Moree, Lightning Ridge, NSW: The best natural artesian hot springs to take a soak in outback NSW

Driving into Moree it's hard not to think of the place as one huge, somewhat leaky, pressure cooker. There's scarcely a hotel or motel here that doesn't advertise a pool or hot tub fed by the mineral-rich natural springs that bubble up from the Great Artesian Basin below.

We are following the Great Artesian Drive, a peregrination around northern NSW that takes in many of the spots where these natural springs splurge to the surface.

We've already checked out Pilliga Bore and the one at lonely Burren Junction, but Moree is the first place we've hit that takes this natural phenomenon and runs with it. Pilliga is a simple square pool just outside the tiny town itself while Burren Junction is essentially a petri dish in which float revolting, mouldy globules of what I can only assume is the effluvium of some alien life form.

We got to Pilliga the previous day after a nine-hour drive from Sydney – the last 30 kilometres on a tooth-rattling corrugated gravel road which saw us pulling in just before sunset.

The covered pool was therefore a much-needed, somewhat sulphurous, 38-degree welcome for tired driving muscles. Beware getting in, though, as the floor and the walls of the pool are slick and slippery. It's a great place to linger and watch the sunset before heading off to the pub for a meal.

Burren Junction is a whole other kettle of slime. It's closed, for a start. As was the bore at Walgett when we visited. It's worth checking this stuff out before you go. In other words, don't be like Keith. 

There are photographs here of Burren Junction when it's in full swing and it looks like heaven on earth, with lots of happy, smiley people flocking to take in the sparkling warm waters. Before it can look like that again, though, someone has their work cut out. It currently looks like the place COVID-19 will hide before the Third Wave creeps out of it like some creature from the black lagoon. Luckily, Walgett Shire Council is on the ball and says it will open again on the first Monday in March.

Moree is pretty much the opposite. Apart from the many motel springs, it also boasts the dazzling Artesian Aquatic Centre, a modern swimming and bathing complex where natural mineral waters fizz up at 41 degrees Celsius. There's even a small private pool for hire, should you so desire. Unlike the more prosaic bores, which are free, this one costs to get in.

This is also where we find that it's worth talking to the locals for tips on more off-the-beaten-track bores. A casual conversation reveals that there's a hush-hush bore about half an hour outside of the city along a gravel road, past a cattle station and with corn fields to the horizon.

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This one is simply a circle of cement-filled oil drums, with the bore head pumping water in the middle. It would hold six people at a pinch, but we have it to ourselves and take some time to soak and relax under the great blue dome of outback sky. 

Our final port of call is Lightning Ridge, famous for mining and opals, but which also sports an open-air thermal pool. Free to enter, this large circular pool heats up to anything from 40 to 50 degrees Celsius and has a basic but clean changing/toilet block.

We walk from our caravan park at 5.30am and slip into the waters alongside three locals for whom, it is clear from their conversation, this is a regular occurrence.

In the dark quiet before dawn, we poach in the pool and watch the starry night give way to a spectacular sunrise. According to the locals, winter is the best time to come as that's when the cold air temperatures create an atmospheric 'fog' above the water.

Reason enough to go back, I say.

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traveller.com.au/nsw

destinationnsw.com.au

visitnsw.com

camptoo.com.au

Keith Austin was a guest of Destination NSW and Camptoo.

See also: Hidden gem: Floating down this magical tropical waterway is paradise

See also: Better than the beach: Australia's ten most spectacular places to take a plunge

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