Mataranka is small township in the Northern Territory about 106 km south-east of Katherine along the Stuart Highway.
Natural thermal pools in nearby Elsey National Park have made the town a favoured rest stop. Travellers can enjoy the warm turquoise waters of these natural lagoons, that are said to have therapeutic value. If you have time to only visit one of these, Travelmate recommends Bitter Springs, about 2 km out of town, with its barbecues, tables and eco-friendly amenities.
Bitter Springs is a fantastically crystal clear, warm and natural spring. The river banks are lined with grasses and trees, spider webs and bird-life. You can swim 120 metres up stream past long rushes or float down the current on your back to watch rainbow bee-eaters fly, feed and perch in the tree-tops. There is a pleasant 1.5 km loop walk around the river area with interpretative signs explaining vegetation and the origins of the spring.
The Mataranka Thermal Pools are also part of the Elsey National Park and are wonderfully clear and warm. Signs at the nearby motel suggest that the best way to get to the pools is past their bar and kiosk area, but there is alternate entry through the car park. Sadly, the pools themselves have a rather 'artificial' feel and look more like a large designer pond than a natural wonder. The resident Little Red Flying Fox colony are intriguing to watch, particularly at dusk when the group leaves en masse to search for food. But like any wild creature, they do have an unpleasant smell.
The town is also well-known as the setting for the autobiographical story "We of the Never Never" by Jeannie Gunn, who wrote of her hardships and experiences on Elsey Station, a remote Australian farm, in the early 1900s.
Early European settlement in Mataranka was based on pastoral projects, however the harsh climate and rough terrain made sheep farming difficult. It was not until the railway reached the town in 1927, that the settlement's future as a rail and service centre was assured.
Things to do:
Swimming - Bitter Springs, Mataranka Thermal Pool and the Roper River (in selected areas)
Barra Feeding - Territory Manor Motel, Fish feeding at 10 am and 1pm each day
We of the Never Never Museum - that records Mataranka's pioneering heritage to be found at Roper Terrace, Mataranka, Mon to Fri 9am - 5pm
Back to the Never Never - May - a celebration of pastoral heritage and indigenous culture
Mataranka's Bushman's Carnival - August - featuring campdraft, rodeo and gymkana
In surrounding area:
Elsey National Park - east of the town is 13,840 hectare area with a number of springs, waterfalls and 'tufa' dams. Excellent for canoeing, fishing, swimming and bushwalking in the dry season.
Cutta Cutta Caves National Park - 60 km north, these limestone caves host resident colonies of orange horseshoe ghost bats which have been evolving for more than 500 million years
Elsey Memorial Cemetery - 20 km south, is the original location of the Elsey Station homestead with the graves of outback pioneers, including 'The Quiet Stockman', 'The Fizzer' and a memorial to the Gunns ("We of the Never Never")