Walks and Icons #4 – BITTER, BERRY, BEST SPRINGS

There are several famous thermal springs in the region, in fact in the Northern Territory. Approximately 15km off the main highway, Mataranka has a reputation and well-designed pool for up to about 30 people, or 50 at a squeeze. The house from an author has also been recreated on the grounds and a campsite is available, as well as a restaurant and some entertainment.

But just off the highway, with room for perhaps 100, is Bitter Springs, where you all get in the water by platform or riverbank, and most float down the stream in their swim noodles. Out you get at the other end and walk back up the path to do it all again. There are rocks close to the surface, or tree roots and trunks that enable you to get a hold if you need to rest on your journey. Both the spring mentioned are in Elsie National Park.

In half an hour you would be in Katherine and the hot springs run through the town. So accessible. Try to get there at the quiet times – early in the morning, to feel the bubbles frothing up from underneath somewhere, and the current taking you downstream, the salts soaking into your skin and a faint cloud of steam settling over the water.

Now let me take you some many 130km up the Stuart Highway, into Litchfield National Park, and Berry Springs. Now that is the monster spring! The sign at the start of the carpark says if the carpark is full then the springs are full. We went on a day when there were maybe another 10 parks and 5 bus spaces. There were plenty of people but plenty of room to swim and I think 3 levels of pools from which to choose, or start at the top and float or swim your way down. The water was cool and refreshing, and on a hot day with a gentle breeze, when you got out of the water it was very pleasant. Not that floating in it wasn’t great. Turquoise pool, draped at the edges with palms and trees, birds chirping and chattering or hooting at you until, on every brave or thirsty hombre dives into the pool, grabs a drink and dashes out again. I truly think I found paradise.

Take a hat, sunscreen and water. A noodle is definitely the fashion. Keep an eye on your gear and an eye out for hanging spiders.

Emma Gorge

On the notorious Gibb River Road, near the Kununurra end, is a place called El Questro. It is a resort and was once only accessible by a rough dirt track, that is now a bitumen road. However, places that lead off from here are via dirt roads, that may be corrugated if the grader hasn’t been through. Emma Gorge is one such place and it is a jewel worth risking the bumpy 2km track.

Once at the carpark, there is a magnificent information bay, with restaurant, accommodation, toilets and permits to visit the park. We had bought a park pass, that gives us access to WA parks for a month, as we thought it could be more convenient than having correct change, getting permits printed, etc., so we went directly to the start.

This was a mixture of terrain, with rocky bits, smooth path, climbing sections and a couple of creek crossings, where the water as very low. Birds and butterflies flit across your path and the sound of gurgling water comes from somewhere near, either seen as a brook, or hidden by reeds.

It is such a beautiful sight that greets you after about 40 minutes, I don’t know where to begin. The gorge rises ahead of you and up maybe 100m. The walls are orange and laced with ferns or marked with patterns of erosion.

Water cascades down from a point on the left and bounces off rock ledges to splash into the centre pool of water. The pool is maybe 40m in diameter and on the right a rock ledge hangs over the water, dripping onto those who venture there, and the water there is warm, as I think it is thermal.

The edges to the pool are sandy and you can see the bottom, which becomes rocky and pebbly. Towards the centre it is very dark and you cannot make out what is down there. The temperature is pretty cool, but not quite cold. As you float towards the rock lip, looking up, you see an oval of blue sky, lined with a garland of ferns and rocks. It is so tranquil and beautiful.

This is a long way from anywhere, any time. It is ancient and unspoilt and majestic, like everything in the Kimberley. See it, breathe it, feel it and carry some of its magic away with you.

But take water, hat and sunscreen so that you live to tell the tale.

walks and Icons #3 -DALY WATERS PUB

Professing to be the oldest pub in the Northern Territory, the Daly Waters Pub gained some iconic status for travelers at least 40 years ago. Strewn across a line above the front bar is a wide selection of bras, with messages on them. Out the back are collections of thongs (the footwear) and hats and other paraphernalia, also with messages. But this hotel started life as a trading post and played a significant role in WWII.

Explorer, John McDouall Stuart, named the area Daly Waters in 1861, on one of his many expeditions from South to North. Ten years later, the overland telegraph made its way following the same path and connected Australia to the rest of the world. The Pearce family, in 1920, opened up a Drover’s Store, which forms part of the current pub. The indigenous people in the area helped to build the store, but are no longer in the area.

The Pearce family fed passengers and refuelled aircraft when the Daly Waters Airfield opened up to the England to Australia Air Race. The same airfield was the rear guard base in WWII when the Japanese bombed Darwin from Feb 1942 to Nov 1943.

Now, its quirky and a place to get a cool drink and a bite to eat, with great entertainment on offer most nights. When we were there, Lou Bradley and Phil were playing and they were well-received.

Old buildings and historical plaques on the town walk

There is a park behind the pub, with amenities, and one across the road for unpowered sites. Cabins are also available if you’re looking to break the long drive from Alice to Katherine.

Quirky planes, helicopters and animals are also in residence.

Bring hat, water and a sense of fun.

Uluru and the Field of Lights

It was an easy drive from Alice Springs to Yulara, but long, with 2×2.5 hour stretches each.

The section between Erldunda and Yulara have long scenic views, with red sand dunes and different coloured spinifex. The desert oak, resembling sheoak, are in two forms , either bushy or thin and I learned in later days that this was either mature or juvenile. They sway gently in the breeze, no matter their age, and add that touch of green to the soft colours already there.

We passed Mt Ebenezer and saw that the rest area was dilapidated and both felt sad that it had come to disrepair. We also passed a couple of viable rest stops, but couldn’t think of a situation where we’d need to stop overnight at that distance.

The campsite was busy, but only every second site was occupied. We bought tickets for the Field of Lights at $44/ea and had to catch the shuttle at 7.15 outside the campground. Although we both felt a little tired, we were glad we did this in the end, as the luxurious coach trip and very beautiful light show was soothing.

trying to catch the sweep

Apparently the artist set these up with about 20 helpers over a few months and, in 2016, intended them to be there for a few months. They are now intended to remain until 2027. The area is the same as 7 football ovals and you just get a sea of lights, in various colours that change, sweeping before you.

close-ups

It was hard to photograph, which was a shame as I wanted to share the experience with my family and friends.

We spent a day making use of the free shuttle on the campground and attending some free events that included collecting bush foods, cooking with bush tucker, astrology and playing the didgeridoo.

We visited Uluru once more, walking the 10km around the base, but I’ve shared photos on that before, so I’ll finish with the classic sunrise and sunset shots from the highest point in Yulara.

sunrise
sunset

Visit here, sometime. It will move your spirit.

Wear a hat and sunscreen and ALWAYS take water.

Safe travels.

Alice Springs and the East MacDonnell Ranges

It was the first time we had entered Alice from the north and it was pretty, with the MacDonnell Ranges in the background.

We chose our usual caravan park – Big4 MacDonnell Range and were able to use the afternoon to plan an exploration of the East MacDonnells and then relax.

Our first day took us to N’Dhala Gorge which involved magnificent scenery on the way there and some 4WD work from the main road. It was quite a short hike and although pretty, not worth the tough drive out, with lots of corrugations and sand, unless you planned to camp there. The gorge is the site of a large collection of Aboriginal petroglyphs, but as the track has lots of rocky sections I wouldn’t think a wheelchair would get very far.

Heading back towards Alice, the next stop was Trephina Gorge and this was really beautiful.

We also stopped at the ghost gum, a 300+ yr old tree. The walk was moderate/easy with the climbing at the start and sand at the end. It is quite majestic.

It seemed like a short stop to visit Corroboree Rock, so we took the turnoff. It is a startling structure in the middle of other rock formations, so easy to see why it was used as a meeting place.

We headed back to Alice and registered online for the Parrtjima light show, that another traveller had told us about. A shuttle from near the park took us there in the early evening and, surprisingly, we saw a couple we knew from SA on the shuttle.

Parrtjima is the only Aboriginal lightshow of its kind in the world and started in 2016. It is free to enter and the displays are beautiful, but nothing can describe the stunning projection on the West MacDonnell Ranges, accompanied by a narration that explains the relationship between the people and the land. I don’t think my photos will do it justice and we watched it twice, it was so moving.

I’d definitely recommend the event as it is free, spectacular but quite small, so it’s an early night. There are plenty of activities for children to take part in.

The following day, Ellery Creek Big Hole was gorgeous and had a large body of water suitable for swimming if it had been hot enough. We saw a girl going in and her partner was filming her with a drone. The water was icy cold so sooner her than me.

An easy, short walk.

Next we stopped at Serpentine Gorge which had an easy walk in, with a still pool of water at the end and a demanding, steep lookout walk.

The pool of water in the gorge is so cold that it has kept people and animals from going beyond it, for thousands of years. This has meant the ecology is preserved and both life forms can get a cool drink in summer when they need it.

Close to Alice Springs, we stopped at the original Telegraph Station, which is a well-preserved station with indoor and outdoor displays, showing life from as early as 1871. It is one of the first European settlements in Stuart, later named Alice Springs. There are short walks, bike trails and a walk to/from Alice township. We walked to the top of a nearby hill to take photos of the settlement.

We were back in time to watch the sun set over the West MacDonnell Ranges.

Travel safe. Take water, hats and sunscreen.