‘When the heart is happy, it forgets to grow old’ Jeannie Gunn, We of the Never Never
I rode my bike out on one of the little winding trails leading out from the campground at Karlu Karlu (Devil's Marbles). It was so still, so quiet, with most people still asleep in their caravans and the boys still in their tents. The sun was still not yet peeking over the horizon as I pedalled slowly, the spinifex grazing my shins and toes as I rode through between the boulders. Yesterday I had read the stories of the Waramungu people. It was said that people could be 'taken' by the boulders and I definitely felt an eeriness being out there alone with barely a sound to be heard. They used to sing their people back to them, removing the curse, but now the song is gone, lost through the generations. I circled around a big ‘balancing rock’ that I had spotted from the campground and looked back towards the main peak of boulders behind all the caravans. Campers had started to arise and they clambered over the rocks to see the sun’s rays over the desert.
We had a big day today, although I wasn’t going to put myself under any pressure to get to a certain place. Mataranka was the end goal, but we could stay at Daly Waters if it looked like that wasn’t going to be possible. I still wanted to leave the campground before 50 caravans did though, so we packed up in about half an hour (I think our quickest yet!) and got on the road.
Leaving Karlu Karlu, there was a smattering of dead cows to each side of the road. Some freshly killed, perhaps hit by road trains in the night, and some that had been there a while, their hides sagging between the pelvis and skull after nature had taken its fill. Eagles were everywhere today. There was a strong headwind and they were visible every few hundred metres, hovering over the road.
Tennant Creek was our first stop, to pick up something for morning tea. It was going to be a long drive and I needed to keep the offspring happy. I just had a coffee from the roadhouse (cheap as), Charlie had a ham and cheese croissant and Toby had a roast beef and salad roll from a lovely little cafe. $16 later just for two things. Toby looked at me and whispered, ‘sixteen bucks??’ Um yep, we’re in the middle of nowhere. I have to stop doing this for them. Didn’t help there were no prices anywhere - should have asked…
Back on the road and towards Elliot, 2.5 hours away, where I stopped for fuel. The temperature hit me as I got out of the car at nearly noon. We had a quick lunch (bread and spreads from the snack box this time!) in the shade and got out of there. Not much to Elliot I’m afraid. As we drove further north, I noticed it getting greener and greener and more trees popping up. The stark red sand was giving way to a brown and dark green on the edges of the road. I could see clouds popping up in the distance. Big, fluffy tropical clouds, with dark grey ominous looking bottoms and white cotton candy muffin tops, spilling over the edges. In the distance they looked as if they were part of a puppet show, invisible wires holding them over the landscape, ready to be pulled up by the puppeteer when the scene changed. With taller trees on either side now and the clouds above, the road suddenly got dark and it took a moment to realise the cloud was directly above me and blocking out the sun. I’d been in cloudless bright skies for a few days now and I had forgotten what shade was!
We took the turnoff to Daly Waters and tumbled out of the car into oppressive heat and humidity. The place was going off, people everywhere. The historic pub here, famous for its signs, bras, sports shirts, stickers and general knick knacks and bric-a-brac, was a haven for humanity in this out of the way place. We sat sweltering quietly with everyone else and had a very welcome cold drink and tried out the ‘Barra Bites’ and the enormous ‘Barra Burger’ (Toby’s choice). Tobes has the appetite of the mine blower at Coober Pedy, and even he couldn’t finish that burger. We reluctantly left Daly Waters Pub, vowing to stop in again on the way back down to the turn off to the Queensland border, and headed north with plenty of time to get to Mataranka. I was pleased that my theory of taking it easy, stopping when needed, meant that I ended up getting to my destination well within time anyway. The 130 speed limit in the NT helped a great deal, although I rarely got above 120. Still makes a difference.
We unfortunately saw a beautiful Wedge Tailed Eagle dead on the road, just after Daly Waters. Its mate (Toby thought it was the female) was on the road, right near the dead creature and we slowed right down. It only flew to the nearest tree, still looking down at the other eagle and we pulled over. Toby managed to get a few photographs of it in the tree. Eagles are so precious. If you see them on the road or on roadkill, they can be quite slow to take off, so please slow the car down and give them that chance.
Toby made the decision on the campsite tonight and so we turned off to the Mataranka Homestead and Thermal Springs based off the Wiki Camps App, and we drove towards the Roper River into paradise. Our unpowered site was relaxed and ‘choose your own space’ style, right near the entrance to the thermal pool. No slotting us next to each other like sardines. It was just like bush camping, with great facilities. They weren’t the cleanest, but I quite like showering with geckos and tree frogs! We even saw our first cane toad. Massive things they are. It quite likes the ladies loos near the bar!
We ignored the tent set-up and headed straight to the pool. It was absolutely devine. Crystal clear water and 34 degrees. The boys played nicely together, which mainly involved throwing Charlie around. To a certain point, he quite likes it, but it’s a fine line before it all goes too far and the tears begin. We managed to avoid that today, so success all around. After a cold shower rinse, we set up the tents. As it was still hot and humid leading into the evening, I chose to open up both sides of the tent and let any breeze (oh I make myself laugh, there was none) flow right through.
We spent the evening at ‘Maluka’s Bar’ at the Mataranka Homestead, about 20m from our tents. I had one of the best meals of my life (no, not just the trip) for only $15. A pumpkin, feta and mushroom tart with salad. The salad was good enough that it would have been a meal on its own and the tart was scrumptious, mouthwatering stuff. A whole slab of roasted Japanese pumpkin, skin still on, sat in the middle ready to be demolished. The meal was all the better as it was accompanied with music from The Family Tree. This singing family (the dad joked they were like the Von Trapps) were brilliant and talented and sang all my fave songs, and some of their own. Their three kids joined in on drums, guitar, violin and vocals. I was so impressed. I let Charlie write his journal on my computer, which occupied him for hours. He was ecstatic to finally be allowed on the big computer and is now obsessed, his journal entries getting more and more detailed. Toby took over my crossword/puzzle book. And so it was, listening along to awesome music, singing along to all the favourites with both boys happy and content. Our ‘schoolwork’ has definitely evolved. It is VERY hard to be doing a lot of traditional schoolwork on a trip of this nature. We are fitting a lot in over 3 months and it is not the same as a 12 month trip where you could take more time in each place and have a couple of hours a day to do work. The only thing Toby is suffering from a lack of is Maths, and it doesn’t help that that is my weakest subject. I think I will get a tutor for him upon our return. Charlie is doing fine and I think between the journal, puzzles, the things we learn along the way and the occasional bit of easy maths, he is coming along in leaps and bounds. His reading has improved even in two weeks it seems. He is just a little sponge.
We love you Mataranka and have already made the decision to stop in for another night on our way back down. Absolute paradise.