Drive Around The World (Australia)

One family, one car, one year, one planet

Day 12-17, 18-23 April 2008, Alice Springs to Daly Waters

Day 12-17 – 18-23 April 2008

Alice Springs – 127 km

Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles) – 397 km

Daly Waters – 568 km

Running total – 4,704 km

Soundtrack: Chained to the Wheel – The Black Sorrows

We had expected to spend the day meandering along Namatjira Drive and visiting a number of gorges, rock holes and other places of interest until hitting Alice Springs. However, after stopping up the road at Ormiston Gorge and the ochre pits, where Aboriginal people had mined ochre of various shades for thousands of years, the children fell asleep in the back seat of the truck. We had a brief look at Ellery Creek Big Hole, but much to Sandy’s dismay, due to it sounding remarkable similar to her name, we had to give Standley Chasm a miss.

And so, at around lunchtime, we rolled into Alice Springs, had sandwiches in Todd Mall, and made our way to our friends Nicki, Rob, Jonah and Gil’s home, where we would stay for three nights.

Again, it’s a town that happens to be there by default, not because of any specific natural resource. We found Alice Springs to have a strange ambience to it – an odd confluence of cultures and reasons for being there, mixed with some fun and beautiful things – yet we were fortunate to meet some fine people and had fun hanging out with our friends.

We had the opportunity to join in on a very fun Passover Seder, a traditional meal that tells the story of Pesach, which brought a number of friends together, with all of whom contributing food and wine. Unfortunately the delivery of Matzot, the traditional unleavened bread used for this festival, did not arrive on time, so about 25 people shared one box brought from Melbourne by Nicki. The evening reminded us of our time in Darwin…

After three days of relaxation, including a visit to the fabulous Desert Park and various other sites, we hit the road north again after depositing a large number of items, including some of the children’s schoolwork and a fantastic painting we purchased from Iwantja, an Aboriginal community in South Australia,  (www.iwantjaarts.com.au) at the Post Office.

We arrived at Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles) just before dusk after passing through the decidedly odd spectacle of Wycliffe Well – allegedly the UFO siting capital of Australia – expecting a quiet, and somewhat remote, outback experience. We had expected most visitors with their caravans, campers and fifth-wheelers to spend the night at nearby Wauchope caravan park. To our surprise, there were more than 30 camping groups, including two mad Germans in a Falcon stationwagon, who, after building an enormous campfire, decided to climb the rocks late at night, and then drive off at around midnight, never to return.

We had an interesting experience setting up camp because the ground was so hard we were unable to hammer in any tent or guy-rope pegs. We made do with as many things of decent weight to hold the tent down in what turned out to be a stiff breeze, but we did feel a little envious of the family with the sweet camper-trailer we had met a few days before at Glen Helen.

Look closely between the rocks...

The rocks of Karlu Karlu are nothing short of spectacular. We spent the late afternoon clambering about them and wondering if any would topple over. Then, while we were making dinner, Maddy and Raffy explored some rocks on the other side of the campground. The local park ranger came to check over the evening’s residents. With the ranger were some Aboriginal women, one of whom mentioned to Sandy that the children should not play on those rocks, only the main ones at Karlu Karlu.

 She told us that walking on the other rocks would make you sick, so you should stay away from there. We called the children off immediately.

Thankfully, the children have not fallen ill.

We rose early, broke camp, explored the rocks a bit more, and headed off for what would be our longest drive to Daly Waters.

Driving in the Northern Territory has, historically, been a paradise for hoons as for much of the open highway there was no speed limit, but it is only recently that the NT instituted a speed limit of 130 km/h. But even at this speed there are enormous road trains with three or more trailers who intimidate anything smaller than them. We couldn’t imaging how the group of bicycle riders, who arrived at Karlu Karlu at about 7am and, after a short break, turned around and headed back to Tennant Creek, fared when past by one of these behemoths.

Over the last couple of days we noticed the geography and, in particular, the flora changing quickly. It seemed every fifteen minutes of so the grasses would change, the shrubs less sparse and the trees taller. Many have the expectation that central and remote Australia is a monotonous repetition of one environment, but nothing cold be further from the truth. We were fascinated with the nests made by a particular species of insect in trees near the road, and the things we initially called ‘road fruit’, but, as we learned later, are called paddy melons. These are fruit that look as though they had fallen off a truck along the road with their vines, but are actually have been seeded by passing camels.

Of course, road-kill is an unfortunate aspect of road travel, but the carnivorous birds don’t seem to mind it. Quite often we would pass the victim of something much larger, faster and harder, being fed on by a range of birds, including the huge and imposing wedge-tailed eagles.

We were looking forward to getting to Daly Waters, as we had been there before. So we drove through the Barkly Tablelands to Tennant Creek, where we stopped at the relatively new and impressive Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre, then past Three Ways, from where we had travelled in 2000, stopped for lunch in Renner Springs and, some six hours later, pulled up at the Daly Waters pub – the only business and one of only a handful of buildings in the one-track town.

The pub/motel/caravan park/restaurant is legendary in these parts (www.dalywaterspub.com). Priding itself with the “Australia’s Most Remote Traffic Light” (always on red), the pub is housed in the original building from 1930, and is festooned with thousands of travellers’ T-shirts, stubbie-holders, badges, hats, cards and even underwear with messages handwritten on them by their previous owners. Outside there’s more paraphernalia collected from around the area. We had a fun time when we were last here, and we knew Maddy and Raffy would enjoy it.

Indeed, a new dining area has been added, and Frank now puts on a show, playing guitar and singing songs heavily influenced by Johnny Cash. It was fun to observe some of the more mature women with over-exposed and leathery skin in the audience sing along and nod to lyrics as though they were gospel. Maddy was invited to help him out with one of the songs, and leapt at the chance to perform in front of an audience! Frank’s repertoire climaxed in a song where he perches two of his prized chickens on his hat that is a miniature pub. It’s that kind of place.

In the last day or so we had passed into what now felt like The Top End – probably when we drove through Elliot. Instead of dry, red dust and chilly nights, we were amongst the tell-tail signs of the end of the wet season, with the vegetation very much more lush and robust. The evenings were now much warmer, accompanied by the buzz and slap of mosquitoes.

 

 

 

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