Mataranka – The Capital of Never Never
Mataranka or should we call it “The capital of the Never Never” is located in the Northern Territory, 90 km south of Katherine. The famous hot springs are located in Elsey National Park and they are certainly worth visiting.
The small but picturesque town has a population of around 350 people and has many small attractions to offer. One of them is the large, man-made termite mound in the centre of the town.
Also, in this area, Jeanie Gunn wrote her famous book “We of the Never Never”. This lovely book is now part of Australian history in this region with a fascinating tale of the first white woman to settle in the Mataranka.
The book was made into a film also called “We of the Never Never” and it is played daily at Mataranka Homestead. This was also the place where we decided to stay.
The large campsites and beautiful hot springs gave us a really good first impression. The warm hospitality of the people there, and the old, yet stunning bar shocked us. It reminded me of the first scenes from Crocodile Dundee at Walkabout Creek Hotel. It has the same vibe. It’s very rustic and full of outback character.
During the day, you could: swim, relax at your campsite, see a replica of Jeanie’s house, spend time together, simply sit at the rustic bar and sipping a drink and eat a tasty dinner while enjoying live music.
Small wallabies and peacocks hang around and look for any opportunity to fill their bellies. One night, my whole family was at the bar being entertained by live music whilst the little one played with the other young children.
Maluka Bar life music and unexpected visitor
During a live concert, a kangaroo suddenly walked onto the stage where the man was playing. To our surprise, the waitress came from around the bar and handpicked up the kangaroo, walked it off the stage and let it go back to where it came from.
Everything happened in a really casual manner, and one can only think – how often kangaroos must be dragged out of the scene during the concert!
Since we were only staying there for 4 days, we decided to “get into the zone”. We all became very chilled and relaxed, of course, our daughter was constantly nagging us to go to the hot springs.
The entrance to the hot springs starts with some rocks, then turns into a metal boardwalk. The 500 meters walk is short and lovely so that you can easily access the springs. After the boardwalk finishes you come to a beautiful, and shady area where you can put your things down.
The water in the pool is pleasantly warm at 34 degrees. It is crystal clear and has a beautiful light blue tint. If you bring children, there is a shallow area where you can stay with the kids. It is near a narrow outlet which brings the water into a small creek.
However, there is a slight drop so just be careful. On the opposite side is the deeper end where adults will not be able to stand up as the water gets more than 2 meters deep.
The good thing is that the sides of the hot springs pool have little ledges you can sit on and relax.
Reading from the information boards, it notes that coming during October and November could result in lots of bats. So, if you’re planning a trip to Mataranka during that time, make sure you’re okay with spending it with smelly bats sitting in the palms.
Mataranka – other activities
We decided to visit the Mataranka Never Never Museum. Interpretative displays gave us knowledge about the rich history of the Mataranka region including the development of the North Australian Railway, the Overland Telegraph and World War II.
There is also an opportunity to see small Mataranka falls, visit bitter springs for a swim, Elsey cemetery, or even go on the botanic walk.
The wildlife in Mataranka is splendid. There is a range of birds, kangaroos, wallabies, freshwater crocodiles, fish and more! Every day before evening we were visiting billabong in the hope to spot freshwater crocodiles (we were told they live there).
Maybe they do, but we had no luck (or someone was too loud…) and we didn’t see any of these timid creatures..
One of the mass highlights of Mataranka for us was during the night by the fire. We were all enjoying ourselves when a wallaby came and lay next to us! Nell ended up feeding it apple scraps. From then on, they were best friends.
The different birds we saw ranged from ground birds to air birds. The peacocks were everywhere you looked, and the bower bird nests were spread across the campgrounds.
During our stay in Mataranka, our neighbour’s campers came to sit with us by the fire and they offered us, wait for it…DONKEY STEW! I know this may sound gross, but it was delicious (at least that’s what we heard).
Our daughter Nell decided NOT to share with us and ate the whole thing! Her face afterwards was priceless.
On our final day, we were sad to say goodbye as we loved it here so much. Mataranka had changed us so much, from our everyday stressful life on the road, this was the first place we really could unwind. Next stop…Katherine.
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4WD Equipment Checklist
Tire Repair Kit – to fix the tire by yourself when you don’t have access to the tire shop (we use Oztrail)
UHF Radio – for communication with your mates and in emergency
Full Recovery Kit (with Dampener Blanket) – must-have if you are going on real off-road
High Lift Jack – useful if you do serious 4WD tracks
Shovel – useful if you get bogged, also good for campfire cooking
Fuel funnel with water filter – additional protection when fueling up in dodgy places