On the road north from Alice Springs to Katherine, a distance of over 1100 kilometers, towns are few and far between. This is the deep outback, where you kind of have to take what you can get. One of the big draws on the road is the marker for the Tropic of Capricorn. The anticipation of seeing it, even though it marks a purely notional concept, is immense. The reality of the marker is a bit of a letdown, though.
See, nothing much to write home about.
Towns in the outback are little more than a single pub and a filling station or two, if you’re lucky. Several enterprising towns have come up with their own gimmicks to entice tourists to stop. Here’s a picture of the gas station at Wycliffe Well, the UFO capital of Australia:
It’s no Roswell.
By far and away the best town at enticing tourists in the Northern Territory is Daly Waters. It describes itself as the last pub for almost a thousand kilometers, and tourists from all around the world have adorned its walls with driver’s licenses, clothing (including bras and underwear), car license plates, caps, sports memorabilia, and what have you. I’d long wanted to visit the place, because it was the setting of a memorable scene in Bill Bryson’s travelogue of Australia, ‘Down Under’ (or ‘Life in a Sunburned Country’ for Americans). He had a great time there, getting blotto and arranging for a house swap with a South Korean family that he had no recollection of making the next morning. I found it disappointing, however, since apparently the owner, to save costs, decided to fire his professional wait staff and allow traveling students to work there in exchange for room and board. The service was atrocious (we waited 45 minutes for a glass of lemonade), and I found that the atmosphere resembled a gimmicky chain restaurant in the States. My girlfriend, having no preconceptions of the place, enjoyed it immensely, however.
Kitsch, Outback style.
Quite a few people lost their knickers in the Daly Waters Pub.
Much more impressive, in my opinion, was the Devil’s Marbles. It’s a sacred site to the area’s Aborigines, and it’s strange and impressive in a very Australian way.
Balancing rocks, Devils Marbles
Our last stop before Kakadu and Darwin was the town of Katherine. Once we finally got to Katherine, Australia took on a vaguely tropical feel. We had been through the cold and wet of Victoria, the temperate climate of Adelaide, and the desert of the Outback. now we were in the tropics. Katherine Gorge, or Nitmiluk in the local Jawoyn language, is a series of gorges created by the Katherine River. The wildlife was spectacular, and so was the scenery.
Katherine Gorge, Northern Territory, Australia
We were greeted at the entrance by thousands of fruit bats. The smell is indescribable.
Wild Agile Wallabies at Katherine Gorge
This little guy was scrounging for handouts at the car park. He even let my girlfriend pet him.
Freshwater croc, Katherine Gorge. There can be Salties in the river, but rangers remove them or close the river down, as boaters and swimmers regularly use the river.
The Katherine Gorge. Lovely place.
Next time we’ll be exploring Kakadu national park, one of the most spectacular places in Australia, and the tropical city of Darwin, Australia’s gateway to Asia. See you then!