Daly Waters to Mataranka

The Roper River
(Click on the image above to see images of Little Roper Stock Camp, Mataranka Springs and Bitter Springs)

We hung around Daly Waters until after 9am as the place we wanted to stay next had been booked out last night when we rang. We had to ring after 9am to see if they had a spot available for us. Fortunately, they did have a spot for the next three nights so we packed up and departed the dust bowl that was the Daly Rivers Pub Caravan Park.

We were absolutely delighted when we drove into the Little Roper Stock Camp at Mataranka. Basic amenities but very clean and with lovely shady and spacious sites, how could you go wrong? Just my type of camping spot.

After we were all set up in the camp and had our lunch, we headed off in the car to explore the area. The springs themselves I will leave to later in this entry, but the trip down John Hauser Drive was most interesting. At the Four Mile picnic area the Roper River was flowing and provided our first glimpse of this famous Northern Territory river. It is quite narrow at this point and a boat launching ramp is available to get your tinny in the water and start fishing for barramundi.

Mulurark is the next picnic area on the road, but it was closed for maintenance as a result of flood damage. You can walk to this spot from both Four Mile and Twelve Mile, but the tracks are closed for the same reason when we visited. So, we headed on to the Twelve Mile picnic area. What an amazing difference a few kilometres makes? Compared to the Four Mile where the river is quite narrow, here it widens to a majestic river indeed with a very solid current running. There is a boat ramp here as well and there is supposed to be good fishing in the area.

The Roper River is formed as a result of the springs at its head being the Mataranka Springs, Rainbow Spring and Bitter Springs. These springs generate millions of litres of water a day from under the earth and send them down this river to the sea.

We returned to camp intending to visit the famous Mataranka Springs the following day.

Mataranka Springs

With three nights booked in Mataranka we spaced out our visits to allow for some sightseeing and some rest around the camp. Today was allocated to a visit to the Mataranka Springs.

This place has a reputation of being considerably crowded a lot of the time as it is located next to the caravan park at Mataranka Homestead. It is a good idea to visit early in the morning to avoid the crowds.

We arrived around 11am and whilst there were a number of people already there, I wouldn’t call it overcrowded. There was still plenty of room in the water and swim.

The springs themselves have had considerable work done on them over the years. The area is all fully paved with rocks and the pools have concrete bottoms, (if you can touch it), and a sitting ledge all the way around the edge. The water is crystal clear and quite warm and provides great swimming.

It was my first venture into water as a swimmer for a long, long time but something that had to be done.  The water was warm and stimulating. There was plenty of room to actually swim in the springs and I found it remarkably refreshing. It's amazing to think how these springs are formed with underground water being heated by thermal activity and then flowing straight out of the earth to form rivers.

After our dip at the Springs, we returned to camp for a relaxing afternoon.

The Little Roper Stock Camp & Bitter Springs

The Little Roper Stock Camp offers a 3 course camp oven meal three days a week. We didn’t take up the offer of such an amazing meal as we couldn’t possibly eat that much, but if you like a feast of good tucker then it has had rave reviews. After the meal, Des puts on a bit of a show including songs and some yarns to keep the guests entertained.

Every morning at the camp, there is free billy tea at 8am and Des cooks up a heap of Johnny Cakes. These cost $1 each and you can have your own choice of toppings to spread on these delicacies. This was the morning we attended breakfast and mixed with the other guests while Des cooked up the Johnny Cakes.

You can also order loaves of home cooked bread at the camp. These are baked fresh every morning on order. They look and smell absolutely delightful. Our order must have been snapped up by someone else as we missed out on the loaf we were hoping to take to Darwin with us.

After breakfast we headed off to the Bitter Springs. It involves a short walk from the car park through typical Mataranka bush that reflected damage from floods through the area. What a sight awaits you when you get to the springs. Unlike the Mataranka Springs, these are virtually untouched. I think one of the first things that is so striking about the place is the number of water lilys and fortunately for us they were all in flower.

The best way to see these springs is take a noodle flotation device with you so you can just be carried through the water by the current. These are available for purchase at several spots in Mataranka and at the Little Roper Stock Camp. They also hire them for $1 each and kindly loaned us some goggles as well so we could see under the water. In hindsight, we should have brought a snorkel as well.

When you walk to the Springs, you arrive at the top end of them. The best way to enjoy the water is to walk along the path to the end of the permitted swimming zone and leave all your gear there. You can then cross the small bridge and walk along the concrete path to the top of the springs and then float down with the current on your noodle to the end. You can repeat this process as many times as you wish of course. There weren’t too many people there at all on our visit. It was nowhere near as popular as the Mataranka Springs and yet I think it is way more beautiful.

The goggles also proved very useful to see under the water. There are lots of small fish swimming around and we were told we might even see a turtle or two. They were obviously all sleeping the morning of our swim.

Bitter Springs is an experience not to be missed and was a highlight of our trip. In fact our entire visit to Mataranka was a highlight of our trip north.

That evening we enjoyed mixing with some of the other campers around the camp fire located in the middle of the camp. The fire is not necessary of course in order to keep warm, but it is always a focal point where people will gather. Met some lovely people and enjoyed a few wines and great conversation.


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