On a roadtrip through the vast desert of Australia, surrounded by red sand, you don’t really expect to find thermal springs. Just south of Katherine, in the tropical area underneath Darwin, you can find Mataranka. It is a great stop to relax and soak after hours in the car.
If you like the safety of a pool, there is a public thermal pool in Elsey national park. Although it is a manmade pool, it is surrounded by tropical plants and trees. Like your own little oasis in the desert, if you’re lucky. It can get quite busy. But not to worry, there is more. After soaking until you’re wrinkled, you can go for a walk along the botanic trail. It is an easy walk that leads to the river. Don’t swim here because the crocs will be waiting. If you’re lucky you might spot one. Besides crocodiles there are heaps of bats around.
The thermal pool is not the highlight of Mataranka though. If I could recommend one place, it would be Bitter springs. Unlike the pool, this is a natural spring and men have only built some ladders and platforms so you can enter the water. At about 36 degrees Celcius, it is a pleasant spot for a dip. You shouldn’t be afraid of natural waters though, because there are lots of plants and fish in it. The water also has a strong current, but even this creates some fun opportunities.
If you go to Bitter springs, take your snorkel gear. The current can take you about 100 meters further, where they built a ladder so you can get out. From there you walk back to the starting point and start over again. I swam with my flipflops in my hands so I could walk back comfortably. The water is filled with pretty thins to look at, including little turtles. With a mask you can also see the occasional underwater rocks more clearly. You might not get out of the water without some bruises.
Some subtropical swimming pools have beautiful slides and pools. This is the real thing, that which inspired those artificial pools. I felt like I’d ended up in a different world. After days of driving through the desert, this was a very welcome surprise.