I set out for my celebratory post-thesis holiday last week with several broad aims in mind: I wanted to see cool things, to be warm, and to not wreck the rental car; I wanted to read things that were not journal articles, to eat ice cream, and above all, to relax.
On Saturday afternoon, I flew through clear skies to Darwin. I had two seats to myself and spent the journey surveying the rippley uninhabited vastness that is the Red Centre. I spent that night in a hostel with too many people and too much air conditioning but complimentary cocoa pebbles and toast for breakfast. First thing the next morning, I picked up my rental car and headed south to Kakadu National Park.
The walks I had intended to do in the Mary River Region, near where I was staying, turned out to be inaccessible to anyone without 4WD. This was unfortunate, but in the interest of not wrecking the rental car, I decided to venture further afield in search of other things that might be equally cool. I went up to Gungurul that first afternoon and found this:
It was the first of many such signs I would see on this trip. I deemed it ‘cool’ and took a picture. Then I proceeded – very carefully – towards the river. I fully intended on keeping my distance, but when I got there, I couldn’t resist plunging right in. I’d never seen an invisible river before, you see.
As it turns out, when they call this the dry season, they really do mean dry. A lot of burning is done to get rid of potential bushfire fuel and allow new growth to come up. I could see patches of smoke in the distance during some of my walks in Kakadu and actual leaping flames in one bit of bush as we were flying into Ayers Rock later in the week.
When I got back to my little bunkhouse from Gungurul, it was like 100˚ C in there and my head was aching from the sun, but I wasn’t complaining because I haven’t been warm in months. The temperature plummeted about 58 degrees by midnight, anyway. I woke up at 1am and had to pile all the pillows from the other bunks on top of me because I was more than my usual amount of frozen and the place didn’t supply blankets. Fortunately, it was just me in there with eight empty bunks.
The next day, I went to Nourlangie Rock to see some Aboriginal cave paintings. The guide for the tour I piggybacked, who was Aboriginal himself, explained that the traditional people had stories about a dude who chucked lightning bolts at people, much like Zeus. That’s him on the right. The big one on the left is a horrible spirit that attacks women, if I remember correctly.
And this is Nourlangie Rock. You weren’t supposed to climb it because it was some sort of cursed, and venturing too close would result in certain and unpleasant death for you and possibly your family.
Anbangbang Billabong was my lunch spot. There were no crocs, but lots of ducks and birds, including sorts I hadn’t seen before. The wildlife viewing must be all kinds of incredible there during the wet, assuming you have a personal crocodile hunter with you.
I’d gotten a pile of bread rolls, apples, tinned meat, and muesli bars before leaving Darwin because I was unsure what sort of cooking facilities there would be at the place in Kakadu (there were none). But since this was a celebratory holiday and the place had advertised as having a restaurant, I’d figured that I could treat myself to a proper dinner that night. In the Outback, I was to discover, selling hot chips and microwaved pies from the check-in counter counts as having a restaurant. I shrugged and got myself some chips and a book from the book swap shelf, which the lady said I could keep, thank God, because I’d only brought two and was running low with a 24 hour train ride still to go.
There were a few things that struck me about the Outback. One was the dearth of food. I am not sure what or if the people who live there actually eat. Grocery stores are very few and far between and extremely expensive, and places that call themselves restaurants or cafes don’t sell anything other than hot chips, pies, and occasionally prepackaged sandwiches. Another thing that struck me were the flies. And swarmed me. And coated my entire body. Oh my goodness, the flies. At least they didn’t bite, which offered some improvement over the mozzies in tropical Queensland. And then there were the stars. There were times during the day when the thought of people living their entire lives in the NT Outback was somewhat depressing to me. Sure, the termite mounds are cool, but the sun eats your soul and dear God, the flies. Then the sun would set and pretty much every single star in the universe would appear in the sky along with the Milky Way, and I’d be like, oh yeah. Now I get it.