Since making it north of the Tropic of Capricorn, I've begun to see subtle changes in the landscape – most notably the shift away from “endless desert wasteland in every direction”.
I can't quite decide if this fact brings me overwhelming joy or soul-crushing sadness.
With the green comes more wildlife (still no snakes), and today I happen upon what must be at least a hundred pelicans – some 185 mi / 300 km from the nearest coastline (I am under the impression that pelicans live at or near the coast).
Upon briefly researching why this pod of pelicans (yes, a pod of pelicans) has made its way deep into the desert, I discover that National Geographic has produced an hour-long documentary on this very phenomenon. If you're interested, give it a watch (disclosure: I have not yet watched this in its entirety).
After my fleeting and mildly confusing pelican encounter, I roll into the town of Mataranka.
With a population of only 400, I don't expect much from this place – just another town in a long line of near-identical outposts stretching across the Outback's Stuart Highway. But to my surprise they have not one but two hot springs (or thermal pools as they're known locally).
Maybe this place won't be so bad after all.
As I cruise through town I'm reminded by large and numerous roadside signs that there are alcohol restrictions in place here (as is the case in many Outback towns). It appears that to drink alcohol in “public restricted areas” a permit is required; I wonder how I would go about obtaining said permit.
I soon make it to a large plaque-sporting termite hill standing in the center of town.
It would seem this town has everything, but let's focus on what's important, the hot springs.
I've become a sucker for hot springs in recent years (see: onsens), and so I inquire at the local servo (gas station) to learn more about my options – Mataranka Springs and Bitter Springs.
It sounds like Mataranka Springs is a Grey Nomad-infested man-made pool that has had water pumped into it from a nearby thermal pool. Bitter Springs is apparently a river and (mostly) free of the human interference.
Bitter Springs it is.
I get back on the bike and ride five minutes out of town to what I hope will be a relaxing soak in Bitter Springs.
The parking lot appears to be nearly full, but it's getting late and the threat of darkness should drive the herd of car owners back to their caravan parks in the coming hour.
I ride down a dirt path down to the hot springs and am pleasantly surprised to find it appears to be as natural a setting as I could have hoped for.
Before my bike has hit the ground, I have already furiously removed my clothing and am jumping into the enchanted waters of Bitter Springs.
I take my perch upon a rock in the middle of the stream as my fellow bathers slowly trickle out and retreat to their vehicles (whether this has to do more with me or the encroaching darkness, I cannot say).
Before leaving I float on my back as I take a solitary trip down the river to an exit point about 100 meters away.
Hot springs are magnificent.
Maybe I'll camp here.
- START: Daly Waters, Northern Territory
- END: Larrimah, Northern Territory
- DAY'S DISTANCE: 57.45 mi / 92.46 km
- TOTAL DISTANCE: 2,110.44 mi / 3,396.43 km