Beware UFOs (Unstoppable Freaked-out Oxen)

Trip Start Nov 08, 2003
Trip End Oct 22, 2004

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Flag of Australia  ,
Tuesday, August 3, 2004


We spent a morning in Alice Springs and that's as long as it needed.

It's a funny old place.

After a quick (live)stock-take we parked outside Woolies for a brand new supply of essentials: fresh meat, cold beer, dark chocolate and white wine. We couldn't help but notice the high security guard count inside the mall and outside in the car park. They were there for the Aborigines I'm afraid to report. Each group of locals would be shadowed by a guard that would follow them into shops and nigh on frisk them as they left and outside clusters of jobless barefoot locals would take the term 'hanging around' to a whole new level. Alice Springs had always seemed like a magical place from where we'd been on the opposite side of the globe but the real Alice Springs had a disheveled feel to it backed up with local papers reporting car thefts involving Aboriginal boys who were high from petrol and paint sniffing. Gas stations and hardware shops were making a fortune.

Unfunny jokes aside, when they weren't full of unleaded you could only feel pity as school and work were foreign words to them which meant they had no start in life. This was not how we'd imagined Aborigines to be having been brainwashed to a certain degree by Australia's love of their first lady, Cathy Freeman and from what we'd seen and read already, most white Aussies would rather they were swept under a desert carpet and forgotten about.

Anyway enough politics, by the afternoon we were heading north along the Stuart Highway with over 500km to go before our overnight stop in Tennant Creek. We stopped a couple of hundred kilometres outside of town at the Ti-Tree Roadhouse to top up the tank, something we'd need to do on a regular basis in this part of Oz, and another 100km further up the road we were passing through Barrow Creek, scene of the backpacker murder so not even a blue flashing light was going to make us stop there.

It was a few kilometres north of town that the English backpacker jinx struck again . . .

. . . we hadn't seen animal, vegetable, mineral or human for hours yet around an innocuous looking bend a cow decided to hurtle across the road at exactly the same instance we were hurtling at 70mph on a stretch of road in the middle of nowhere.

It saw us coming out the corner of its eye and hesitated before continuing on. I slammed on the breaks and swerved over to the other side of the road risking a 50-foot road train coming the other way. Our paths were going to meet whatever happened as the ton of cattle bounced into the side of the van. The scene involving Candy, Martin and two lorries in 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' most resembled our 5 seconds of horror and as we pulled over and removed our embedded fingers from the dashboard we fully expected to see a years worth of free BBQ lying motionless in the road. Instead it had vanished into the bush without even leaving his details to nurse a very sore tummy.

We inspected the damage and immediately concluded it would cost us an arm and a leg and part of our torso as well. Sliding door, passenger door, front wing and mirror were all crumpled and hanging off the lock the cow had left a calling card in the shape of a couple of square inches of grey fur. At least we had DNA evidence to find the culprit in this fourteen million square miles of outback.

Once we'd assessed the situation we felt we'd been very lucky to say the least. The van was still driveable, there was no broken glass and most importantly if we'd hit the cow straight on we wouldn't be here now as it would have landed on our laps.

However unlucky we'd been we couldn't dwell on it as we still had a day's sightseeing to be done as well as 30 more days on the road. The show must go on! But firstly we'd have to stop at the first phone box which was 100km up the road to inform Kea Campers that we were in need of a change of vehicle once we were in Darwin. The phone box just so happened to be in the one-horse town of Wycliffe Well, the UFO-sightings centre of Australia and the gas station we pulled into was a shrine to everything green and pointy-eared. It all became clear, it was obviously a Martian who had spooked the cattle into a livestock world record for the ten-metre sprint. Doo-doo-doo-doo Doo-doo-doo-doo.

Once we'd arranged an exchange in Darwin we drove a further 20-minutes up the road at a steady 50mph as a paranoia for galloping cattle and probing aliens had gripped us. Next on our sightseeing list was the Devil's Marbles, a collection of huge, spherical, red granite boulders scattered close to the roadside with some perched precariously on top of each other. To give you the background which I know you're all dying to hear, 1,700 million years ago molten lava was compressed under ground to create massive domes and subsequent erosion of the overlying rock exposed the marbles. A good geological argument but with UFOs turning up just down the road I'm erring towards a little bit of extraterrestrial fun and games from the same crew who assembled Stone Henge. You may laugh (please?)

We finally arrived in Tennant Creek, the red centre's second largest town, just before dusk and booked into the Outback Caravan Park for a well earned barbie and a nice fat juicy steak, that'll teach them.


We woke to another cloudy but warm morning with weather reports promising clear skies as we travelled north. Once more we topped up our bruised and battered campervan with diesel surrounded by locals who were topping up as well, albeit without cars. Furtive locals did their daily shopping barefooted dressed in filthy clothes while their snotty-faced children busied themselves by doing nothing and the main diet of these people seemed to be bottles of Coke which they swigged from non-stop. At least I think it was Coke.

T-shirt and shorts were the order of the day for the first time in a while as we drove along endless stretches of highway lined with six-foot high termite mounds resembling mini-cathedrals. We stopped in the muggy town of Elliott for yet more fuel and then in a scorching Daly Waters for a pot noodle lunch of curry. It's never too hot for a curry.

Every 200km we'd stop for a driver change and a stretch of our legs and each time the temperature had risen by five degrees or so. The scenery was still very bushy with the red soiled verges now turning gravelly and every now and again our blood would turn cold as a dreaded sign would appear warning drivers of 'Unfenced Road - Beware Wandering Stock".

Wandering? Charging more like.

Well after 670km of thankfully trouble-free motoring we arrived in Katherine and eventually found the dubiously named Low Level Caravan Park. That was the only dubious thing about it as we parked up and took a tour around their Top Level amenities including a swimming pool, bistro and bar.

On our way back to the van we noticed a familiar van opposite with an equally familiar face sitting outside. It was a face we'd seen six weeks earlier in Victoria some 2,500km away on the opposite side of the continent! They were Stijn and Inge from Belgium and were travelling around New Zealand and Australia for six months, and after a couple of beers with them it turned out they had been following pretty much the same route as we'd been taking for the past month and a half, so if their names come up in any newspapers back home as psycho campervanning stalkers please let us know. Still, they have got an excellent website at that puts TravelPod to shame, as long as you're fluent in Flemish.


We left Katherine early for the relatively short 300km trip north to swap vans and see what Darwin had to offer. By the time we arrived the temperature had reached the mid-nineties and in no time we had found Kea Campers, and after a quick exchange we were soon heading into the city in a sparkly new mobile home.

Darwin had a rough time of it last century suffering attacks by the Japs in WWII and in 1074 a cyclone called Tracy inconsiderately blew in on Christmas Eve flattening 95% of the city with both of these devastations leading to a double rebuilding of the city. It's now home to a blend of more than 50 ethnic groups including Aborigines, Asians and Europeans (mostly Greeks).

We went on a whistle-stop tour of the city's shopping district, Stokes Hill Wharf for a spot of lunch and Bicentennial Park where a set of stairs led down to Lameroo Beach where Darwin's population of drug addicts lurked in shadows sunning themselves, if that's possible?

Once we'd seen enough we hit the road for Howards Springs Caravan Park for an afternoon grilling under the sun and an evening grilling on the barbie reflecting on an eventful 900 miles or so and making plans for our next few days in the Kakadu National Park . . .

Mork & Mindy
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