Trip Start Aug 06, 2011
Trip End Oct 06, 2013

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Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Sunday, May 6, 2012

When people were telling us about the Katherine Gorge, they often times seemed to go weak in the knees talking about the beauty of the region so we had to sign up for a boat trip that would take us through 3 of the 13 gorges. DH claimed that she was experiencing deep spiritual movements but I think it was just the boat motor that needed a tune-up. The gorges were very picturesque and we did get to swim in a croc-free pool underneath a waterfall which is a pretty good way, by any measure, to spend a day!

As we powered our way through a good number of 'controlled burns' that in other countries are referred to as 'raging fires with no one around' (the signs say "these burns decrease risk of bushfires that could cause greater damage later in the season" and that has to make sense- it's a government program), we ended up at one of the more famous symbols of the Australian Outback.The ‘Devils Marbles’ or ‘Karlu Karlu’ with its gigantic, rounded granite boulders, some spectacularly poised, is a remarkable landscape. Although there's a long, somewhat dry explanation of how these boulders came to be, just think of the earth burping up a number of granite blocks through the covering limestone with the hard edges getting weathered off over time. Or you could believe the Aboriginal dreamtime story that the marbles are hair clusters from 'Arrange', the Devil Man. Either way, it makes for a special sighting in the middle of a very flat outback. 
On the road south the towns are effectively replaced by Roadhouses and Cattle Stations. I think that 'Roadhouse' in Australian means 'we're the only gas station for miles so we can charge whatever we want'. And we certainly noticed that the further south we went, the higher the price went (we started at roughly $1.50/l in Darwin and peaked at $2.42/l). The other thing we noticed is that they were selling something called opal gas as a low aromatic Regular Unleaded which is intended to combat a serious gasoline sniffing problem they have in this area. Apparently you can't get high on opal gas although, according to the locals, it's also bad for your engine (it was the 'cheapest' so our rental van was just going to have to learn to live with it). I would have thought that the price alone would have had the druggies looking for a cheaper alternative....like designer cocaine.

In addition to gasoline banditry, the other thing these beat-up roadside shacks had in common was their interior decorator who was obviously from the famed school of Outback Chic meets Trash Collector/Hoarder. Initially, it was probably a really cute idea to nail just about anything a traveler might donate to the walls, including paper money and coins, signed T-shirts and hats, photo ID's, flip flops, etc- but since cleaning and dusting is not part of Outback Chic, the mould and bacteria on all of these items has largely evolved to create a toxic hazard that made in-house dining (or even standing for more than a few minutes) a less than appealing notion. DH did get a little misty eyed when she saw the walls of police patches (are police patches the most common employee theft item out there?), and I found the decorative value of the ceiling of bra straps surprisingly interesting, but other than that, can you say "fire hazard"?

The campervan sites in New Zealand offered up much better facilities on balance but the thing we really enjoyed about our Aussie stops, was the effort to create a social experience- the camping cuisine of DH is a bit limited (cereal, sandwiches, and, for a treat, beans-on-toast) but very fast so it was nice to have some after dinner activities. In Daly Waters we started off at the rodeo (watching the drunks rolling around in the manure trying to complete some sort of rodeo obstacle course was ok, but when these same drunks started wrestling innocent bulls, we were out of there and DH was on the phone trying to convince the Sea Sheppard Society to get involved), and we finished up at the bar listening to Aussie cowboy songs (she was misting up again since many of the memories DH has of her first trip here involves guys who said they were Aussie cowboys!!). In other stops we wandered to the top of a hill with an astronomer who pointed out the Southern Cross as a starter (it's on the Australian and New Zealand flags), we learned how to find and prepare 'bush tucker' (meals you make from things you find in the bush- in answer to a challenge to my manhood, I had to eat something called a Witchetty Grub), and in the strangest of campervan sites, the owners have built an extraterrestrial theme for their roadhouse in a town that was known for UFO sightings. Throw in more singers, a pancake breakfast, and a pimped-out Honda Goldwing parade and there is always something on offer just outside our sliding van door.

And did we find our Crocodile Dundee? Not sure, but Jimmy Hooker from Tennant Creek comes pretty close. In addition to showing us how to cook our Witchetty Grubs, Jimmy is a self described very bad gold prospector, he was born in the Outback and lives under a Gumtree- he's illiterate but uses 'bush' poetry to tell the story of his life. He's never wrestled a crocodile but that may have been just a lack of opportunity- I think we'll go with Jimmy!
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Carol Cotterill on

Nice boulder work there Debs!! See - who said rocks couldn't be fun!

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