I hope you find this as enjoyable to read as I found it to write. I didn’t take many notes while I was on the trip, but the dynamic nature of
Grant Owens' trip report from Australia in 2007.
I hope you find this as enjoyable to read as I found it to write. I didn’t take many notes while I was on the trip, but the dynamic nature of
We took-off from SFO on Qantas flight 74 at 10:40PM in a mall-sized double decker Boeing 747-400.
Starting in the BA lounge and carrying onto the plane we struck up a conversation with a kind Aussie, Carol Sproats. Carol seemed to know everyone in the country and spoke of places like they were her babies. I’ve still got to Google her and see if she is the Deputy Prime Minister or something of the like. After a full hour of scribbling in a notebook at the beginning of the flight she handed me an 8 page list of tips for each of our destinations in
With a full-length bed, Qantas pajamas and belly full of dinner I watched a documentary on the Space Race and then dropped like a brick for 7 hours. When we woke up they were serving breakfast and we were less than 2 hours from
We sulked over to the Qantas lounge to get some snacks and shower. We then decided that we would go into
We took the subway to Central Station to look for clothes. This was our first indication of how expensive
The moral of the story… our US dollar is seriously hurting. Travelling to anywhere in the EU or
After procuring underwear and socks we made our way back to the airport for our flight to Darwin. A relatively short 3.5hr flight meant going from temperatures in the low 60’s in Sydney to low 90’s in Darwin.
After sleeping in until
10:00 10:30, we went to brunch at non-descript diner called Café Roma. They had a single ancient bottle of
After brunch we stepped out into the sweltering heat to hunt down a couple more items we would need before leaving on a safari the next morning. We after arriving in Darwin learned that our bags would arrive in town two days later, by which time we would be in the Outback on safari and unreachable. So we were effectively without luggage for 5 days.
I bought two more t-shirts, both of which represented Australian Rules Football teams I had never heard of. I then carried the extra stress of thinking something like this might unfold...
Random Aussie: "Hey you a Geelong Cats fan too?"
Me: "Uhh... yeah, they're the best!"
Random Aussie: "Actually mate, they are the worst team in the division"
Me: "Yeah, tough year"
Random Aussie: "You think they oughta can coach Hamilton?"
Me: "uhhh... yeah... Can Him... hey... how bout them Redsox? uhhh... I... I should go."
Random Aussie: "whatever mate. See you at the games!"
Of course no safari would be complete without a classic Aussie Outback hat. Amy opted for straw and I opted for suede. We looked quite fetching if I do say so myself. We also picked up flashlights, long pants, and sunscreen.
It’s hard to describe the density of the heat and humidity in
Late in the afternoon we grabbed a cab and went
There was a wide variety of food and artsy trinkets, that for some supernatural reason make you consider redecorating an entire room of your home into a Polynesian/Aboriginal theme. We kept our wits about us and decided against that.
The only real difference in this market compared to a
Although I paid $10 for a runny roti wrap, the sunset at the beach was worth every penny. We left after about an hour for the nights main event. Deckchair Cinema.
We read about
The cinema is run by a local non-profit and they primarily show independent films and super played out classics. So don’t try finding Men in Black XII here on opening weekend. With that said we did pay $13 for tickets. The snack bar served beers so we grabbed two and sat down for Air Guitar Nation – just as quirky as the cinema itself. Perfect.
Building facade in Darwin
Industrial pier in Darwin
If someone you meet claims to have traveled through
These things are literally everywhere you look and come in all shapes and sizes - the largest of which are decades in the making. Given the negative connotations that come with termites in the States, it’s quite a paradox that we found it beautiful how the mounds stuck out of the deep blue horizon. Amazingly, we never actually saw a single termite but the mounds clearly let you know who secretly rules the ecosystem down under. Crocs and roos are just tolerated companions in Termitetown.
The other thing you’ll see on main roads are signs stating “Free Coffee for Drivers.” This is just plain smart.
It was this or cocaine. Of course the gov picked the lowest bidder :(
I felt bad for Ted because everything he said was totally lost on half of the boat. Our Dutch and German friends had very limited experience with English. As proof, Ted had just finished a spirited safety briefing culminating in one final life saving point – Don’t Stand Up in the Boat. Over the next five minutes, as the boat idled in water teeming with 500 pound man-eating crocs, each Dutch and German stood up in successive order as Ted rolled his eyes and through a one-sided smile conveyed the idea of “screw it, this is just survival of the fittest and English speaking.”
Awwwe look-at-ahh... she's a beeuueauty
When it comes to crocodiles Ted was a bit of a preacher. He had a 5 minute rant on the late Steve Irwin. Although some of what he said made sense I got the impression it was fueled by jealously. His main issue was the environment that Irwin placed crocs into. Crocs have no internal temperature control and according to Ted, if their bodies are much below 86 degrees or much above 89 degrees, they will slowly die. Ted says that Irwin would simply take crocs into arenas in southern Australia where the low temperatures would basically put them into a vegetative state. He said that Irwin would approach large crocs will full knowledge that they could not attack him – the crocs didn’t have enough energy. He felt that Irwin would never want the audience to know that because tickets sales to shows would plummet. Although much of this is probably true, it was deeply disturbing to hear him lambast a dead guy. And in my in my personal opinion, although Steve Irwin probably embellished the experience for his shows, he most certainly did more good for the future of crocs and the rest Australia’s environment by garnering massive global awareness.
We did see a number of crocs on the cruise, but as you might imagine, they are pretty sneaky and I'd see a pair of eyes on the surface and then try to get Amy's attention and the eyes would have disappeared. I can only imagine how unnerving that would be if you had tried to do your own two person cruise in a small wooden boat.
As we would comment throughout our trip, the variety and size of the birds on the trip was amazing. While on the croc cruise I kept waiting for the birds on the bank of the river to go under with one big gulp of a croc. It never happened, but we learned that it does happen. Basically, the birds get complacent after a longtime without a croc attack. They begin to gallivant around the bank without keeping an eye out for danger. Then SMACK! Stupid birdbrains.
Heron? Crane? I'm not much of a birder.
We arrived on a terribly hot day, but the large rock formations helped cool the situation off. The rocks provided overhangs with plenty of shade to hide under and when we climbed high onto the formations a brisk breeze battered the top of them.
We hiked back into the bush a few hundred yards and came to an area known as the “main gallery” where the largest amount of artwork can be viewed. The artwork is very understated and tells simple stories - often just a singular event or a singular life form. I personally liked these drawings because they were not cryptic or abstract. The Aborigines drew clear depictions of Aboriginal life and environments. Some drawings are ridiculously old and others are quite young. For example, there are elements that depict the arrival and first contact with Caucasians – events that are less than a few hundred years old. Other drawings of animals at Ubirr are estimated to be 2,000-3,000 years old. I read after our trip that carbon tests have shown some Aboriginal paintings in
I also really liked the signs of human ingenuity still visible on the surrounding rocks. You can clearly see the dimples on flat surfaces where the Aboriginals would grind and prepare the paints to be used on the walls above.
Drawings near the top of large overhangs survived extremely well and it just makes me wonder how many must have been lost on less protected rock walls or protected places that lost their overhangs over thousands of years. I’m personally convinced that we are only seeing a tiny fraction of the stories captured by the Aboriginals and I only wish we could see more of what happened at the dawn of human experience.
We an the hour or so climbing the rock formations to take in the amazing panoramic view of the flood plain. Every once in a while we would barley notice an object darting around far below. Then nothing. Then a glimpse again. Until finally we had our eyes trained on an area long enough to see that the movements were Kangaroos jumping through the tall grass.
After leaving Ubirr, we cruised in the van about 45 to camp at Cooinda. The camp site was large and offered tent sites and little cabins. Our tour operator, Connections Safaris, had about 10 permanent tents and a large mess tent where we ate as a group and drank until we became outback experts and veteran bushman. John, our guide, cooked up fish, veggies, and rice.
sunny day + big dinner + beer³ = sleepy²
Now it’s important to understand that Lin’s English and my French are rather broken, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to ask him about it and see if he was a Lost fanboy too.
So I point to his t-shirt and ask, “Is that from Lost?” It didn’t register so I ask for a little translation help from the bi-lingual Isabelle. Lin says that he doesn’t know what I’m talking about and that it means nothing to him. “It is just a t-shirt.” Or so he says.
Over the next five minutes I try to get anyone else in the van to agree it looks familiar. Nobody agrees and I felt completely deflated and wished I had an internet connection to show them that Lin is a spy and should not be trusted.
What if I was traveling with one of “the others?” It was everything I could do to not sneak into his tent and search for needles, vials, strange videos and the like. Lin, if you are reading this… I’m just kidding… I would never do anything to get Dharma on my bad side.
It’s very important that you enter the numbers.
Amy affectionately calls
If you find yourself in the Northern Territory of Australia this is a can’t miss.
Everyone went to get things settled in their tents and then slowly reconvened around the wine, beer and cheese in the mess tent. Near the grill, John was locked in a heated battle with some chicken, kangaroo meat and barbecue sauce.
After dinner we sat by the fire and did what you do by fires in the Outback… talked. Periodically we were startled by a flying fox (aka massive bat) in the tree above. Another long day meant heavy eyelids so we made our way to the tent for what turned out to be a long night.
I’m guessing that about two hours into sleep I heard the first thug outside. A little ruffling of the sticks and leaves on the ground followed by a few minutes of silence. Then more ruffling. This went on all night but I was able to get some sleep. Finally the sun burst above the horizon and I turn my head to peak through the mesh wall of the tent. Not even a foot from my nose there was a Wallaby staring right at me. Then another one 10 feet behind him. Probably putting the other up to a dare.
“Psst, take his camera. I dare you. Grab her knickers…. panty raid!”
“Dude..shhh… you are going to get me killed.”
Actually the wallaby looked as startled to find that I was awake as I was to find his bristly snout sniffing me through the tent mesh. He scampered away but I did capture a picture of the one that put him up to it a little further away.
All is well though - the camera was where I left it with no surprise photos of wallaby butt and the Dean of Students eventually made all of the wallabies return everyone’s panties.
The boat silently slumbered up the gorge and the guide told stories and pointed out nuances of the surrounding rocks and wildlife. As with nearly all water in the top half of
After a bit of cruising we pulled up to a rock platform and the guide encouraged those interested to walk up the rock bank and check out the surrounding rock art high on the sheer walls.
The guide explained how terribly low the water level was in the gorge. Many of the trees and rock formations spend half of the year under water – the amphibious trees are easy to spot because they are permanently bent from the river current. Even the ticket booth itself, would be entirely under water during the wet season. Seeing the gorges and the Kakaku flood plains during the dry season, made us want to see the inverse season. You can tell from the remnants of the wet season that it becomes a completely different landscape. Numerous depth markers show the impending deluge. Many of the roads become impassable and water levels in areas like the gorge can change 60-70 feet. Upon arriving in the Northern Territory we pondered why so many of the trucks had snorkels high above the doors, but now it was clear that they could be put to good use.
Class is in session
We were even luckier to be heading the opposite direction of the actual race – meaning that we seemed to pass a different race team heading south every 5-10 minutes. Most cars were surrounded by a number of chase cars carrying supplies and no doubt a host of laptop toting megageeks (aka my idols). Most solar cars didn’t appear to going more than 30-40 MPH on a road that is quite desolate and routinely allows Australians to “open her up a little.” I’m doubly glad were heading in the opposite direction because being stuck behind a team would have been super great for 2-3 minutes and then extremely frustrating for the next 2-3 hours.
The aliens are cruising around Oz
After passing 10-12 teams our guide, John was terribly kind and let us stop to visit with the UniSA (i.e. University of South Australia) team as they were on a routine maintenance stop recharging their TREV electric vehicle. They were racing in the Greenfleet class of vehicles which allows fuel efficient non-solar vehicles to take part. TREV stands for “two-seater renewable energy vehicle.” We learned that while on the road the TREV was being recharged by a diesel generator, but in normal circumstances the car would be recharged by household electricity and cost less than $1 per 100km.
Isabelle, our new favorite Frenchwoman, was standing next to the Hertz counter contemplating renting a car or snagging a cab. We were headed her way and solved her decision by offering to give a lift. Sweet Lincoln’s mullet! Now my left-side skills were going to be responsible for the health and safety of someone not legally family nor emotionally bound til’ death do us part- I was certainly hoping it wouldn’t come to the later for the three of us. Toyota Camry’s are five star safety rated right? Right? No, left? Shit!
I hadn’t gone 14 feet before I announced to the greater
In all reality the left-side thing caused nary a problem the rest of our trip. It felt perfectly natural within 10 miles and I never had an once of nervousness beyond the airport parking lot (excluding nervousness over inconspicuously stalking crocs the size of single-engine Cessnas).
After dropping the French contingent at a B&B near Holloways Beach we cruised 30 more minutes north along an amazing, yet common, ocean-side highway. Stopping periodically to take in the vistas. There are literally thousands of these circumventing the Red Center and I’m not sure you can pick a bad one. Imagine taking the most beautiful single mile of coastal highway in California and then wrapping an entire continent with it. Copy, Paste, Copy, Paste. (Ctrl C, Ctrl V… for you PC users). That is the view when driving on the edges of Australia. And to make it even more interesting, the grade of the land sloping out into the ocean is so low that that each time the tide changes these vistas become stunningly different. You can go from water colliding with lava rocks at lunch to sheer salt flats as far as the eye can see at dinner in the same exact location.
What an amazing surprise. This turned out to be the little sanctuary that could. The guide, Peter, was awesome, the life unbelievably vibrant and diverse, and we kinda had the place to ourselves. I’ll let the photos tell the story.
Each patron throws in $5 and pulls a number. If your number is selected from the bucket you are the proud owner of a racing cane toad. Amy and I were down on our lottery luck and sadly just observers for the epic tilt.