From Darwin to Little Roper Stock Camp

Our view floating down Bitter Springs in Mataranka

Link to a few pictures here:

After our recent Kakadu adventures, arriving in Darwin was a bit of welcome relief as a place to restock, get a few things fixed as usual, and prepare for the next leg of our trip. The last time we visited in 2016 we had a 4WD with brake issues and a poor experience with the people at Toyota in the service department left a bitter taste and we left Darwin in a bit of a huff.

This time round we had our camper trailer water pump on the blink again, a minor but irritating problem as we had only recently replaced the pump in Kununurra. The girls had school work to attend to and that was about it for Darwin – no other fixed plans.

We arrived late afternoon on Thursday, the Mindil Beach Sunset Market was on and so after a very quick set up we joined the rest of Darwin down at the beach watching a fabulous sunset, the sun turned to a perfect red orb as it slipped low on the horizon and then set across the ocean.

We stayed at a large caravan park on the edge of town, 3 swimming pools and a bar to watch the sunset with a cold drink while hordes of happy children played in the main pool.

We did have a couple of trips to town, visiting the Defence of Darwin Museum, dedicated to remembering how Darwin had been attacked on numerous occasions in WW2 by Japanese bombers. The museum had an impressive amount of memorabilia from WW2 from the men and women who had served through the conflict and on to more recent campaigns like Korea and Vietnam. Well worth a visit when you are passing through Darwin.

We also took a quick look at the Darwin Museum to get a sense of the local history and culture plus an insight into the destruction of Darwin by Cyclone Tracey on Christmas Day 1974. The exhibits and photos of the cyclone and evacuation of Darwin offer a small reminder of the awesome power of nature, especially up here in the tropical north.

We were keen to get moving again and so headed out of town towards Litchfield National Park for a few days, then onto Douglas Daly Hot Springs and Butterfly Gorge. Our aim was to also go back through Katherine and meet up with friends again in Mataranka to tackle to Savanah Way across to the Gulf of Carpentaria and Lorella Springs but more of that in another episode.

Litchfield National Park is often said to be Darwin’s playground, being only 150 kms down the road and with spring fed waterways offering safe swimming all year round and helping people escape the heat and humidity during the build up to the wet season. Somewhat surprisingly for us we took the quick tarmac route to Florence Falls Campground, our base for three nights as we revisited some of the waterfalls and swimming holes from our last trip.

We also explored a couple of new places and totally fell in love with Buley Rockhole’s, a stunning set of water pools and cascades in a spring fed creek just 10 minutes from our camp site. We played and swam there a couple of times and could have happily stayed another day if it wasn’t for the imaginary schedule we had set ourselves. We swam at Florence Falls, visited the Lost City [there was a sign post, so it wasn’t really that lost 😊], walked and swam at Sandy Creek and looked on in wonder at the Magnetic termite mounds down by Reynolds River on the road to Surprise Falls.

We met another family at our Florence Falls campsite, their plan was to travel for 2-3 years with their three girls, they had mastered the art of travelling slow and enjoying places to the max, our girls played seamlessly together while the adults chatted about travel and school work. It was a great few days and the girls were sad to leave, it was fitting that we spent our last morning together at the Buley Rockhole’s swimming, jumping off rocks into the cascades and laughing for a couple of hours before heading out to Douglas Daly Hot Springs.

It seems a bit odd now as I write this to head to the hot springs when it is 34c and the sunshine is intense as only Australia seems to know, but crazy as it sounds the hot springs provide yet another place to go frolic around in a river without crocodiles so why not?

The Douglas Daly hot springs are a mixing point of a normal shallow creek and water seeping up from a hot spring at about 60c and then finding a spot where the waters are mixed to a perfect temperature for lying around doing not much at all.

And that’s what we did that afternoon, we paddled, swam and laid around in the pandanus lined creek, finding a place with a lovely mix of hot and cold water, shade or sun, just about perfect.

After tearing ourselves away from the creek to go back to the tent and cook dinner we were delighted to be joined by David, Ingrid and their 4 children; we had met them a few times along the Gibb River Road and been staying in touch as we all progress east albeit at different speeds, they have also mastered the art of travelling slow and packing their 4 children into the smallest camper trailer tent you might imagine.

So, an evening of children having great fun, adults chatting about travels and tribulations, broken springs and sagging suspension being uppermost in the conversation as David was trying to get his car fixed.

David and Ingrid were on their way to Kakadu and had guessed we may be at the Hot Springs based on our last SMS messages, we determined to visit Butterfly Gorge together in the morning before again heading our separate ways.

The short drive down to Butterfly Gorge was punctuated by a quick stop to watch some water buffalo at the side of the road and marvel at the size of a buffalo dung heap left neatly in the middle of the road, good job we had a high clearance 4WD 😊. The walking track into the gorge was pretty short but ended with a 50 metre walk through some almost stagnant water at the end of the creek, pretty unpleasant and took a leap of faith to believe all the crocs had been cleared from the waterway ☹ - but the walk was rewarded with a beautiful pool and rock formations at the end of the gorge.

Sophie and I swam around near the sandy beach, Helen and Zoe explored further up the gorge with David and a few of their children and found incredible rock pools further up the gorge. No pictures though as they had to swim @ 150 metres over to the start of their rock scrambling adventure.

And all too soon we were packing up and heading back to the cars, we returned to the overnight camping spot for a quick lunch before driving out towards Pine Creek, Katherine and our planned destination of Mataranka for the night.

We needed to do a pretty major shop for supplies in Katherine and by the time we rolled out of there it was already getting dark, so we decided to stop for the night at a roadside rest area. We had a pretty relaxed pack up in the morning, I chatted to a German cyclist who was travelling the world by bike, it certainly left us feeling a little humbled by his achievements so far and his road ahead. He was planning to cycle right down the middle of Australia through Alice Springs and on to Adelaide, I made him a cup of coffee and wished him safe travels as he disappeared down the road before the day got too warm. Helen spent a while fixing the zip to the tent again, it would need a proper repair in Cairns.

The benefit of our unplanned roadside stop was getting to Bitter Springs in Mataranka reasonably early and enjoying the brilliant crystal-clear waters with few people around. It is a small stretch of creek where you can hop into the warm water, float down river for a couple of hundred metres and then walk back to the start and do it all again, and again and again. Absolutely Fabulous 😊.

The creek is lined with tall pandanus palms and is just beautiful but after a couple of hours you are almost ready to get out and continue with your day.

We had heard about a place from Dan and Lela called Little Roper Stock Camp in Mataranka as a great place to stay, so we headed the few kilometres down the road and checked in, set up camp for a couple of days, the plan was to meet up with Michael, Vicki and Katie for the trip across the Savannah Way through to Cairns together, a little safety and comfort in numbers 😊

The campsite was a kids’ delight and we met a number of families doing similar travel and schooling as us, we swapped stories, drank coffee ate johnny cakes and relaxed over the next couple of days interspersed with a few swimming trips to the nearby Mataranka Thermal pools for that extra bit of relaxation necessary for weary travelers.

The girls were lucky enough to hold some small children’s pythons, (named bangles and wristband), feed the buffalo, goats, pigs and chickens, great fun and a most excellent distraction from school work.

Our friends arrived the next afternoon, and over the course of the afternoon and evening we caught up on each other’s adventures and had a quick swim at the Thermal Pool, our plan was to leave the next day but a dodgy starter motor on Michael’s Prado needed changing before going remote and so another day swimming and chatting around the campsite ensued while the car was fixed at the local mechanic.

Tomorrow we leave at dawn (well after breakfast and another swim at Bitter Springs) for our journey to the east along the Roper River Highway towards Boroloola and Hell's Gate. The country is remote, the roads corrugated and adventures await.

Regards Roy, Helen, Sophie and Zoe

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