Daly Waters, Termite Central to Hot Spring Heaven

Trip Start Jul 07, 2011
Trip End Oct 10, 2011

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What I did
Overnight pitstop and swim at Bitter (hot) springs
Daly Waters

Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Saturday, July 23, 2011

Australia's most remote traffic light – with pub attached

Given that we’d planned lunch at the Daly Water’s Pub, an early start wasn’t needed since our first destination was only 50 clicks up the highway.  We said a farewell to Col’s recommended campsite, and a metaphorical goodbye to the tea-cosy lady (she metaphorically grumbled back) and flitted off up the Stuart again. 

Half an hour and we were at the turn-off to Daly Waters which takes you down a 6 km offshoot into a veritable hive of activity – cars, motorcycles, caravans and boats.  Yes, a boat, not just a tinny, but a 35ft launch on a tandem trailer.  What the heck do you do with a boat that size in the middle of a dust bowl?  Apparently visit a watering hole!

The Daly Waters pub is a one room building surrounded by a collection of iron sheets screwed together to make a collection of walls, doors and roofs to serve liquor.  The deceivingly wide verandah at the front – where patrons were variously drinking cold beer and coffee (not at the same time) – gives the impression of a cosmopolitan alfresco café; until you realise that the outlook is onto a dust bowl, the gas station (with a wrecked helicopter and Macca’s sign perched on top) and a "NOT made in China" stall.  We’ve come to expect the unexpected in the outback... 

The NMIC stall flogs all manner of signs, jewellery and perhaps the most bizarre things I’d seen so far on this trip – a back scratcher made from a preserved and glistening kangaroo paw; and another kangaroo paw fashioned so that the claw provide a single-fingered salute.  Noice!  We chose not to buy anything not made in China.

Given it was only 10:30 – a tad early for lunch – we took the historical trail round Daly Waters.  That should read “Hysterical” trail, because it’s really quite laughable what there isn’t to see on it.  The highlight, is a tree that John McDouall Stuart purportedly carved an “S” into when he discovered Daly Waters in May 1862 having forced his way through lancewood scrub and harsh terrain at the rate of 1 km/day.  I bet he wished he’d discovered the Pub instead of the tree!

Stuart must have had a really blunt or short knife, because we looked over that darn (dead) tree for the “S” but couldn’t find a thing.  Worse: Someone had carved a B in the wood.  Hmm “BS”, could be onto something there…

No Aussie thongs on that Tree

The whole of the bar in the pub is a shrine to other people’s memorabilia.  There are driver’s licenses, photos, business cards, foreign money, number plates and various other pieces of – well stuff, pinned, glued or otherwise attached to every part of the walls, ceiling and posts of the bar.

The central feature is a tree (read post) festooned with female underwear – the sort that creeps right up-yur-bum.  Of course if they were real Aussie thongs, some might term it a flip-flop tree, but that simply wouldn’t be in character for this pub, so “The Thong Tree” it is.  Oh, and the bra curtain next to the thong tree makes you wonder how many women planned to leave their underwear at the bar before they entered!

Lunch was incredibly civilised, plentiful, reasonably priced – and most importantly yummy!  Their speciality is “Beef and Barra” – but that looked like if would be an epic meal followed by an epic sleep, so Megan had a spicy beef wrap; the kids couldn’t go past the nuggets & chips (why the nuggets were shaped like dinosaurs is yet another Daly Waters mystery); and I had the 'double ranch donga” – a steak sandwich complete with egg, bacon and pineapple on toasted ciabatta.  The ˝ pint of Hahn Light (I’m driving) was a ‘must do’ and I have to say it tasted great.

And so our perfect timing continued – we finished and left the pub just as the first bus-load of Japanese/German/French/Italian Click-Click tourists arrived to take pictures of the pub, Australian Flies and anything else that moved.  We skedaddled before too many rolls of Kodak were wasted on us.  (I know that they don’t have film in their cameras any more, but saying “before too many megabytes were wasted on us” doesn’t have the same ring to it).

Should we post our cards here?

There was one important reason for visiting Daly Waters – and it wasn’t the pub.  Daly Waters was where Megan’s grandfather Alan Merrill was stationed in the second world war – as the postmaster – and our mission was to find and look at the Post Office that he ran all those years ago.

The post office is a short stone’s throw from the pub’s front door – perhaps Alan volunteered for this duty – and we’d unknowingly parked right outside when we first arrived.

Today it’s a tired old building in need of a lot of TLC to return it to any use, let alone a functioning post office.  We posed on the steps (Bruce kindly took a photo of us all – as proof) and we peered through the dusty windows:  Two large pots of paint, a lot of wall with nothing on it; and lots of empty floor space.

In its day, it must have been a thriving hub of activity:  A stopping place for air travellers on the route to/from London prior to the outbreak of war; and once hostilities started, a mix of Australian and American airmen based along with their Mitchell Bombers, Kitty Hawks and a fighter squadron – all in need of a drink and a letter from home.

The post box has moved.  From the old post office to – yes, you guessed it – right outside the pub.  We weren’t sure the box was for real – it says collections on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays – but we trusted in the fact that if it has a stamp on it, it’ll get somewhere, and the kids duly dumped their postcards into the box.

So, if you receive a card, it was a genuine Australia Post mailbox – please leave a comment to let us know what the postmark on the card says.  If you don’t receive a card, either the box was a fake or we didn’t send you a card – but you’ll never know!  Leave us a comment anyway…

The click-click tourists were everywhere, the caravan park paddock (read zoo) was filling with more new arrivals (read exhibits) and lunch was paid for.  We left. 

Funny.  You know when you have a pre-conceived idea of what some where’s going to be like – and then its nothing like it at all?  I’d had a mind’s-eye picture of a rolling grassy vale with at its centre a pub elevated on stilts, shrouded in trees casting gentle shade on the adjacent watering hole surrounded by rushes and tall grasses.

Try dust and thong trees in a flat-as-a-tack landscape of termite mounds.  My bubble was burst.  Dunmarra wasn’t looking that strange after all.

And the traffic light – that’s just outside the pub.  Wait as long as you like; it never goes green!

Termite Central – How Many?

The plan was to get to Mataranka.  We were travelling with Bruce & Kate again taking it variously in turn to lead/follow.  The miles went by punctuated by the odd town/fuel station and we splashed sufficient in to get there comfortably.

They’d started as we left Alice, but now they were becoming more prolific: Termite mounds, that is.  At Daly Waters, I had Matthew and Ella (Bruce and Kate’s younger daughter) stand next to a small one – before both insisted on poking at it with sticks.  The inhabitants had relocated having been poked at before.  This ‘small one’ was taller than either of them – and there were bigger ones back into the bush.

As we drove north, there were seas of them, mostly in low lying areas around flood ways and just above where water pooled.  At one stage, they were so thick that it seemed they were more prevalent than the trees on which they must (obviously?) feed.

And then the mounds changed.  No longer the small spindly skewers, but now ICBM sized pillars of mud cooling vanes arranged north/south thumping up from the ground every 40-50 metres seemingly endlessly across the flat undulating terrain.

We got Matthew to practice multiplication: Assuming 1,000,000 termites per cathedral mound, one mound every 50 metres and 150km to Mataranka, how many termites would there be along the side of the road?  In the end, it was easier to count the number of termite legs and divide by six!  There were a lot…

More front than Harrods

We made the decision to stay at the same Mataranka caravan park as Bruce and Kate – the kids were getting on like a house on fire and we were all having a great time.  They’d booked at the Territory Manor, so we followed.

Bruce and I checked in – well Bruce did, and then found that there were no more sites available since the park was booked out.  Surely there must have been a mistake, two similar vans, same arrival night: What’s going on?

Bruce asked if there had been a booking mix-up. Chris played it cool: When booking Bruce said he often had to explain how his new Jayco van was only 17ft long, but the beds pushed out making them longer, so some sites might not be long enough.  Perhaps in all that discussion, the message that two sites were needed got lost?

They were very sorry for the ‘mix up’, found a site that Reg (one of the park’s long term residents) wasn’t using and didn’t need the power for (Reg had gone fishing), and made amends for the inconvenience by discounting the rate.  No inconvenience at all.  Thanks Bruce!

Of course, we’d have tried at a different spot had there been no room at the inn, but thanks to the positively flexible, delightful (and relaxed) folk at the Manor, we set up camp.

Hot from the ground

After a long day’s drive, what better then a relaxing spa?  No spa here though – instead naturally heated and flowing springs, coming direct from the ground and flowing through the bush.

Numerous springs bubble up around Mataranka; the closest and most ‘natural’ to us was Bitter Springs – crystal clear water at constant temperature of 34C just a few km down the road.  Off we all went.

The car park is seemingly in the middle of nowhere (there are a lot of places so named in this blog!) and a palm lined walkway leads a few hundred metres away before opening out to reveal a true oasis of lush green vegetation surrounding a meandering watercourse.

A couple of man-made platforms and steps adorn the sides and then it’s just you and the water.  Matthew and I were first.  No need to ease yourself in: 34C is bath-time bliss temperature.  Caitlyn needed more convincing.  The sides aren’t really sides, rather they are rocks covered in ferns and tropical vegetation.  They drop away to at least 6ft of water, well out of Caitlyn’s depth – and mine!  That’s a challenge to a 4 year-old, who while she can swim competently, needs to be caught and held.  Flip side is that catching and holding while treading water is a challenge!

Megan and I played jump, splash, catch, return until we were an inconvenience to Caitlyn’s progress and exploration round the springs, and then she was off to play with Ella and Gemma.  Megan was happy to chat with Kate, so Matthew and I donned the masks, snorkels and fins and went upstream – through shallow and deep pools, under lily pads and around submerged logs looking at all the fish and the occasional turtle darting in and out of the banks, nooks and crannies.

Kakadu – Kada Don’t

As Megan often does, she’d managed to get chatting to some other travellers – nothing like Phil the Donga hauler:  This time a family who’d just come from Kakadu.  To cut a long story short, it seems that Kakadu is touched with the same degree of political correctness that’s infected Uluru.  We’re sure it’s beautiful, but unless we were into going places that are (big) 4WD’s only or looking at endless closed off areas, perhaps we might like to think again.

Megan really manages to get the most useful information from people because the clincher was to find out that the fuel station at Jabiru is currently closed for refurbishment which means that getting there in the first place would have been a stretch for us and getting topped up while there may have been an 80-100km round trip.  That wasn’t in the guide books.

Time to phone and do some re-booking.  Darwin, here we come…
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Grandma on

Another great read !

Lisa Maaz on

enjoying following your trip, sounds like you all are having a right adventure!! the springs sounded very relaxing, keep having fun and drive safe :)

anders lemerande on

thats awesome

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