Our travels through the Northern Territory began with a pleasant surprise – a morning swim at Katherine Hot Springs. Before hopping in the water we were greeted with yet another crocodile safety sign. Just in case we had forgotten we were in croc country.
Despite the warm weather so early in the morning, the hot springs felt like a luxury. In most parts of the world, you would have to pay a premium to swim in a natural hot spring, surrounded by lush palm and gum trees, and yet here it was, free for all the public to use.
The stream looked almost completely still, but it had a surprising current running underneath the surface. As I was paddling around, I unexpectedly went down a little rock slide like an otter. After that I let myself be carried downstream, and around the corner.
Expecting to find a moment of peace while surrounded by nature, it was such a disappointment to see that the stream around the bend was where all the trash and litter from previous spring users had collected. Sometimes you regret your explorations. Getting back to the group was more challenging than it would have appeared, that subtle downstream current was really strong.
Reluctant to leave Katherine Hot Springs, we had another long drive ahead. There wasn’t much ahead or behind except red dirt and blue skies.
As we came up on the Northern Territory/Western Australia border, I was struck by how I had made nearly a full loop around the country, and visited all the states except Tasmania.
We stopped at the office for Lake Argyle Cruises. Some of the group wanted to go on a sunset tour (not in my budget unfortunately), and there we met the friendliest dog in the world. She was a total sweetheart, and almost hopped onto the bus with us when we left.
It turned out for the best that I did not go on the sunset boat tour. A small handful of us stayed back at camp, and instead hung out in what is surely one of the best swimming pools in the world.
We wanted to find somewhere spectacular to watch the sunset from, and we were not at all disappointed. After a bit of nervous tramping straight through the bush uphill, praying there were no snakes hidden to attack our ankles (somehow we didn’t notice the actual road that led up the hill), we popped out at a fantastic lookout. As we stood in the quiet and watched the cliffs that surrounded the lakes go red, we were awed by the size of Lake Argyle, and how it could possibly be man-made.
That night, I slept in a swag for the first time. For anyone not up with their Australian terms, a swag is like a one-person tent. Made of canvas. I chose my spot based on the morning view I wanted, and because of the heat, I decided to sleep on top of my swag instead of inside it. On top of my sleeping bag, with a balled up hoodie as a pillow and my trusty sarong as a sheet – this is how I slept for the remainder of the trip.
In the middle of the night I felt a few raindrops on my face, and half-asleep, crawled inside of the swag, and zipped it up above my head. The stiff canvas held it up from pressing directly on my face and I fell back to sleep. It could have been four minutes or four hours later when the sky really opened up. The coated canvas was keeping me dry, but the rain just kept getting harder. Over the storm I could hear people moving around, calling to each other and putting up tents.
“I’ll count to 100, and if the rain hasn’t started easing up, I’ll get out and put up a tent” I thought to myself.
I counted to 50 and it only got harder. As I stumbled toward the bus to get a tent, I could see some fellow campers were staying dry by dragging their swags under the bus itself. Our tour guide had helped everyone else put up their tent quickly in the night, and came over to help me too. As we finished with the very last clip, the rain stopped immediately. This is my luck. My swag was still dry inside, so I went back to sleep inside it, just beside my new tent.
There was no glorious sunset that morning, but it didn’t detract from my morning view at all.
After a quick breakfast and tent break-down, we were off on the big drive again. I learned something that morning: when life presents you with a rum tasting at 9am at a place called “The Hoochery”, sometimes there’s nothing else to do but taste all the rum.
It was another long day of driving. The landscape of The Kimberly is stunning, and awe-inspiring, but dirty bus windows unfortunately don’t leave much for decent photos. The tour stopped for lunch at a rest stop on the side of the highway.
During our lunch break we were entertained by some of the local wildlife: a brumby (Australian wild horse) and her foal, some gorgeous parrots, and the largest bull I have ever seen. The brumbies were like no horse I had ever seen, not tall, with solid bodies and a really long neck. The foal was skittish at first, but began to ignore me once it realised I was not a threat.
Momma horse was watchful, content to let me stand at a distance. When she got annoyed with my attention, she looked me dead in the eye and slowly began to walk straight at me. It wasn’t aggressive, but the message was there, “go away”.
The parrots had come by to have a drink from the puddle we had created at the public tap. Their bright colours felt out of place in the parched landscape.
On the other side of the parking lot was the largest animal I had ever seen outside of a zoo: a massive bull. Because so much of Western Australia’s roads cut through cattle stations, these guys are free to roam the massive properties wherever they want, sometimes bringing them right up onto the road, or into the shade of a big tree near a service station. He showed no sign of interest in us, but we all kept our distance.
After lunch we all hopped back in the bus and began the drive to Purnululu. Commonly known as the Bungle Bungles, it was the main reason I wanted to come on this tour. And what a beautiful and strange landscape it turned out to be.