Published in 4×4 Australia Magazine 1988. Republished here 2002. Photos revamped 2011
Has it ever crossed your mind to hook up that camper trailer or caravan to the rear of your four wheel drive, to attach the dinghy to the roof rack and to set off on a journey of a lifetime around Australia? Has it ever crossed your mind that there is life out the beyond the city limits? That you may drive for days and camp by a lonely stream with only pure nature around you to arouse your spirits? Have you ever felt that you have had enough of the rushed merry-go-round of corporate life or answering to the boss every morning?
Of course you have. That is why you bought that four wheel drive. That machine that will take you away from the crazy rush to nowhere that is part of city life today.
Time is always available. But to utilise it you must plan to suit. Thousands of Australians have made that move to see their country, but millions haven’t. Are you going to become part of Australia?
We made that move.
One morning we decided that living under the pressure of the bank manager, the building society, the local council demands, the water board, the electricity board, the licensing board and the building board was just not worth all the stress. Within three months we had liquidated our tour business, sold our house and acreage, sold our furniture and the rest of our accumulated junk, hooked the 25ft Franklin van on behind the F100 4×4 and set off on our journey of peace and quiet.
Highway One was still unsealed in places in those days but that did not deter us as we threw all convention out of the window and did as we pleased, diverting into relatively unknown areas, camping along hidden tracks and taking that caravan into many out-of-the-way places. We would stop whenever we wanted to, be it at a creek crossing, an old station track, near a deserted beach or an isolated town in the Australian Outback. We fished, took thousands of photographs, and studied the rocks, the birds, the reptiles, the marsupials and the stars. We painted and fossicked and swam in the crystal clear mountain streams. It was an idyllic time and part of our lives that we will always cherish. One day turned onto another and we lost track of time as days became weeks and weeks became months.
One of the places we spent some time at was at the Douglas River catchment area in the Top End of the Northern Territory. In those days this area was only known to some locals. Since the beginning of the 1980’s however, it has been opened up to visitors and now it is able to cater for travelers who may want to stay for longer periods. While most of the Douglas catchment area has two wheel drive and caravan access, in some places you do need a four wheel drive vehicle to gain access. We recently revisited this charming area.
The Douglas River has its headwaters in the hilly goldfields of Pine Creek and Hayes Creek. It is spring fed and runs permanently throughout the year. It flows through Butterfly Gorge, Douglas Hot Springs, the Corn Patch Riverside Holiday Park, the Douglas/Daly Agricultural Experimental Farm, over Crystal Falls and into the mighty Daly River.
Access to this area lies 160km north of Katherine on the Stuart Highway. From there it is 31km to the turnoff to Douglas Hot Springs of which 20km is a well formed and maintained gravel road. This main access road is known as the Oolloo Road and it runs down as far as the Oolloo Crossing on the Daly River. From the Oolloo Road turn-off to the hot springs it 8km and a further 17km to Butterfly Gorge.
Butterfly Gorge Nature Park: The track is graded and maintained during the dry season but during the wet season it is impassable. Although it is accessible by a conventional car it is advisable to access this park by 4×4. Large Maleleuca paper bark trees and Leichhardt Pines conceal the entrance of this small gorge, so named after the swarms of butterflies which frequent it from time to time. The gorge had colourful scenery and safe swimming but a 300 metre walk is necessary to get a good view of the gorge. There are no facilities. The park is managed by the Conservation Commission of the N.T.
Douglas Hot Springs Nature Park: Artesian waters bubble continuously from the depths of Mother Earth at the hot springs. And believe me, they are hot!! The constant temperature of the springs is 40 degrees Centigrade which may be a bit hot for some. There are however cooler areas in the river. The springs are reputed to have therapeutic values for tired old bones and joints. The park has bush toilets, water on tap, picnic facilities, walking tracks, designated camping areas and fishing is allowed. The hot springs are popular on weekends and locals from surrounding towns frequent them. During the week it is normally quiet and a good place to relax and ponder life.
The Corn Patch Holiday Park provides a store, Restaurant, Bar, Caravan and camping sites. There are more hot springs along the banks of the river near this park and fishing is allowed.
Down the Oolloo Road, Lukies farm offers Bush style camping with facilities, on the banks of the Daly River, as well as home cooked meals and entertainment.
At the Oolloo Crossing on the Daly River there is bush camping with no facilities and canoeing and fishing.
In recent times there has been a change of ownership at these two retail outlets and access conditions may have changed.
The Douglas area is a must on your way around this big country.