australia

Blackdown Tableland

On Wednesday it was agreed that the best thing for all of us was to take a day off. I was hesitant at first but later I was glad I did. Matthew, David and I went on a roadtrip to the nearby Blackdown Tableland, which sounds like a bunch of Boomhower rambling (from King of the Hill) when you first hear an Aussie say it. In fact, it took several repeats before I fully understood what exactly David was saying.

 

Blackdown Tableland is a National Park that of course, was once inhabited by aboriginal peoples. In 1982, Blackdown Tableland made the register for National Parks because of its recreation and scenic values. Today the park is a great place for hiking, camping and viewing wildlife and is managed in correlation with the original aboriginal citizens.   

 

But first, we stopped by the International Coal Centre in Blackwater (a town that made me sing Doobie Brother's upon hearing it's name.) Oh, blackwaters, keep on ….Mississippi moon won't ya keep on shinin' on me...

 

I wish I could tell you how aweomse the coal museum was, but we only took awesome pictures inside the giant bucket, picked around the free part of the musuem, which is basically the entrance area, and then we were back in the truck, on our way to that four syllable place I can't quite say correctly.

 

Blackdown Tableland was beautiful, despite the fact that I almost got carsick on the way there. I asked about curvy roads ahead of time and David misleadingly told me there weren't any. Luckily, I kept my cookies down and made it just in time for some beautiful sites.

Here were a few of my favorites:

Looking straight down a small waterfall--it was scarier in person!

Looking straight down a small waterfall--it was scarier in person!

Two Mile Creek, Blackdown Tableland 

Two Mile Creek, Blackdown Tableland 

Beautiful waterholes, Blackdown Tableland

Beautiful waterholes, Blackdown Tableland

Rainbow waters

 

Rainbow Falls, Blackdown Tableland 

Rainbow Falls, Blackdown Tableland 

 

Overall, I really enjoyed visiting Blackdown Tableland.  The sites were beautiful and the park was uncrowded and natural.  

Exploring Emerald

On Tuesday I spent the afternoon putting sealer on the wooden furniture. I had done two benches and a chair before David came wandering up. He asked me how much more I had left and I said I had three chairs, a table and a barrel. Rather than encourage me to finish, David suggested we all three knock off early to go check out the Fairbairn Dam, a local attraction he wanted to show us.

 

The American in me wanted to stay and finish my work, but the Australian in me said, ah, what the heck! Finish it tomorrow.

In a matter of minutes, Matthew, David and I were in the truck headed into town.  

 

Emerald is a city of about 12,000.  It's an adorable town that originated as a railway community in the 1800s.  Everything in town is clean and nice.  The streets are roomy with a traditional charm.  The city is a gateway to a handful of towns known for gemstone production.  These towns have just as wonderful of names as Emerald: Sapphire and Rubyvale.  

 

As we pulled into town, David casually mentions a giant sunflower painting that I might be interested in. Duh! So we stop in town to see this huge, amazing, easel with—not just a sunflower painting—but a Van Gogh sunflower painting on it!

 

The Giant Easel, Emerald 

The Giant Easel, Emerald 

 

I was starstruck.

 

The guys thought I was kidding when I said it was the coolest thing I had seen so far on our trip. When I assured them I was serious, Matthew said he felt sorry for me because that meant the former parts of our trip had to be pretty bland in my mind. It wasn't that the other parts were bland, it was just that this giant easel was so awesome! For one, it was a GREAT tourism idea—my head was reeling already! And for two, it's the wacky stuff like this that you remember. How many times have I written about this in my Chamber column? How many meetings did I spend trying to convince people that weird is rememberable! Here stood exhibit A.

 

Third of all, I sort of considered myself an artist and I loved painting and easels and finally a town acknowledged the awesomeness of painting and made a monument of it!

 

It wasn't until later that I learned the full story of the easel. Apparently a man named Cameron Cross began this “Big Easel Project” several years back. His goal is to reproduce all seven of Van Gough's famous sunflower paintings on big easels and place one on every continent in the world. I love this!

 

The first easel is in Manitoba, Canada, the second is in Emerald, Queensland, Australia, and the third is in Goodland, Kansas of all places. Naturally, now I want to go see the one in Goodland Kansas. I explained all of this awesomeness to the guys but they really didn't care as much as I wanted them to.

 

After the easel I followed my way around a mosaic walkway that was just as magical as I had anticipated, and then we were back in the truck, headed to the dam.

Fairbairn Dam, Emerald, QLD

Fairbairn Dam, Emerald, QLD

 

The dam was cool, but it was sort of just like every lake dam in Oklahoma. I realized that lakes are sort of a novelty to Australians because they are spoiled to beaches. Lakes are kind of like—different. This became apparent as I noticed how proud Emerald was of their dam and lake. From this lake comes all of the irrigation for the cotton, citrus orchards and vineyard throughout the region. It was named after Mr. David Fairbairn, the Federal Minister for National Development in 1967.

 

Fairbairn Dam, Emerald, QLD

Fairbairn Dam, Emerald, QLD

After driving through the dam area we drove back into town and stopped at a camping and fishing store, just for the fun of it. I tried on a hat and made cool comments at the camping gear the guys pointed out.

 

The fun part came afterwards.

 

David said we could get Wendy's ice cream! Matthew and I started talking about which flavor we'd get and how we could get fries to dip in the shakes, just like in America.

 

But then we realized Wendy's was a local merchant and not the American enterprise we thought it was going to be. Fortunately, this Wendy's was even better than the one back home. I got a Mega Super Shake which was basically a vanilla milkshake mixed with chocolate candies and topped with a big scoop of double chocolate chip ice cream.

 

THIS was the dessert I had been craving.

 

Australian's have nice desserts but let me tell you, they don't do it like we do back home. They have nice, modest things like scones and cinnamon cakes and things. These are nice, but my sweet tooth often craves something much crazier. Something with a combination of flavors and fats and sugars. This was that.

 

We ended our day by getting groceries and cooking burgers and sweet potatoe chips for dinner. Grant joined us for a ping pong competition and we all went to bed full and happy.

"I Grew Up on a Farm"

Over the past few months I've filled out a lot of volunteer applications. Most of these applications are in small towns or rural areas and so I usually take the extra time to mention that Matthew and I had rural experience and an agriculture background. I sometimes threw in the fact that I practically grew up on a farm, just so people understood where we were coming from.

 

It wasn't until we got to Chris and Neville's that I realized there was a difference between my version of “I grew up on a farm” and other people's expectations of “I grew up on a farm.”

 

Let me explain.

 

Other people's expectations when I say I grew up on a farm: I know how to drive a tractor. I regularly check cattle and know how to tag them, brand them and turn a bull into a steer. I am also an open book on the amount of acres my father has, what he grows, how many head of cattle he has, what breeds he raises and why.

 

What I mean when I say I grew up on a farm: I actually grew up in town but I spent most weekends on the farm, where along with my cousins, we would jump across hay bales, swim in a horse tank and spend countless hours digging through the junk pile. I am an expert on all of my grandmother's recipes and I can find wild kittens easily. I also know that if boys pee on an electric fence it will shock them.

 

On Friday Chris and Neville began quickly running through the operations of each tractor (yes, there were multiple small tractors that I was expected to drive) and then followed up by casually asking me if I could go tag baby calves later. Naturally, I smiled and nodded, hoping silently that they wouldn't realize how clueless I was to everything they were talking about.

Their pastures are a little prettier than ours back home!

Their pastures are a little prettier than ours back home!

 

That afternoon I finally got the jillaroo experience I had been hoping for. Matthew, Chris, Neville and I mustered cattle. Apparently “muster” is the aussie term for “herding” cattle. We basically just moved forty head from one paddock (pasture) to another, but somehow this took all four of us and two hours worth of work. We also used two quad bikes, a buggy cart and two dogs.

 

Basically the four of us started out at the far corners of the paddock and then slowly, as a team, we moved the cattle closer and closer together, until they made one single file line. I tried my hardest to both act like I knew what I was doing and anticipate what my next move should be. I wanted to be helpful and proactive before anyone had a chance to yell at me or point out what I was doing wrong.

 

First, Chris and I drove around the paddock looking for untagged calves. We found a few newborns and I watched as Chris held the calves and tagged their ears. 

 

At one point it was my job to make sure the cattle turned a corner and headed towards the new paddock. Chris was leading the herd and Matthew and Neville were following up at the back. I was in the middle, watching the curve. The first several cattle marched through the curve without a problem. I was enjoying myself. It felt good to be a part of the team. For some reason the song, “The farmer and the rancher should be friends” went through my mind and I couldn't stop it. I internally giggled and that's about the time when I lost control of the cattle. The heifer in the lead decided to turn in the opposite direction and the ones behind her panicked.

Just as I was about to step forward, Chris told me to step back. I wasn't sure what she was saying so I jumped back, causing her to reverse her directions. Eventually I understood that she wanted me to move forward and then to forget the cows that I had wandered off track. This confused me.

I felt the need to go after the wandering cattle, yet I was told not to worry about them, so I didn't. Instead we maintained the rest of the herd. I walked in between Neville and Matthew on the quads and made sure everything went smoothly. I wasn't sure if I should be embarrassed by my mistake or if it was so common of a thing that it wasn't a big deal, either way everyone seemed to be moving right along without much afterthought so I did the same.

 

After two hours of work, we had successfully mustered the cattle and all was well.  I guess maybe I should stop telling people I grew up on a farm, just to be on the safe side.  

Emerald or Bust

Just like every other location change, our journey to Emerald began with lots of hectic travel. After Maggie dropped Matthew and I off at the airport in Darwin, we jumped on a plane and flew to Brisbane where we then spent the night in the airport.

Our sleeping quarters for the night included a metal bench in the middle of the airport.  Fortunately, there were a few other backpackers who were already fast asleep without any cares.  Matthew and I shrugged our shoulders and decided to join them.  I used my backpack full of books for a pillow and my beach towel as a blanket.  I fell asleep to the beeping of a machine that helda man who was cleaning the airport ceilings.  

 

 At four a.m we grabbed our large suitcases and walked back through security where we then caught the six a.m flight to Rockhampton. Then we spent another twelve hours sitting in that airport. We thought we could go check out the town but unfortunately there were no luggage lockers so instead we read books till our eyes bled. But still, this was all worth it because we saved hundreds of dollars by not taking the direct flight! And at this point in our travels, we needed to save money above all else.

 

By six that evening we were boarding a greyhound bus that drove us three and a half hours into Emerald. When we arrived I was so tired I wasn't sure where I was, but then I heard the familiar voice of David, “Team America! You made it!” And just like that we loaded our luggage and he drove us to the accommodation near his parent's house where we'd be staying for the next three weeks.

Historic Emerald Bus Station 

Historic Emerald Bus Station 

 

By the time I woke up at seven the next day the boys were long gone. David had a truck he needed to pick up in Rockhampton, where we just came from, so Matthew went with him. I yawned and stretched and looked out the window to get a better look at my surroundings. In front of our accommodation I could see the family vineyard, with grape vines stretching as far as I could see. On the other side of the house the view opened up to a small pond with cattle grazing nearby. These would be the famous Wagyu cattle that I was keen to learn more about. I was thinking seriously about taking a stroll outside when my phone rang. It was Chris, David's mom. She and Neville were inviting me to tea at their house. I agreed to tea and within minutes Neville was at the front door in his pickup truck (or Ute, as the aussies call it.)

 

During tea I had my first formal interview. Chris and Neville were extremely pleasant. They asked me how my travels had been and then quickly jumped into my skillset. How much farm experience did I have? What kind of meat did my dad raise? Did it marble? Why does he breed that particular type of cow? I felt a tizzy of so many questions being thrown at me. I was trying my best to answer but I also knew very little about this sort of thing. Still, I wanted to impress them.

 

In the hours to come Neville would leave for work at the office and Chris and I would get better acquainted. When Chris's phone rang I overheard her say that the neighbor had two bulls out and we were going to go look for them. Without a second thought she told me to jump on the back of a four wheeler.

We drove way out into several pastures where Chris showed me the cattle and explained different things like where their water was and how she had trained them to follow her on the quad bike. I almost burst out laughing when instead of honking a horn or rattling cake like my Dad does, she let out a long loud command towards the cattle, “Commmmoonnnn, commmooonnnn!” I was both impressed and humored. I had never seen such in my life, but I admired her for being out here on her own in charge of the cattle.

 

I learned that Chris and Neville had recently switched from merely raising cattle to breeding cattle. This is why they went with the pricy Japanese breed of Wagyu. It was a very nice meat that was known for having fat in between the muscles, making for a very tasty steak. 

 

That afternoon I got to match up hair samples with each cow's number so they could be sent in to a DNA testing lab. I felt like I was working for a cattle CIA company or something. I had to be very exact in how I positioned the hair on the cards and the numbers absolutely had to match. It was my first job and I wanted to be very thorough with my work.  When I finished it was five o'clock and I was allowed to go home.

 

That night I met one of the other housemates we would be sharing a space with. His name was Grant and he was a programer who helped code the robots that Neville was investing in.   Grant and I chatted for about an hour before David and Matthew showed up. They had an adventurous day too!

Leaving the Territory

On Tuesday we woke up and shared breakfast as we had every day for a week. The only difference was that today would be our last breakfast with Allen and with Maggie. Today we would pack our bags and go our separate ways.

Allen, Maggie and I 

Allen, Maggie and I 

 

All morning I could feel the heaviness setting upon me.  I prided myself on keeping my tears from falling. That was, until we loaded up in the car. Matthew turned on the Killers so we could sing together, the three of us, one last time. I looked around the familiar space I was occupying. I was in between luggage and the window, hugging my knees and listening to Matthew and Maggie. They were already bickering about whose elbow was in the way.

For some reason, this small act broke the emotijonal wall for Maggie. She realized our time as a group was over. I watched as her face turned first bright red, and then released the liquid it had been holding in. She was crying a real, hardy cry. She looked at me and I told her to stop. I had applied mascara and it didn't need to be wasted. Still, within seconds I was crying too. Matthew was laughing, of course.  Never again would we all three be packed into this station wagon like sardines.  Our roadtrip together was officially over.  

When we arrived at the airport we took turns hugging Maggie and wishing her good luck. Then, just as we were in a habit of doing, Matthew and I hauled our large bags out of the car and rolled them swiftly into the airport, stopping only briefly to turn around and wave one final hand at Maggie, who was now alone in her big empty car.  

Berry Springs

During our week at Allen's we varnished the rocks on their house, cleaned the ceilings, organized the closets, and took the paint off of the kitchen windowsills so they could be varnished. Matthew did do some chainsaw work and he also helped make a lot of charcoal (one of Leonie's gardening ideas.)

 

On Monday, we all loaded up after our morning work and headed to Berry Springs. Leonie and Allen had both insisted that we spend some time there and I'm glad they did.

 

Berry Springs reminded me of Bitter Springs, only it was larger. There were three pools for swimming in, each were clear and beautiful.

Berry Springs, NT, Australia 

Berry Springs, NT, Australia 

 

The park was free to get in, so we loved that. We packed a picnic lunch of salad and hotdogs and used the on-site grill and tables to complete our meal.

 

One of the best things about the springs is that there is tons of green grass and shade trees just up from the pools. This makes for the perfect place to lie in the sun, read, or nap. I suppose an ideal afternoon would be hopping in and out of the springs, drying in the grass in between rounds.

Pizza and Golf

After four days of working with Allen, Leonie joined us for dinner. Her and Allen had planned a night of pizza for us, insistent on using their large fire wood pizza oven. I was delighted.

It was strange seeing Leonie in her own home. I had already grown custom to seeing Matthew, Maggie, myself and Allen in the kitchen, but Leonie hadn't been there. It was like she didn't belong, yet more than any of us, she did.  She was a tiny little thing, with long silver hair.  She was a ball of energy, Leonie. I had to sit and watch to take her all in at first. One minute she was laughing and saying how lovely everything was, and the next minute she was sitting on the floor, inviting you to come join her. 

When I asked Leonie about writing she seemed to pleasantly discourage me before changing the subject. I was glad that I was older and more sure of myself, otherwise it might have defeated me. Still, I was discouraged with her attitude, be it smiling and courteous.

The pizza was wonderful but it took so long to make. By the time we ate and cleared the dishes it was well past nine o'clock and I was ready for bed. Maggie followed shortly after and we stayed up whispering about the events of the night. 

Maggie showing off her pizza!

Maggie showing off her pizza!

 

The next day Matthew and crossed another item off of our Australia bucketlist.  We played golf in the land down under. Allen and his friends were gracious enough to let us join them for a round of 9 at the nearby course in Humpty Doo.  

Despite my expectations, the course was well-kept and very green. There were palm trees and eucalyptus all over it and I enjoyed the occasional swamp and billabong throughout the course.

The men were all great fun and I was proud of myself for keeping up with them without trouble. I shot a 55 on 9 holes and that was a good average day for me. I beat Matthew by a stroke and Pongee by several, but I wasn't going to rub it in. I was just happy they let me join them.

Meeting Our New Hosts

On August 8th, Matthew and I loaded up our things and headed into Darwin City where we picked up our old friend, Maggie.  She had stayed an extra week in Bali while Matthew and I worked with Ewan on the farm.  We were only apart for ten days but after reuniting, you would have thought it was much longer.

Maggie was excited to see us.  We were excited to see Maggie.  The hour-long car ride back to Noonamah was never once silent.  We took turns filling each other in on what had happened and what we had missed.  We swapped stories and jokes until we arrived at the long creepy driveway where I was told to go.  I called our new host, Allen, and made sure we were at the right house.  Sure enough, he came outside to great us and show us to our rooms.  It was already nine thirty so we all went straight to bed.  Well, actually Maggie and I stayed up talking till midnight because we had to catch up on everything! 

The next morning we were acquainted with our host over morning tea.  Right off the bat I knew I was going to like it at Allan and Leonie's. Though I wouldn't get to spend much time with Leonie, I felt as though I had an inside peak into her life by talking with Allan.

Allan was wonderful. He was a comfortable man of sixty-seven. Originally from Zimbabwe, Africa, it seems as he came to visit an old girlfriend in Australia and instead met Leonie and fell into a life here. Together they have spent many wonderful years building the home around them. He a soil erosion tester and she a writer and a homemaker. Together they spent their days building dwellings and furniture, working on odds and ends projects like making bird feeders, welding and weaving.

One by one, throughout the day, he would happen upon one of her published works. He'd show me the book and then hours later come up with another one. Still, he was a kind man and very fond of a good chat. Just as at Ewan's, we had tea twice a day plus breakfast, lunch and dinner. Here we worked less than at Ewan's. We were required only four hours of work to earn our keep. This was quite easy for all three of us. 

 

I was so excited to meet Leonie.  She was a published author and I could tell by walking around her house that she was a fascinating woman.  We didn't meet Leonie for a few days because she was doing a writer's residency at the Botanical Gardens in Darwin. She had to stay for two weeks for the sake of a paycheck, but more importantly, for her sanity. She had to do what all great artists must do, and that is to overcome the creative block. 

The Mango Farm

It seemed as though we slid into our first day at Tracey's like a diver splashes into a pool.  Her place was just an hour north of Ewan's, in a small town called Noonamah.  

For three days our job was to cut through the huge mass of weeds and unwanted trees circling Tracy's house. We had a sawzaw, a handsaw and a pair of clippers to get the job done. Once the waste was cut away we were to paint RoundUp on the stumps and carry the dead limbs off to the rubbish pile using a trailor behind a four-wheeler.  It was simple yet envigorating work. 

Here's a glance at the trees and shrubs in the area. 

Here's a glance at the trees and shrubs in the area. 

 

Fiona quickly found her speed using the handsaw and Matthew and David were keen on cutting as well. That left me to switch back and forth between painting roundup on stubble and driving limbs to the rubbish pile.

 

After a few hours of work Tracy served us a lovely morning tea of scones and coffee. Afterwards we were back at it cutting and poisoning. Before I knew it Tracy was back announcing lunch was ready. We had delicious ham and cheese toasties and for the third time that day, tea and coffee. I enjoyed the tea. It made me feel more proper and British than I actually was.

 

Lunchtime conversation took a very interesting topic. We discussed the technology age before us and how it will only get crazier in the years to come. David explained that his parents were investment advisors for a man who had created a robot that found weeds in pastures and sprayed them individually without having to be told to do so. I found this fascinating. The boys went off to imagine what it will be like when humans no longer have to do any work at all, only to sit in a recliner and let robots take over. We then decided natural selection would come into play and all the fat and lazy people would die off, leaving a stronger, harder-working class.

 

When we went back to work after lunch we realised the bush had been cut back so much that I now needed to back the trailor into the trees. I was hesitant but Matthew told me I could try it. The first time was shaky but on the second and third try I seemed to have it down pretty good. I was proud of myself and thought excitedly at how proud my father would be when I showed up on our own farm, able to demonstrate such skills.

Mango blooms!

Mango blooms!

 

Midway through the afternoon I received a few phone calls. One was from Leonie, a woman in Noonamah offering chainsaw work. She had seen my ad on a volunteer site and was keen on taking us in for a week. She even said she could take on Maggie as well. This was wonderful news, meaning we didn't have to waste any money on accomodation for the three days we'd be in Darwin.

Later that day, when Matthew and I were still stressing about what we would do for our remaining three weeks before Jacob and Patricia arrived, we found our solution.  David, who had been working with us, overheard us and suggested we give his parents a call.  I did as I was told and sure enough his family had a grape farm on the east coast in need of some help for a few weeks.  Alas, we had a plan through September!  I could finally relax and stop searching so hard for work and shelter.  After tomorrow we would be off to pick up Maggie and begin work at a new location once more.  

Litchfield National Park

On our seventh day at Ewan's we were given strict orders to go as team to Litchfield National Park and enjoy ourselves before driving north to Tracy's mango farm for another few days of work.

Litchfield had been on my list since we began our Outback excursion, so I was happy to finally get to see it. We only had a few hours but what we saw was beautiful. We were led around the park by David, who is pretty much a local, and he showed us the best two swimming places in the whole park.

 

Buley Rockholes

This was our first stop. The water was so cold but it was worth it! We brought snorkeling gear so we were able to dive to the bottom and check out all sorts of neat rocks and fish. The water was very clear.

Buley Rockholes, Litchfield National Park

Buley Rockholes, Litchfield National Park

Lots of swimmers at the rockholes! 

Lots of swimmers at the rockholes! 

 

Florence Falls

The falls were beautiful too. I think the water was even colder here but it was a bigger pool. Here people jumped off the rocks and into the pool below. We snorkeled here too and found even more fish and wonderful underwater lifeforms.

Florence Falls, Litchfield National Park 

Florence Falls, Litchfield National Park 

Fiona enjoying the water at Florence Falls.

Fiona enjoying the water at Florence Falls.

 

We enjoyed ourselves all afternoon, swimming and sunbathing and by four o'clock it was time for us to drive into Noomanah and see our place of work for the next three days.

An Old Fashioned Bush Fire

The next morning at breakfast I watched with interest as Fiona cooked a pot of rice, then added salt, pepper, chicken and lettuce. I looked at my own cereal before asking her what she was making. Excitedly, she told me it was a traditional Chinese breakfast called, Zhou. I thought it seemed strange but I agreed to give a try when she finished. I'm glad I kept my mind open because Zhou turned out to be a phenomenal breakfast and very hearty too.

 

Life with Fiona was like that. When the boys were out playing rough and tough, her and I had plenty of moments to get to know one another better. Really, the only other Asian I had met was Danny, from Kangaroo Island, but Danny and I hadn't really connected much. Fiona spoke a good ammount of English and that opened lots of doors. I learned that she was an only child because the Chinese laws wouldn't allow her parents to have more than one child. When applying this to a personal perspective it made me sad. My brother and I had such a great relationship, and here this girl would never even get a chance at that because the government wouldn't allow her to. She explained that if people do break the law and have more children than allowed, those children are not recognized as people by the Chinese government and they aren't allowed to obtain identification cards.

 

As we worked and talked I learned a lot about Fiona and the Chinese people. Unfortunately, we were interrupted when David announced there was a bushfire just a few kilometers from the property. He and Matthew were going to check it out and Fiona and I should wait at the house. Ewan was down in Katherine mustering cattle and couldn't really be bothered. He had explained the huge process of mustering cattle via helicopter, horse and quad bike, and it wasn't cheap nor easy, so that left David in charge of the property.

 

After an hour had passed, Matthew returned to the house to retrieve a few supplies. He told Fiona and I that the fire was moving this way but it was slow, and we ought not to worry. Still, what could we do but wait and watch and wonder.

 

After a bit longer a man showed up on the veranda. He was talking on his phone about the fire. When he finished he asked me where Ewan was and when I explained he asked for David and Matthew's phone numbers. Eventually, I learned the man's name was Miguel and he was some sort of neighbor who was also worried about the fire. He instructed Fiona and I to turn on all the sprinklers around the house so as to keep the grass cool and wet. He also said it wouldn't be a bad idea to pack up a small bag in case of emergency. He was calm and cool as he said all this, but my instincts told me things could go south in a hurry.

The Bushfire, early in the day

The Bushfire, early in the day

 

When Miguel left, Fiona and I played prairie wives. It was near noon and we assumed the boys would come back hungry at some point. While we were trying to decide what to make and how to keep it warm, the boys showed up on the quad bikes, red faced and hurridely grabbing things like water and tools. I could tell they were in a rush so Fiona and I heated up some leftovers and sent it in a Tupperware box with them. We also loaded the truck with a bag of apples, some chips and extra water. At this point we could tell things were getting sticky and we wanted to make sure everyone was in good supply.

 

Then, as suddenly as they had came in, they left and Fiona and I were back alone with nothing to do but wait and watch. Around two o'clock, Fiona suggested we make lamingtons, an Australian desert, so we googled the recipe and made it happen!

 

While we waited for the cake to cool, Miguel showed up again. He was talking more rapidly this time and so I asked him what the update was. He said the fire was at Ewan's property line.

 

The fire in the early afternoon, much larger and much closer.  

The fire in the early afternoon, much larger and much closer.  

 

All day Fiona and I watched and waited. As the fire slowly crept along, so did the day. By 6 o'clock we were trying to decide how to arrange supper when the men came back in again. Matthew, Miguel and David. We fed them sweets and filled their water bottles.

Matthew showed us pictures and told us he thought it was pretty much fizzling out. No sooner had he said this did we all look up and see big billowing clouds of dark black smoke. It was huge and moving fast. Fiona loaded the guys up with a sack of apples and off they went.

The fire, now extremely close to the veranda where we were watching and waiting.

The fire, now extremely close to the veranda where we were watching and waiting.

Meanwhile Fiona and I stared in amazed horror. We watched from the deck before climbing the hill once more for a better view. The smoke clouds were huge, maybe two miles high, and even from the hill we could hear the fire crackling. All day we had been in an uncomfortable state of not quite relaxed but not quite panicked. We worried about the men and kept our eyes open for opportunities around the house to help out. It seemed as though cooking and cleaning were our only options as we sat and waited.

The fire at it's zenith, just before it was put out.  

The fire at it's zenith, just before it was put out.  

Eventually, the boys came back and announced the fire was finally under control.  We started in on cooking y-bone steaks, butternut squash from the garden and potatoes and onions. After dinner we all went riding around checking out the remains. Not one of us realized how absolutely massive the fire was. It burnt well over 12ks of land and much more than we could see from night time. The remaining flames looked like an entire city. A city of embers, twinkling in the night sky.

A Familiar Place

Once we arrived at Ewan's everything seemed to happen so fast. One minute I was sleeping in the parking lot without a clue as to where my next meal might come from, the next I was sitting around a table full of warm and friendly people who already felt somewhat familiar.  Today I would live and work in a place I knew well, the farm.

As expected, work on the farm began early for us. We would each have a small breakfast at 7am and then reconvened for morning tea around 9:30. Most farmers I knew back home ate breakfast early and didn't take another break until noon. My father often went even longer without a break—waiting sometimes until two or three in the afternoon for a snack or meal. Aussies were different. It seemed like every 2-3 hours we were breaking for a snack or a drink. I didn't mind it. It was nice to have such laid-back work, especially as a volunteer and meal times were great because it provided opportunity for us to all sit at the table, discussing popular issues and learning more about each other.

 

Aussie's love their scones and tea! 

Aussie's love their scones and tea! 

The more I got to know Ewan the more he reminded me of Pa from little house on the prairie. He was a very wise and patient man, gentle with everything he came into contact with and always willing to take time to instruct his children and helpers. He lived off the land as much as any outback man, and he was careful to take care of his livestock and family.

 

When we weren't sitting around the table we worked around the property preparing it for the real estate photographers who would be coming next week. Fiona and I cleaned windows, washed the veranda and mopped floors while the men moved hay and worked cattle. 

Hay there.

Hay there.

 

In between jobs we'd all pitch in with daily duties such as feeding the chooks (chickens), watering plants and making sure the donkey and goats had plenty of water.

Ewan's place was wonderful. He had a beautiful farm house he built himself from the ground, up, complete with 500 acres of land filled with two hundred head of Brahman cattle, fifteen chooks, five guinea fowl, two dogs, sheep, goats and even a few buffalo. His house sat upon a hill that overlooked the rest of the property and a nice large wrap-around deck provided the most excellent space for meals and socializing.

These chooks sure were fun to put away at night...

These chooks sure were fun to put away at night...

 

At the end of day one, the David and Matthew went with Ewan to shoot a cow that needed to be put down. When they came back to the house Fiona and I watched as they stripped the meat and hung it up in a home freezer so Ewan could butcher it later. I had seen this with a deer and a wild hog but never with a cow fresh from pasture. It was a fun experience and it reminded me of Hooverville, only it was a bit different.

There's dinner for the next month.  

There's dinner for the next month.  

 

After dinner Campbell and Isabelle entertained us with dance and music. Isabelle has been taking Irish step-dancing classes and we were all impressed with her demonstrations. Campbell loved to break-dance and together they were very fun to watch.

 

By the end of day one I knew we were in good hands. Ewan was a good man and his family was lovely. Tracy was always pleasant and sweet and Isabelle and Campbell were happy, easy-going kids. They were anti-vegitarian, anti-welfare and believed in guns, knives and meat. I was home once again.

Life After Bali

After two weeks in Indonesia, our return to Australia felt strange. As fun as Bali was, it was nice to be back in the western world. It was clean and modern and uncrowded. We were once again surrounded by English speakers and that felt reassuring, despite our situation.

Maggie had graciously lent us her car for the week while she finished up in Bali. This was helpful, yet it posed a new problem. Where would we camp for the night?

I had googled a bit but the nearest campsite seemed to be an hour from Darwin. Matthew and I didn't want to drive that far so we figured we could drive through the city and find a parking lot or something that would work for one night's sleep. What that turned into was an informal filming of House Hunters: Homeless Edition.

Finding the humor in the situation, Matthew and I made a game out of finding our parking lot. We weren't trying to be picky, but we did have a few needs. We wanted something civilized but not too crowded, complete with security lighting, but not too bright. It needed to be in the middle of town and free and safe and somewhat quiet. After twenty minutes of driving around town we thought seriously about camping in a McDonald's parking lot. We also thought about parking in a median because it was free and didn't say “No Camping” like many of the other signs around town. Eventually, we settled on some sort of office-like parking lot near the coastal edge of the city. The lot was dark and had a fence around it for security, yet there were no cameras or cops looking to kick us out for camping.

 

Sleeping in a Parking Lot

That night I slept hard but anxiously. I was so tired from a long day of traveling that I didn't care so much about my surroundings. Despite Matthew's warning, I rolled my window down so I could have fresh air to breathe. Multiple times I woke up to hear aboriginals hollering as they passed through the lot.

It was also hard to sleep sitting up. We didn't want to call attention to ourselves by opening all the doors and rearranging the whole car so we could set the bed up so we slept in the front seats as we were, having only a pillow to lean our heads against. When the first light of day came I was wide awake and a bit paranoid that someone would find us out. I slumped low in my seat and waited anxiously for Matthew to wake up and drive us somewhere else. When he did, we drove to a park so we could use a public restroom, then walked on to a nearby grocery store where we spent exactly three dollars on a package of blueberry muffins for breakfast.

 

Waiting for Correspondence...Again

Our plan for the day was to drive down to Adelaide River where a man named Ewan had a volunteer opportunity for us. The only problem was, we had to wait for his phone call so we could know where to drive to. While we waited we exchanged our books at the bookstore and Matthew got a haircut. We also snuck into the hostel we had previously stayed at and took showers and brushed our teeth. It wasn't the most ethical thing but it was what we did. Besides, it's not that we weren't paying customers. We were. Just not on that particular day.

 

As we waited for Ewan's phone call I noticed my phone seemed unnaturally silent. There were no notifications and no texts. Even my mother had grown quiet. The anxiety of waiting from email to email was making me feel like one of the crazy girlfriend stereotypes. Did you get my message? Should I refresh my email again? Maybe my phone email isn't working. I'll check my laptop. Oh, still nothing. Maybe I'll just message you my phone number in case you want to call. Matthew wasn't much better. Desperation had snuck in and we just wanted a place to stay, meals to eat, work to do. It was simple really. So why we're so many people turning us down. Was it something I said? Did our profile picture make us look too high maintenance? Maybe we weren't their type...

 

Eventually this unknown person called and Matthew and I were extremely relieved. He told us to head south on the Stuart Highway until we got to Adelaide River. From there we were to drive past a creek, down a dirt road and up a long driveway to the homestead.

 

As we headed south we began to wonder what new experience awaited us. We had become so desperate that we really didn't care. Still, it was fun to guess what lay before us. We started with guessing the description of our host. I knew how to spell his name but I had no idea how to say it.

I spelled it for Matthew and that led into a string of jokes.

“Maybe his name was supposed to be Erwin but his parents couldn't say because they had a lisp so they said Ewan, like Brits.”

 

“Or maybe it was supposed to be Aaron but they couldn't say that either.”

 

“Maybe it's like eww-an..because he's yucky and they were like eww..”

 

We laughed at our juvenile humor and by the time our jokes stopped we were pulling into the property.

 

Immediately a man in a blue shirt, shorts, hiking boots and a typical Australian outback hat, came out to meet us. He had a goofy walk and a big grin displaying a single missing tooth right in front. He was friendly as could be but immediately I thought to myself that this could go one of two ways. Either he was as goofy as he looked and this would be a long ten days, or he was as nice as he seemed and this would be splendid.

 

Fortunately, within a few hours I decided with the latter. Ewan, (pronounced You-An) was a very nice man who was well-educated and had tons of farm and business experience. He talked fast and choppy like a typical Australian but he was also typical as kind and inviting as one. We also met David, a kid our age who was Ewan's nephew, and Fiona, a Chinese girl who was also volunteering for the week.

 

Later that night we met Ewan's fiance, Tracy, and her two children, Isabelle and Campbell. With them they brought two cats and a dog as well. Together the eight of us shared a meal of steak and potatoes on Ewan's veranda. We chatted and laughed and swapped great stories. Afterwards we walked down to the fire pit where we had a few more laughs and sleepy yawns before calling it a night. Tomorrow would be our first day of work with Ewan.

Unusually Casual

Our last day in Darwin was an eventful one. After packing up the car we went upstairs to the balcony for one last chat with our new friends. Our flight wasn't until 12:30a.m. So we were in no hurry to go anywhere.

 

We spent the morning hanging out with Cornelius, Harry, the tattoo guy and Sophie. Around noon Sophie left to catch her flight home to the U.K. I asked her if she was excited to go home and she replied by saying she had “mixed feelings.” Her explanation was that she had really changed her perspective while traveling in Oz. When she left the U.K. She said she was into the things her friends were into. Things like hair and make-up and lots of partying. She proved this to me by showing me dozens of pictures of her and her friends dressed up doing British-like activities. Honestly, I thought the Sophie in the pictures looked a lot like the type of girl that would hang out with my friends and I back home. Yet the Sophie in front of me looked relaxed, at peace with herself, and more like the person I was becoming. I liked the current Sophie better and so did she. She said she had no real interest in her old friends and planned to spend her time at home working, working-out and saving up money for her next adventure. When it was time for her to leave, I could sense a deep sadness. She told us how much she truly hated leaving all of us behind in such a beautiful country.

 

Around five o'clock the whole lot of us headed to Mindil Beach for one last market adventure. Harry had told us today was an event called the Beer Can Regatta, something Darwin put on to raise funds for nonprofit organizations. The event turned out to be really unique. Teams from around the city had crafted homemade boats using only empty beer cans, tape and wood. We missed the actual race of the boats, but I thoroughly enjoyed looking at all of the interesting boats that had been crafted. The announcer said they raised over $49,000 dollars the day of the event.

A brief look at one of the Beer Can Boats.

A brief look at one of the Beer Can Boats.

 

At the market we each had a snack or two and then watched a forty-five minute street performance that was truly entertaining. By the time it was over it was time to park our Maggie's car in the long-term parking lot where it would stay until we returned from Bali. We parked the car and then walked the streets in search of another activity to fill the remaining two hours before we needed to be at the airport. With a 12:30 flight we figured we would arrive at the airport at 10:30 and have plenty of time to make it through security and such. I couldn't help but laugh at how unusually casual everything seemed. We were leaving one foreign country for another in a matter of hours yet we were walking around town in flip-flops, not worried about a thing.

 

Our meandering led us to Hotel Darwin, an easy-going bar with live music and decently priced cocktails. It was here that we met the most interesting character. His name was Tyler from Florida and he was in US Navy. After seeing me make a funny arm-only dance movement to one of the 90's songs being played, he took that as an invitation to join us at our table. Tyler was the type of person who liked to carry the conversation for everyone. In his dialogue we learned quite a bit. Tyler believed that he had truly peaked in High School after he won a state tournament in rifle spinning. He had a tattoo on his arm that read “Not all who wander are lost” that was inspired from dozens of birthday cards his mother had given him. The cross he wore around his neck did not mean he was religious, it only meant he supported his recovering heroin-addicted brother. There were a few brief moments were Tyler unsuccessfully tried to show interest in me. He asked me about my shirt, my necklace and my bracelet, each time interrupting me before I could fully answer. By the end of the hour we told Tyler we needed to catch a plane but that it was nice meeting him. He agreed and made a comment about Matthew that had us questioning his sexual orientation for a few moments before realizing he was kidding.

Live music at Hotel Darwin

Live music at Hotel Darwin

 

The unusual casualness of the night evaporated when we hit the airport. Upon checking-in we learned that our flight had been moved up an hour and also that it was originally scheduled for 11:30, not 12:30, which meant we were cutting it extremely close. So instead of being two hours early, we were about 10 minutes away from being left behind.

I showed the lady at the counter our confirmation email and then she asked to see a confirmation for our return flight. I showed her Matthew and I's itinerary and Maggie explained that she hadn't yet booked a return flight. She was planning on spending a few extra days in Bali visiting her friend. She had decided to book her return flight while in Bali. Unfortunately, the lady at the desk didn't except this plan. She explained that company policy required a return flight for international bookings. This was to ensure the stay wasn't permanent. Maggie, not being one for unexpected issues, melted. She quickly turned anxious, then defensive, and finally emotional. Matthew and I were handed our boarding passes while Maggie searched frantically for a return flight on her phone. Had she been calmer, I think she would have found one easily, but as she explained, “she wasn't good at doing things when she's nervous.”

 

Eventually, the lady said she had to close the check-in counter because the plane was now boarding. Maggie looked at us and we looked at her. She held back a wave of emotions and said she'd be catching a flight the following day. Not wanting to forfeit our already paid for flight, Matthew and I wished her good luck and rushed hurriedly towards security.

 

It was 10:30 when we arrived and after dealing with Maggie's issue we had just ten minutes to get to the gate. Fortunately, because it was so late at night and because Darwin housed a small airport, we were able to speed through both security and customs without waiting in line. We only had a few objects over the liquid limit and because of the time crunch we were happy to throw them away and move on with our agenda. We arrived at our gate at 10:49 and were near the last to board. I thanked God for his grace, popped a quarter of a motion-sickness pill and quickly drifted into a two hour nap towards Indonesia.  

Destination Darwin

Driving into the city of Darwin was like a huge breath of fresh air. Finally, after three months on a desolate island, two days in Adelaide, and fourteen days in the outback, we were finally at our destination. I immediately loved the atmosphere of the city. It was a much smaller town than most of the coastal destinations in Australia.  With a population of 136,000, the city is close to the size of Lawton, Oklahoma.  

Darwin was the only Australian city bombed during World War II.  In fact, more lives were lost at the Darwin harbor than at Pearl Harbor.  Darwin was bombed just a few weeks before Pearl Harbor.  For this reason Darwin has a vibrant display of WWII museums and artifacts.  I haven't explored these yet but it is on my list!  

The tropical weather combined with the easy-going atmosphere makes Darwin the perfect mix of working and relaxing. I loved that it wasn't overly touristy or crowded like many other coastal cities.  I could tell my dreams of working in a sunny Australia city were getting closer to becoming a reality.

Darwin, NT, Australia 

Darwin, NT, Australia 

 

Hanging at the Hostel

After parking the car, Maggie and Matthew and I wandered around the central business district in search of a hostel for the night. Fortunately, we had landed somewhere near Mitchell street, which by definition of most travel books and blogs I had read, said it was the hip and young “backpacker” part of town. Within a few hundred meters we were standing in front of a handful of hostels. The third one we stepped foot in gave us a private room with our own bathroom for just an additional $2 each. We were ecstatic. With the worry of another roommate out of the picture we were free to spread out our camping gear so it could dry out.

 

The second floor of the hostel housed an outdoor balcony that I swear made the other hostels jealous. At any hour of the day you could find heaps of backpackers hanging out on the terrace. Not only was there a partially outdoor kitchen, a pool and a bar, but there was also blood pumping music from noon to midnight every day of the week. Three nights a week there were food and drink specials like free hamburgers on Wednesday, ladies night Thursday and free pizza Tuesday. We were so pleased to be around other people that I think we spent the majority of our first two days on the balcony.

Sometimes it's nice to get out of the wilderness.

Sometimes it's nice to get out of the wilderness.

 

It was here that we met a handful of interesting people. First was Cornelius, a Netherlands chap who would be flying home in a few days. He was a very kind as most dutch are. He had a big smile and curly blonde hair that made his appearance very boyish. He was extremely tall—over six foot—and had long and lanky arms and legs to match. Cornelius was our connection to the other friends we made. He introduced us to Harry, Sophie from the UK, a guy with a lot of tattoos whose name I never caught. For the four and a half days we were in Darwin we spent our days doing very little. Often times we would sit on the balcony with our new friends and talk about anything we could think of. When it would get late enough in the afternoon we would each take turns buying the cheapest pitcher of beer available and splitting it amongst ourselves.

 

When we weren't socializing, Matthew and Maggie and I were busy booking our flights and accommodation for Bali.  Since we had spent next to nothing in our two-week outback excursion, the three of us had agreed to take two weeks to visit the tropical Indonesian island just north of Darwin.  Because we needed a few days out to make the arrangements, we used the free wifi and fun atmosphere at our hostel.   

We also spent a lot of time catching up on sleep and wandering around the city in search of free attractions—which we did find. We enjoyed a tour of the Parliament House, where we learned a bit of history on Darwin and the government of the Northern Territory. We also enjoyed a walk to the Wharf, where we had the freshest plate of fish and chips for a mere nine dollars.

 

Mindil Beach Market

My favorite experience was the Mindil Beach Market. This was a farmer's market located near the beach. We loved it. It was like strolling through an amazing art gallery of food and things. You want to stop and take in each unique and bold piece but of course it isn't kosher to taste every single booth. Nor is it affordable.

 

The food was amazing, though. They had just about every type of food you could imagine: Mexican, Australian, Chinese, Thai, Gluten-free and French Crepes. I really enjoyed the creativity of some of the booths.  My favorite was a tent called “Cuffins.” This was a term they used for fresh cakes the size of muffins.  Maggie and I had Gyros that tasted so fresh I wondered if they had been flown in straight from Greece that morning. Matthew enjoyed a buffalo hot dog and a fruit smoothie.

THE most delicious Gyro.

THE most delicious Gyro.

 

Aside from the fresh food, we also enjoyed the shopping aspect. I, particularly found the art booths amazing. There weren't many of them but the ones that were there were quite captivating. One booth was so captivating with bright whimsical oil paintings that I almost impulsively (or instinctively) bought a print. I wanted to desperately but I knew such purchase wouldn't last in my suitcase and I didn't' want to pay another forty dollars to ship it home. I settled on a postcard instead. Maybe I would mail it to my grandparents. Maybe I'd mail it to myself. I'd just read a book about a woman who recorded her world travels by sending herself postcards from each location. I thought that might be neat, even if I only wrote one.

 

The best part of the Mindil Beach Market is the sunset. The market times are strategically designed around the beautiful sunset that fades into the ocean. Around 6:30, crowds of people migrated just beyond the market to the beautiful white sand of the beach. Here as a group we sat and breathlessly watched as the big orange glow melted into the ocean's horizon. It was a remarkable performance. It reminded me of the sunset I watched in Padre Island on a mission trip. The sunset was so wonderful that we all clapped and cheered afterwards, praising God for his wonderful handiwork.

A classic Mindil Beach sunset.

A classic Mindil Beach sunset.

 

Just as I was praising God in my heart and wanting to clap and cheer for the beauty of the sun, I heard the crowd do just that. Then, as at the ending of any great performance, there was a mass exodus back towards reality. Only those truly captivated hang around for the credits.

Ubirr Rock Art

The next morning started with another 5k walk near our campsite.  We saw lots of waterfowl and beautiful scenery.  The trail was mostly shaded too, so that helped!

Bubba's Walk, Kakatu National Park.   Photo: Colourful Adventure

Bubba's Walk, Kakatu National Park.  Photo: Colourful Adventure

In my opinion, the best attraction at Kakatu is a place called Ubirr.  Ubirr is a rock art trail that leads to a cliff that overlooks the park. It is a highly recommended sunset viewing area, so the three of us decided to wait around until then to see the site. While we waited we set up camp for the following night. Though it was cloudy, it was super hot and very humid. We sat around our campsite and pretty much watched how sweaty we could get. At one point I was complaining about how sticky my skin was from both sweat and sunscreen. Matthew, of course, took this as a challenge. He threw twigs at me and we all had a good laugh when we realized they actually stuck to me. Soon we were seeing how many sticks we could stick to me. That entertained us for a good fifteen minutes.

 

By sunset it was cloudy and misty. The locals say it was very unusual weather for this time of year in the tropics. I begged Maggie and Matthew to stop at the convenience store on the way so I could have an ice cream. Thankfully, I got my ice cream, and finished it by the time we arrived at Ubirr. My only problem then was that I didn't have a place to throw away the stick that once held the ice cream. When we walked into the park I looked around but saw no trash cans anywhere. Because it was only a wooden stick and not plastic or anything bad for the environment, I made the conscious decision to throw it off the path, into the bushes. It was only wood and it would decompose before too long anyways.

 

What I didn't realize, was that Maggie and Matthew saw me do it, and their moral meters went on high alert. Not only did I receive two lectures about respecting national parks, but they also made me walk back and find the stick so I could put it in a rubbish bin at a later time.

 

I'll admit, I was pretty irritated. I thought they were really overreacting and I didn't care about a stupid stick being in the bushes. Because my attitude had gone south, I also lost my desire to see the rock art. Fortunately, I walked ahead of Matthew and Maggie and found another tour group to sit in on. Matthew and Maggie eventually found me and joined in as well. My mood was instantly lifted when I began to listen.

 

The tour guide was a local aboriginal who spoke English well. He had long, dreadlocked hair and a cheeky sense of humor. The first thing he taught the group was that the westerners call it “rock art” but the aboriginals call it culture. They didn't paint on the wall to make it pretty, they painted images as a process for teaching younger people the stories and ideals of their culture.

 

Adding to yesterday's timeline, I learned that western objects such as guns and sailboats, did not appear in aboriginal paintings until 300 years ago. That was around the time the Englishmen were discovering the country. He also explained why the land was sacred. His people had been here for as long as they could remember. Every rock, every tree, every stone had a spirit and a story. The aboriginal people took very good care of the land and continue to do so today. They also take the responsibility of hosting visitors very seriously. If someone gets hurt in the park the aboriginal elders are more upset with the guards than they are with the one who was hurt. The guards are supposed to protect the visitors.

Ubirr Rock Art, Kakatu

Ubirr Rock Art, Kakatu

 

Around this time my heart softened as I realized why Maggie and Matthew had been right earlier. I admitted I was wrong for littering, even if it was a wooden stick that originated in nature.

 

By this time it was raining and we still needed to see the lookout. The clouds were so thick we couldn't enjoy the sunset, but we agreed the view was more special since we were seeing the view in a different way than is usually advertised.

The picture does not do it any kind of justice.  It was beautiful!

The picture does not do it any kind of justice.  It was beautiful!

 

The view from the top was beautiful. Matthew said this was the only time that if he pushed me off the ledge they'd be more mad at me than at him. We thought this was pretty funny so we had Maggie take our picture posing as such.

Don't worry, it was just a pose! 

Don't worry, it was just a pose! 

Typical group pic.

Typical group pic.

 

After Ubirr the rain got harder and harder. It was coming down solidly so we decided to eat out at a Thai restaurant near our campsite. It was a strange thing, having a restaurant inside a national park and far from everything, but the food was amazing and well worth it to stay out of the rain.

 

When we left it was raining even harder. We grabbed our things and changed clothes in the restroom before running back to the car. We were outside less than five minutes when we realized what exactly the rain had done. It brought mosquitoes. As bad as they had been the night before, this was thrice as bad. Before you could slap four off your leg, you had five more near your head. The whole thing was miserable. It was only 7pm but we all hurried into our sleeping spaces and tried our best to keep the mosquitoes out. Maggie and I had a net that went around the car so we could roll our windows down. Even with the windows down there wasn't a breath of fresh air. Inside the car I felt sweat roll down my back and my breathe thicken. I tilted my head towards the open window and drifted into a light sleep before raindrops covered my pillow. With the window up I feared suffocation or panic attack, so I left the window cracked and slept with the rain falling on my head. If nothing else it cooled me off a little bit.

 

When the morning came the three of us quickly admitted to a sleepless night. Before we even opened the door to the car we could see a sheet of mosquitoes covering the net, waiting for us to share our blood. Matthew had spent the night creating air pockets in the tent so he could breathe without mosquitoes getting in. We hollered through the net and tent and agreed the best decision was to pack up camp as quickly as we could and get the heck out of here. Our only escape from the mosquitoes was out on the open road. So in fifteen minutes flat, we rolled the tent, packed our bags and hit the road. Everything was soaked, our electronics were beyond dead and I was out of clean underwear.

 

Our original plan had been to drive across the highway to Litchfield National Park, spending a few days there before finally pulling into Darwin. But given our present situation, we all three decided it would be much better to go straight to Darwin now, saving Litchfield for another time. After all, we would be living in Darwin and Litchfield was just a day trip from there.  

Kakatu National Park

Kakatu National Park

Kakatu National Park is the largest national park in Australia. Covering nearly 20,000 kilometers, it is more than twice the size of Yellowstone National Park. It is a World Heritage listed park for its environment and aboriginal culture. Kakatu is a biologically diverse area, being home to dozens of species of birds, mammals and insects. It is also well known for its aboriginal history. Inside the park there are over five thousand art sites, where aboriginals painted on the rocks for storytelling purposes. Of the five thousand, we visited a handful of these sites. These visits were my favorite thing about Kakatu.

The Devil's Marbles

After the Red Center, things really started to warm up for us, literally. Up until now we had been camping in weather that was close to freezing. In fact, one night we woke up to frost on the tent. Every night before bed I would pile on all the jackets in my suitcase and then crawl underneath my huge blanket and try my hardest not to move so the heat would trap itself inside my cocoon.

The incredible, Devil's Marbles.

The incredible, Devil's Marbles.

Our last cool weather spot was the Devil's Marbles. We camped at this natural attraction and woke up early the next day so we could explore it. The Devil's Marbles is a wildlife park in the Northern Territory that houses another one of the aboriginal's sacred sites. Like Uluru, this site is also know for evil spirits and large rocks. Instead of one huge rock however, the marbles are dozens and dozens of smaller boulders piled on top of one another. The aboriginal people believe that “dream people” live underneath the rocks. These are people that look like regular human beings but have powers to make you lose your mind. When the aboriginals camped there in the olden days they often experienced their people getting captured by the dream people and taken away mentally. When this would happen they would sing ritual songs to bring the people back out of captivity. Throughout the years the people have lost this song. Now when someone disappears with the dream people, there is no way to bring them back. That is why the aboriginals no longer camp at this spot.

 

So many marbles!!

So many marbles!!

Despite its evil reputation, I thought the Devil's Marbles was a wonderful place. The area is unique and not too crowded, plus you can climb it!

On top of the Devil's Marbles.   Photo: Colourful Adventure

On top of the Devil's Marbles.  Photo: Colourful Adventure

 

By 9:15 we pulled out of the Devil's Marbles and moved north into the warmer climate. Along with all of the weird gas stations, we also began to see rocks with t-shirts on them. Lining the road from here to Darwin were tons of rocks with shirts on them. At first we thought it was a fluke, but the commonality of it told us otherwise. When we made it to a rest stop with wifi, I did a quick Pinterest search to learn that this was actually another inventive attraction. A few avant garde fashion designers came up with the idea of making creatures out of the rocks. It was a pretty popular thing to dress up the rocks and take a picture with them. Of course, after reading this, I had to get in on the fun. So a few miles down the road I begged Matthew and Maggie to let me do a quick photo. The result is below.

 

My rock buddy! 

My rock buddy! 

 

The further north we went the more tropical the landscape became. With each stop we could feel the air getting warmer and warmer. By the end of the day we made it to Elsey National Park and the hot and sticky weather made us feel as though we had finally made progress towards our destination.

 

At this point we had been on the road for about a week, and because we were in no hurry to get to Darwin, we decided to slow things down and enjoy the weather we'd driven so far to get to. This meant we took our time to see the area. We stayed two nights at this campsite and enjoyed using the water and shower facilities.

 

That night I not only went to bed without any extra layers on, but I also slept without my blanket. Suddenly the climate had changed our whole camping routine. Flip flops and shorts were brought out of the bottom of our bags, swim suits had to be dug out and all fresh food now had a 24-hour expiration date. Not only was it hot up here, but it was extremely humid. This brought on new problems like sweat and mosquitos.