Well, the dreams of a glorious summer in Europe have slightly faded this week, and been replaced by a rather wet and grey summer in Europe. I’m sure this will pick up, but since it is raining, there isn’t a whole lot of exploring to be done, so I will instead wax lyrically about some of the parts of Australia I visited on my trip. .
I am often asked which parts of my trip were my favourite, and this is a tricky one to answer. A 60,000km road trip lasting a year is going to have a lot of highlights. But invariably I find my mind being cast back to the few months spent in the Northern Territory.
Some quick facts for you. At around 1.3million square kilometres, the Northern Territory is over five times the size of the UK. But it only has two hundred and twenty seven thousand inhabitants. In other words, there is a lot of space. Admittedly a lot of this space is taken up by vast swathes of empty nothing, the classic scorched earth outback that you would imagine or remember from films like Crocodile Dundee. And key scenes from that film were indeed filmed in the Northern Territory, mostly in the Kakadu National Park. A further bit of scale for you, Kakadu National Park, one of seventeen major parks in the Northern Territory, is the same size as Slovenia. The idea here being that Australia is a big old place.
So why was this giant bit of largely nothing counted amongst my highlights? Well, this was the part of the trip that really showcased the sort of Australia that I had always imagined existed. The red earth accompanied by the scrubland of the bush extending forever. Giant eagles soaring in an endlessly vast and otherwise seemingly empty sky. The roads that you could drive on for six hundred kilometres, passing only a road train and some rather squished looking roos. The way that, in the dry season at least, clouds became mythical creatures, beings that you rarely saw. The fact that if you didn’t plan your food shopping correctly, you would end up on a 1000km round trip just to do a bit of re-stocking.
It is rare to find so much vaguely accessible wilderness in the world today. All you need is a fairly decent four wheel drive, a good set of provisions and a slightly gung ho attitude, and you can go and get seriously far away from everything and everyone. Apart from the flies it should be mentioned. Those follow you everywhere. Bring a fly net.
The other major highlight of the Northern Territory were the quite frankly awesome waterholes. As most of the rivers are filled up with five metre long man eating crocodiles, swimming is not generally seen as a viable option, which is often a pity as it is a rather fine way to relieve oneself of the grime and sweat accumulated from the outback lifestyle. Luckily, crocodiles aren’t so good at climbing up waterfalls, so there are spots all over the place where you can get a refreshing dip in a beautiful rock pool without fear of being eaten alive. Kakadu National Park has more than it’s fair share of these, from the rockpool under the mighty 200m high Jim Jim falls, to the more serene Maguk falls, to the large pool at Gunlom, which incidentally, was the scene of the fish catching incident of Dundee fame. And nearly all of the other National Parks are as beautiful, and slightly less crowded (if that word can be used), than Kakadu.
If four wheel driving is more your thing, then the northern territory has that in spades. This was where we cut our teeth on river crossings, boulder descents, mud driving, sand driving, winch rescue… well, all the good stuff really. It was also, I should point out, where we wrecked our rear differential, imploded our radiator and became experts at tyre changing. We also streamlined the vehicle somewhat, all that stuff that sticks off the side of a truck being mostly just fodder for the trees to rip apart (wing mirrors anyone?). Learning, it turns out, can be an expensive process.
So, those are my memories of the Northern Territory. There was a lot of driving, a lot of swimming, a fair bit of time spent in that oh so wonderful of Australian establishments, the roadhouse (think service station cum pub full of rough and ready outback characters), a lot of camping under the stars and generally enjoying life. And I’ve not even mentioned Uluru, Alice Springs… I could go on and on. But I will save all that, and talk of my other favourite parts, including Tasmania and Western Australia, for another post and another rainy European day.