Elsey National Park
Directions - Mataranka is located about an hours drive south east of Katherine and the Botanic Walk is a short drive from the centre of town. Take Homestead Road from Stuart Highway and follow this until you reach John Hauser Drive. Turn right and continue for just over 4km until you see the little parking area and information board for the Botanic Walk on the left hand side of the road.
The Walk - While spending the bulk of our recent NT trip in Katherine, we set aside a day to explore Mataranka and so naturally I started researching all the trails in the area. Turns out there were a few smaller trails within Elsey National Park and anything named the Botanic Walk would immediately grab my attention. One thing I enjoy when visiting a new city is to see if they have a botanical gardens so having something similar in its natural setting would be great. One could argue that most hikes in national parks are botanic walks but let's not get pedantic here.
Departing the Mataranka Hot Springs and driving the short distance to the other side of Roper Creek, we soon found the entrance to the walk and parked up. It looked to be empty, a big relief after the bun fight at the hot springs so Caris and I made our way to the information board to see what was what. Initially heading into an open space, there were some good wildflower finds early on with a large Wattle and what looked like a Hibbertia but I think is more likely to be a Melhania. Along the short loop, there are plenty of information boards with the various trees and plants that are found in the area. Unlike most walks I've been on where this happens, the boards match up with what is front of you and to my delight, have the local name for them and the various uses they have. Taking a left to start the loop section, we entered an area of large Paperbarks, of which there seems to be a few varieties growing here. Spotting a few skinks in the undergrowth, we were lucky that some decided to stay still for photos. The loop takes you either side of a small creek that flows into Roper Creek and eventually we reached the edge of the shallow water course.
Spotting a large flower in the water, this is a Blue Waterlily (Nymphaea violacea) that I was happy to see was native to area as some waterways close to towns in Northern Australia can be filled with introduced species. A little babbling creek provides a supply of water for some large fig trees that have grown to quite sizeable proportions. This was a really pretty part of the walk as we meandered along the edge, eventually seeing a couple of Swamp Tiger Butterflies engaging in a courtship ritual. They finally settled on a nearby tree and I snapped a quick photo before they flew off again. Crossing over the creek we started our short journey back to the car. Continuing to follow the edge of the creek, some different species were highlighted by the info boards including some Mangrove Ferns and Whip Vines. It was also nice to see some Cabbage Palms that we saw at the hot springs but thankfully they were at plague level around here. One final treat as we neared the car was a termite mound that was overrun with a squadron of Northern Meat Ants. I didn't see any evidence of termites still living there so perhaps they were scouting a new home. Walk over, we hopped in the car and headed off to our final destination around Mataranka.
Final Thoughts – As I said, I'm a sucker for a walk with emphasis on the local plant life and the Botanic Walk is a nice little loop that showcases the flora of Elsey National Park well.
I enjoyed the info boards and how close they were to actual examples as it would be easy just to walk the loop and not really stop to appreciate what was growing here without them there as guides.
Being a short drive from Mataranka and a lot quieter than the hot springs, this was more in my wheelhouse in terms of what I look for in a walk.
Get out there and experience it!
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