Getting tired of this map yet?!

Following is the story of my time at The Top End (Darwin, Kakadu, Arnhemland) and The Red Center (Alice Springs, Uluru) July 8-17.

If you want to view previous segments you can click on these links:
Sydney June 11-16.
Canberra June 16-20 and Melbourne June 20-23.
Tasmania June 23-July 1.
Broome July 1-8.

July 8

After arriving in Darwin, one day late due to the unexpected extra overnight in Broome because of the canceled flight, I went out for a stroll. This place was packed inside and out with people cheering a game of Australian Rules Football.

I ate dinner at Hanuman, an Indian/Thai place. They have curry in common? There are many such combo places here. My goat curry on the Indian side was magnificent!

July 9

Carl and Lynn's friend Sally picked me up for a Sunday Brunch at the Art Museum...

...with a beautiful view. We had a great time, thanks for coming out Sally! And then Sally dropped me off (she having been already one too many times) at the...

...Lions Beer Can Regatta!

It is quite the event every year at Mindil Beach and I am so glad to have the chance to experience it for myself. It's a very family-friendly occasion.

Every component has to be hand made and so although this looks like they just stuck beer cans onto a row boat, not so. See the three guys standing behind the boat...

...I got all the details from them. The Electricals. They were so delighted with their creation.

I didn't ask! Really!! They said comm'on, get on in for a picture. So of course I did!

There's a panic button up front and that tnt blow-up looking thing on the bench is a take-off on a maritime safety device but the initials have their own not so family-friendly meaning. Those exit guys are funny too. They made everything even to cutting out the wood ribs. The body is made of some very thick rubber sheeting.

They were so fun and I even ended up with Laser Electrical logo beer cozies from a couple of the guys so this is clearly my team.

I called this boat The Wingers because of the tattoo you'll see later.

BTW, all the teams are proud to report that they did indeed drink all the beer out of those cans. Which isn't a stretch since Aussies really do love their beer.

And spoiler alert, this boat, The Rainbows, won!

Aussie Rules Football up-and-down and Cricket across.

Time to put the boats on the starting line! They had many events but this and the treasure hunt are the Main events.

There go my guys, load 'em up.

The Rainbows can't seem to get steady, and The Vikings are heading out strong.

From top around, The Baggies (they are floating on bags of beer cans!), The Stand-ups, The Wingers, and The Vikings.

I was wet to my shorts catching these shots and the water was CRAZY warm. I've never been in such warm sea water. So I looked it up: average sea temperature in July is 78 degrees so in the shallow water of the bay it would have been warmer.

Coming around and in for the final push!

The next two are closer-up of this picture.

The Rainbows are pulling ahead, knocking The Electricals out of the lead!

Everyone finished I think with no sinkers in this first round.

An hour and a half later (I didn't stay...sooo sunny) there is a treasure hunt called The Battle of Mindil. The boats go out to find the treasure and bring it back to shore. What happens is a melee of stealing the treasure and from what I understand all the boats are ruined in the effort and the winners running to shore are tackled from all sides.

The winners! They won the race and the battle too. Champions of the Beer Can Regatta!

There's also a big market with food and crafts. I had a wander through and then went to catch the bus to town.

A lively cricket game at the bus stop, if cricket can be lively, which for a few minutes it definitely is.

July 11

Good MORNING! I'm in the bus, taking these pictures out the front window (yup, front seat!). The guide mentions how rare it is to have clouds during the dry.

Quotes from the tour brochure:

"Today you’re up early to get started on a day that you’ll long remember. Travelling on one of the longest roads in Australia, the Stuart Highway, you’ll see some of the most amazing terrain this country has to offer. When we turn onto the Arnhem Highway, the Marrakai Plains will provide a beautiful backdrop for your onward journey."

More. Wow.

"Covering an area of more than 19,800 square kilometres, World Heritage listed Kakadu is the largest National Park in Australia. ((Not so true I heard as the Great Barrier Reef is larger.)) The combination of mangrove fringed coastal areas, expansive flood plains, lowland hills, open woodland and forest habitats make Kakadu one of the most diverse landscapes you’ll ever experience.

"Be amazed at the population of wildlife in the water, on the land and in the air – Kakadu is home to a myriad of animals, hundreds of bird species and thousands of different insects and plants. Marvel at the concentration of rock art sites that illustrates Aboriginal culture found at Kakadu, some dating back 50,000 years."

Road Train, you can see the name by the wheels and this is one of the bigger ones with a cab pulling four container beds, the maximum allowed.

These guys rule the road.

"Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre. The Bininj people are the traditional custodians of Kakadu National Park and after lunch in Cooinda we visit the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre to introduce you to their way of life, a ‘must see’ for all visitors to the region. See artefacts and videos that illustrate stories the traditional owners wish to share with visitors, ranging from personal histories to bush tucker."

"Join your local guide for a cruise on the Yellow Water Billabong. The picturesque yellow water is home to thousands of saltwater crocodiles and up to 60 species of colourful birdlife."

Kakadu is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site and according to the guide (I haven't checked this yet) of the approximately 1600 UNESCO sites it is one of 32 recognized for both cultural or natural values of international significance.

Regarding the name Kakadu, from wiki: "The name Kakadu may come from the mispronunciation of Gaagudju, which is the name of an Aboriginal language formerly spoken in the northern part of the park. This name may derive from the Indonesian word kakatuwah, (via Dutch kaketoe and German Kakadu) subsequently Anglicised as "cockatoo"."

Crocs REIGN and they are potentially in everywhere anywhere near water. This one is sunning himself on the shore.

These guys were like 6" tall and adorable! I found his name! He's a comb-crested jacana.

I have fuzzy pictures of so many birds, colorful and glorious. The boat was moving along slowly, but not slowly enough, and the birds don't want to just wait until we can get a shot off.

What is protected in the park:

Four major river systems: the East Alligator River, the West Alligator River, the Wildman River; and the entire South Alligator River

Six major landforms: estuaries and tidal flats, floodplains, lowlands, the stone country, the outliers; and
the southern hills and basins

A remarkable variety and concentration of wildlife: over 280 bird species, roughly 60 mammal species, over 50 freshwater species, over 10,000 insect species, over 1,600 plant species, some 117 species of reptiles

He's big and was sitting up in that tree drying his wings. He's an Australasian darter I learned much after writing this.

Brumbies - wild bush horses!

Nobody goes swimming. Nobody.

A pit stop. About 500 Indigenous people live in Kakadu and I don't think I saw a single one, not surprisingly as it is a huge area and all the businesses are operated by white people. It's a long story.

"Be mesmerised as you wander the Nourlangie rock art site. It provided shelter to indigenous people for many thousands of years – and while taking shelter, the rock evolved into a canvas that illustrates their deep spiritual culture. The 1.5km walk around the base of the rock, led by your Driver Guide, gives you the opportunity to see many different forms of Aboriginal rock art."

Wiki: "Aboriginal people have occupied the Kakadu area continuously for at least 40,000 years. Kakadu National Park is renowned for the richness of its Aboriginal cultural sites. There are more than 5,000 recorded art sites illustrating Aboriginal culture over thousands of years. The archaeological sites demonstrate Aboriginal occupation for at least 20,000 and possibly up to 40,000 years."


Our driver/guide leading the way.

I spent the night at the Crocodile Hotel, Jabiru in Kakadu. Crazy, right?

(internet pic)

July 12

I got picked up bright and early at the Crocodile hotel in Jabiru by a different tour company, one that had the necessary partnership agreement and ownership qualifications to go into Arnhemland.

It looked a lot like this for a couple of hours.

wiki: "A substantial proportion of the population, which is mostly Aboriginal, lives on small outstations. This outstation movement started in the early 1980s. Many Aboriginal groups moved to usually very small settlements on their traditional lands, often to escape the problems (alcohol, petrol-sniffing, idleness) on the larger townships.

"These population groups have very little western influence culturally speaking, and Arnhem Land is arguably one of the last areas in Australia that could be seen as a completely separate country. Many of the region's leaders have called and continue to call for a treaty that would allow the Yolngu to operate under their own traditional laws."

We stopped early for a pee break and again here, so far, as well as in Kakadu it's white people you see in the businesses.

...and then hit the rutted dirt road that is often impassible during the wet.

Our main focus for this tour was rock painting and art of modern day Aboriginal people living in this area.

We made a few stops, most having this type of landscape.

There were four young boys in my group including their two sets of parents, one other couple and one other solo traveler.

So as you might expect those four boys were clever and interested and a physical force of nature that the guide handled pretty well to the almost total exclusion of the adults until, after a lot of roaring around, the boys started touching the walls and that was it for the guide, he wasn't having any of That and he made the parents take control.

In the darkness of this picture under the reddest rock, are human bones. I didn't include them in the picture because although we can see and photograph the drawings, it is one of the forbiddens to take a picture of the bones.

Looking out the back of Injalak Arts "an Aboriginal owned and governed non-profit Association that has operated an art center since 1989. The center is located in Gunbalanya" and this must be Injalak Hill because it is so wonderful.

That strip of river you can see is full of crocodiles. One of the guys at the art center said that once the crocs got six dogs in one day.

Our main man there who was a delight. I did just let him and the four rambunctious boys and their wistful parents go off so I could hang around here in peace.

I kept myself still and admired the work and everyone was so sweet. Thumbs up for NYNY.

His totem is a serpent so he painted one on my hand. A future tattoo? Very tempting.

He's making paint with natural materials right there on the cement, painting with reeds.

I want this picture BAD although he isn't finished with it yet. I'm SOO close to writing with a request. I AM going to write (Glen Namundja - you can google him) and pretty soon too.

Visiting with this guy was one of the highlights of the whole trip.

Our lunch spot. The guide told us that all the good spots are called dinner...something...grrrr...I forgot but I hope it comes to me because it was delightful.

Oh yes! Dinner Camp, that was it. "Yea mate, I was by there before, it's good dinner camp."

I've seen a thousand termite hills but this is the first time I got around to taking a picture.

OK, let's climb up here x3.

It was worth it.

Wonderful stories go with all this. I might read a book.

Here we are crossing the crocodile infested waters of which the guide had many stories of crocodiles taking out tourists and locals alike, as we are heading back to Darwin.

As a side note, this river rises to the level of those marker poles rushing along and locking in the residents for months during the wet.

July 13

What we have here is the Darwin Airport where I've had plenty of time to take a picture because My Flight Was Canceled...AGAIN!

Broome-Darwin, canceled, mechanical problem in Darwin so the plane couldn't come to Broome.

Darwin-Alice Springs, canceled, mechanical problem in Alice Springs so the plane couldn't come to Darwin.

Not Good! It all took so long and the hotel Qantas is using is by the airport so there's no real time to see anything as all the attractions close at 5 and the hotel is smoky, old, and doesn't have internet in the rooms.

So I'm across the way at a pub enjoying an early grilled barramundi dinner. Barramundi and chips no surprise. Since coming up north I've been eating barramundi like it's the only fish in the sea.

July 14

Arriving in Alice Springs a day late due to the canceled flight in Darwin, I didn't even go into town but just got a car at the airport and started the drive for my first night in Curtin Springs, an old cattle station and a bump in the road just outside Uluru.

This is a google maps view of the drive. I was expecting a totally straight road running unbroken through a flat and featureless landscape but no, it was a varied and entertaining drive.

I just checked, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was set in the drive from Sydney to Alice while I've started in Alice so maybe that's where I got such a wrong impression.

UPDATE: I learned that The Red Center has had its wettest two years ever and this year is looking wet too which 'they' say is why it's so green.

The few stops along the way all had emus. Even Curtin Springs has emus. Here's a picture from one of the signs.

Mount Conner (not Uluru-notice the flat top) was peaking through the landscape for miles before I got a full look.

I swung into Curtin Springs with plenty of time to spare before dark.


A parrot tree.

The restaurant is on the left and the office and shop is on the right...

...and one of those doors leads to my room. It's true! They also had more luxurious accommodation also located in shipping containers.

The great majority of the folks milling around were set up in the free camping area. I've never seen so many campers on the road. They call camping trailers caravans and that's the majority, and everyone stays in caravan parks. You also see some van conversions but very few mobile homes.

Early in the evening. I had a very tasty spicy burger around 3 and then a bowl of very good soup around 6 and then I read for a while and then slept well after the 5am wake-up call this morning.

July 15-16

I've spent two days in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and I have an Ingalill number of pictures (10,000+/-) to go through and I'm going to merge the two days.

I wanted to see this particular sunrise because it's at the edge of Kata Tjuta which is, as you can see, some distance from Uluru.

This is wiki's aerial view, so you can get a perspective, Uluru in the foreground and Kata Tjuta in the distance.

(wiki pic)

I had a car, I got up at 5, I drove myself, but still in this the most busy season one cannot avoid the crowds.

The glowing side of Kata Tjuta.

Excuse me, excuse me please, just a few seconds to catch a shot? Thank you. Excuse me.

It was so crowded I had to take this in two pieces.

My fault! I forgot to ask where the sun would be in relation to Uluru. Had I known the position would I have still come here instead of one of the other twenty-five sites for sunrise viewing? I wouldn't have had to get up so early anyway. I don't know!

Another view of Kata Tjuta.

I drove over to one of the premier walking sites at Kata Tjuta, The Valley of the Winds walk.

This picture is not from then...but now I can tell you that it was still cold in Kata Tjuta and the area for the walk was still dark. So I lay the seat back for just a little chance to rest my eyes and I Fell Asleep. So that was it, no Kata Tjuta for me because I had to get back to Uluru for a guided walk I was anxious to join.

From the road.

As I write this I've already returned the car and every time I return a rental car undamaged I feel enormous relief.

I wanted to drive just a little and I didn't want to drive in the mountains and I didn't want to drive in a city and I didn't want to miss anything by going too fast. This drive was perfect!

A look at the landscape near Uluru. I was going nuts thinking about how could I have been so wrong in my expectations of what the landscape would look like.

Turns out they've had two years of record rainfall and this year is looking like another one. Don't be misled everyone says. This green is not going to last.

It's especially green around Uluru where there are water reservoirs at the top that fill water holes around the base. I'll try not to mention it again. All this green is an anomaly.

Behind those trees is the Cultural Center.

There are displays, a café, and a couple of art shops with ladies doing dot paintings.

Two things:

No photography allowed almost everywhere. That I was able to have those pictures of the artists in Arnhemland was a bit of a miracle. No photos allowed even in the Cultural Center, no photos allowed in any shop that has paintings, and no photos of Indigenous people of course. There were no photos signs in the gas stations. They hate photos around here. "Please don't steal our culture" the signs say. Even large sections of Uluru are off limits to photography due to the sacred nature of the stories associated with those places.

Dot paintings. "In 1971–1972, art teacher Geoffrey Bardon encouraged Aboriginal people in Papunya, north west of Alice Springs to put their Dreamings onto canvas. These stories had previously been drawn on the desert sand, and were now given a more permanent form. The dots were used to cover secret-sacred ceremonies."

So there were no dot paintings before 1971 and so many that I see around, in every shop, café, and gas station just don't feel 'right' to me. Like they're bangin' 'em out for the tourists.

And speaking of off-limits, the Indigenous people are begging that you not climb Uluru but so many do it anyway.

Some of what the signs say:

“That’s a really important, sacred thing that you are climbing, you shouldn’t climb, it’s not the proper thing.”

“We, the traditional Anangu owners have this to say. Uluru is sacred in our culture, a place of great knowledge. Under our traditional law climbing is not permitted. This is our home. Please don’t climb.”

I have some in my picture too in the tippy top right. I was planning to avoid that picture but then I thought to tell the story.

I visited with and heard stories from so many rangers and guides just as a coincidence of being around.

One of my favorite things that I learned today. What is often called Dreamtime story is more appropriately called Creationtime story because all the creatures featured are part of the creation of a particular place. It is by knowing these stories that you can find your way around the desert.

The Indigenous desert people have been making their life here in a similar way, responding to the natural environment, for at least 40,000 years, with current estimates being 50,000 and newly discovered evidence suggests 60,000. Whitefellas arrived less than 300 years ago and tried to change everything, but how do you give up 40,000 years of traditional can't.

The Creationtime story of Kuniya and Liru.

The paths get wide for the guided tours.

This story must not be sacred because there are signposts and photos are welcome here. That's one of the serpents featured in the story.

"Kuniya walk to Mutitjulu Waterhole

"Another easy walk around part of the base of Uluru. From the Kuniya carpark, you can walk the short track to Mutitjulu waterhole, home of a wanampi, an ancestral watersnake. In the special times of rain, you can experience the magical waterfalls, while in the warmer months watch for noisy finches and nankeen kestrels soaring on the thermal winds."

I guess lens flare is my friend.

A view around the corner from the above picture.

"Guided Mala Walk to Kantju Gorge

"Park rangers guide a daily Mala Walk.
You'll learn where the Mala (rufous hare-wallaby) people camped when they first arrived at Uluru. Mala people are the ancestral beings of Anangu. You'll discover examples of Anangu rock art and learn about traditional Anangu culture and how the park is managed."

I stayed with the group, 75 members by the ranger's count, and there was another group of 75 that went before us, because the stories were interesting. But I punked out after an hour. Sooo many people.

Here's a good time to note that the weather was totally, utterly, spectacular, exactly the way I like. It was cool, crisp, bright, and I loved it as would anyone, and hence the unspeakable crowds. Plus it was the last week of school break so that added to the excitement.

There are a ton more rock paintings but I guess I had so many from Kakadu and Arnhemland that I didn't take more pictures here.

There are three pictures here that I'm saving, for when I remember, to tell a story.

Let's talk about breakfast.

Australia has hung on to The Full English Breakfast and you can get it everywhere. It is because of this that I have not been feeling deprived of beans.

A full English breakfast always has eggs, usually poached but you can get what you want; bacon, English style which can have flabby fat so if I'm feeling it for bacon I'll ask for extra-eXtra crispy and it comes out ok; sausage; grilled tomatoes and grilled mushrooms; hash browns; toast with jam and butter.

And you can get just the bits you want such as eggs on beans with grilled tomatoes and toast, my personal favorite.

I've been re-reading Bill Bryson's book "In a Sunburned Country" and enjoying it TOTALLY. It's my second time reading it but now having passed through many of the places he also visited I'm more impressed that before of his observations and stamina.


Welcome to the Field of Lights. I paid an extra $50 so I could have this view and...


...and Hors d'oeuvres!

The champagne (Australian sparkling wine) was perfectly fine.

The hors d'oeuvres were...interesting. They were definitely not delicious but that didn't keep me from having two of each, and probably four of the goat cheese and prosciutto. Prawns on cucumber (that's what they called it and maybe even too fishy for me, and I love fishy); goat cheese and prosciutto in a filo cup (the least bad); beetroot puree in a pastry cup (runny, not much flavor, and doughy); tiny slivers of kangaroo on a bit of toast (maybe like a chunk of dried out mushroom and a super dried out piece of toast); crocodile quiche (all you could taste was overcooked eggs).

Oh yes I helped myself.

Surprise, people.

"The exhibition, aptly named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku or ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in local Pitjantjatjara is Bruce Munro’s largest work to date.

"As darkness falls, the 50,000 glass spheres gently come to life. From this dune top panoramic perspective, take in the vast scale of the installation. Then, covered under a sky brilliant with stars, Field of Light beckons you to explore and lose yourself momentarily in the rhythms of coloured light."

I'm such a sucker for large-scale site-specific art projects.


Tripods were not allowed anywhere in the Field of Light but at some point some people must have done it which you can confirm with a google image search. Based on the available images, a tripod really helped.



A farewell to Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Australia's "most natural icon".

Better than wiki I think, read this if you are interested:

July 17

Leaving my motel at the Erldunda Roadhouse I noticed this sign on my door.

I also transported four very large Indigenous people the 50 kilometers from Mt Ebenezer Roadhouse where I stopped for gas and some food to Erldunda. I couldn't believe they all fit. They also didn't offer a single word of conversation once it became clear I would take them, and I didn't attempt a picture either. It was something alright.

On the road again, leaving my stay at the Erldunda Roadhouse, there was a taste of what I had expected the whole journey to look like instead of all those plants you can see in the other pictures.

And speaking of the road, I did drive on the left side which I focused upon with laser intensity. I also signaled every turn with my windshield wipers.

I had a picture of a four-container Road Train earlier but it was turning a corner so you couldn't get the full effect. Put another container on this guy and you can try to imagine what it takes to pass one.

Adding to the length by the way is the fact that they are roaring down the road, fast. I never did get stuck behind one but I did have several pass me on the small two-lane road where the side of the road falls off into rocks, dirt, and bushes. WhoooooSH.

This was the route I chose to drive - Alice to Uluru and back, and I still would have chosen this bit, but little did I know of the near-total absence of roadside attractions.

And it's not that there weren't places to stop. There were frequent rest areas and every 80-100 kilometers there'd be a roadhouse for refreshments and gas but still, you could look at normal penned-up emus, or you could stop here...

...and look at camels. You could ride one if you wanted, which I didn't.

A café and rest stop with the camels.

On to Alice Springs, I returned the car and made my way here where I stayed in that little cottage back there, the only single room at this hostel, and it was fun.

I've got only one day in Alice Springs and I spent it strolling around.

The town is interesting...I just read Bill Bryson's travelogue on his visit and everything he wrote still feels true and more well-spoken than whatever I could say.

He ends his commentary on an instruction to the government to do better by the Indigenous people. He speaks in some detail (and how could there be enough detail) on how it got to be the way it is but I've been soaking up a perspective that says no one asks the people themselves what they want, or when they do ask, they don't like the answer.

I had given the car back (maybe in retrospect I would have gotten more out of my time if I'd kept the car) and decided to just see what I could on foot. Wow, I missed photos of a lot of it but here we have the Alice Springs Reptile Centre.

It was as modest as the sign suggests and packed with two tour groups arriving at the same time.

The groups hadn't made it here yet. For the nocturnal animals, they light up the area during the night so they can sleep and then do this moon-like environment during the day so people can see them move around.

To conclude my time here in the Red Center we have a poster of some of the creatures in Australia who want to kill you, available at the Reptile Centre.

I had to put this here because I want it for the cover. When you see art work in the galleries you never know, really, who did them but I saw with him while he worked and we visited and smiled at each other and I bought the piece he was working on because I wanted it BAD!

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