A couple of weekends ago I finally got around to heading down the track for a Territory-style minibreak. Though some may wonder why people living in the tropics would crave the experience of immersing ourselves in thermal pools, rather than say, waterfalls, the numerous thermal pools in the region are quite popular with both locals and tourists alike.
It's been a few years since I have been down to Mataranka, which is about 450km down the track from Darwin and is one of the more popular thermal pool sites in the NT (others include Katherine and Douglas Hot Springs). I first went to the Mataranka pools in the mid 80s when I was a kid and have been visiting the site every few years since then. With increasing popularity it's undergone a lot of development - especially around the banks by the bathing pool and the raised walkways around the site.

So for a change from Mataranka, I decided I'd check out the nearby Bitter Springs site for the first time. This spot turned out to be much more my style, not only can you take dogs into the campsite area (located about 500m from the springs), but the springs themselves are a much more natural setting. Things to consider; Bitter Springs is too deep to stand up in in most areas so it's recommended for people who are more confident swimmers (or have their own flotation device), who don't mind abundant spiders (a criteria that didn't appear to apply to a number of ladies in full make-up I saw paddling down the stream - tight lipped and trepidatious) and who don't mind being attacked by clumps of oxygen weed.

I was amazed at how clean and healthy the area is, its nutrient rich and crystal clear waters (100% visibility!) are lined with lilies in bloom and oxygen weed. Water boatmen skim the surface and there are blue damselflies everywhere. Spiraling pandanus overhangs the waters edge and at times it's a little hard to believe it's real (in this instance, healthy amounts of single malt whiskey provides ample wax to the inner lyricism). There wasn't quite the amount of gregarious wildlife I'm used to seeing at Mataranka (namely cheeky apostlebirds and nonchalant wallabies), and the next time I go I'm definitely getting a quiet and relatively vacant unpowered site vs. the busy powered sites (the simple tent looked a little out of place compared to some of the aircraft carrier sized RV's on display). From a people-watching point of view, it was fascinating to watch the industry of people on holiday; weather reports from up the track and down, temporary homes that concertina in and out like a well oiled accordion, roll-out astroturf, fold away sinks, pop-out sideboards and matching camperware cutlery, all unpacked by nightfall and boxed up to go before I'd prepared my second morning coffee.

The warm springs did a fantastic job of getting rid of a host of desk-work induced/old age approaching warning signs aches, pains and niggles (at least temporarily), though the water can leave your skin a little dry so remember to pack a little extra moisturiser. And some whiskey ;)

*All photographs are copyright of the author and may not be reproduced without permission

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