Making a new friend at a roadhouse off the Stuart Highway in the middle of nowhere!
The drive from Alice Springs to Darwin is long – about 20 hours – and there’s not too much to see in between except for Devils Marbles and Katherine Gorge. So the guide on our trip had to be a bit creative in stops to make the 3 day tour more exciting, and she did a good job of it. A friend of hers at a roadhouse south of Daly Waters has a few pet pythons which she lets visitors hold and take a picture with. Considering most zoos will charge $20 for this, I took the opportunity to do it for free.
There is also the famous Daly Waters pub – a place which claims to have the oldest liquor license in Australia. Like lots of other outback roadhouses they have collected postcards, photos, letters, and other memorabilia from all over the world.
Finally there’s the Mataranka thermal pools and Waterhouse River – a nice swimming spot just south of Katherine that’s not worth going out of your way for but a pleasant spot if you’re passing through anyway.
The impressive balancing act of one of the granite boulders that is part of the Devils Marbles conservation park in central Australia
Heading north from Alice Springs on the grand Top End tour, the first big site is Devils Marbles (known to aboriginals as Karlu Karlu). The marbles are so ominously named because there is a toxic plant that grows nearby, and when the European farmers came through their sheep all dropped dead. The site, like most in the area, are sacred to the local people and conservation is paramount. However, unlike Uluru and Kata Tjuta, visitor access is largely unrestricted and no tickets are required.
The boulders are quite strange, as a lot of them are completely hollow and can be split very easily. Still others are precariously balanced on larger rocks. One guy in my tour group remarked that they looked like they’d been dropped down by a particularly heinous tornado or hurricane, but actually they were carved out through wind and water erosion from a layer of granite under the earth’s surface over hundreds of millions of years.
The mountain known alternately as Attila and Mt. Conner as viewed from highway 4
Near to Uluru on the private Curtin Springs cattle station is yet another massive geological formation known to aboriginals as Attila, to European Australians as Mt. Conner, and to my tour guide as “Fuluru” because many a wanderer has mistaken this mountain for the famous red rock.
As it’s on private property it’s not easy to approach the mountain, but there is a hill near the road where you can get a nice panoramic view of Attila and the surrounding area. It’s also a great place to get up close to the red sand, and even take some home if you’re keen.
After driving past Attila our tour group stopped to see the sunset over Kings Canyon, our next destination.
Sunset viewed from Castle Hill in Townsville, Queensland
On the fifth day of my road trip I spent some time in Townsville, a small city just south of Cairns. I walked along the esplanade, got some ice cream and then went up to Castle Hill to see the views of the surrounding areas and yet another gorgeous sunset. There was also some nifty street art, including a beautiful wall on the outside of a hostel filled with reef-themed images of fish and mermaids.
The cloud forest viewed from the “Sky Window” walking path at Eungella National park
Day 4 was another big driving day but I made sure to stop by Eungella National Park for some hiking. After a long winding and foggy drive up the mountain, I was rewarded with seeing platypuses and turtles in their natural habit at Broken River. Further, the cloud forests reminded me a lot of Colombia. This was perhaps my favorite place I visited on this road trip.
I then made my way to Mackay for dinner, where I saw some cool Alice in Wonderland themed street art. All in all, a great day, and no parking tickets!
Hanging out at Poona Lake at the Great Sandy National Park
From the Sunshine Coast I headed up to Great Sandy National Park to do some hiking. I intended to get to Fraser Island, but realized too late that I would need a 4WD and I didn’t want to pay such high ferry costs. I feel satisfied with Great Sandy though, as I believe the scenery was similar and it was less crowded and – best of all – free!
I did some hiking around the Bymien picnic area to Poona Lake, a freshwater perched lake that is stained a rusty red because of the nearby tea trees. As usual I took tons of photos of mushrooms, trees, and logs.
Then I headed further down the road to Rainbow Beach where there are lovely red cliffs called the Colored Sands.