Heading up north from the Alice along the Stuart Highway, we were told stores of unfulfilled promises, rapes, murders and oh, one or two massacres perpetrated by the white colonisers on the aboriginal populace. Australia may not have had the revolutions or civil wars from which most modern nations sprung, but its history has nevertheless been writ in blood.
Then it was past the Tropic of Capricorn and into the warm, verdant lushness of the Top End in the midst of the annual Wet. The stark, red landscape softened as greenery began to penetrate; the air grew damp, heavy and almost suffocating; and the clear, blue skies of the desert clouded over and violent bursts of rain would at times suddenly reduce visibility to 15 metres and then would just as abruptly end.
All in all, a pleasant change from the arid desert climate with beautiful tropical flora, shimmering butterflies and ickle frogs surprising us on ledges in petrol station and phone booths.
Or so I thought.
Because, with the humidity and lushness of the tropics come the insects. And these little critters weren’t satisfied with the moisture in your eyes, or just irritating the heck out of you (and a face net came in handy in this instance). No sirree, these mosquitoes, these sand flies wanted blood. And they would hang about waiting for when you were most vulnerable – in toilets, in your tent, when you were occupied with negotiating a track to a waterfall – to strike. I can only say bless the inventors of insect repellent and the mosquito coil!
There was also the impossibility of drying clothes in close to 100% humidity. In fact, the heaviness of the air were making things which hadn’t gone near a drop of water clammy.
There were some wonderful moments: the news that we were heading into a cyclone (low level, unfortunately). Making the acquaintance of an aboriginal man in Katherine who, though pleased to meet Chris and Philipp from far off Wokingham and Zurich respectively, seemed more curious about meeting another Australian. “You’re from Melbourne, huh?” he said, shaking my hand. “Respect.” Getting up close and personal with a very tame wallaby at the Materanka Thermal Springs. Hearing an Austrian and two Swiss brusquely dismiss cricket (“That’s not a sport.”) and the face of an Aussie cricket diehard upon hearing those words.
And finally, splashing about in those beautiful waterfalls, my favourite of which required us to hike for thirty minutes, strip down to our togs and ford a wide fast-flowing river before engaging in a ten minute clamber along a rocky path. The braver among us climbed up the waterfall to, apparently, reach another level, and yet another, and another. But I was content to relax at the first and luxuriate in the clear, cool, fast-running water flowing through my fingers.
Pics from Daly Waters, Daly Waters Airfield, Elsey National Park, Katherine Gorge, Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National Park.