Saturday, May 9, 2009

Tales from the Territory


I’d been eagerly anticipating this day since our adventure began and after thousands of kilometres, I was finally about to realise a dream. This was my rite of passage, the quintessential journey I was destined to take from the day I was born. It was time for my pilgrimage to the holy lands of the red centre.

I'm talking of course about Uluru. It's about as Australian as it gets; it’s like meat pies and sauce, AFL, lamingtons, Boxing Day tests and the Dole. Driving to Uluru is the Aussie equivalent of a pilgrimage to Mecca. Your whole life you see pictures of The Rock, read tales of mystery and intrigue about its origins and dream that one day you, too, will get to stand in its awesome presence.

And you know what? It’s even better than yo
u can imagine!

When you see it you can’t quite believe you are there. It’s just so huge. One minute it’s not there and then wow, there it is in all its glory and you wonder how you could’ve missed it. You rub your eyes, blink a few times, turn your head away and glance back just to make sure you aren’t dreaming, but no, it’s still there and it’s still magnificent!

When you’re right up next to it, it completely dwarfs and overwhelms you and you feel a reverence for it that is inexplicable. I LOVED IT!

But the Red Centre is not just about The Rock. It’s about stunning gorges and waterholes, isolated palm valleys, dingoes and wild camels and emus, ancient Aboriginal culture and gorgeous red ranges stretching as far as the eye can see. It truly is a spectacular part of the world.

Rather than taking the standard tourist route, the Big Red Truck took us through the Red Centre Kris Flanagan style (of course!). Now, a 200km shortcut that takes 5 hours longer to complete than the mainstream alternative will give you some idea of the kind of track I’m talking about.

When the signs all say “Extreme 4WD’ing”, “Must be driven in a convoy”, and “High likelihood of getting bogged”, then I’m kind of inclined to listen to them. But for Kris the word ‘extreme’ is an invisible force immediately pulling him in the direction of high adventure.

After some animated discussion about the pros and cons of tackling the track (pros argued by Kris the adventurer; cons argued by Sarah the voice of reason), we set off. And once again as has happened so many times on this trip, we were rewarded with stunning isolated scenery with not another soul in sight for the entire day. As for the 4WD’ing, I have to admit that it was great, but as with all great things, there’s only so much one person can take…



Have you been dreaming of a testosterone-fuelled 4WD mega adventure? Do gravity-defying tracks and croc-filled creek crossings make you salivate with excitement? Do bone jarring corrugations and sand dune Saharas get your pulse racing?

Well here’s a word of advice for all you adventure enthusiasts out there…

This may be the 4WD adventure you’ve been dreaming of since you got your first Tonka truck, but for your partner stuck in the ergonomically challenged passenger seat, driving thousands of kilometres on corrugated outback tracks is akin to being stuck inside a paint shaker at Bunnings for 8 hours, but worse…at least Bunnings has air conditioning.

Throw into the melting pot a billion flies, mercury-breaking temperatures, lack of sleep and whiplash as the car is suddenly and unexpectedly brought to a screeching halt by the driver to take a picture of a rock or a tree, and you have a powder keg just itching to ignite.

[So far we’ve managed to keep the match away from the fuse but there’s still 2 months left to go…watch this space!]

You might start noticing that the animated, deep and meaningful conversation you were having 2 hours ago has regressed to one word, short, sharp responses. It might look a little something like this:

“Are you OK?” – “Yes

Are you sure?” – “I’m fine”
(Even the astronauts on the international space station can see that I’m cranky)

“What’s wrong?” – “Nothing”

(I’m really cranky that you don’t know why I’m cranky)

“Is it something I did?” – “No”
(Obviously yes. Why can’t we be like normal people and drive on normal roads for a change? This is not a Sega Car Rally championship you know.)

At this point it might be a good idea to stop the car, have a cool drink, placate your partner with words of encouragement (“You really are the best babe”) and, here’s a novel idea, try driving on bitumen for at least 10kms. You’re partner will start talking to you again (it might take awhile) and your car will love you for it!


No journey to the Northern Territory is complete without a visit to the Top End. Darwin, Kakadu, Litchfield, Katherine Gorge, it’s all there waiting for you with dazzling, glossy-brochure promise and adventure.

With what can only be described as ‘immaculate’ timing we managed to reach the Top End just in time for the tail end of the wet season. Somewhere between Alice and Darwin, you cross an invisible line that delineates hot-and-dry from hot-and-wet, and when you step over that line you instantly feel the change.

For those of you that have never experienced a true wet season, imagine yourself sitting in a sauna with 3 thousand mosquitoes and no way out. Then imagine someone throwing a swimming pool of water on you. Then imagine climbing back into the sauna to do it all again.

Those are the images that come to mind when I think back to those first few days in the Top End. But what stands out for me are the ever present CROCS…

Everywhere you turn, warning signs indicate your imminent death-by-croc should you get within breathing distance of a drop of water. It’s safe to say that after my 45th warning sign I was so paranoid I was half expecting to find crocs perched at 50m intervals along the side of the road waiting to pounce on unsuspecting tourists. (Thankfully there were no roadside croc ambushes for us.)

We did, however, manage to get up close and personal with a few wild crocs on a boat cruise and trust me when I say that these things are prehistoric killing machines! Lying there in the dark waters of a billabong they look like hard, cold statues but their steely eyes betray a hint of the terror that can be unleashed with the flick of a tail and a chomp of their mighty jaws.

As we cruised the beautiful waters of Kakadu, we came across a fisherman in a tiny aluminium boat. A number of times we watched this man reach elbow-deep into the croc-infested waters to collect his fish. Maybe it was the tour operator mumbling, “You’d never see me doing that here”, or maybe it was the huge croc lying patiently in wait 40m away, but I couldn’t help wonder how long it would be until the fisherman, himself, ended up as catch of the day on the specials board at the local croc bistro.

Unfortunately for us our time in the Top End was marred by wet season road closures, feral animal culls and the presence of rogue saltwater crocs in most of the main tourist hotspots, effectively shutting down most of the national parks and preventing us from appreciating fully what this marvellous place has to offer.

On the upside, we did manage a few refreshing dips in some beautiful croc-free waterfalls, saw some incredibly ancient Aboriginal rock art, and watched a spectacular sunset from atop a rock ledge in Kakadu.

As we continue ever onwards with our journey, the diversity and enormity of this country continues to amaze and overwhelm us every day. To be here and to see these iconic Australian places firsthand is truly a privilege and a blessing.


In the next edition of Where’s the Big Red Truck: the Lajamanu Teenage Band


Anonymous said...

Good to see you are still enjoying this country and all it's magnificence, oh and each others company....And as for bitumen Sarah, It's waaaay overrated. Cheers Gazza

the nutty farmers said...

Did you forget to pack your sports bra Sarah? Just remember when it 's really bad that you could be stuck at work dealing with a very difficult patient! Loving you're awesome writing...keep it up. Love to you both. xx Kim & Chris

SCADA Mum said...

Hi Sara & Kris, I just love your photos and comments. The scenery is just breath taking. Enjoy every moment of your travels. Take care & we will all talk to you soon.

Anonymous said...

great to see kris doesnt under stand you ladies any more than any other guy. i thought your journey to the magical places you are showing us may have given him magical powers but it is good to see it hasnt. ( kris just remember opposite).

cant wait to see your thousands of photos when you guys get back( with a few thousand beers)

stay shiny side up
The Hills