Saturday 22nd February
I had a sense of DeJa Vu As I made my way to the Adventure Tour shop for my pickup and on boarding saw Fabienne from my last tour sitting on the bus. Our guide Sauce explained this was a two day journey with lots of driving with a few stops. 650km on the first day between Darwin and Daly Waters and over 900km on day two between Daly Waters and Alice Springs.
On leaving Darwin our first stop was after about an hour at the settlement called Adelaide River. Whilst this was really just a quick toilet break the local bar is home to Charlie the water Buffallo who appeared in the film Crocodile Dundee.
Next we arrived at Katherine where we had the opportunity to do a short walk in the Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park. Most of the Gorge beyond where we wanted to visit was closed due to flooding however we were able to make our way up to the Barrawei lookout to look down on the Katherine River below. The sun was shining so the views of the gorge was quite spectacular however we were probably to high to appreciate the rapids and torrents churning through the gorge. The climb up had been quite short but very steep in places and I feel I’m slowly turning in to a Mountain Goat.
We also had a quick round of introductions though we were all doing slightly different journeys and some of us would only be together for two days. I did however make an effort to talk everyone at least once including a guy called Erec from the Netherlands that told me he had done the Crocodile swim at Crocosauruscove.
We headed back down the path and made our way to the visitor centre. I had a look at a small display on the Australia Day floods in 1998 And then went to look down on the river from the visitor centre platform which had been slightly submerged at the peak of the flood. It was impossible to comprehend that the water had risen as high as I was standing especially as I was there in the wet season and I knew the river was already high.
After we left Katherine we continued for another hour or so before we came to some thermal pools at Mataranka. This was a welcome stop after being stuck on the bus on such a hot and humid day. The warm but not hot pools were also set in a lovely location as they were surrounded by palm trees and tropical vegetation. Until we were about to leave we had the area our to ourselves and I’m sure in the high season the small pool must get very busy.
We then briefly stopped at Larrimah Where there was a quirky old hotel with various statues of the Pink Panther outside. Then, out the back there was a menagerie of different animals including a young Red Kangaroo that received a lot of lot of attention from us. There was even a saltwater crocodile but aside from his head he remained under water.
Finally we arrived at our accommodation in Daly Waters which was named when John Stuart found water nearby in 1861-62 and it became an important place in the early days of aviation. As with some of the other obscure places I’d first read about this in my Bill Bryson book and I was quite glad we’d have a chance to spend the night there rather than just passing through. When we arrived it wasn’t what I’d imagined. This is proper outback territory so I expected sand, sand and more sand. In fact it still felt quite tropical and there appeared to be quite a bit of vegetation. The main street had the pub on one side and a petrol station on the other and It seemed ever so slightly tacky almost like it was a free outback amusement park. It is however home to 25 people so we’d increased the population that night by 50%.
The people running the pub were very friendly and as country music played we enjoyed the massive burger and chip portions whilst having a refreshing drink. I’d opted for the novelty choice – an alcoholic slushy which included Bundaberg Rum though I did get a normal drink later as we got to know each other a bit better. I walked down what appeared to be the only other street to get a picture of the sunset and saw the old abandoned post office on my way back. Even though it was a Saturday we had an early start and so some of the group gradually started sneaking off to bed and by 9.00 those of us that were left decided to do the same.
Sunday 23rd February
Waking up I felt very refreshed and had every intention of seeing how exactly the scenery changed from tropical forest to desert as the cloud had prevented me from doing so on my flight from Perth. The journey was broken up with regular stops so we could stretch our legs even if there appeared nothing to see or do. An example of this was when we briefly stopped at Tennant Creek which was the largest settlement we’d see all day and which appeared to consist of a garage and cafe.
We listened to some prank calls from “Gotcha” on Fox FM and a few were absolutely hilarious though i wont describe them as you probably had to hear them. I asked Sauce what people did on the 3 day trip as 2 days had seemed enough time to get a gist of the area between Darwin and Alice Springs. For me this was about doing another epic road trip to get to my destination and to appreciate ‘seeing nothing but nothing’. It was also cheaper than flying.
Our main highlight of the day was the interesting rock formation called the Devil’s Marbles which are the rounded remains of an eroded layer of granite. The local Warumungu call them Karlu Karlu and their creation story says the rocks are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. The site therefore has great cultural significance.
The rocks were quite remarkable and there were a few where we could get different types of pictures such as pushing the rock up a hill and cutting a rock in half with our hands. It was amazing how the surrounding area was so flat with nothing except for a few small trees and shrubs and yet in one patch it appeared a load of smooth marbles had sprung up from the ground. The marbles are however still eroding and one day will form the sandy ground we’d walked across to access them.
Erec suggested a group photo and whilst I was keen there had been lots of flies in the area and it seemed most had lost the will to fight them and were done appreciating the rocks. Therefore there was no group photo and we quickly boarded the bus trying to prevent the flies from joining us.
After a final toilet stop at a roadhouse in a place called Ti Tree we carried on the journey to Alice Springs. We had one final stop at the Tropic of Capricorn which was marked by a monument however it appeared the road had been relaid so the line is no longer there. The Tropic of Capricorn was only 20 minutes outside of Alice Springs so the 900km journey was nearly over.
Initially I was due to stay at the YHA in Alice Springs however on my free day in Darwin I’d noticed the pickup for all the tours I was doing was from the Haven Resort. Having been told by two separate people the Haven was cheaper, more fun and offered a free breakfast I decided to change. I’d gone to Peter Pan Travel to book something else and after a general chat about travel and enquiring about a sneaky discount it turned out the agent was able to get me a free night at the Haven. I returned back to the YHA at Darwin knowing I was still within the period to get a full refund but as it was apparently a complex process the guy on the desk couldn’t have been any more grumpy about having to perform the task. It was a decision I wouldn’t regret because everyone on the tour was staying there.
Eric and I opened the door to our room and there was an explosion of greetings from the group of people already in the room. Those next 30 minutes were probably filled with more laughter than any of the previous 48 hours and no one had touched a drop of alcohol. Erec and I were due to have a post tour dinner with the rest of the group but I think both of us would have been tempted to stay with our new friends. After a pizza and a few drinks half the group wanted to go and as Alice Springs has a unfavourable reputation we decided to leave together.
Erec and I got back to the room and as most of the others were out I decided to start getting ready for bed as the pickup was 6.10am. About 2 hours later Katie and Hannah got back and whilst by then I probably should have been asleep it was fun to laugh so much. At some point over the following hour I got the nickname “Little Koala” for a variety of different reasons and I just hope I’m considered the cute type, not the Gremlin!