Wild (and some tame) life down under / Part I: The sizzling Northern Territory
08.10.2011 - 18.10.2011
Arriving to Australia was a shock. Not for the heat or humidity (we were used to that from Asia) and neither for culture (Australian cities are much to European to give us culture shock). No, what shocked us were the prices.
After staying in nice hostel rooms for something between 1 and 10€ per night, prices starting at 50€ for a double and 20€ for a bed in a dorm are hard to get used to. Food also is even more expensive than at home. So the first thing we had to get used to was not dining (and lunching, brunching and breakfasting) out any more everyday. Even like this our daily expenses rose from about 20€ to about 60€ per day and person...
Our first taxi ride from the airport (we had tried to take a local bus, but it being a school holiday, there were none...) was with an Indian immigrant. We were able to negotiate a good (non meter) rate. Our Asian experience already started to pay off.
For our first week in Australia we had booked a small camper van to explore the tropical national parks of Australia’s Northern Territories. It was very small indeed, but with a comfortable bed, a small gas cooker and an eski (Aussie for ice box) all we needed.
Then we saw our first Aborigines. They were taller than expected (I guess we had confused them with pygmies, or something...). And they all had a sense of loss around them. Many were sitting somewhere in the shade, drinking booze if they had, or just sleeping, but many others were just walking along the street with an empty expression on their face. To us, they looked like they had lost their way and were trying to find the way home to an Australia that does not exist any more. Next to them the white life goes on as if they didn't exist. Whenever the topic came up in conversations with (white) Australians, they seemed embarrassed and helpless. The government is trying to help them with free flats and monthly payments (i.e. trying to enable them to survive in a westernised world) but one can see, that most indigenous still were far from integrated into the western culture.
Later, in the centre of the continent we saw Aborigines, that were still able to live in their traditional ways, using modern tools, but still following the ways of their ancestors in their semi nomadic lives.
After we got our van (and supplies from the next supermarket) we headed out to Litchfield National Park, were we had our first encounters with Australian wildlife.
Well we didn't see any actual termites, but their mounds can be quite impressive. The mounds in the first picture are called "magnetic". They are flat and are all aligned in the same south-northernly direction, pointing to the magnetic north pole, to improve temperature regulation. They warm up quickly in the morning and stay warm long in the evening, but do not expose too much surface to the hot midday sun.
Btw, the mound behind the small red girl is not magnetic, just big...
The other locals we didn't meet were the crocodiles. All lakes in rivers in the national park have signs along the lines of "There should be no salt water crocodiles present at the moment, but you can never be sure. Be careful." As we learned, in Australia only salt-water crocodiles ("salties") are dangerous to humans. Sweet water crocodiles only eat fish. Most of the time... The problem with the salties is, that during floods, when ocean lagoons and sweet water lakes are connected they tend to immigrate inland. So, as the signs told us, you can never be sure.
Actually, Australia is a big island, surrounded but deadly animals. In the tropical north crocodiles roam the beaches. Along the eastern and western coasts, deadly jellyfish ("stingers") are present during the hot half of the year. During the colder half and along the south coast: sharks. On the mainland you have deadly spiders and venomous snakes. Something like 80% of the worlds deadliest snake species live in Australia (percentage not validated, it's probably more). Well, and if the animals didn't kill you, the heat will...
Well, I digress. Litchfield is one of Australia’s many beautiful national parks. We didn't do too much, just bathed in beautiful (croc-free) pools and met some more locals...
From Darwin we took The Ghan to Alice Springs. On the 2000km journey we stopped once, at the one town on the way...
Alice Springs is a dusty town at the heart of Australia. It has a river, some Aborigines that tend to sleep in that river and ... Yubb, that's about it. Ah, yes, once a year the Solar Challenge, a 3000km race through central Australia passes through. We only saw some one of last years cars and got some drinking bottles (which accompanied us through the rest of our trip through Australia/NZ), as we were a few days too early for the race.
After three nights in a nice hostel we boarded a small tour bus to The Rock, about 400km away from Alice.
Aka Ayers Rock
"The Rock Tour" seems to be what most backpackers seem to book from Alice. We were the oldest of about 13 people from around the world plus Karmen, our excellent Australian tour guide, who drove the bus, entertained us on the trip, set up our camps and cooked for us...
On our first day we visited Kings Canyon, with our first chance of shooting about 1 mio pictures of red "puli" (rock). Micro-, Macro-, MEGA-puli!
Three hours walking in the sun. We were happy to happy to have bought our silly hats... The air was hot and very dry, each of us drank about three litres of water in these three hours.
After another couple of hours of driving (and a visit at a nearly deserted desert bar for beeeeer and a short look at the dead poisonous snake they had killed last night in the bar) we went to the place of our camp for that night. A small flat area in the middle of nowhere. We set up camp, stacked up the wood we had collected earlier and enjoyed Karmens chilli con carne, prepared in big pots over the camp fire!
That night we slept in "swags", heavy sleeping bags with integrated sleeping mat, under Australia’s desert night sky We've never seen the milky way soo clearly before (yes, they have a milky way, too, down there).
Apart from an ant tribe, which had decided that Andreas face looked like an interesting new place for a grand night out, it was a nice a quiet, if rather cool, night.
On the next day and after a hearty breakfast of muesli, fruits, toast and coffee we set out to visit some bigger Puli. First on the list (Kata Tjuta,which means "Many Heads" in the local Aborigines language). Another long and hot hike took us to the summit with impressive views.
Well, this all had been nothing but a prelude to the big one...
In the middle of the desert, the top 350m of a 7km long rock is sticking out of the earth. Its naturally white coloured stone transferred to deep red by the oxcidating iron inside.
The sight from far is impressive, but only upon coming close up its size hits your brain.
We spent several hours walking around Ayers Rock. It's skin is covered in many marks, in which you can read the stories of the local Aborigines. As Uluru is a sacred place to them they ask you not to climb it, especially as it is their duty to look after anyone visiting and they absolutely cannot keep tourists from falling down...
In the evening we went to a lookout close by for dinner and lots of sunset shots. Especially two girls from Brazil and Poland went crazy. They must have shot 1'000 pictures of themselves with the rock, each other with the rock, themselves without the rock, the rock with the rock...
Well, it is amazing to watch Uluru change its face every minute, as the evening shadows creep over it, its colour changing through different tones of yellow/orange through ever darker shades of red to black, a small lizard joined us in enjoying the evening sun... Definitely a great place to spend some hours and have some cold beers.
After spending the night in another camp under the stars we returned on the next morning for sunrise over and a closer look at Uluru. The whole place, is really magical. Even if you don’t give too much for the energy of places like this, the atmosphere is truly astounding. For us the slow approach and close contact to the desert in the nights before had surely helped to open us up for this experience. We won't forget our encounter with Ayers Rock easily.