The Gulf Savannah

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.

Map 1

Undara

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:

Sipping champagne on a volcano
Sipping champagne on a volcano
Paul's face says it all
Paul’s face says it all

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!)

Surreal photo of the microbats on the roof of the cave
Surreal photo of the microbats on the roof of the cave

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:

Paul under the giant lava tube archway
Paul under the giant lava tube archway
One of the biggest lava tubes
One of the biggest lava tubes
Our ranger guiding us into the abyss
Our ranger guiding us into the abyss
Map of the area's volcanic activity. The little star is where we camped.
Map of the area’s volcanic activity. The little star is where we camped.

 

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.

Christina with Kris the Croc
Christina with Kris the Croc

Ay Karumba!

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.

Paul on the beach in Karumba
Paul on the beach in Karumba

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.

Countless seashells that make up the rocky beach
Countless seashells that make up the rocky beach

And then Paul found a dead pufferfish which was pretty awesome.

Dead pufferfish found in Karumba
Dead pufferfish found in Karumba

Boodjamulla

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:

Corrugated dirt roads. They don't look that bad, but boy are they terrible
Corrugated dirt roads. They don’t look that bad, but boy are they terrible

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.

Christina hiking up the escarpment
Christina hiking up the escarpment

 

Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) Gorge
Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) Gorge

 

Lizard basking in the sun
Lizard basking in the sun

 

Bower built by a bower bird. The male makes a little hut of twigs, then collects as of lots white and green colored objects to impress the female. Notice the bones, teeth and vertebrae.
Bower built by a bower bird. The male makes a little hut of twigs, then collects as of lots white and green colored objects to impress the female. Notice all the bones, teeth and vertebrae.
Christina taking a swim at Indarri Falls. The white stacks behind are tufa formations, like at Mono Lake in CA
Taking a swim at Indarri Falls. The white stacks are tufa formations, like at Mono Lake in CA
Indarri Falls lookout (looking down at where Christina was swimming). Very popular kayaking/canoeing spot
Indarri Falls lookout (looking down at where Christina was swimming). Very popular kayaking/canoeing spot

Mad Max

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.

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