I’m sure the saying goes, ‘the harder the climb, the better the view’. Or, ‘the hungrier you are, the better the meal’. Well, how about this one – ‘the longer the free camp, the better the bath’. We’d been free camping a lot. Down from Darwin, we were 3 months into our lap and starting to head towards Queensland. We had overspent in Darwin, so were trying to reign in the costs to make up for indulging in markets, coffee shops and our trip to the Tiwi Islands. For us, tightening the budget meant not paying for accommodation until we found something really special. With free camping came short showers to conserve water, and not a lot of luxury. Near Elliot one night, I was scrolling through Instagram when I started to see the photos. Couples relaxing in claw footed baths filled with water from the Great Artesian Basin. And I was fresh out of a ‘shower’ where I’d used less than 2L of water. “We have to go there!” I said to Luke. I was sick of our quick showers and bringing shampoo to public pools. The idea of relaxing for an hour in a bathtub became my goal, and the destination was good enough to break our free-camp streak.

Wikicamps gave me the heads-up that pre-booking at Julia Creek was essential, so I rang up and luckily secured a spot in the park. I’m glad we did – it’s only a small park, so is often full. Amenities were fantastic, the park was always clean, and the staff friendly, but the real selling point was that staying in the park gets you a discount to the baths. There are six sets of baths in total, with multiple session times throughout the day. The four original set-ups are within round water tanks, and the newer two are wooden bath huts. All rooms have two claw footed baths, pebbled bath mats, and hooks for towels and clothing. Privacy-wise, there are individual paths for access to each bath house, with chains to rope off your area once occupied. The large door openings face towards an empty paddock and you are well away from the noise of other campers or roads.

We checked into the caravan park and chose the sunset bath session. I was going to lay in the bath and watch the sky change colour while I indulged in a cheese platter and cold drink. I soon remembered the two small children travelling on this lap with us, but my visions of relaxing remained strong. Rock-paper-scissors made the decision between Luke and I on who had to share the tub with the 3-year-old, and who with the baby. Rock beat scissors and it was bub and I in the tub. Do you know what happens when you put a baby in water? Let’s just say we had to drain the tub and start again. Relaxing wasn’t off to the best start, but we repoured the bubble bath, refilled the water and jumped on in. It wasn’t long before the sun was down and the sky had more stars than the bath had bubbles. The kids splashed and we looked up through the open roof to view the constellations. It was in that moment, underneath shooting stars that I knew it didn’t matter if the kids were bouncing between the two baths like ping-pong balls, splashing around more than the barramundi that we never caught in the NT, and the breastfed baby thought bath time was an open buffet. I knew I was relaxed and I knew I wanted to do it again.

First thing the next day I was at the door of reception booking another bath session. This time we went for the late-afternoon time slot, and chose the water tank style over the wooden hut. I didn’t think we could beat our experience of the night before, but the late afternoon saw two emus walk around the empty paddock in front of the baths, and large birds of prey fly through the sky. I balanced my phone against the wall of the water tank, chucked it into a 10 second self-timer and jumped back into the tub right as the emu walked into frame. This is what I’m going to remember of Julia Creek – the water, the nature and a whole load of pinch-me moments.  

Julia Creek’s not just about the baths, though. The information centre is up there as one of the best we’ve visited (and trust me, we go to them all). The McKinlay Shire has put a lot of money into this site, transforming historic railway houses and the old jail cell into media rooms screening short films on rural Queensland life. You have to watch the one where the children of Julia Creek are interviewed. The humour is priceless, and gives a joyful perspective of growing up in a small town. The information centre is also home to a Julia Creek Dunnart. A small, 70g brown marsupial who runs faster than my 3-year-old when she sees a playground. We booked into the daily Dunnart feeding and got to witness the only time the little Dunnart manages to stand still.

If you do get out of the baths and haven’t soaked enough, the Julia Creek swimming pool is worth a stop-in, with lane swimming, slides and a splash park. On dry land, the Road Safety centre will wear the kids out as they ride their bikes or scooters around the course. In the library, we took the opportunity to join Queensland’s Rural Libraries. The three-month membership allows tourists to borrow from one outback library and return to another. A great initiative for travellers.

Julia Creek was such a memorable stop on our lap of Australia, and I know I’ll be back. Although next time, I’m relaxing in the bath by myself.

Cailin –

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