Northern Territory: Oasis in the Desert

The Top End of Australia, as the Northern Territory is lovingly known as, is mostly outback. In the dry season everything looks like a desert that has been void of water for ages. What is lurking tucked behind these mountains and valleys are the most beautiful swimming holes and waterfalls in Australia.

Bush art

I was driving from Western Australia, and finally crossed the boarder to Northern Territory, screaming. I had done it! 7 months traveling all around the country and I had made it to all of the states, except Canberra, but no one really counts the government capital state. When I started this journey back in January I truly didn’t know where I would end up. 7 months later I am traveling alone, in a luxury van, across the outback. Backpacker to Benz.

The speed limits jump up to 130km/h in NT and I was cruising towards my campsite for the night. There is a two hour time difference from WA so I was in a panic thinking the sun was about to set only realizing later that I had more time than I knew. As I am driving I am eyes wide open for cows, kangaroos, dingos, birds, truly everything but cars. You pass someone so rarely that most trucks or car drivers wave when they see you. I watched one group of large birds soaring and swooping around me. Dangerously close I felt, I tried to slow down and watch their movements but they were impossible to predict. Out of nowhere one bird swerves towards me instead of away and BAM. Windshield and bird meet with speed, noise, and a scream from me. Something the size of an eagle falls to the road as I speed on unable to stop fast enough. The crack in my window is there while the sound of the thump reverberates in my ears. With tears in my eyes I make it into the campsite for the night.

Big Horse Campground, NT

Big Horse Campground is a boab tree forrest. These incredibly unique trees surround the grounds with the sun setting in the distance in colors of purple and pink. Venus twinkles in the sky as always the first star visible. There is a ranger presentation about the park after sunset. I grab my wine and make my way over to watch the ranger slide thrown powerpoint deck details about the park. I stare at the stars above and the presentation below thinking what an odd entry to the NT.

The next morning I drove east on the highway towards Katherine. This town is the crossing point before you head west to WA, south to Uluru or east to Queensland. I drove that way planning to have some lunch at the hot springs right in the center of town. I parked my massive caravan in a spot that absolutely was not for it, changed into my suit, and walked down the accessible ramp to the springs. Since it was midday and easy to get to this place was packed. There was a little stream that flowed over a small ledge and emptied into a pool. People were bobbing in the water enjoying the temperate water giving such a relief on this hot day.

Katherine Hot Springs

The great thing about traveling with your home is that you can pop up wherever you are. I could change whenever I needed because I had everything with me. Did I want to make lunch? No problem, just pull over and make yourself a little sandwich. Feeling refreshed and full I got back in the van to head towards Bitter Springs. Also known as Mataranka Springs this is a natural hot spring that flows with a current. There is a section that is maintained which means no crocs or at least just freshies.

Bitter Springs

A quick hour later I arrived and again was overwhelmed by the masses. After driving the past 2 days with literally no one around me but the bush arriving in these areas of NT was like joining a festival. Apparently it is well known that you should bring a floatie because everyone was rocking some kind of device. Luckily my floating skills are A+ but that is active not passive. Welp, here I was so I guess I was swimming. Bitter Springs is like the lazy river if you have been to a water park in America. The current gently guides you into people so the calm coasting is more of a “oh sorry, oh sorry”. The water could not be clearer and the palm trees hung over head. The depth varied from crawling over rocks to deeper than I could stand. There is even a little walk way along the side so you could walk back to the beginning to “ride” the current a couple times.

Floating down Bitter Springs

With 3 hours until sunset I was in perfect timing to start driving up towards my bush free camping spot for the night. After all this swimming I was desperate for a shower. Sadly free showers are not really a common thing. Unsurprisingly a free campsite did not have any facilities. The following day I planned to hike and swim more so I was not really vibing on no shower at all. I found a free on with the help of WikiCamps in Katherine. A quick soapy shower and superwoman change and I was off on the road again.

Another challenge when traveling like this is finding water. My 2 L was on the lighter side and with the national park plans tomorrow I knew I needed to be full. The visitor center normally has water but this location charged for it only accepting coins. I had given all my coins to the campsite the night before as it charged $4 as a national park also only accepting change. I only realized it was at a cost at the pump. A guy my age was there about to fill up his 5 liter jug. Ugh I exclaimed when I saw the cost. He kindly offers to fill up my 2l since he could get enough for himself with the minimum spend leaving some extra for me. I thanked him sincerely wishing him good luck. Another kind person making my day.

The free campsite I found was barely noticeable from the road. There was a dirt pathway through a break in the trees that lead back to a clearing. A couple of caravans were there and I parked at the top by the entrance. I was planning to wake up at sunrise and drive to Edith Falls in order to miss all the hustle I experienced today. Now this was camping in the outback. The red dirt follows you everywhere and the stars take over the entire sky. With only the occasional long distance truck passing on the road the evening was mostly filled with the noises of birds, bugs, the wind, or nothing at all.

I stared up at the stars in awe of what my year had been so far. With lockdowns, expiring visas, dwindling savings, and a carry on suitcase I had been able to experience so much, meet so many incredible people, and swim in the most unique places in the country, even probably the world. But as they like to say here; C U in the NT. This was bound to be an interesting state to explore.

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