Swimming anywhere is so much more rewarding when you’ve gone 7 months without a really decent shower, two months with on-off cold weather from which there is no respite (no nice furnace to cuddle up with under your blankies in your warm bed, and, in fact, no warm bed) another couple weeks of driving past the ocean but not being able to get in due to the multiple layers of clothing and waterproofs that the current weather is requiring, and after that driving about 3,000 km through a burning hot desert past dry riverbeds while sitting in the baking sun that makes you so delirious you actually think almost-pleasant thoughts about that shower than involved having to run through snow afterwards back in China. So, now, after all of that swimming anywhere would be nice, but when you make it soothing, crystal clear, thermal spring water under a ring of palm trees – well… you would think things probably couldn’t get any better. But, it would turn out in the next few days that they could.
Left tennant creek early with just PBJ for breakfast to try and make some good kilometers. Found some affordable gas in Larrimah and headed into Mataranka, a thermal springs made famous by the 1908 book (and subsequent modern movie) about the area called “We of the Never Never”. The landscape had been changing during our drive over that day, from low bushes and the occasional skeletal gum tree to a landscape full of tallish grass (we think spinifex), termite mounds, and trees filling the landscape but spaced rather prudently apart from one another. Not enough water around for a forest but definitely for a lusher landscape.
Mataranka, however, was another story. A true desert oasis. Unlike all of the previous river beds this one was FULL and gorgeous. The thermal springs at Mataranka inspired, in 1920, a homestead to be built there and controlled by the Northern Territory. There are campsites there as well as a small caravan park, public toilets and showers, and an amazingly gorgeous section of clear blue thermal river that is just warm enough to be inviting but cool enough to be refreshing. It is surrounded by thick stand of tall green palm trees on all sides and a tick tangle of spiderwebs just above the surface of the water holding giant arachnids just waiting to eat anything that is stupid enough to fly into their webs (from the looks of them it would seem that they might snatch an occasional child or two as well…). We availed ourselves of all of the free options available.
We swam for a long while in the river, letting the water clean us and soothe our aching backs from the less-than stellar car seats we’ve been riding on for the last month. It was like heaven to let the sweat and dirt of the road rinse off while we floated on our backs in the shade, watching the fronds of the ring of pams trees sway in the sun above us. I think we now understand the meaning of oasis.
They had showers with hot water available, so we were able to shampoo and soap to our hearts content and fill our variuos juice bottles with drinking water before we hit the raod again. We went only another 60km to King River rest area, another paradise with a water tank, bbq pits with firewood and plenty of shade trees. It also had something we hadn’t missed since we’d left the east coast: mosquitoes. We sat and talked with another grey nomad couple until it got dark and we realized that we were slapping our legs, arms, and backs – we were scantily clad in shorts and tank tops and the mosquiteos were going crazy with the abundance of exposed flesh. Sam may never recover from the trauma.