Thursday, September 24, 2009

Southbound on the Stuart

After Mataranka, we head south again and the long distances start again. On the first day we clock up 700km, south through Tenant Creek and down the Stuart Highway, stopping at the Devils Marbles (interesting, though not amazing, before stopping for the night at Wycliffe Well. A roadhouse in basically the middle of nowhere wouldn't normally rate a mention but this is one of those weird, quirky places that you don't expect to find in Australia. It's supposedly the UFO capital of Australia (which I suspect might be pumped up a bit by the owners of the roadhouse and caravan park in order to drum up business) but it's the other idiosyncrasies about the place that get you- the large selection of imported beers, the Elvis statues, and the monkey shrine(!?).

As we head south, the country gradually gets more arid, and around the tropic of Capricorn the tropical North gives way to the central desert.The next day we knock off the remaining 350-odd km to Alice springs easily enough, stopping on the way at the impressive big man statues at Aileron.

Alice itself, for all it's reputation is a little underwhelming- it comes across as a fairly prosperous, modern town, but not one particularly overflowing with character, although the backdrop of the McDonnell ranges is impressive.

However there's some interesting stuff to check out, including the road transport haul of fame (basically a shrine to the mighty road train) and we're lucky enough to catch a dance event held by the local Aboriginal community and attended by people from communities up to 11 hours drive away, which is fantastic.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

So What exactly does a Kaka Du?

Left Darwin for 3 days in Kakadu national park, stopping off at the Adelaide River for the obligatory jumping croc cruise (fun, if a frivolous waste of pork chops). Kakadu is spectacular, and even toward the end of the dry season there's a load of wildlife- all kinds of waterbirds (such as the magpie goose in the pic below), dingoes (heard howling in the night, cool if a little creepy)and of course crocs. The Aboriginal rock art is the best I've seen so far and the views out over the floodplains and escarpments are unforgettable. It's bloody hot though, 37 to 39 degrees the whole time, and the mosquitos are killer!
Headed down the Stuart Highway to Mataranka afterward en route south- would have been a nice spot except for the fact that a huge colony of flying foxes had moved into the palm trees near the hot pools, and the bastards stink to high heaven. Loads of wildlife, both feral and native again- feral pigs, wallabies, cane toads as well as the foxes.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Darwin- beachside markets and bombers

After 2 months in one of the most sparsely populated regions on the planet, it's pretty weird being back in a city. Plenty would argue that Darwin barely qualifies- the NT's capital (and home to more than half of it's population) is actually barely half the size of Wollongong, (or about the size of Tauranga or Dunedin for the Kiwis) and wandering around the CBD on a Saturday afternoon it feels more a provincial backwater than a state capital. The museum is interesting- some great displays of Aboriginal art and artifacts, and some fascinating stuff on Darwin's short history. If Territorians have an attitude that they have had more crap to deal with than other Australians it's not without foundation, having had to almost totally rebuild the city twice within the space of 50 years, first after the Japanese flattened it during WWII, then again after cyclone Tracy did an even more thorough demolition job in 1974. It still seems a bit of a haphazardly laid out place though- with the port and CBD at one end, a big airport complex in the middle and suburbs on the opposite sides, with the occasional miserable looking aboriginal settlement here and there.
We head to Mindal markets in the evening, which as well as a nice sunset, provide a whole swag of nice ethnic food nibbles, including East Timorese pork and bean stew and grilled camel (which for the record is a bit chewy, and tastes something like venison).

Oh and the aviation museum is pretty cool too- amongst other military and civilian planes and choppers they've got an entire B-52 Stratofortress bomber there (formerly based in Darwin, and kindly donated by the US military when it was retired from service), which takes up almost the entire width of the museum! Just try not to think of the number of unfortunate Viets and Cambodians that it likely rained high explosives onto at some point....

Katherine and Litchfield National Park

After Kunanurra we hit the the road again, and crossed the border into the Territory after 2 and a half months in WA. It was a lengthy 500km+ haul to Katherine, but with the 130km/h NT speed limits we made pretty good time and were in Katherine by early afternoon. The drive itself was more interesting than expected, with some fantastic scenery through the Victoria River region.

In Katherine we took the obligatory cruise through the gorge, then headed up to Edith Falls and Litchfield National Park en route to Darwin.

The surroundings in the Top End are noticeably more tropical and so is the humidity (although the temperatures are still in the mid-low 30s) so the fact that pretty much every spot we visited had a swimming hole was pretty welcome!

The other thing thats immediately noticeable about the Top End is the number of World War II heritage sites. For the rest of Australia and NZ I guess the war was something that happened a long way away- it only really affected us directly in that so many of our grandfathers got turned into meat patties there. In the NT the war affected Australia directly- Darwin was bombed more than 40 times (which pretty much meant it had to be completely rebuilt, considering it was only a small backwater of a few thousand people then) and almost the entire state acted as a forward base for the allied war effort against Japan. It's fitting then that Adelaide River is the site of Australia's only war cemetary, and those Australians who lost their lives in the NT defending AUstralia are buried there.

Wyndham and Kunanurra - TP for my Bungle Bungle

After 1000-odd kms of dust and corrugations a 50km highway cruise up to Whyndham through some beautiful country was quite a treat, not that the destination was that much to rave about.

Wyndham really feels like the end of the line- WA's most northerly port is a dusty, uninviting place, although the 360 degree view from the five rivers lookout above town is pretty awesome, although impossible to capture in pictures.

We head on to Kununurra, which provides another incongruous experience- in one of the most remote areas of Australia, there's this oasis of lush, irrigated farmland created by the huge Ord River irrigation project. The caravan parks even have sprinklers constantly watering the lawns- something I can't remember the last time I'd seen anywhere in the country! In the evening we take a cruise on the Ord river, which provides a few more nice photo opportunities.
We decided a while back that the road into the Bungle Bungles was both too far out of the way and too rugged for the Subaru to tackle (especially after the kicking it got on the Gibb River Road), so take the soft option of an early-morning fly-over. The views of the Bungles, Lake Argyle and the Argyle diamond mind are incredible- I'm jealous of the people who we drop off at the Bungle Bungles to spend a day hiking in the area and experiencing it close up.