After renegotiating the narrow and dusty track back to Beswick, where we had a few minutes to look at some quite amazing indigenous art collections at the local community centre, we arrived in Mataranka 131 km down the track in the late afternoon. This place is famous for the ever flowing thermal springs, 33 degrees and crystal clear – or slightly murky after a few hundred tourists (or our boys with fins on) have stired up the bottom, take your pick. (K – this was an absolute bucket list visit for me. Pictures I had seen looked amazing and the promise of warm water always lures me in. I am very happy to report that it didn’t disappoint. At times it was busy with all the annoyances that sharing with a crowd brings but at other times it seemed you had plenty of peace and quiet to really soak in this unique environment. I’m not sure if it was just the colours but floating along underwater courtesy of our masks and snorkels had to me a real Avatar feel to it. I guess a very surreal beauty and otherworldness to it.)
The next day, Monday, was Sam’s birthday. He had a great day, with presents, bacon and eggs, extra Minecraft time, and of course snorkelling in the outback! After squeezing in some overdue washing, we jumped on the bikes and rode the 700 odd metres down to Bitter Springs.
These are the au-naturale version of thermal springs – completely untouched apart from the entry and exit stairs. The basic idea is to jump in and gently float downstream a few hundred meters with the current, get out, walk back along a path and do it all again. Soak and repeat. We discovered that with the aid of pool noodles, masks and snorkels, and that if you take your time, there are little fish and pig-nose turtles lurking under the banks.
We finished off Sam’s birthday with dinner out at “The Territory Manor” (where the boys played cane toad soccer while waiting for dinner) before heading home for cake and a movie.
Next morning, after a morning swim back at Bitter Springs, we filled up with fuel, visited the post office and headed out to Mataranka Homestead to visit Elsey Station, a replica homestead built as a set for the movie ‘We of the Never Never’. Close by are Mataranka Springs, similar to Bitter Springs but more popular, and enclosed on either side by concrete walls and submerged seating. With the large numbers of elderly relaxing blissfully on their noodles, we suggested that the boys not put their heads under water.
After checking the proposed itinerary, and finding we couldn’t get a booking at Lawn Hill NP in QLD, we decided to stay another day. We wisely used this time to do some more lazy drifting at Bitter Springs.
After dinner we revisited the van park near Mataranka hot springs to see 22 year old Nathan Griggs, stock whip cracking world record holder, put on a show. His record is 530 whip cracks in one minute – his show was awesome. A mix of self indulgent ego inflating stories (all with tongue firmly in cheek) and anecdotes, and various displays of his considerable talent. His finale consists of cracking two whips that are on fire! Great to see a young bloke having a go and pushing his talent to make a buck. After the show, the kids were dead set keen to buy a stock whip. We might be asking Uncle Robert for some favours!
After hearing that our traveling buddies the Lonergans were going to a rodeo at Cloncurry on the weekend and deciding that we really should fit this classic outback experience into our trip we dutifully checked out the ProRodeo Website. It turned out that Cloncurry would be the only time we would be close to any Rodeo action according to our loosely planned trip itinerary. So it was Cloncurry or bust – two days to cover 1300km. This would mean our biggest traveling days to date but we were up for a challenge!