the size, had fewer occupants. It is less flat and most parts are further from the RESTAURANT/BAR.
Both campgrounds were spacious, had plenty of shade trees but a lot of bare dirt - I was wondering how dusty they get in thebusy dry season. As said, campers are advised to book ahead in peak season. Very little lighitng at night.

TEZZA'S TENT UNDERCOVER
It was dark by the time I started to erect my tent and I couldn't locate my torch in the depths of my bag. There was also the rumbling of thunder. So I set up chez tezza under this permanent shelter which had lights - manager STEVE later told me it is for visiting school groups with swags and sleeping bags:he was not expecting any groups until next high season.
Behind to the right is the amenities block - reasonable clean, had great hot water - was fairly big but I'm not sure how it would cope at peak times (this section of the camp grounds is not small). The block is also used by THERMAL POOL visitors and some people from the RESTAURANT/BAR which is just across the road.
The huge eastern camping ground had 2 amenities blocks, one with a functioning laundry. The other block was shut down for the low season.


CAMP GROUND PROBLEMS
There were NO CLOTHES LINES, and the amenities block had NO LAUNDRY - I hand-washed my stuff in the wash basins and strung my portable line up around the my tent shelter. The open laundry in the other campground had hand-wash basins, coin washers + driers and clothes lines.
There was NO CAMP KITCHEN - I came in by bus: had no room for pots and pans, cookers etc etc in my bag. At first I thought this was a cynical ploy to have me buying meals from the resort bistro but STEVE, the affable and helpful manager said the cookers still worked in the closed backpackers' kitchen which also had some pots and pans. I cooked up a storm there.

THE BAR/RESTAURANT/BISTRO
This is an okay place to spend time. Lotsa undercover seating/tables and plenty of fans. MATILDA'S BAR has a good selection of brews: normal prices not too bad and happy hour tariffs seemed quite reasonable to this longtime cheapskate. JEANIE'S KITCHEN/BISTRO at right had similarly priced grub - despite my addiction to the backpackers' kitchen I couldn't resist one of their meals: verdict - pretty good. 
Service quick and efficient - had the world's nicest backpacker babes behind the counter. 
There is a big TV on wall to right of image shows all the current sports action - other times: news and popular shows. Simple grocery and other camping/resort needs can be purchased.
There is a RECEPTION OFFICE at the far end but in low season this was closed - bar staff was doing reception.
My camera started to act temperamental at MATARANKA so I had to get this shot from ExploreOz Traveller

BAR AREA ENTERTAINMENT
 There is a sizable outdoor seating area behind the covered section shown up page with a band stand in back - a repeat camper told me most afternoons and evenings in high season sees a band playing; he said it is quite a "scene" and popular with locals from surrounding properties and town - not to mention resort guests (image - Mataranka Homestead homepage)

I noticed this sign high on the wall - the 1998 flood was the same deluge which left a huge croc in the bakery of Woolworth's in KATHERINE to the north.
Just out of sight to the top side of the open door below is another flood mark from the 2002 downpour.

I've always thought peacocks were pretty shy, but these dudes came into the bar/restaurant area every 1000 to do a bit of scavenging.

THE REPLICA HOMESTEAD
Across the other side of the CARPARK is this replica of the OLD MATARANKA HOMESTEAD. The original, which was situated a few kms south west of the resort, was the setting for the classic book "WE OF THE NEVER NEVER". When a  movie was made of the book in the 70s a replica homestead was built - since moved to adjacent the present resort. The TV in the bar shows replays of the movie each afternoon. 
The replica is open for inspection - what struch me was the simplicity of design and the big shaded area on the surrounding verandah - perfect for relaxing after a hard day's mustering of cattle.(image- Katherine Visitor Information Centre)

THE MATARANKA THERMAL POOL
This is a neat area. The pool is fairly compact: I'm thinking abt 30/40m X 10. There are 2 sets of stairs with rail-assist. Depth varies from slightly above head height at the near-resort end to standing height at the far end. Keep an eye on your kids - they can get into trouble so quickly. Local kids, good swimmers, were having a ball leaping into the pool from slightly higher surrounds.
The pool looks very natural but when I donned my diving mask I saw the sides were concrete-reinforced. Note the pool is safe from dangerous salt water muggers (crocs) - not so the nearby WATERHOUSE RIVER.
There's a concrete bench at sitting height around much of the perimeter. 
Despite the paucity of people in early wet season, I'm surprised there are no dippers in this shot (although it shows less than half the pool) - no matter what time I called by there were usually at least a half dozen people in the water. The biggest crowd was one early afternoon - maybe a dozen. The place seems very popular with both locals and passers-by who have diverted in off the highway. 
I'm not too sure how easy it would be to take a dip in the peak of high season - I reckon more than 30/40 people might make a bit of a squeeze.
Water very nice by the way - around 32C which is very refreshing on a 40C day. And crystal clear with a slight turquoise tint after all that filtering thru the subterraneam aquifers. 

Pretty attractive at night too - image Mataranka Homestead homepage

THE BRUTUS CONNECTION
I noticed no sulphurous smell - makes sense, sulphur dioxide is associated with seismic activity like at New Zealand's ROTORUA, whereas this water gets its heat from the natural warmth of underground areas (go down a coal mine and you'll know what I mean). The water itself is part of the great EAST AUSTRALIAN BASIN and fell as rain maybe in central or northern Queensland back in the days BRUTUS was a boy - it has been slowly moving westward through the subterranean aquifers since.

The path leading to the pool (bottom left) starts here, less than 150m from resort reception. The pool is reached after only 100m or so - hot pavers and some sharp gravel sections make it a bit tough on bare feet.

Schematic at path entrance gives some idea of pool layout. This image should click-expand nicely.

The combination of tropical heat and plenty of water sees a palm jungle surrounding the pool - tall Livistonia Palms with Pandanus at lower levels. This attracts tens of thousands of bats in the early wet season, they take off around dusk to raid area fruit growers - however I did not notice excessive bat droppings in the pool area or at the campground. No mozzies however.


WHY BRUCE WAYNE DOESN'T HOLIDAY AT MATARANKA
A local farmer told me that some bats fancy a sip of water from the WATERHOUSE R after take-off. The area's crocs love this and pick them off as they swoop in for a drink.
Leaping lizards, Robin, a Mataranka mugger!
Maybe Peter Parker should swing clear of the Waterhouse R too.


RAINBOW SPRING
If you turn right just before the pool and walk 30m you come to the spot where the underground water is bubbling to the surface - RAINBOW SPRING.


RIVERSIDE WALKING TRACKS
By continuing past RAINBOW STRING it is possible to walk along beside the river for some distance. The track soon leaves the palm forest and passes into more of a savanna woodland - further along it becomes a bit indistinct and it is actually easier to move a bit inland and walk on the old dirt road that also parallels the river. When this heads further inland a side track angles back towards the river - there are several  swimming holes along here according to travel guides but it looks like National Parks have given up clearing them of crocs because there were lots of NO SWIMMING - CROCODILES signs up.
After about 2 km the WATERHOUSE R joins the LITTLE ROPER R to become the ROPER R proper (um, they say rivers, but in early wet season they were more like creeks) - I turned around at this point on account it was very hot and dry, but keen trekkers can keep going for several more kms to MATARANKA FALLS.


MATARANKA FALLS (um, rapids?) look sweet, but at something like 16km from MATARANKA HOMESTEAD RESORT, the walk is maybe best suited to keen trekkers. (image [and some other good ones]  OUR TERRITORY). 

BITTER SPRINGS
I'd read about MATARANKAS other hot springs - BITTER SPRINGS, abt 3km due east of MATARANKA town - and decided to check them out. The only problem is they are 11km from MATARANKA HOMESTEAD RESORT and I had no car, so on a Sunday morning I decided to walk/hitch there and back. I walked 2 hours and got a ride for 5 minutes to arrive at BITTER around 11am.

BITTER SPRINGS

IS BITTER BETTER?
I thought so - it is more natural being a normal section of stream - the only "improvements" are a couple of handrails for entry-exit and a sitting platform. 
And longer - it is possible to drift with the current for maybe 150m (the current was pretty benign - I could swim easily against it:but then despite being 71 I'm a pretty strong swimmer). It's comparative size means it can handle a bigger high season crowd than the THERMAL POOL.
I took a diving mask - the slightly creepy underwater fallen logs and other vegetation plus the crystal clear water reminded me of all those docos on the FLORIDA EVERGLADES. I saw a few turtles but no harmless fresh water crocs - this area is free of dangerous salties.
For passers-by it is also less of a detour in off the highway which probably accounted for a backpacker DARWIN to ALICE tour bus calling in for a dip.

DOWNSIDES?
It is deeper than the thermal pool which is a downside for parents with kids. The surrounding palm forest is not as lush. There is a circular walking track which can be knocked over in 10 minutes but no extended walks like from the THERMAL POOL.
There is no bar/restaurant/bistro immediately adjacent although BITTER SPRINGS CARAVAN AND CAMPING is only 10 minute's back along the access road.
GREYHOUND doesn't come in here which is not great for blokes like me.

OTHER FACTS
Turn at the first left (when driving south) onto MARTIN RD in tiny MATARANKA. Go 3km to the end of the rather good road (might be cut in the wettest of wet season) to the sizable car park (no parking or entrance fees) which has toilets, picnic facilities and BBQs. The track to the pool takes less than 5 minutes. 


IS BITTER BITTER?
To tell the truth, I forgot to taste the water. But this is the same stuff as further south and the bore water in my camp-area was pretty nice.

TWO RIVERS.
Lotsa people think both pools are on the same river. No so. BITTER feeds into the LITTLE ROPER RIVER which joins the WATERHOUSE R about 2km PAST the MATARANKA THERMAL SPRINGS. So same river SYSTEM but different rivers.

I managed to find an underwater shot - not as creepy and luxuriant as I remembered.
(image- Katherine Visitor Information Centre)


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