Wednesday, 15 August 2012

It’s been a few days and quite a few miles between posts. This is partly because it’s been too darn hot and dusty during the day and too dark at night.

But mostly it’s because Telstra, while it might be the Government-owned phone company, doesn’t have very many repeater stations once you get out in the bush.  As for the other networks, forget it. If you don’t live in a main centre, you don’t exist as far as they’re concerned.

Sunset over the Gulf of Carpentaria from Karumba

Seriously, Australia is a truly massive country. And there’s not very much of anything once you get off the beaten track.

A slow day on the Mitchell River crossing

The Normanton croc - at more than 8m, the biggest ever captured

It’s funny what you get used to. Only six weeks ago I’d stop at traffic lights in Sydney and wave away window washers who wanted spare pennies to clean your screen.

Now I stop at river crossings, don the jandals, and casually stroll across to check the depth before driving over in the truck, one eye out for crocs and the other for potholes. Such is life in Outback Australia.

I’m writing this at Kingfisher Camp, an Outback station in rural Queensland, near the border with the Northern Territories.

It’s 630pm, still light, and about 26 degrees.

Today we drove up from Lawn Hill, a fabulous national park in a limestone river gorge inhabited by aborigines (and the odd fresh water croc) for thousands of years. Last night at sunset we walked up to the top of the Constance Range, which overlooks the gorge, and watched the colours change on the stone and bush as the sun set a fiery blaze of orange in the west.

It’s so hot and dry here. At night the temperature drops below 10 degrees and we shiver in our sleeping bags but by 9am the mercury is heading back towards 30. The sky is a constant, cloudless blue.

And the dust. Oh, the dust. We were warned about the bulldust. But it’s hard to comprehend it until it’s in every crevice of your body and everything you own.

It gets everywhere. Chuckie is now a red truck rather than a white one. And I’m not sure my tan is genuine either.

I signed off my last post from the tip of Cape York. Suffice to say we made it down again OK, although our windscreen is about to fall out from all the rattling. It’s currently held in with blu-tac and wads of paper.  Hopefully it will last until Darwin.

After we got back down we headed west across the Gulf of Carpentaria to (Ay) Karumba!, a town on the Gulf Coast whose main claim to fame, apart from the fabulous sunsets and the fishing, is that it’s the only town with sealed road access on the entire, 1000-km stretch of the gulf. Think about that.

The distances out here are mind-boggling, particularly for Kiwis. I’ll look at the map and say, ‘’that looks like a good spot, let’s just whip down there.’’

My girlfriend will peer over my shoulder and say “sure, that’s 580km away’’. Everything is a long, long way away. And sometimes the landscape doesn’t change much for hours at a time. But it has its beauty, especially in the twilight when the temperature drops and the setting sun bathes the land in a warm glow.

Tomorrow we’re headed back in time, literally, over the border into the Northern Territories. Time to put the clocks back and then check out Limmen, Australia’s newest national park – approved just two weeks ago.

Then it’s onto one of Australia’s oldest, the famous Kakadu, before finally hitting the tropical NT capital of Darwin, still some 1000km distant.

It's a wide open road

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