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Travel guide Central Australia & Alice Springs

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Top End Surprises: Katherine, Tennant Creek and Mataranka
  • Top End Surprises Mataranka Thermal Pools
  • Canoeing on Katherine Gorge - Nitmiluk National Park
  • Elsey Falls
  • Katherine Gorge
  • Display in Tennant Creek Visitor Centre

Too often, discussions about the Northern Territory centre around Uluru (Ayers Rock), Kata-Tjuta (the Olgas) and Kakadu National Park. The reason for this is clear to anyone who has ever laid eyes on these places – they’re truly amazing. But sometimes, it’s the lesser known places that make a holiday really special - the little surprises you see along the way. Like the luxurious hot springs of Mataranka. To the south of Katherine, with a population around 250, this little town boasts a truly magical spot to rejuvenate and ponder why nature decided to put a hot tub in the middle of nowhere. The lagoon is surrounded by palm trees, and the sandy bottom is lovely to run your feet through as you luxuriate in the warm water.

Of course, you wouldn’t fly across the world for this experience, but as part of a larger trip in the Top End – it’s priceless. And you can be content in the knowledge that you’ve tried something special that many people aren’t even aware exists.

One hundred kilometres to the south of Tennant Creek is another wonder that many Aussies will never have a chance to see – the Devil’s Marbles. These large spherical balls of red rock lay scattered across Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve, and the local Aboriginal people, the Warumungu, believe them to be the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. These are well worth seeing, as there is nothing like them anywhere else in Australia (or possibly the world). While you are there, you can learn a bit about the local Aboriginal culture and traditions on a fascinating self-guided tour of the park.

While Tennant Creek and Mataranka are lovely short stops on the way to a bigger destination; Katherine Gorge is a break you’ll want to enjoy for longer. Set in a landscape where the desert meets the tropics, adventure-seekers will find their utopia. Rapids, waterfalls, river valleys and deep gorges, this is an ideal place to try white water rafting, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. 

For the less adventurous – there are the peaceful walks in the wilderness, the stunning vistas and wild animals, peaceful cruises and scenic flights. 

The ancient Aboriginal traditions offer colour to the area, with ancient rock art to discover and the opportunities to view or purchase contemporary Aboriginal art.  

Four things you must do in Katherine!

1. As stunning as the region looks on the ground, it is absolutely breathtaking from the air. Ideally, a helicopter flight is your best bet to really view the scenery from above. If this is a bit pricey, scenic fixed-wing flights are your next best option and will be truly memorable.
2. Explore the waterways – whether with a friend in kayaks, or with a group on a cruise. Be sure to get advice if you are venturing out in a small group – there are areas of the river system that are dangerous, and you’ll need to know what to avoid.
3. Take a trek through the bush – if you are really fit, try a multi-day hike. Hikers will be treated to stunning vistas, waterfalls and lagoons. Be sure to leave your details with a park ranger before setting out.
4. Join in the festivities. Katherine’s locals love a good festival, and there are many different celebrations throughout the year. From the Country Music Muster to the Merrepen Arts Festival, you’ll want to return each year for these fun-filled events. Check out the Northern Territory’s official website for their Katherine event listing.

When to go
The top end of the Northern Territory is at its hottest and wettest during the summer months, with risks of monsoons. In contrast, the central part of the Northern Territory receives the most rain during the winter months (although is extremely hot during the summer). So your best bet for visiting Katherine, Tennant Creek and Mataranka is during the spring and autumn, where you’ll have the best chance of warm (but not too warm) sunshine and very little rain.

How to get there
A fun way to see the Northern Territory is to catch the Ghan train, which travels from Adelaide to Darwin several times per week. The train arrives in Katherine every Sunday and Wednesday (northbound) and every Wednesday and Saturday (southbound). In Katherine, you can rent a car to travel south to Mataranka and Tennant Creek.

Alternatively, there are major flights to Darwin and Alice Springs, and you can catch a bus or rent a car to continue your journey. Katherine is closest to Darwin (314km south on the Stuart Highway) and Tennant Creek is closest to Alice Springs (500km north on the Stuart Highway). The distance between Tennant Creek and Katherine is 600km, with Mataranka only 105km south of Katherine.

Relax in an award-winning resort after a day of enjoying the sites in Katherine ... spend a night in a quaint little cabin in Mataranka, and enjoy a dip in the pool following an afternoon of exploring Devil’s Marbles at Tennant Creek

These accommodation options and more are available at Take A Break

Ideal length of visit
If you plan to visit all three places in one trip, a week is ideal to ensure you have plenty of time to travel between each destination and then relax or explore. Mataranka and Tennant Creek are short stops (no more than a day each), and then at least 3-5 days for Katherine.

Further Information
The Northern Territory’s official tourism website has excellent information about things to see and do up North.

Click here for information about Katherine and Mataranka.

Click here for information about Tennant Creek.

About the Author

Kylie-Jane Degeling is a freelance writer who has lived in Adelaide,Yulara (Uluru), Alice Springs and Canberra, as well as five different countries throughout the world. After backpacking around Australia, she worked as a tour guide in Central Australia, before training for her Commercial Pilot License and working as a flight instructor, scenic flight and charter pilot. She later worked as a travelling IT trainer for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, which involved spending time in each of their 16 District Offices around the country on a frequent rotating basis. 

Having experienced Australia as a backpacker, tour guide, pilot and business traveler, Kylie now enjoys family holidays with her husband Alex and children Jezzy and Jordan. She says, “I have been lucky to see Australia from a variety of perspectives, and as a travel writer can use this experience to inspire others to find holidays they would enjoy.”

Kylie currently works as a travel writer in addition to being a government writer and columnist for two parenting magazines.

About the author
Find out more about Kylie at http://bit.ly/h_experts

More accomodation in Top End & Darwin
Darwin | Tennant Creek | Katherine | Kakadu & Mary River | Arnhem Land | Humpty Doo | Humpty Doo | Darwin, Northern Suburbs | Middle Point | Litchfield Region | Mataranka | The Gulf Region | Kings Canyon | Pine Creek | Adelaide River | Pirlangimpi | Palmerston | Batchelor | Bullo River | Dundee Beach | Fannie Bay | Bayview | Barunga | Bathurst Island | Borroloola | Cape Crawford | Cobourg Peninsula | Cooinda | Daly River | Daly Waters | Howard Springs | Jabiru | King Ash Bay | Larrimah | Maningrida | Melville Island | Gove | Oenpelli | Seven Spirit Bay | Threeways | Virginia | Coconut Grove | Nightcliff | Wagait Beach | Larrakeyah | Anula | Brinkin | Cullen Bay | Leanyer | Ludmilla | Northlakes | Parap | The Gardens | Woolner | McMinns Lagoon |

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  It is believed that, Tennant Creek town was created when a beer wagon broke down at the site. Gold and copper discoveries in the area helped the town to grow and develop as the centre for the Barkly Tablelands that it is today. The traditional Aboriginal owners of the area are the Warumungu people. It is also the main centre for tours to the Devil's Marbles, about 100 km to the south in a valley straddling the Stuart Highway.
Posted on Sep 23 2010 at 19:24

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