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Australian Outback – Northern Territory (Part I of II)

Outback License PlateEach day in the Australian outpost drove our finances towards insanity. We needed an exit, quickly. The cheapest route proved to be the Cairns – Darwin – Singapore circuit. The big cities had been lived and the white sand beaches combed. We desired great wide expanses and a layover in the Northern Territory’s sparse population proved to be just the ticket. After negotiating for the cheapest rental car possible with unlimited mileage, our packs were deposited in the rear seats and into the Australian Outback we went leaving Darwin far behind.

Stumpy the Jumping Saltwater Crocodile Boat Captain and Crocodile Hunter Savage

Our first destination were the jumping crocodiles on the tidal Adelaide River to become intimate with some fearsome saltwater beasts. Our boat captain and resident crocodile hunter, Jimmy, pointed the tin boat up river in search of some hungry reptiles. With intermittent rain falling, our first croc was spotted lurking near the grassy shore. True to its predatory nature, seventeen foot Stumpy (missing one front arm) swam silently towards a string fed pork dinner. Ash’s fingernails dug deeper into my forearm as the bumpy head passed within feet of our rigid bodies. Like a jack-in-a-box, Stumpy lurched upwards and snatched the tasty treat in a symphony of sharp teeth housed within its formidable jaw. Just as silently as he appeared, the saltwater crocodile crept back to shore with just the snout and ridges of the back breaking the water’s surface. Jimmy (named after our guide), Fang, and Sue each had a bite of pork. Though we felt reasonably safe from our vantage point in the boat, these massive descendants of dinosaurs kept our comfort level to a minimum. The most startling moment came when a male and female simultaneously approached the vessel and the Mexican Standoff began. Without warning, the male crocodile spun around creating a large splash and screams from the onlookers. Alas, the lovely female reptile won the meal. Ashley was sufficiently frightened of crocodiles which meant our next 36 hours would keep her alert, in the Aussie Outback.

Fogg Dam Termite Tombstones Magnetic Termite Mound

With ravenous reptilians on our mind, we paid homage to the Crocodile Safety signs at Fogg Dam where the monsoon rains overtook the asphalt road. Then into Litchfield National Park where the few accommodations on offer were visited. Some were nothing more than a 6′ x 10′ plywood room with a flimsy door. I was game, Ashley was petrified. But our persistence paid off and we found a trailer that fit our most simple tastes. Having our housing squared away, it was off to explore the Australian Outback. The first pit stop was the Magnetic Termite Mounds, which dotted the wooded landscape. In one particular spot, they were massed together like eight foot tombstones in a crowded graveyard that created an eerie mood. Each was situated with a North – South orientation to limit exposure to the harmful Sun. After seeing firsthand how these termites were able to construct impressive towers, it is no wonder how the hungry buggers can literally eat away a home’s timber frame.

Wild Dingo Wallabe

Wallabe SkeletonHalf the fun of exploring the Outback on our own terms was watching the fauna. At Buley Rockhole, I swam with a large lizard that proceeded to pace back and forth along the creek’s shoreline. Like deer are to Americans, kangaroos and wallabies are to Aussies. For that reason, special care was necessary when driving as these marsupials hop unannounced across the road, many times in small groups. One such wallaby didn’t fare so well as evidenced by its roadside skeleton. I desperately wanted to take a small bone as a memento, but Ashley forbid me from touching the skeleton, let alone bringing the possibly diseased fragment into the car. Ash’s keen eyes even spotted a wild dingo perched on a hill that was intently watching our movements.

Kangaroo Meat WWII Livingstone Airstrip Wide Open Spaces

If the kangaroo is the Aussie version of the American deer, it is meant to be eaten, right? The maid / receptionist / cook at our lodging offered to cook up a kangaroo burger. When in Rome. Ashley was left unimpressed, but I scarfed it up and thought it tasted fine, if not a bit gamey. The ‘roos habitat is spread amongst the Northern Territory where several WWII airstrips caught our attention along the highway, including the Livingston landing strip. It took some imagination, but one could envision the intense action this area experienced 65+ years ago. The wide open Outback and vast sky were liberating after three weeks along Australia’s bustling East Coast. What a varied landscape Australia has on exhibit!

Part II of II will highlight the rushing streams and waterfalls found in Australia’s Outback.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Avoid the name brand car rental agencies when possible. Hertz wanted a king’s ransom ($335+) for a two day rental plus mileage. A budget rental company cost peanuts ($100) in comparison including unlimited mileage. Opt for cheaper manual transmission models if possible.

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