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.
Mataranka, located midway between Alice Springs to Darwin, is a must-visit destination in the Northern Territory, offering stunning natural beauty, warm thermal pools, and a unique glimpse into the cultural history of the region.
How to get to Mataranka National Park
The best way to get to Mataranka National Park is by car, as there is no public transport that goes directly to the park. You can rent a car in Darwin or Katherine and drive south along the Stuart Highway until you reach Mataranka. The drive takes about 4-5 hours from Darwin and about 1-2 hours from Katherine. Alternatively, you can take a bus from Darwin or Katherine to Mataranka, although this will require a bit more planning and may not be as convenient as driving. Some tour operators also offer guided tours to Mataranka National Park as part of a larger itinerary.
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. Mataranka is situated on the traditional land of the Mangarayi and Yungman people, and has a rich cultural history dating back thousands of years.
During World War II, Mataranka was the site of a major military base, which was used as a training ground for Australian and American troops. Mataranka springs and thermal pools are surrounded by palm trees, which were originally planted by the Army during World War II to provide shade for soldiers.
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 thermal 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 thermal 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 spring 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.
If you plan to visit Mataranka during October and November, be aware that there may be an increased presence of red flying fox in the area. These bats are known for their distinct odor and may be seen in the palm trees.
Mataranka – other activities
We decided to visit the Never Never Museum. Interpretative displays gave us knowledge about the rich history of the 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 springs 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.
After writing this article we had a few questions about Mararanka and we decided to answer them below.
Can you take a dip in the thermal pools at night?
No, the thermal pools in Mataranka National Park are closed to visitors after sunset. This is to protect the natural environment and the wildlife in the area.
Can you bring pets to Mataranka National Park?
No, pets are not allowed in the park. This is to protect the local wildlife and ensure the natural environment remains undisturbed.
What is the weather like in Mataranka?
The weather can be hot and humid during the wet season (November to April) and mild and dry during the dry season (May to October). Temperatures during the day can reach up to 35°C in the summer, while winter temperatures are usually around 25°C. It’s important to bring appropriate clothing and protection from the sun and insects.
Can you go fishing in Mataranka National Park?
Fishing is allowed in certain areas of the park, but you’ll need a fishing permit from the Northern Territory government. The most common fish species found in the park include barramundi, catfish, and saratoga.
Is it safe to swim in the thermal pools?
Yes, it is safe to swim in the thermal pools. Spring water is naturally heated and contains a high level of minerals, which makes it safe and enjoyable to swim. A temperature of 34 degrees Celsius may not provide much relief from the heat, but that’s a different story.
How long does it take to explore the park?
It usually takes around a day or two, depending on your interests and how much time you have. However, many visitors (like us) choose to stay for longer to fully immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the area.
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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