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Friday, 19 May 2017

Hot Douglas Springs

Hot Douglas Springs (Northern Territory)
Distance Travelled:
200 km

charge for eftpos:
$1.50 (per transaction at the bar – what?!?)

With our supplies, which had been kindly gathered by Nat the day before, snugly tucked away into our little home on wheels, we dusted off the remaining dead flies from our camper trailer and tootled away from Katherine. Whilst the caravan park had been lovely (midges and cane toads notwithstanding), the town itself had been a little depressing and a little too close to home in my day-to-day life as a prison based psychologist. However, I’m glad we came – but the time we stayed was long enough.

Heading down the highway, we were excited to visit our next port of call – non-other than the world famous Hot Douglas Springs. I know for a fact that this place was high on Nat’s ‘To Do’ list – as she had visited these springs many years ago and still held fond memories of coming here. She was very keen for us to take a dip in these deep blue waters that bubble up like hot jets from the ground. In places, she told us, it was actually too hot to sit – and for a guy that has quite the penchant for a piping hot bath (another nod to my father there), these boiling waters sounded like just the tonic for aching bones and muscles from hours toiling away setting up and down the trailer, day after day after day.

The trouble was, after trundling down a long and bumpy road to these famed waters, we found to our disappointment that they had not yet been opened by the rangers to the public. No hot water dalliances for us. No soaking of weary bones. Not even a slightly tepid dip in a not-so-hot part of the river. “CLOSED!” said the sign. “….Bugger,” said our small party (actually, some of us – Nat in particular – chose different words to show their disappointment… but I intend to read this to my grandchildren one day in the future, so I think we’ll leave it at that).

But, closed it was and closed it remained. Unfortunately, the top end of Australia has had an unexpectedly wet summer this year (yes, I know, rain in summer is just stupid – but that’s the way it is in the far north of this continent… Summer = hot and wet, Winter = cold and dry: go figure!?). And because of all this rain, many of the best places to bask in mother nature’s opulence still weren’t open yet. Unfortunately, this spot of meteorological bad luck was to follow us on many parts of our adventure and meant there were many places we had hoped to go that were either not yet accessible – or were still full of crocs…

To add to our frustration, the website we had been checking – which announces to travellers whether certain paths are open or closed – had listed this piece of wild beauty as being open… but, the sign at the entrance to the road itself firmly proclaimed this patch of the world to be off limits on pain of death (or, at least, pain in the wallet if you’re caught there and are stung with a hefty fine). Triple unfortunately, the sign which proclaimed this was positioned 50kms down a very lack lustre road, with gigantic pot holes the size of small ravines.

Given the state of the road, we had even stopped to make a phone call to the roadhouse, just make sure we hadn’t misread the directions and were heading into the bowels of hades itself. “No, love” came the helpful, raspy woman’s voice at the end of the line, “keep heading down the road and you’ll find us on the right”. “The road gets better the closer you get to us” she added, helpfully.

So, down the road we went; if for no other reason than there was nowhere to turn our car and trailer around on this narrow, partly sealed, byway.

Pulling into the welcoming driveway of the Daly Douglas Caravan Park, Nat popped into the reception to check if the ‘closed’ sign was really true. In the reception, she came face-to-face the raspy voiced women I had spoken with earlier. She was a friendly character, who just seemed glad that someone had turned up. Apparently, it had been a slow start to the season.

“Yes, love,” she said in a kindly manner “the springs are closed”. She went on to tell us that it had been a big blow to their business having the springs closed this far into the tourist season and that she had been nagging the rangers to secure this part of the river for the past month. “Sorry that you’ve come all this way and the springs are closed, love” she said plaintively, “but you can stay if you like”. As Nat recounted this story later that evening, she emphasised the slight pleading tone in the woman’s voice.

As we had been trundling down the driveway, the boys had spotted a swimming pool were getting restless to jump out of the car. As such, we decided to stay – Hot Douglas Springs, or not…

The kindly lady with the raspy voice came out and showed us to our campsite. It was a lovely and shady spot, and there was hardly another person in sight. “There’s the amenities block,” she intoned. “and feel free to have a campfire – just burn any wood that you can find on the ground.”

She also gave us directions to a river that was an easy, but fun, drive down a 4x4 track – where we could do a spot of fishing. ‘Fishing’, I thought, ‘finally, a chance to get my rods out!”. In the weeks leading up to our departure from Melbourne, I’d cobbled together a makeshift rod holder on the front of our camp trailer. I had been proud of my handiwork and had even installed a lock on it, to keep prying hands away from my well-worn fish catchers. However, thus far on our journey, the lock had remained firmly fastened and it was high time that that situation was remedied!

Pulling into our allotted campsite, we made short work of setting up the trailer. After all, we had had a bit of practice doing this by now. I did the heavy lifting, Ben raised the roof and hooked up the various inflow and outflow pipes. Nat helped with the bed ends and got the insides ready to receive its very grateful guests. And Daniel, well, Daniel… Umm, he made friends with the local butterflies.

Daniel making friends with the fauna of the region.

With our lodgings acquired and set up, the lock on my fishing gear popped off almost like magic. “Who’s up for a drive down the river?” I said, quickly stuffing the rods in the boot of our car. Not having the foggiest idea what sort of fish were actually in the river, I just tossed by tackle box in and hoped there would be something that might tempt the little blighters ashore.

Soon we were off down a narrow red sandy track; with grasses growing higher than the car on both sides. Now, this is how you go fishing, I thought to myself.

Very shortly, we had bushwacked our way to our first stop. This had been marked on the hand-drawn map – given to us by our welcoming raspy voiced friend –  as, the ‘Arches”. Now, I must admit, the pictures we took of this place simply don’t do it justice. What seems like a quaint babbling brook was in fact a raging torrent of a river. How brilliant would it be to have this on your door step! Pausing for few photos and a bit of fossicking around (ever wary of the crocs in the river, snakes in the undergrowth, and lurking spiders waiting to pounce on unsuspecting fingers that picked up the wrong piece of wood) we wandered around keeping the boys on a tight leash to make sure we returned with the same number of children we started with!

The Arches – just on our door step

Soon we found a likely fishing spot, where we unfurled our rods and tackle with great aplomb. With the sun quickly setting, we knew this would be a quick watery baptism; but, in a quiet stretch of these otherwise churning rivers, we threw in our lines nonetheless.

Having set up the lines, it suddenly occurred to me that my boys hadn’t had much experience casting out a line. So, most of the time on the riverbank was spent teaching the youngest member of the family the finer points of how to cast and (more importantly) how to avoid almighty snags and tangles. Ben, who had studied the art of lake fishing under the tutelage of his grandad (Colin) and uncle Gareth - on the banks of a few New Zealand ponds – was soon merrily casting away. Even Nat (who I’ve never known to pick up a rod in the 16 years I’ve known her) got in on the frivolity for a short while; long enough, at least, for a photo opportunity!

Here fishy fishy fishy!

Unfortunately, despite a few good bites, we didn’t manage to land any. Although I like fishing, I’ve never been overly concerned if I actually catch anything. So, as a rule, I tend to knock the barbs off my hooks to give the fish a sporting chance. Besides, it’s much easier to catch and release, when you don’t have a great whopping barb causing extra damage to the fish just to let it go. That being said, the lovely silvery fish that I had played towards the shore, which jumped up out the water mere feet from the bank, would have been a good story to tell. Alas, it was not to be, as my barbless spinner was ejected from the fish’s mouth moments before the camera was ready to take the all-important snap!

Having had a bit of fun exploring the river bank, we returned (the whole party in one piece) to our campsite – just in time to take a dip in the pool that the boys had spotted on our way in. Feeling refreshed, I stopped by the bar and bought a cold beverage for Nat and I. However, it wasn’t until the second round that I realised they had been charging $1.50 per EFTPOS transaction. “That’s a bit steep, isn’t it?” I asked the guy behind the counter. “No” he replied flatly. “Can I get cash out so I don’t get charged each time?” I asked. “No” he replied flatly. And so that was the end of that. Despite the bemoaning of our raspy voiced friend earlier in the night about the lack of traffic heading their way – I couldn’t help but think these folks may had lived too long in this tiny nook of Daly-Douglas Valley. Perhaps, if they glanced away from the gorgeous scenery for a little while, they might have learned that the world of electronic commerce had moved on. Even the little fish and chippery near our home, saw sense after initially charging $0.40 per transaction, and finally crumpled under public pressure to make it charge free…

So, returning to our trailer to drink a much cheaper beer that was already sitting in our trailer’s fridge – bought without EFTPOS charge from one of the large faceless liquor merchants on our travels – we set up the fire and cooked some dinner and had a lovely night sitting under the stars. With the ukulele out, we sang a few songs and chatted into the early hours, before heading to bed.

Evening pleasures in the wilderness

With Hot Douglas Springs off the cards, we woke up early the next day to head to our next destination: Litchfield Park. This would be a few days of free camping – so we checked everything was charged (cameras, phones, laptop, tablet, music players, Kindle, and GPS), then we were on our way.

Bye ‘d bye,


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