We have sailed the entire East Coast of Australia. We have rounded Tasmania’s southern tip and Cape York in the far North. With our bikes we have explored the area near the coast and spent a week on a farm in Victoria. But we had not yet seen the “inland” of Australia so it was time to change that.
We hired a car to head south from Darwin to Katherine but at the hire office we met people who had just got back from Mataranka and told us “we had to go there”, so – being sailors and very flexible – we changed the plan.
The first day we dropped our outboard engine off for a service which would have been difficult with the bikes. We then took the Highway Number 1 and headed south for over two hundred kilometers. In Pine Creek we stopped at the lazy Lizard, bought a coffee, met a blue tongued lizard and met a Victorian who now lives here after stopping on her way round Australia. She told us that she loves the small town as up in the Northern Territories you have the freedom to do what you want and be who you want.
A little further south we took a forty kilometer detour to visit the Edith Falls and have a swim. You are driving through brown, dry bush and then you descend in to a valley, turn a corner and there is a waterfall and a beautiful pool to jump in to. Incredibly there are (mostly) no crocodiles, no sharks, no stingers, no sea snakes. The place is so un-Australian and so inviting.
After over 300 kilometers, millions more trees and thousands more termite mounds, we reached Katherine and booked in to our cabin for the night. We then set off to explore the town which an elderly white lady had warned us was “rough”. Rough is white code for “full of aborigines” which it was. Unfortunately many of the aborigines we saw in town appeared to have social or alcohol related problems which is maybe why they are not welcome back in their villages. We had read a lot about problems with alcohol, the resulting violence and measures to try and reduce both but we had not heard about Katherine’s “Point of sale intervention policy”. Walking past a drive in alcohol shop we noticed a big, bearded, tattooed police officer checking ID and telling some potential customers to leave with no alcohol. At the next alcohol shop we found a less frightening looking policeman doing the same so we asked what was happening. Apparently there is a police officer at every “bottle shop” and every person who wants to buy alcohol has to show their ID and answer any questions the policeman may have. If he decides you can’t buy alcohol then that is final. You are refused if you are on an offenders register, intoxicated or unable to explain why you need so much. He told us that in only three years domestic violence is down by 70%!
The next day we continued south for another hundred kilometers to Mataranka. On the way we passed a lone cyclist so slowed down to ask if he needed water or something and where he came from. He was, of course, German. Only a German would cycle the 5000 km from Perth to Darwin and then turn south for another 3000 km to Uluru at the end of the dry season. His name is Martin and he is actually a bit of a hero.
At a road repair site we spoke with the lollipop lady. She was from Ireland and is in Australia on a “work and travel” visa. She spends all day stood out in the hot dry landscape and we wondered why any one would do this. Later we learned that the job pays fifty dollars an hour so a few weeks of torture finances a lot of holiday.
In Mataranka we we found the Bitter Springs which were our destination since leaving five hundred kilometers ago. They are stunning with warm, transparent water flowing slowly out of a spring and through the bush. You drift downstream, walk back to the start and repeat as often as you want. Absolute heaven.
In Mataranka we also visited the thermal springs for some more lazing around in fresh water, photographed a few 56 meter long road trains and saw some Brolga birds. I asked an aborigine what type of birds they were next to him before noticing that he was blind. Luckily his companion came to our rescue. Sometimes I am a bit stupid.
Heading back north we passed a few road trains and realized that you need a lot of empty road to pass 56 meters of truck moving at over 100 kmh. We also passed a railroad train and stopped to video the 108 wagons being pulled past us by two huge locomotives.
We spent the second night in a cabin in Batchelor. The owners wife was away so he sent us “next door” to get a pizza for dinner. The restaurant looked like your stereotype outback restaurant but it was owned by a half German man and his German wife and both waitresses were from Germany. Today was German Day.
On Day Three we “did” the Litchfield National Park. We began by visiting the magnetic termite mounds. These are incredible. Instead of being a big round mound they are built like gravestones and all aligned north south to reduce the warmth received from the sun. I still can not get over that some termite long ago said “Hey! Lets try thin, geographically aligned mounds.” and convinced all the other termites to go along with his plan. He must have been an amazing leader.
Next on the menu was a small walk and swimming at the Florence Waterfall. We just couldn’t get enough swimming so then it was on to the Wangi falls, another walk and another swim. After that we saw a bush fire burning through the undergrowth. It was being monitored by a helicopter and we guess it was set as part of the managed burning program. It was fast and hot and not something you want to have heading your way.
Finally, after leaving the park, we found a tavern for a well deserved lunch and then headed back to Darwin.
Did we honestly do all that in less than sixty hours?
A selection of our photos since arriving at Thursday Island are here.