I was awake often during the night. It was hot, and I was worrying about our dog at home (he’s having some issues with the chickens) and about crocodiles. I’ve never worried about or been scared of predators before, but this latest crocodile attack has freaked me out a little. I felt less worried when I woke up though, around sunrise. It was cool outside, but still warm enough for us to have all the windows open in the tent and not feel cold.
We packed up as quickly as we could, which included not getting out our saucepan tub so Caitlin didn’t have her usual baked beans on toast and I didn’t have my usual porridge – this made sense in terms of getting away more quickly, but it meant we were both a bit hungrier than usual all day, so next time we do that we need to also eat something with protein as a replacement. While we packed up the kids played with the 2 year old girl camped near us, and Millie’s 6yo friend came over to play while her mum packed. We were ready to go by 9.20, our earliest getaway so far. It was already pretty hot by the time we left.
On the way out we stopped at the Stuart Tree – Stuart the explorer came through here on his final and successful attempt to walk from the south of the continent to the north – crazy to think of those early explorers navigating this tough, hot terrain, with no idea of what lay before them. Apparently he stopped at the waterholes and named them Daly Waters, and carved his initials in a tree. The tree is still there – well, it’s a dead stump now, with a fence around it, and it was a bit sad looking really, but I like wandering around the area and thinking of Stuart and his team being there nearly 200 years ago. We stopped next at the airstrip – it was built in 1927 and was a leg in the plane journey from the east coast to England, so is Australia’s first international airport. It was also used in WWII as a launching place for planes to fly to Java.
We were back out on the highway before 10, driving with windows down and listening to Harry Potter. Because we’ve done 3 stops in a row of only 1 night, I haven’t been getting in to the trailer to pull out extra food, and our snack supplies in the car had run low. We only drove 160km but it was our hottest and most uncomfortable so far. We saw several dead cows on the side of the road, and the live cattle we saw were large and skinny, like the kind of cows I think of being bred in Africa.
We arrived at Jamulark Campground, in the Elsey National Park just near Mataranka. We found a campsite that looked like it would have good shade, and had a swing hanging from a tree nearby, then realised that under the dirt was bitumen so we wouldn’t be able to peg in the tent. We looked around for another site and moved the trailer, then decided that everyone was way too hot and cranky to eat or to set up, so we changed into swimmers and headed for the Thermal Pool.
The walk to the pool from the Homestead was lovely, through tall palm trees, and the pool looked amazing, blue and clear and cool in among the trees. There were quite a few people there, but the pool wasn’t really crowded. We went in at the first steps and it was very deep – Millie was a bit scared and a lady who was getting out offered Millie her noodle to float on, and told us her site number at the caravan park for us to return it later. We floated around and LiAM, Caitlin and I explored the full length of the pool, discovering it was shallower around the corner and it ended with a small waterfall flowing out into the creek beyond. There was quite a strong current, swimming back up to Tony and Millie took quite a lot of effort. We swam around for a while – the water was quite warm but very refreshing, then Millie had had enough, so she and I walked back to the car to get food. She was really quite unhappy and didn’t want to go back in to the pool. After we’d all had some nutella sandwiches and a drink of lemonade everyone felt better and went for another swim, even Millie. We chatted to a few people and floated on our backs – very cool to look up through the trees into the sky and clouds far above.
Millie’s friend was staying near the other springs so we thought we might head there later in the day. By the time we got out of the pool it was nearly 4pm and we tossed up whether to go straight to Bitter Springs, or go and set up the tent first, or some of us go to the springs and some to the tent – after much discussion we decided we were all too tired and hungry to go anywhere so we’d go back to the tent, set up, have something more to eat, then go to Bitter Springs.
It was cooler back at the campground than it had been, and setting up didn’t take too long, although the ground was so hard that we couldn’t get pegs in even though we were on dirt. The beds hold down the end of the tent and we attached guy ropes to trees, so the tent is stable even if it’s not exactly the right tension. We had some sandwiches then drove back to Bitter Springs, stopping for milk at the little supermarket on the way through and catching them just as they were closing up at 6pm. It was still light and there were still a few people in the springs, which were much more natural than the Mataranka ones. There were metal steps and platforms and no other modifications, the Mataranka pool has stone walls and places to sit in the water. The water was beautifully warm and it was also deep, although there was a rock where Millie could stand up. We swam for a little while and soon were the only people left. It was getting dark and even though I knew logically there were no crocodiles in this water, it started to feel extremely spooky and every ripple sounded like a crocodile. We had a real fright when someone swam around the corner from further down the creek! We got out and walked further down the path to another platform – normally the current can carry you from the first platform to this last one, we might come back in more daylight hours and try it out. We saw 2 turtles in the water, quite large, who swam away when we got close. Tony and Millie had one last swim then we headed back to the car before the mosquitoes got too bad.
The drive back was slow as there were so many wallabies by the side of the road. These wallabies are small, with really narrow heads, unlike any we’ve seen so far. We saw a frog sitting in the middle of the road, and thought we saw a cane toad crossing the road – later Tony and Caitlin saw a cane toad at the campground. We also saw some wild cattle. When we drove in during the afternoon we saw a dingo. We had soup and noodles back at the tent, and heard the wild donkeys braying in the bush around us.
We were all as tired as we’ve been on this trip so far I think, so after we ate we very quickly got into bed and read for a very brief time before crashing.