Australia 2011 (Part IV: Top End. Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks and Darwin)

Hello All,

And welcome to Dabendan’s last post on his 2011 trip through Australia. We both had a blast everywhere we went, experiencing the upside down and inside out world of the great Down Under. The far north of Australia, in true iconoclastic Aussie style, was quite warm. July and August are part of the dry season, meaning little water and lots of bush fires. Most of the fires are set by the aboriginal peoples, in their roles as caretakers of the land. It does make for a smoky drive down the last stretch of the Stuart highway, though.

After Katherine, we made a slight detour west to visit Litchfield National Park. Litchfield is often overshadowed by its eastern neighbor, Kakadu, but we found it to have some of the best scenery the Outback has to offer.

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Magnetic termite mounds, Litchfield National Park. These termite mounds are built by thousands of termites with a north-south orientation to control the interior temperature. So if you get lost in NA without a compass, let these be your guides.

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Yours truly next to a magnetic termite mound. These things are enormous, or else I’m extremely tiny. Either way, it’s an interesting picture.

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Wangi Falls, Litchfield National Park. All of the swimming holes were closed when we went there thanks to recent saltwater crocodile activity. As you’ll see it the later photos, I’ll leave the swimming to the crocs without a fight.

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Wild Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, Litchfield Park.

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The road out of the park to Darwin wasn’t finished, and it was a long bumpy hell in our 2WD Caravan. All part of the experience, though.

Litchfield Pales in comparison to Kakadu. Kakadu is half the size of Switzerland, and possesses Aboriginal rock paintings older than those found in Lascaux, man-eating saltwater crocs, and gorgeous national scenery. It’s one of the only World Heritage Sites both for its natural beauty as well as its importance to humanity. It’s also home to the largest, most productive uranium mine in the world. Can’t forget that.

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Alligator Rivers Floodplain, Kakadu. Weirdly beautiful.

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Rock painting, Ubirr, Kakadu. The aboriginal elders regularly touch up paintings, so it’s difficult to date them, but archaeologists reckon this one to be upwards of 20,000 years old. It’s an anatomically accurate painting of a local snake-necked turtle, by the way.

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Rock painting, Ubirr, Kakadu. This one’s from the oldest part of the rock art gallery at Ubirr, estimated to be about 50,000 years old. (For comparison, the ones at Lascaux in France are estimated to be 30,000 years old). This is part of a long stretch of paintings representing the animals and spirits of Kakadu over thousands of years. There’s even a painting that’s reckoned to represent a Tasmanian wolf, extinct in the Northern territory for many thousands of years. One sad story told by the very knowledgeable rangers was that once in the late 1980’s, when the park was first opened for tourists, one of the tourists walked up to the gallery and started to wipe away the paintings with a wet rag! The damage is still visible, and kind of heartbreaking if you think of what was lost. What a prick.

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One of the few Aboriginal representations of the Rainbow Serpent. The Rainbow Serpent is viewed by many Aborigines of Northern Australia as one of the most powerful Ancestors of the Creation Time. It’s most often associated with water and oil, but it can be capricious if not respected.

We were a bit tired of photography by the time we got to Darwin, and also a bit depressed that our trip was nearing its end, so we didn’t take many pictures of the town itself. We did visit a reptile zoo in downtown Darwin itself, though, because although we did see many salties in Kakadu, we naturally were a bit heistant to get up close to them for a photo.

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This is Big Burt, who starred with Paul ‘That’s not a knife… THAT’s a knife’ Hogan in Crocodile Dundee. Crocosaurus Cove, Darwin. He’s over 5 meters long, tips the scales at over 700kg, and is over 80 years old.

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Close up of another of the park’s crocs, William. He was originally named Houdini, but his and his mate Bess’s names were changed to William and Kate in honor of the royal wedding.

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Why you don’t want to jump into just any lake or river in the Northern Territory.

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A pair of Goannas, Crocosaurus Cove, Darwin.

Well, that’s it for my 2011 Australian adventure. Thanks for sticking around, and if this gets enough feedback I might post a travelogue of my 2007 Transsiberian Railway trip from Hong Kong to London overland some time soon. Get to commenting and liking! Happy travels,

Dabendan

Australia 2011 (Part V: Daly Waters and Katherine Gorge)

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.

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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:

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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.

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Kitsch, Outback style.

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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.

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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

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We were greeted at the entrance by thousands of fruit bats. The smell is indescribable.

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Wild Agile Wallabies at Katherine Gorge

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This little guy was scrounging for handouts at the car park. He even let my girlfriend pet him.

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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.

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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!

Australia 2011 (Part IV: Uluru and King’s Canyon)

Hello all, I’m back after a bit of an absence. Life tends to get in the way, but enough excuses. Onward and upward!

Today we come to Uluru, which is the aboriginal (and official) name for Ayer’s Rock, located in SW Northern Territory. It surprised me to find that getting to Uluru by road is a bit of a slog, necessitating a 7 hour (one way) detour from the main Stuart Highway and even further from Alice Springs, the closest appreciable city.

But I assure you that the extra mileage was worth it. Uluru is one of those places on Earth that must be seen with one’s own eyes to be believed, and even then it’s hard to fully encompass its beauty. Australia is Topsy-Turvy land anyway, but walking around Uluru makes you feel like you’re on another world. The only other place, at least in my experience, whose grandeur even approaches it is the Grand Canyon.

My girlfriend, being Taiwanese, couldn’t say ‘Uluru’ properly, so instead she used the Chinese name for it, ‘世界的肚臍’, which translates as ‘the bellybutton of the world’. I found that name oddly appropriate.

On to the photos!

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After a few weeks in SA, this was a welcome sight.

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First glimpse of Uluru.

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Detail of the base of Uluru. I liked it because it reminded me of a human skull.

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Balancing rock at the base of Uluru.

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Aboriginal petroglyphs (dated at approximately 10,000 years old), base of Uluru.

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And it changes color at sunset!

Our next stop, located about halfway between Uluru and the Stuart Highway, was King’s Canyon (or Watarrka in the local Aboriginal language). This is Aus’s answer to America’s Grand Canyon, and while it doesn’t come anywhere near the Grand Canyon’s colossal scale, it has a peculiarly Australian charm and beauty of its own.

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View from the Rim Walk

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Detail of King’s Canyon wall.

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The classic photo of Uluru at sunset.

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A bit more of any arty photo incorporating some local flora.

That’s it for this edition. Next up is Alice Springs and the road to Kakadu. I’ll try to have it up by the weekend. See you then!

Australia 2011 (Part III: Coober Pedy and the Road to Uluru)

Sorry it’s been a while, but I got a bit busy with school, work, and family. Anyway, here’s the belated post that I promised: Nothern South Australia, including the amazing Coober Pedy.

From Wikipedia: Coober Pedy is sometimes referred to as the “opal capital of the world” because of the quantity of precious opals that are mined there. Coober Pedy is renowned for its below-ground residences, called “dugouts”, which are built due to the scorching daytime heat. The name ‘Coober Pedy’ comes from the local Aboriginal term kupa-piti, which means ‘white man’s hole’.Image

Free range chickens, Aussie style. We literally saw flocks of them by the side of the road as we were driving north from Port Augusta.

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A view of the Outback. Lovely place.

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ImageFirst sight of Coober Pedy. They filmed the Mad Max and Pitch Black films  here, as well as some less well known films (outside of Aus of course.)

ImageWorld’s only underground Catholic church, as far as I’m aware.

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An opal store. Coober Pedy people are nothing if not imaginative.

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This man and his wife runs an ‘orphanage’ for baby kangaroos whose mothers were eaten by aboriginal hunters or hit by road trains. Most of the orphans he reintroduces to the wild, but some, like this male red, become family pets.

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Another of the man’s orphaned kangaroos. He and his wife have about a dozen.

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And some kangaroo meat we picked up at the local Cole’s supermarket.

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Kangaroo stir fried with some onions and spicy chilies. Yum. Coober Pedy also had a great pizza restaurant whose specialty dish was ‘The Australian Coat of Arms’: half the pizza was covered in emu meat, and the other half was topped with kangaroo meat. Kicking myself that we didn’t get a picture of that one.

ImageKulgera Pub and RV (Caravan) Park. Last stop on the Stuart Highway before reaching the Northern Territory. I’m still not sure what all the shoes mean.

That’s it for South Australia. Join me next time (hopefully tomorrow) for the jewel in Australia’s crown, Uluru and King’s Canyon, Northern Territory.

Australia 2011 (Part II: Adelaide, Kangaroo Island and SA)

I really liked Adelaide. The sunshine and relative dryness was a welcome change from soggy Victoria, and Adelaide has a  special charm of its own. It’s much smaller than Melbourne, so that it manages to combine the community feeling of a small town with the convenience of a much larger city. Best of both worlds.

The drive towards Adelaide was striking. Lots of small towns scattered throughout Canunda National Park. Here’s me fighting a giant lobster, the claim to fame of one small hamlet:

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Giant things are sort of an Australian national pastime. This one’s in Kingston, SA.

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These signs amused me no end on the long drive.

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Adelaide, finally. Why do I feel so at home here?

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Adelaide is surrounded by hills, each of which sports its own little village. This one, called Hahndorf, was founded by German shipwreck survivors in the 1830s. Just added to the very pleasant but deeply surreal quality of Australia.

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I laughed for ages at this sign. (Hahndorf).

Amanda and I then splurged for a package tour to Kangaroo Island, because we would soon be heading up north, where chances to see (wild) South Australian fauna would be few and far between. I’m very happy we did.

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An Australian sea lion pup having a roll.

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Kookaburra!

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New Zealand Fur Seal pup having a doze.

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Does my butt look big in this?

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A koala, awake for once.

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And this is Remarkable Rocks, the last bit of land before you come to Antarctica.

And they’re truly remarkable, by the way.

That’s it for this edition of Dabendan’s Aussie adventure. Join us next time for Coober Pedy, where they filmed Mad Max and Pitch Black. See you tomorrow!

Dabendan