The route from Cairns, Queensland through the Northern Territory to Broome, Western Australia is called the Savannah Way, and it basically cuts across all of northern Australia.
As we leave the East Coast, we quickly enter the outback, red roads and all. Our first stop on the journey west is Undara, home of some spectacular lava tubes. On the first night we took a sunset wildlife tour, complete with champagne and appetizers:
The main event was sitting at the opening of one of the lava tubes while bats whizzed past us right above our heads, heading out into the night for their evening feed. Roughly 2,000 little micro bats came streaming out (in the wet season almost 20,000 bats flood out at once!)
The next morning we got to see the lava tubes in their full glory. The tubes we walked through were created about 190,000 years ago by the Undara Volcano, which boasts the longest flow of lava the world (the name Undara is aboriginal for “a long way”). They were gorgeous:
Gulf of Carpentaria
As we continued our drive west, we went through some of the smallest, most remote towns of the entire trip. Many of the them just have a single roadhouse (gas station with some groceries), but others have some visitor centers with historical information. Croydon was one such stop, which had its very own little movie theater/screening room showing a film about the Australian gold rush in 1885. Next up was Normanton, which we thought would be a bustling town by comparison, but alas, it was still only a single street with a couple stores. As we loaded up on supplies, we were struck by certain items being kept in the refrigerator, like rice, pasta, flour, etc, (a hint to the temperatures they endure out here) and the very obvious lack of fresh produce. The most notable feature in town was the 30 foot crocodile statue, an exact replica of the beast caught in the river nearby. Yikes.
Since we had driven all the way out here, we couldn’t skip the detour north to the actual coast, a little place called Karumba. We hopped out of the car and walked eagerly toward the water, hoping to be able to dip our toes into the Gulf of Carpentaria, but we were thwarted again by crocs hazard.
The beach itself, however, was pretty remarkable. The giant slabs of rock, upon closer inspection, were actually compressed sea shells—billions of shells. It was quite beautiful.
And then Paul found a dead pufferfish which was pretty awesome.
We heard wonderful things about this national park called Lawn Hill Gorge (whose original name is Boodjamulla), so we decided to check it out, even though it called for some off-roading. By off-roading I mean the sealed (paved) road ended half way and we got to endure 40km of rough, corrugated dirt:
After a long, slow drive in, we finally made it. This gorge has been continuously inhabited for over 35,000 years. Let me just say that again: continuously inhabited for over 35,000 years. With year-round water in a near-desert, it’s easy to see why. It’s a true oasis.
As we travel around the country, we meet some great folks: European backpackers, young aussie families (some with too many kids for our taste), lots of former teachers turned grey nomad, and they’ve all been incredibly friendly and helpful, ready to give advice and tips. However, we’ve also realized there are some people on the road who we’d prefer not to encounter again. One of them was Max. Paul and I were sitting at our campsite on our last evening in the park, about to start preparing dinner. As many grey nomads do, Max was walking around the campground, checking out other people’s setups and drinking a glass of wine (with a koozie). We waved hello and smiled, happy to have a chat with another human being, so he came over. Immediately I could tell something was different. He wouldn’t look me (Christina) in the eyes. It took a good 5 minutes of chitchat before he even glanced at me. Seemed strange, but whatever, I’ll give it a pass. But as the conversation continues, a few things start to stand out: he enjoys boasting about his successful career in agriculture (he apparently designed and built half the food factories in Oz, and has travelled internationally extensively meeting many agro hotshots and stealing trade secrets), he’s racist (he boasted about laying-off 999 asian workers –keeping one to drive the new labor-reducing tractor he designed…he laughed a good bit at this one hahaha, he’s vehemently against immigrants coming to Oz on those boats, he thinks the brahman cows from India are OK, but not the people), he loves to kill animals (on his last trip to Kakadu he shot over 50 donkeys (feral)—they’re so stupid he says because when you shoot one the rest just walk over to see what happened, he once shot 2000 kangaroos, supposedly for a meat cull, he even has a gun in his truck right now, “just in case” even though it’s illegal here), and he’s sexist too (the damned wife shouldn’t be in charge of navigation, and of course, the whole eye contact thing). So all in all, it was a very enlightening talk. We learned that Australia is a lot more like home than we imagined. Gulp.