If you’re making your way up the Stuart Highway from Alice Springs to Darwin, then do yourself a favour and check out the desert oasis Bitter Springs. Why? Natural hot springs, ferns and palms on either side of you and baby turtles. Enough said.


  • Drifting downstream with the current of natural hot springs
  • The possibility of seeing a few baby turtles swimming around

Hot Springs in Central Australia?

Every minute that you spend reading this is a minute that you’re not spending in, or on your way to, Bitter Springs, so I’m going to get straight to the point.

Central Australia is mostly synonymous with termite mounds, long straight roads and red dust. But palm trees, ferns and a tropical, natural hot springs? Not so much. However, about 500km south of Darwin lies Bitter Springs.


A Tropical Desert Oasis // Bitter Springs (NT) Pat Corden Bitter Springs Northern Territory NT drone shot photography palm grove


Bitter Springs is only a few kilometres out of Mataranka, in Elsey National Park. You hop in at one end and a gentle current carries you downstream. After winding through ferns and palms for about 100m, you jump out and follow a path back to the start where you can do it all again.

Most people end up at Mataranka Thermal Pools. However, it isn’t nearly as natural, with concrete walls around parts of the springs. It’s also where the tourist buses stop off, so you’ll be inundated with tourists who’ve been there all day and look more like a prune than a human.

Treat Yourself And Head To Bitter Springs Instead

The done thing seems to be to bring a pool noodle so that you can just lie back and float downstream. However, we apparently didn’t get the memo about flotation devices and so we were forced to kick our little legs and arms like plebs to stay afloat.


A Tropical Desert Oasis // Bitter Springs (NT) Pat Corden Bitter Springs Northern Territory NT underwater


We also got some inside goss from the locals about a few little baby turtles who’ve been known to swim about the springs. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any while we were there, but if you keep your eyes peeled you may just be lucky enough to see one.

Now, I understand that Mataranka is a bit far for a weekend getaway for most people, but NT has so much to offer. If you need a bit more convincing to get you up there for your next holiday, check out the MacDonnell Ranges or Kakadu National Park and add them to your list.

Essential Gear

  • Thongs for walking back up after your float down the springs
  • Pool noodles
  • Goggles or snorkel to look out for turtles
  • Togs/swimmers/bathers whatever you call them

How To Get There

Finding Bitter Springs is as easy as punch. Mataranka is approximately 500km south of Darwin down the Stuart Highway. Once you hit Mataranka, you just have to jump off the highway onto Martin Road. A few kilometres down Martin Road and you’re smack bang where you want to be, Bitter Springs.

Or you could just use this Google Maps link


  • Ahhh swimming?

Distance Covered

100m of glorious floating bliss