Thursday, April 17, 2014

Nullarbor Ain't Nothin'. Driving The Outback

Not the Subaru Outback. The actual one.

To make it from the coast of Queensland to Darwin (or first, to Kakadu National Park, about 3 hours east of Darwin), I had to drive across the Outback--the only Outback trekking I've done, aside from the Nullarbor. The Nullarbor runs close to the coast, and as I mentioned, I was quite taken by the scenery there. So I was hopeful that this drive might hold similar pleasant surprises.
 Western Queensland is unceasingly flat, hot, treeless, and dry. The above street view is about where I hit the eagle, and it displays the landscape in an unusually green mood. My view was golden brown. If you drop the Google dude somewhere around Winton (the town where I had the windshield replaced--also, the home of "Waltzing Matilda," so there!) you have to do a lot of clicking before you see anything different.

I spent five days traversing this landscape, stopping only for roadhouse ice cream, pee breaks, and the dusty caravan parks that crop up every 300 kilometers or so. Drive, eat, sleep, rinse, repeat. There was one belching copper mine at the town of Mount Isa, about two and a half days in, and that was it.

It was relentlessly sunny. My protection method was to take a lightweight cotton button-down shirt (the key desert gear, according to my Grand Canyon guides), put my driving arm into the sleeve, and then drape the rest over my shoulder, chest, or lap as needed depending on the time of day. I stopped well before sundown, because Princess has had quite enough close encounters with wildlife, thank you. I was up before dawn to get as many daytime kilometers under my belt as possible.

As I edged northward into (very slightly) greener country, the landscape became studded with termite mounds. They ranged from lumps a few inches tall to 10-foot monstrosities that looked like Medieval cathedrals, all composed of the reddest Australian soil. Apparently, I'm not the only one who was bored, because quite a number of the mounds sported T-shirts, hats, bras, and underwear. Some were convincing enough to startle me into thinking that someone was standing alongside the road.

On the last day, I finally passed into the Northern Territory, where a blissful 130-kph speed limit (about 80 mph) shot me to a guidebook-recommended stop not far from Kakadu, a settlement centered around a thermal pool.

The swim was blissful, and the caravan park was full of odd wildlife.
As evening came on, flocks of flying foxes streamed across the sky. I returned to the pool for a wonderful dip the next morning before setting off, enjoying the perfect solitude. It was a nice end to a very long and somewhat troublesome trip across the Outback. If anything, I got a sense of the sheer emptiness this continent is capable of.

No comments:

Post a Comment