We wrapped things up in Broome in our last post and in this post, we cover Dave’s journey from that top part of Australia all the way back down as he makes his way back to Sydney.
Here’s the map visual:
Hang on tight: Dave takes us through a whirlwind look into Broome, Darwin, The Running Man (?) and much, MUCH more.
And we finally find out about one of his favourite spots in Australia.
p.s. In case you missed it, the 1st part of Travel Australia starts here.
Broome and the long journey home
May to Aug 2005
I arrived in Broome which is gorgeous tourist town about as far north as you can get in Western Australia. I could see that its heavily influenced both by the Japanese as well as Aboriginals due to the large population of, funnily enough – Aboriginals and Japanese, both current and descendants. You can actually almost feel the isolation of the place; it is literally in the middle of nowhere.
There was a sizable contingent of people from Perth up at Broome and whilst we didn’t quite take over the hostel, there were plenty of old friends to catch up with and new friends to be made. Going out at night wasn’t much of an option as Broome was exorbitantly expensive for a backpacker, so it was drinking at the hostel bar and back onto the Goon and beans again. The hostel was more like a resort with palm trees and massive cabana hut like dorms, unfortunately it also had an 11:00 pm curfew and had this annoying habit of playing Bob Marley music every morning rather loudly. It was still good fun though.
Note that I am no longer a fan of Bob Marley because of my stay in Broome.
My French mate decided to go Pearl diving for work and I decided that I would retire from work for the rest of my trip, so there was no more fruit picking or low paying temp jobs for me.
While I was there I’d often go down to Cable Beach, a bonus is that its accessible by cars (and Ute’s) and the place is well-known for its sunsets, as well as the “Stair Case to the Moon” which occurs during the full moon, its light reflects off the mud flats to give the illusion of a stair case.
Drive onto Cable Beach to watch an amazing sunset (please note there actually is no sun in this photo)
One night there was a massive riot in the park in the middle of town; two tribes of Aboriginals had a riot over the death of a person in one of the tribes which caused quite a spectacle in the town park where one tribe turned up to confront the second tribe. Unfortunately grief mixed with a lot of turned to violence. I had seen the effects of public intoxication on some Aboriginals on other rural communities on my trip, but nothing on this scale which also involved police. It’s very sad and something you don’t really see living in a metropolitan city like Perth or Sydney.
Broome was also my first experience hearing Aboriginals speaking in their native language. There are hundreds of Aboriginal languages out there being spoken and it was great to hear it for the first time. Aboriginals are an important part of the community and culture within Broome and contribute to making it a special place and giving its identity.
At the time we were staying there National Geographic came to the hostel and wanted people to appear in a documentary regarding the Bali Bombing, I figure simulating the tragedy in Broome was a lot less controversial (and cheaper) than shooting it in Bali.. The scene of the bombing was inside the hostel bar and we backpackers also had our alcohol included whilst camera shooting was going so as to give a realistic portrayal as possible. I think a few others were asked to simulate injuries during the day, but I was not involved in that though I did play the part of a bar fly quite well. It was good fun despite the tragic circumstances of what occurred.
Other great things to do is attend Broome’s open air cinema – Sun Pictures which opened in 1916. It’s great lying back in a lounge chair at night under the stars. There is also some quality night clubs, even if there are a little on the expensive side. One particular highlight was a couple of travelling DJ’s staying at the hostel set up a club night on the beach, mainly our hostel attended so there was about 50 or so dancing about on the beach till all hours, the DJ’s liked to tour isolated areas around the country and put on free shows to whomever was interested in attending.
Unfortunately I got lost in the sand dunes walking back to my hostel. I also unfortunately I had a female companion with me who did not find this as amusing and it took a few hours to get back. My hope of “romancing” was over for the evening..
Broome to Darwin
After 6 weeks or so, I packed it in and decided to head up too Darwin with a couple of Canadian lads I knew from Perth. I picked up my ute from the garage, the engine had been overheating and so I had to change out the radiator for a new one; it took about a week and another $600 bucks. Luckily I had my companions along the way to share in the fuel cost or else my accumulating debt (now that I considered myself unemployed) would have been a lot more costly. It was tight squeeze in the Ute we had a pretty good laugh though.
Our first stop was Fitzroy’s Crossing, predominantly an Aboriginal township from what I could see and at the time, had lot of problems with excessive drinking, this could be seen in the local parks with semi-conscious locals passed out or stumbling around, again very sad.
There was not much to do and then headed off to the next town of Kununurra. It’s a fantastic little town and I was tempted to stay here, I didn’t want to strand my mates though so had a look around the place for a few days instead. Kununurra is located in the Ord Valley and is the home of the mini Bungle Bungles, oddly shaped rocks towering into the sky. The town is in a rocky valley, rich in vegetation and has a spectacular sunset running through the valley. I was quite surprised as I thought all this area was a desert.
Inside the Mini Bungle Bungles
The actual Bungle Bungles themselves weren’t too far but I didn’t have a 4wd to get there and couldn’t afford a plane so had to be content with the mini ones instead.
Riding and Driving
An evening highlight was getting drunk down at the local predominantly Aboriginal karaoke bar. I got up and sang with my back up vocal group of three backpackers singing “Ride around Sally” by the Commitments and then received loads of high fives and a couple of shouts of beers from the patrons.
We left town and headed to the border with the Northern Territory. A truly brilliant thing about the NT at the time was a total lack of speed limits, much like the Autobahn in Germany, though it was more of single lane road with a lot of potholes. This was an opportunity too good to refuse and I found out something about the 1995 Ford Falcon XG Longreach Ute; it has an engine cut out at 190 km/h, so I was unable to reach the 200 km required whilst tearing along the road.
My Canadian mates did not seem to be upset with my driving; at one stage we managed to cover around 50 kms in 20 min whilst burning through half a tank of expensive fuel. We reached the town of Katherine in a remarkably quick time, went for a swim in this quite cool local stream, got to the hostel and had some beans for dinner.
Next day we headed north to Litchfield National Park, a park I had no prior knowledge of this place before passing that way too Darwin. The park itself was quite small and could be driven around comfortably in a day, in the middle of a forest and it included some truly spectacular freshwater falls. We swam at the base of two of the three waterfalls in the park, the water is drinkable, and you can see fish swimming between your toes. A goanna was swimming in the pool second pool which seemed to freak everyone including one of my Canadian mates; I tried to catch it though unfortunately it swam a lot faster than me. After finishing up the swim, drove back out of the national park though a bushfire which was a little unsettling and we headed to Darwin.
Lovely Litchfield Waterfalls
Darwin is a small city of around 125,000 people on the coast; it was not quite what I expected like most of the Northern Territory which I always pictured as one huge desert, the same picture I had of Western Australia. I wouldn’t say it’s a strikingly beautiful city in any regard though it does have some nice coast and parks, I was hooked on it for the 6 weeks or so I lived there.
I did attempt to come out of retirement whilst I was there, I’d had some managerial experience at a supermarket and thought that would be a good opportunity, and I even went to the trouble of doing a first interview for a job. However Darwin during July and August is festival season and I missed my second interview. Oh well..
We like to Party
I had several reunions and going away parties whilst in Darwin, people I had met from Mildura, Perth, Broome and everywhere else were turning up. I stayed in four hostels through my time there, each once cheaper than the previous due to my restricted credit limit / cash flow on my credit card. Actually I was moved on from the first hostel (only time I have been booted from one) I stayed at as a night out ended up being lathered head to toe in shaving cream and then going for a swim in the hostel spa with a Canadian and French friend. This behaviour was viewed dimly by the hostel and I moved on the next day.
The last hostel I stayed at was probably the best as I was in a room with a group of mates I had made along the way, my French mate and two English mates from Perth and up the West Coast to Broome. I had also managed to get my hands on a free dinner voucher book from the hostel which entitled the recipient to free food at the same pub every night. No more beans and noodles; from now on it was free cooked pasta. The bar itself was more of a nightclub really than a pub which was good as the kitchen didn’t pay attention to who was ordering.
The Darwin hostel scene was the best I have encountered. Each hostel had a public bar and it was easy to move around at night to other venues and meet more and more people.
This was excellent as far as making friends and potential romancing. It gave the town the feel of a backpacker city. The local custom of drinking excessively was also not lost on me or friends as indicated by the Irish and other cheap bars littered along the high street.
There were also many events going on in Darwin whilst I was there, firstly there was the arrival of a USA battleship. I was not particularly experience with Americans at the time as there were not many in the backpacker circuit and they had really restrictive visas for working in Australia. My first impression of Americans were that they all wore khaki shorts, over-sized basketball and NFL shirts and were prone to spontaneous screaming of “You da man”. I did chat with a few and found them to be quite open and friendly (I understand that the American Navy is not necessarily a good indication of what it is to be American).
There were the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets that were on every Sunday, truly excellent. A collection of shops making art and craft, performers including a guy that could juggle seven ten pins too which I was informed is truly amazing. There were didgeridoo lessons which I attempted, unfortunately whilst I could carry a tune, I could not master the circulatory breathing technique, to maintain any momentum, despite sticking a straw up my nose which I am informed is a good learning technique. There were also local DJ’s for those who wanted to dance about (including myself).
Another event I suppose was being invited by a camera crew to take part in a local bands film clip at a nightclub. This involved payment in free drinks (what else???) and lining up single file to try to impress a girl on the dance floor.
I energetically committed to my best “running man” dance and then moved on. Note: If you ever see a bald guy doing a running man to impress a lady in a tacky nightclub by an unknown Australian band, that person could be me.
I also attended the Greek festival, the Rodeo, and the Mardi gras; unfortunately I missed the Camel Race and the Beer Can Boat Race.
The highlight for me though was the Australian Rules game they had on at the local stadium. I convinced several backpackers to come to the game, the stadium was mostly lawn with a little stand, the crowd quite large, a good mixture of Aborigines and other locals as well as tourists. Most importantly though, my team were playing, the Carlton Football Club.
Unfortunately, the game didn’t go to script and my team was destroyed by the Western Bulldogs. The look of confusion set in on my friends faces and I kind of felt a little guilty for getting them to support such a poor performing team.
Carlton losing again
After six weeks or so of partying, hanging with friends, the discounted alcohol and free food, it was time to part ways with those that I had befriended over the past seven months or so and head to the East Coast for the trip home.
Heading out by myself
I headed out by myself for the first time in my journey since I arrived in Mildura. The people I had met were either flying home, flying to Sydney, Brisbane or Cairns, but nobody was driving east. I left Darwin and headed through the Kakadu National Park. In retrospect I should have spent a few days there, but overnight accommodation was costly and Darwin had been too much fun, so I spent the day driving around the park. It contained amazing landscapes, lots of forest, freshwater lakes and Aboriginal rock paintings that were very interesting. The round trip was about 400 km and after exiting, I intended to stay at Tennant Creek for the night.
Unfortunately when I arrived at Tennant Creek, there was no accommodation available, instead of heading to Alice Springs, I decided to head to Queensland and see how far I could get. The drive from Darwin, via Kakadu and Tennant Creek ended up around 1400 km in a day and I slept in the back of my Ute on the Queensland Northern Territory border under the stars. I had broken my rule of driving at night, luckily the kangaroos are a lot smaller in the north of the country and the few I did hit didn’t do any damage to my car.
Queensland the Sunshine State
I woke up the next morning and stared at the sign “Welcome to the Sunshine State” meaning I had made it too Queensland, it was raining and being in the back of the car, I was wet, good start I figured. I had decided that I wanted to see the Gulf of Carpentaria, so I headed to Mount Isa and fueled up. This trip from my starting point was another 800 kms up the Sunraysia freeway; it was a single lane sealed road intermittently broken up with a dirt road.
It’s not sunny
Unfortunately a Road Train went passed me on the dirt road and shattered part of my windscreen, this made driving more difficult though I could see. I got a hotel room in the town of Karumba, more of a caravan park, nice enough and the place was right on the water. It’s probably one of the most geographically isolated places I have been and the typical boring sunset was “amazing” yet again (I was getting bored with sunsets), I spent the night at the local pub chatting with fly in fly out miners that were based in Arnhem Land to the left of where we were at.
The next day was a relatively short 750 km trip to Cairns via the Atherton Tablelands, a lovely mountain drive, the forests were tropical and very different to what I’d been experiencing on the trip. I managed some time to do some bushwalking and swimming in a national park along the way.
I eventually hit Cairns that evening and stayed in the cheapest hostel in Darwin, an Aussie mate from Mildura was working there so he hooked me up with accommodation, and again I had excellent fun and another month of socialising
I took a couple of friends that I had met earlier in Perth and Darwin up too Cape Tribulation, it’s around a couple of hours north of Cairns and the last place you can access by car before you need a 4wd to head further north. The coastal road drive has some spectacular scenery and when I arrived, we needed to get a ferry over to where we were staying (there were crocodiles in the water and generally, there are a lot of crocs in that area). It’s set in a rain forest and has a couple of hostels, nice quiet and peaceful.
Cairns itself I suppose is kind of similar to Darwin, a big backpacker city, though it’s twice the size. And whilst I enjoyed the hostel, I couldn’t say the same for the city. I was familiar with Cairns and Queensland and this was not a totally new experience for me. It was also State of Origin time and being from NSW, the rivalry with QLD is quite fierce. I have no particular love for this game and getting a mouthful from Queensland locals about the result of the game was somewhat annoying. Still the hostel was good fun; organised pub crawls, drinking games and I made some good friends. The nightlife was teeming with Aussies and backpackers wandering around all hours paralytic drunk, however I was close to ending my trip and this behaviour no longer appealed to me, the last 9 months had taken its toll.
After a month or so I headed and an English mate headed down to Airlie Beach, it was about a day’s drive south, unfortunately there was a lot of traffic and little space to take over slower cars so the trip took longer than anticipated. North Queensland much like the East Coast of Australia from Sydney to Cairns is considered backpacker paradise. People treat this 3000 km trip as seeing Australia and there are good reasons for its popularity; beaches, forests, hostels, towns as well as the Great Barrier Reef, Whitsunday’s and Frazer Island. The entire coastline is beautiful.
Note: I have done this trip previously and this account does not include my experiences of the Whitsunday’s, the ‘Reef or Frazer.
Airlie beach was good fun as usual. It’s a tourist town for both Aussies and backpackers alike, located in a tropical forest and sits on the edge of the Whitsunday’s. This is an ocean park that covers the Great Barrier Reef and has many islands. Sailing is the most popular activity but as I had done it before and was skint, I did not sail. Instead I hung around with a few friends, doing some nature hikes and listening to some truly awful live music put on by the local hostel.
After a week I headed to Byron Bay.
Byron Bay is one of my favourite spots in Australia and which I have been to many times. Byron is another paradise, relatively close to Sydney; a small town with a huge influx of backpacker’s .It sits on the coast, has a lighthouse and is the most easterly point in Australia. It also has some of my favourite bars and a pretty good live music scene. It’s a very good place to chill out and meet some laid back, similar minded people I stayed in a hostel a few days, relaxed and took in the town including a beach bonfire night-time dance party, and then focused on collecting my thoughts and going home.
I was glad that I had travelled around the country to get here and met the travellers I had. Touring the coast of Queensland and NSW is easy, everything is set up for you, and all you have to do is show up and pay. I have not gone into much detail nor did I spend much time on the East Coast Touring the rest of Australia. This is not as easy and it was new for me. If nothing else the complete isolation and variation of landscapes is what is what made the biggest impression (and the fruit picking). The long distances you have to cover I think makes it more rewarding – however if you do not have time for such a large journey, NSW and Queensland are excellent fun and can be done in relative ease (as a lot of you know).
Bucket List: Australia
That was the end of my trip around Australia; it took around 10 months and has been one of my favourite times even though the plan to fund the trip by working had not been successful.
I no longer felt embarrassed about seeing less of my country than tourists and now had a greater understanding of my country, its vastness and culture – I know more than most.
Aussies tend to see Australia when they retire and whilst I think that is worthwhile, I like the fact that I could work and meet so many people from around the world on the way and make so many new friends. The added bonus with so many new friends was now there were more opportunities to see the rest of the world and catch up them in other places either on a trip or in their home countries; it was something I was looking forward too…..
As soon as I could clear my credit card debt…….
Well it isn’t exactly the end. It is ‘The End‘ of Dave’s great Australian trip, but the man has a pages and pages more of great travel tales for us.
Proof? Next up: Dave does The United States.
And I have just received the 1st draft of Episode 7: Brazil! (I go through a few design and edit iterations and Dave reviews / updates – and we like spacing these posts out).
The Travel Bug
The Travel Bug is a collaboration project that goes through Dave’s travel journals around the world.
Dave is a Technology specialist by day and social butterfly by night. He is scheduled for yet another trip in May – July ’14.
PC likes getting the job done by day and writes, designs and codes during his spare time. He also enjoys having a drink with Dave and hearing his tall travel tales.
We hope to entertain you through this collection of stories.