This post contains affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more information.
Mataranka was one of our favourite places in our trip around Australia. You only need a couple of days to see it all, but we still stayed for a week. And then returned twice more later in our trip. It is one of those places that you just cannot drive past. It is that good.
I have put together a pretty comprehensive list of everything you can do around Mataranka Hot Springs, so you don’t have to miss out on any of the sights! Seriously… check out this pic!
Things to do in Mataranka
Mataranka is a small town, but it has a lot of history and is a magical place to visit. What follows is pretty much everything you can do in town!
Mataranka Hot Springs
If you are staying at the homestead get up early and head straight to the hot springs. You will more than likely have the whole thing to yourself. (Like we did in the picture above).
There are parts of the pool where you can stand up, and some seating has been built in around some of the edges. It is a pretty special experience to float on your back and look up at the cabbage palm trees.
If you have a pool noodle you can float in the water until you are wrinkly. It is a great place to meet other travelers too, we picked up lots of tips from others while floating in the thermal springs and we also bumped into lots of new friends we had made at Daly Waters Pub!
It is accessible through Mataranka homestead – very convenient if you are staying there. If you are not staying there is parking at the entrance (follow the signs as you enter). You are still able to go through the homestead and get to Mataranka pool. Entrance to the homestead, the national park and swimming in the pool is completely free.
Watch “We of The Never Never” (or better yet – read the book!)
Mataranka has some historical significance and we did use our visit to contribute to our home schooling curriculum. “We of the Never Never” is a book written by Jeannie Gunn who wrote about her experiences at Elsey Station where she lived for a year in 1902. The book itself was a school text for many years and was turned into a movie in 1982.
The movie is shown everyday at the Homestead pub at 12 midday. We tried to watch it but the sound quality was terrible and I was the only one that could follow it (because I had read the book). We gave up and went for a swim. I did find the movie through our local library educational movie resource so we streamed and watched it later on. It is worth doing either while you are in Mataranka, or shortly after leaving.
Visit the Old Homestead from the Movie
The Old Homestead has been turned in to something like a museum and is free to visit. It is not the original homestead. It is the homestead that was created for the movie. It does have some spoilers if you are planning to watch the movie or read the book, try and do that first before visiting. I hadn’t finished the book when I visited and found out what happens in the end.
Visit the Pub to Watch the Band and Nathan Whippy Griggs
In the high season (approximately April to October) the pub at the homestead has entertainment every evening. We enjoyed the band, but the highlight is Nathan Whippy Griggs.
Even if you think, Nah, whip cracking – not really my thing (like I did!), you should still check him out. He is a real showman, very entertaining, and we all enjoyed the show.
Visit Bitter Springs for a Swim
This is the other must do while in Mataranka. Bitter Springs has more of a natural feel to the pool as it is lined with trees, ferns and cabbage palms.
There is a current in the pool moving in one direction, so if you enter at one end, you can float the whole way to the other end. Then you get out, walk back to the start and do it again. And again. And again.
The first time we went to Bitter Springs we didn’t take a pool noodle with us. The next time we did and it made the experience so much better. Make sure to take a noodle with you.
Eat a Mataranka Pie
Seriously, Mataranka Pies were the best pies we had on our 15 month trip. When we returned to Mataranka we had to have another one and decided, yep, they are still the best.
You can get them from the United Petrol Station – there is a small sign out the front advertising them so make sure you go to the right place. They were pretty expensive for a pie, they must have been $7 or $8 each, but they are large and totally worth every cent.
To visit Mataranka Falls you will have to hike through the National Park. It is a 8km return hike from the 12 Mile Yards, which is not far from the campground in the National Park. You can access a pdf information sheet through the park website. There is No Swimming at Mataranka Falls. In fact the only places you can swim in Mataranka are the Mataranka thermal Spring and Bitter Springs. Crocodiles inhabit the area so you need to be aware at all times near the water.
Go for a Walk in Elsey National Park
We would have loved to have done the hike to Mataranka Falls, but 8km return was too long for us with a child. We did a couple of the other walks instead. Stevie’s Hole was easily accessible from the homestead and then leads on to the Botanic Walk if you did want to do a longer hike. Or there is parking on the road into the National Park where you an also access the walk.
The Riverside walk is easily accessible from the campground in the National park and follows along the water for 16km, however you can make it as long or as short as you like. We walked for about an hour before we turned around.
Visit the Never Never Museum
In town there is a small museum about the history of Mataranka called the Never Never Museum. It has a small entry fee of $4 per adult and $2 per child. We didn’t visit on our trip as we felt that reading the book, watching the movie and visiting the Old Homestead had given us a good dose of history of the area.
There are a couple of boat ramps in the National Park where you can get a boat into the water and go fishing. (We would always laugh when we saw a car towing a boat in the middle of the red centre, like – where the hell are they going to go boating! Hahaha, well this is one of the places!) Apparently this is a good spot to catch a Barra.
Of course – No Swimming. Watch for crocs!
The homestead campground is probably the most popular place to stay in Mataranka. They have Cabins, motel rooms, powered and unpowered sites. Check out their website for pricing.
There are a few bonuses to staying at the homestead. Mataranka thermal springs is easily accessible (literally a 5 minute walk). It has internet (which is a precious commodity in the NT) and the pub with all the entertainment is also here. That is great if you want to have a few drinks, enjoy the show and not have to drive back to your campground.
The cons of the homestead are it is more expensive than the National Park or Little Ropers and the entertainment at the pub is quite loud and can go until 10pm, so if you have kids that are easily disturbed from sleep that may be a bit annoying.
Elsey National Park
Jalmurark Campground in Elsey National Park is well set up and nicely laid out. It’s amenities block has showers (solar heated) and toilets, which are kept clean by the camp hosts. All of the sites are unpowered. It is only $15.40 per family per night which is a bargain. It is first come first served and you will need cash to complete the payment in the honesty box.
It is very close to the homestead and easy to drive between the two.
We didn’t stay here but heard wonderful things about it from other travelling families. We definitely got the feeling that this place was well set up for families and those with kids. I didn’t hear of any grey nomads staying here at all!
It is a TAWK park, which means it doesn’t charge extra for kids. A number of traveling families that we met who stayed here told us that they came for a couple of days and stayed for longer because they enjoyed it so much.
We will stay here when we return to Mataranka (aaah, one day!) to see what all the fuss is about!
This is another place that we did not stay ourselves. It is close to Bitter Springs (while the other options are all closer to Mataranka springs). We got the feeling that this was a great spot for the Grey Nomads. I didn’t hear of any other families staying here, but quite a few of the Grey nomads we chatted to at Bitter Springs were staying here.
Mataranka Hot Springs Vs Bitter Springs?
The perennial question asked by every traveller. If I have to pick only 1, which should it be?
The answer?? Do not pick only 1. They are both amazing, but different from each other. I liked Mataranka Hot Springs the best, El Enrique liked Bitter Springs best. You can visit both in a couple of hours as they are only a short 15 minute drive from each other.
Here is a picture of both side by side so you can see how beautiful they both are! And what the difference may be.
I will say Mataranka pool is probably best for small kids as it doesn’t have the current that Bitter Springs has and it is a bit smaller.
There is also a thermal spring in Katherine. The Katherine Hot springs is a good middle ground between Bitter Springs and Mataranka. It has the natural feel of Bitter springs for much of it, but also has a couple of pools similar to Mataranka.
Where to Next?
Well, Mataranka is really in the middle of nowhere! But also not a long drive from a few other places.
Daly Waters Pub is an absolute must on this stretch of road and is less than 2 hours south of Mataranka. If you are heading to Katherine it is only an hour north of Mataranka.
You can do the trip from Daly Waters to Katherine and stop in at Mataranka for a quick swim (we did do that once when we drove past). That is a good option if you are short of time, but if you do have a couple of days to spare Mataranka is well and truly worth doing properly.
If you are heading further south to Alice Springs, check out my post for Things to do while you are there, or plan your trip to Uluru here. You can find more general information on the Red Centre here.