High Speed Cattle Crossing (Click on Images to Enlarge)
Vast, remote and arid, the Australian Outback is a landscape which offers a striking contrast to the better known beach towns of Australia. Lynne and I left Mackay, Queensland, after completing our Quest for the Elusive Platypus. Our new quest for Aboriginal Culture and dramatic wildlife would take us from the sandy beaches of Queensland, through the bush, (land outside urban areas) and into the Aussie Outback, delivering us to the tropical Top End.
A new adventure had us in its grip and we were heading to Darwin, capital city of the Northern Territory. Darwin is located on the northern central coast of Australia, thus earning the name ‘Top End’ and is a location filled with danger! I think it should be called ‘Danger End’ because there are so many things in the area that can kill you! It’s rough as guts—but—a little thing like that wasn’t about to stop us! We had a long dangerous drive ahead of us; 1161m/1869kms west and another 599m/964kms north before we would reach our destination. We would be driving through some of Australia’s harshest and least populated land and stopping at a destination which boasted about all its dangers! 33 Tips on Dangers in Darwin (Top 10 things that can kill you in Australia)
Mackay, QLD. to Darwin, NT.
When setting out on this type of dangerous journey it is essential you have a reliable car, food and lots of water! We were traveling off the grid into vast areas with no electricity, fuel or mobile phone service and very few fellow travelers. To avoid as much danger as possible we had the car serviced, ensuring the spare tire was adequate and all systems were working properly. After loading up the cooler we bravely headed into the desolate Outback. Not wanting to take any chances we had carefully studied and mapped out our route. Running out of gas/petrol would have been a disaster! Because of the remoteness, we found ourselves paying $2.06 per liter which equates to $7.79 per gallon, for gasoline along the way. Did I mention it could be dangerous on the wallet as well?
For two days we drove on roads blistered by the heat, with the occasional head jarring ‘whoopdy’ as we bounced on the mini roller coaster made by flood damaged sunken culverts. It’s hard to believe this dry area, bare of vegetation, would ever have flood waters! We drove past creek after creek, dry and dusty, only identifiable by the sign posts giving them names. The danger of being caught in a flash flood was real, only so much water could be absorbed into the dry, rock hard land! The outside temperature gauge read 42 degrees Celsius or 107 Fahrenheit! If our car had broken down, the danger of dying from heat stroke or dehydration would have been a real possibility! Don’t ever leave the car when stuck in the outback!
We forged on, passing through random small towns advertising dinosaurs, flying doctors, livestock and mines, however, being populated by very few people. It’s fascinating to see the extreme measures that are necessary to live in this harsh, isolated, dangerous land, yet, humans insist on living there! The buildings were obviously lived in ~ so the people must have been somewhere.
Very few vehicles passed us during the drive and the majority of these were Road Trains; huge trucks pulling 3 or more trailers and can be up to 53.5 meters–174 feet long, some even double decker—hauling cattle.
“Keep your eyes on the road Lynne, this is dangerous!” I nervously instructed while she was overtaking these road hogs. We tried not to stay behind the ones with livestock for too long; the potential for a very messy windshield was far too great! The novelty of the lack luster landscape wore off after the first few hours so we tried to entertain ourselves with a game of ‘spot the’ but all we spotted were carcasses and lots of them! We had avoided traveling at dawn and dusk for this very reason, too many hopping kangaroos made it very dangerous! Poor kangaroos didn’t stand a chance against big heavy vehicles and if you were in a small car, I think, sadly, both would lose.
Day three was filled with excitement from the get go! We saw foliage on the horizon and we dodged living kangaroos and an emu. Despite all the danger, we could see beauty in this ancient terrain in the way the colors of red earth and pale green vegetation played against the cobalt blue sky and occasional white puffy cloud. In some areas we were 200 meters (656 feet) or less above sea level and it was easy to believe that Australian was indeed, the flattest continent on earth! The danger seemed to be diminishing slightly.
In the early hours of our drive we came upon a temporary muster station; 1500 head of cattle had spent the night resting by the side of the road and were being readied to set off for a day of grazing. Thrilled with this discovery we pulled over for a closer look. A line of cattle dogs had been tied to a nearby fence, which also served as a makeshift clothes line and was draped in numerous pairs of blue jeans. The attentive puppies’ eagerness was apparent as they jumped and yipped, wanting to be released. Surveying the camp we noticed a man winding up the electric fence that had kept the livestock contained during the night. He welcomed us for a chat, introducing himself as ‘Matey’! How’s that for a proper Aussie name mate?
Matey Taylor was the lead drover; in charge of keeping the cattle alive for a week while waiting for the road trains to arrive that would deliver them to an auction. His station at Camooweal, QLD. had been stripped bare of all food and they were forced to graze the side of the highway. As his name would indicate he was friendly and consequently up for a chat! Matey had us chuckling when he told us about the two German women he had helping him. He only had three ‘Jackaroos’ (Australian cowboys), which included the two ladies on horseback, (they would be ‘Jillaroos’) and a young boy on a motorcycle. Unfortunately the dogs would be riding in the truck; according to Matey it was far too hot and dangerous for them! With no water available they also traveled with a semi-truck hauling a massive water tank, which they managed to drain daily.
Matey told us, “Those girls told me they could ride but, you can’t put them on just any horse, too dangerous!” He explained, “They have a bit of trouble controlling them and if they get hurt we are a long way from help and they’re very far from home. It’s a big job for me watching out for them!”
He went on to tell us a story of one of the girls coming in one evening complaining how her legs were sore and hurting, so he told her, “Here—take this spoonful of concrete —and harden up!”
He laughed at his cleverness and so did we! On our way out we noticed one of the girls having trouble with her powerful steed, we lingered and I had the video camera ready for a ‘Funniest Video’ moment, but, she was able to gain control after a few wild circular spins. Disappointing!
More danger on the road once again as we carefully negotiated around wild girls on horses and 1500 head of cattle!
Hours down the road, the landscape greened up even more, and anthills started to pop up like tombstones. They could very well have been the tombstones of travelers not so lucky during their outback crossing! Our backdrop was becoming tropical and the temperature even fell a few degrees. Danger peeked around every little shrub as wallabies and kangaroos decided to travel during all hours of the day!
Reaching the end of our westward journey, we took a right turn at Three Ways, NT and headed due north to Mataranka, and the Elsey National Park, with soothing thermal pools, refreshing swimming holes, the Roper River and spectacular waterfalls. With the new danger of snakes, bats and insects on the increase, it was nonetheless, an astonishing contrast, breaking through the desert into this lush tropical paradise. We soaked up the healing energies of the warm water and dined in the local pub, very grateful we did not have to make this journey on horseback and have a spoonful of concrete for dinner.
We are now in Darwin, settling into the hot, humid, dangerous conditions derived from being so close to the equator. Wish us luck, for it is a rugged dangerous lifestyle. A lifestyle we will eagerly embrace. We’ll keep our spoonful of concrete handy – we just might need it after all!
snapshots from the road
Travel On! Join us as we travel into the unknown.
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