ROAD TRIP - Mataranka or Bust


Most people would think you’d be crazy to spend 3 weeks driving 7556 km to the top of Australia and back to swim in a hot springs . . .

And they’d be right!

But when you’re a family of road trip lovers like us, the destination is just an excuse to hit the road in search of some adventure.

Our original plan for this road trip was to head up to Lake Argyle in the East Kimberley.

But plans have a habit of changing . . . especially at the last minute!

I’ve been working with Charlie Sharpe (who owns the Lake Argyle Village) on getting back up there and shooting some new material for the 2016 edition of our Discovering Lake Argyle documentary.

Since we shot the original film things have really kicked on around Kununurra & Lake Argyle and there is plenty of new development, especially around the Ord River Scheme.

There is even talk of raising the height of the Ord Dam to increase the capacity of the Lake.

So with the outline of a shooting plan in hand, I packed the kids (Savanna, Sara & Sienna), my Dad (Peter)  and Buddy the Dalmatian into our Landcruiser, hooked up the camper trailer and we hit the road.

It would take us about 8 days to get to Lake Argyle via the Oodnadatta Track and Stuart Highway, I’d have 4 days to get all the shooting done, then we’d spend about 8 days getting back coming down the Tanami Road and exploring around the Red Centre.

At least that was the original plan . . . and plans have habit of changing.

Three days into the trip I managed to get some phone range and found an email from Charlie letting me know that things at Lake Argyle had taken a turn for the worse.

They had bushfires all around them, the air was filled with smoke and everything was winding down for the season rapidly - sooner than they normally do.

This meant that I wouldn’t be able to shoot a lot of the material I was planning to!

So rather than only get half the job done, I decided to postpone the Lake Argyle visit (an excuse for another trip 🙂 and we grabbed the road atlas and started working on plan B.

We were in Coober Pedy at this stage and had about 17 days before we needed to be back home.

This was our first road trip with our new dog, Buddy, so we now had to factor him into our plans.

Our first road trip with a dog creates a new set of challenges.
Our first road trip with a dog creates a new set of challenges.

This is when the restriction of travelling with a dog really hit home.

We talked about the idea of spending a couple of weeks around the Red Centre and taking my dad out to see Uluru (which he hasn’t seen yet) - but virtually everywhere we wanted to go is in a National Park and ‘NO DOGS ALLOWED!!'

You can take dogs to the Yulara campground but not out to Uluru or Kata Tjuta - and we couldn’t leave Buddy in the campground by himself.

We looked at heading up to Dalhousie Springs & Mt Dare then taking the Old Ghan Railway track into Alice Springs but this would involve entering Witjira National Park, and of course, no dogs allowed out there either.

Nor are they allowed at any of the gorges along the Western Macdonnell Ranges (except Glen Helen Resort) or Kings Canyon.

So, with the 4WD atlas open we looked further north along the Stuart Highway until our eyes landed on Mataranka and then the decision was made.

It’s a long way to go for a swim in a hot spring but having been there many times before, we knew it was worth it.

Plus, all of the road houses on the way up and the Mataranka Homestead are dog friendly so we’d have no issues with places to stay.

We reworked the itinerary and locked in 4 nights at Mataranka which would give us plenty of time for swimming, relaxing, checking out the local area and enjoying some cold drinks at Maluka’s Bar at the Mataranka Homestead.

It did occur to me at this point that we were probably a bit crazy driving several thousand kilometres from home to basically go for a swim but, after all, it’s all about the journey!

15 thoughts on “ROAD TRIP - Mataranka or Bust

  1. Avatar
    Steven Arends says:

    Military vehicles would have been heading from their base in Darwin to the Cultana training area in SA for an exercise at that time

  2. Avatar
    Colin Dunscombe says:

    Thanks so much for a very interesting read. I'm on my way to Australia in 3 weeks and I'm shipping my newly converted 2013 VW Transporter in which I plan to do my own grand tour in 12 months starting in mid January from my son's house in Melbourne. I was hoping to write my own blog during the trip and wondered if you might recommend a suitable blogging site for this purpose. I know I could use google, which I have but would far rather use one that is recommended for this kind of purpose.
    Thanks in advance.


  3. Avatar
    Sonya Newman says:

    Hi Steve, What a great read - you write so matter of factly and informatively. Love it. I'm about to head off on my own big lap with my 2 kids 11 & 12 for 6 months, our Labrador and cat as well. Just the 3 humans and 2 furkids - should be very interesting. Loved the photos of all the different camp spots and experiences you have had on this short trip. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to hearing more. Keep up the excellent road tripping. Cheers, Sonya

  4. Avatar
    John Parkes says:

    Well written, humorous and just enough information, but not too detailed as to make it boring. We are planning a trip next year to Darwin (from Melbourne) and then accross the top to Cairns and back home. I think after reading your trip notes, Mataranka will certainly be one of our overnight (or two) stops on the way North.

  5. Avatar
    Graham Slessar says:

    What a fantastic read for those of us who like to get off the beaten track but aren't 'hard core' off-roaders. It really hits the spot. It has given my wife and I some great ideas for our next trip from the South West of WA through the centre to Far North Queensland.

  6. Avatar
    Ria Gaal says:

    What a great read. Love the way you write, lots of homour, it makes you feel like travelling along with you guys. Your girls have grown heaps since the Lap. I have watched the video twice. Thanks for a interesting web site. Next year hope to do a road trip to the never never or somewhere, where ever our old Henry (1989 Ford Maverick) Nissan in disguise takes us. Love our old car, you can still fix it and work on it, hate computerised cars. Looking forwards to your next roadtrip.

  7. Avatar
    Greg and Dee says:

    We spent 6 years travelling without dogs and we picked up two Labradoodle pups in February....they are now 10 months old and have known nothing but travelling. It is a little tougher travelling with dogs, but so worth it! As far as National Parks are concerned, you can take dogs through the parks as long as the road is a gazetted road. And quite often the gazetted area extends 100 metres from the road. You need to get in touch with the local council to find out which roads through a NP are gazetted. Obviously you still can't camp in them. This made it easier for us to travel through NPs in Cape York.
    We love your DVD by the way!

  8. Avatar
    Jodie says:

    What a great read! We too are a family with two boys (14&9) who love our road trips to a new part of this amazing country every year. We also have a dog who we take with us. It is very restricting, although as you have mentioned, there are more and more dog friendly parks coming on board. We have a golden retriever (so not a small dog) who loves to be with us and the feeling is mutual, he is part of our family. He really is no trouble to take and we are very responsible dog owners, but I'd be lying if I didn't say it is restricting travelling with a pet, hence why we prefer to free camp and head out west to the outback. You really do have to plan ahead with a dog though, especially if you are wanting to stay in parks. It is also hard to know what to do with them if you all want to do a tour/experience, etc. We are wanting to do the Simpson Desert but it will have to wait as dogs aren't allowed in National Parks, Reserves or Conservation Parks. I can understand why and appreciate that. It would be fantastic though, as I'm sure most dog owners would do the right thing (keep them on a lead, pick up after them, etc) as they wouldn't want to lose the privledge.
    Sounds like you all had a great time and I'm sure it has whet the appetite for more road trip adventures...I know it always does for us!

  9. Avatar
    Ed Kleingeerts says:

    Hi Steve and family
    you brought back many memories and I enjoyed your story of the Mataranka trip, what do you feed the girls on they have grown so much since the big lap, and now a dog. We poked around some of these old railway stops along the Ghan I found a cross section of the old track it is only 3 cm wide some one must have oxy cut it of the track I kept it plus a railway spike which punctured one of my tyres. The man in Maree who fixed the tyre told me I wasn't the first one and most likely not the last one. Well Steve I enjoyed the big lap I watched a couple of times now, the only trouble is it giving me itchy feet.
    Happy and safe travelling mate in this beautiful land, we must keep it that way
    Cheers Ed

  10. Avatar
    vera says:

    just read your latest trip sounds great .
    i did miss one person where was your wife
    looks like you did a lot of travelling and seen a lot in the 3 weeks away cant wait for your next adventure

  11. Avatar
    Ash says:

    Wow amazing, the girls have grown so much but in saying that we only saw the big lap 2-3 months ago! Have a great trip 🙂

  12. David Price
    David Price says:

    Well done Steve... great Report. We could certainly relate to much of your trip, having covered a lot of that territory on our Big Lap in 2013. A lot more of that territory was covered as well on our most recent trip... a 7 week trip from Rockhampton to Rockhampton, through western Queensland, Northern Territory, South Australia, Western NSW and back up to Queensland. It's a great country... we are truly blessed!

  13. Avatar
    Mark Simpson says:

    An interesting read, I've been to a few of these places when I was a teenager, would love to revisit them, especially Mataranka (last time I was there they were burning the palms to get the bats to move on, made for a very surreal experience during a night-time trip to the springs).
    It's good to see how traveling with dogs can affect your itinerary, I have two large Malamutes and have often thought the only way I could do a long trip is to leave them in the hands of a minding service, I'm pleased to find there are some good places you can get to with the furkids.

    • Avatar
      Jason says:

      I'd give Mataranka springs a miss and just head straight to Bitter Springs. Its under an hour from my place and so much better than the smelly spider infested Mataranks springs. Bring a pool noodle, goggles & underwater camera.!

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