Day two of our trip up to Darwin did, as our guides had warned, contain a lot of time sitting in the bus watching the landscape slowly change from dry scrub into green tropical vegetation.
Our first stop came mid morning when we arrived at Newcastle Waters, a huge but now deserted cattle station that used to be an important meeting point for drovers crossing the outback during the early settlement days. In the 1800 and early 1900s, farmers in Australia employed cattle drovers to take animals over vast distances to sell at market, deliver them to new owners or simply find better sources of food and water during droughts. These drovers would move hundreds, sometimes thousands of cows or sheep huge distances and Newcastle Waters, being fairly central, happened to be a convenient place for them to meet on their way through the country. Our guides told us that during the station's heyday there would usually be 140,000 thousands cows there at any point in time. These days however, the station is a ramshackle collection of outhouses, barns and an old bar that the drovers would drink at. Visually it was not much but it was quite cool to
imagine how busy the land would have been 100 years ago. We were also told that the station used to belong to Kidman And Co, the famous family company of station owners (of which Nicole Kidman is a descendant) who used to own 3% of all land in Australia and, although the figure is no longer that high, are still Australia's largest land owner. All quite interesting stuff.
After another long sting in the bus we arrived at Daly Waters Airfield, Australia's first international airport. Despite its importance in the early days of Australian aviation, and its use during the Second World War as an RAF base, these days it is just a dusty airstrip with an abandoned hangar and rotting planes on the grass verges. As we slowly drove the length of the rutted runway our guides told us that, despite its appearance, Daly Waters had actually been used fairly recently. About five years ago a powerful cyclone off the coast of Darwin grounded planes that were due to fly from Asia to Australia but there were already a few in the air that had to be diverted to the nearest airport. Enter dusty old Daly Waters! Several
jets were forced to touch down at the historic airport and international travellers expecting to land at Darwin or Brisbane were greeted by the famous outback dust, emus and spinifex at the edge of their runway and a terminal building that was essentially a shed.
After wandering around the ruined planes and empty hangar we jumped back in the bus and headed for the only other tourist attraction in Daly Waters - the pub! Originally opened to service the nearby airfield the Daly Waters pub has since become a "must see" for many travellers. Although many outback pubs are slightly bonkers this one has taken the festooning of every available surface to another level with underwear, footwear, money, bank cards and any other type of memento attached to walls, ceilings, bar and everything else within sight. While we sat and chilled out with a few beers in the garden our guides prepared us a filling lunch of burgers and salad before we hit the road again.
Our final stop of the day was at Mataranka, a small town just 420 km south of Darwin. I now know I am starting to become accustomed to the vastness of Australia
because 420 km seems positively local. You could even walk it. Probably. Anyway, the main attraction at Mataranka are the hot springs. On the way we were told about how the springs were found by squaddies stationed in the area during World War II. During their leave they discovered the springs and spent their spare time enjoying the hot, mineral rich water bubbling up from below the earth's surface. When their leave was over the men told friends about their discovery and word eventually reached the officers in charge. The men were then sent back to Mataranka with army equipment to build a pool around the springs. They had been told that the pool would be for the use of the whole company so they set happily to work. However, when construction was completed the officers announced that the pool would only be for the superiors meaning the men who discovered the springs in the first place would be barred. As a result they were named Bitter Springs. The original squaddies had the last laugh however when they subsequently found another set of springs a short distance away and wisely kept these a secret. These were called Rainbow Springs.
We went Bitter Springs and had a lovely time swimming in the gorgeous water that actually felt soft to the touch. I scared a few of our group when I excitedly pointed out the large number of spiders happily sitting in leaves dangling over the edge of the pool. How was I to know that people would be afraid of Australian spiders? After a couple of hours soaking in the water we reluctantly dried off and headed for a camp for the night feeling clean and refreshed.
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