The Australian Outback
Our journey from Adelaide to Darwin was undoubtedly going to be a long one. We were going to travel thousands of miles and all of the travelling was in a bus. You might wonder what we were thinking choosing this trip… But now, after two weeks of travelling through the outback and up through the tropical Savannah of Darwin, I can safely say it was one of the best trips of our lives. Anyone who comes to Australia has to explore the Red Centre. There is nothing quite like it.
The first leg took us from Adelaide up through the Red Centre on a bus with 21 other people and our tour guide Craig. In a small bus with a trailer in tow, we carved our way through the outback bit by bit, stopping to see some of the most unique wildlife in the world on one of the most extraordinary landscapes including wild camel, kangaroo and wallaby.
An arid desert, much of the journey was barren. Although there were more trees than we had imagined, the journey through the middle of Australia was sparse, with flat landscapes only punctuated by kangaroos or wild camels. The journeys were long, up to 10 hours a day on the bus, but we spent this time sleeping or chatting to our new friends, who became our great friends.
Our first night, after buying copious amounts of beer to last us the duration of the trip, was spent in dorm style tents under a supermoon and a dark sky filled with stars. We got to know each other over a few beverages and prepared ourselves for the 4am wake up – something we had to start getting used to.
A dark 4am in the outback can be a little scary, which is why we were so glad to have each other. We nibbled on toast and cereal with meager good mornings and boarded the bus. Our next stop was to the underground community of Coober Pedy. A mining town in the middle of the desert. The climate here is so hot (over 50 degrees) that when most White Australians relocated here to make their fortunes they built their homes underground. They converted old mines into living rooms and perfectly acceptable homes with ventilation (although only one exit) and they still live this way to this day. After attempting to dig for opal and getting lost in this strange town we too got the privilege of sleeping in an underground hostel.
We visited an opal mine, which is why people live in Coober Pedy and saw how mining has evolved, everyone mines for themselves and there are many secret millionaires in the town, we were even asked to join the community as they are in desperate need of miners. We declined. Not only because it’s an expensive hobby and you may never find any opal, and I would feel a little claustrophobic living inside a rock with only one exit, but also because it was one of the weirdest towns we’ve ever been in and people literally kill each other to get opal there. Not cool.
The aboriginal people here refuse to live underground (I don’t blame them), so they walk the streets as normal and it feels like there is an inevitable divide. It was also here, however, that we got to meet a baby joey at a kangaroo sanctuary. We petted her and discovered just how many babies die on the side of the road. If you see how many dead kangaroos there are on the side of the road you would understand why.
We were all dreading the third night, sleeping in swags. To be honest I didn’t have a clue what a swag was, and even when people were discribing it to me it still didn’t make any sense. It’s basically a canvas bag you put your sleeping bag, and yourself, in. You sleep either with a flap over your head or you have your head out looking up at the stars.
We rolled out our swags on the red sand of the campsite and tried desperately not to think of snakes. We all huddled together and gradually one by one fell asleep. I slept with my head out staring at the sky with a warm breeze across my face and my body all cosy inside. I actually loved it. And on the second night we saw stars in night’s sky above our heads. Wherever you looked the sky was filled, an incredible experience.
Some of the campsites as we moved closer to the Alice Springs were a little insect-ridden, but we coped and were always impressed when there was a swimming pool and we spent hours playing water polo or destroying inflatable flamingos – it was great bonding time.
Uluru, or Ayer’s Rock, was a highlight, and we got to see it from different angles, at sunrise, sunset, and by walking around it and within some of the sacred areas. The impressive rock can only be photographed from certain angles too for sensitivity reasons. It was from our campsite and overlooking Uluru that we partied with our lovely friends, with beers, an incredible sunset and some great music. A moment we will never forget.
We hiked Kings Canyon and the perilous Heart Attack Hill on a long three hour trek before sunrise on our last day before we got to Alice Springs. The whole area was extremely impressive, particularly when we learned that the whole area was once underwater and you can still find fossilized sea creatures in the rock.
We spent a few nights together in the slightly depressing city of Alice Springs. The place were many minority communities live in poverty, including Aboriginal people. Our best night together was at Haven Backpackers where most of us were staying. Here we playing bingo and had a barbecue, which inevitably led to the drinking game Ring of Fire and lots of dancing.
The next morning we said goodbye to some of our lovely group, and went off with a new tour guide, Kathy. Slightly hungover and very tired she took us to some of the weirdest sights on our next leg from Alice Springs to Darwin. We stopped to see the unconsenting relationship between a pig and a kangaroo, which scarred us, particularly at 7am, a UFO spot and some very odd and sad towns, such as Tenant Creek and Elliot.
A highlight was our stop at Daly Waters pub, where the Chookman played his music. One of the first pubs in the Northern Territory it’s filled with paraphernalia from travellers that have come through. We had a pint and enjoyed the kitsch collection. We also got to swim in Bitter Srings, which looked a little bit like a swamp and had a chance of crocodiles… as well as a watering hole with a stunning waterfall that had a ‘very low risk of crocodiles’ – but that was enough for the boys. It took them 20 minutes to jump in and swim across to the waterfall… checking for crocs at every stroke.
One night with Kathy we camped at a cattle station, Banka Banka. Here we met a real outback dude. He sat us down with a snake wrapped around his wrist and told us ghost stories of the area. That night Stephen and Dave both swore they heard knocking on the tent… just as he had said.
After we left Kathy we also had to leave lovely Dan in Darwin. We all went for dinner on Mitchell Street and one thing led to another. Before we knew it we were on the stage at Ladies Night and really made the most of our night off…
The next day was tough. We woke up at our usual 5.30am to be collected by Rowdy our new tour guide through Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks. The humidity and heat in Darwin and the north is insane, and the hangover was soon gone. It’s tropical and extremely high in humidity so you never stop sweating. We hiked and learned tons about Aboriginal culture with Rowdy, as he had lived in the community and been under their law. He told us things no other guide knew, like their traditional punishments are still performed to this day and if you commit a crime in their land you are under their law. There is actually a white man who is going to be speared through the leg for a crime under traditional law next week.
We were gobsmacked by this information and amazed that we didn’t know most of it. We asked him thousands of questions and not only learned more about this country’s incredible indigenous people, but also about the nature that surrounded us. We ate bush apple, ants and other bush tucker on our walks before always finishing the day with a glorious swim in a cool watering hole – usually with a waterfall – and sometimes back at a campsite pool with a beer.
We went on a crocodile cruise on our second morning and spotted over 15 crocs up to 4 metres long. Our second campsite was also a treat and our final night camping after two weeks in the outback. We stayed up with Rowdy listening to stories and looking at the constellations. Where else do you get to do that?!
On our last day we were a little bit worse for wear, so Rowdy took it easy on us. We saw huge 7-metre-tall termite mounds and swam at three different spots, all cool and inviting, even if they did have signs telling us of a possible risk of being eaten by a crocodile… Thankfully there wasn’t a single croc in the water and we all survived the Outback!