So I was in Alice Springs not so long ago. It was a cool (and hot) little town. Time does fly though when you are backpacker. Alice seems ages ago now that I have made it to Darwin.
Back in Alice I had a few days to spare after my hike. I organised a bit of personalised sightseeing around the town by hiring a bike to visit some far flung reaches (I have discovered that you definitely use different muscles when riding a bike as to walking .. methinks i'll stick to the walking for a while). So I went back to the Old Telegraph Station. Went off to the "Cultural Precinct" to see some old planes and a couple Albert Namatjira works, among others. And cycled to the top of ANZAC hill to get a view of the lie of the land. In the end of my rounds I came to the conclusion that Alice is not such a bad old place .. but I couldn't live there. Hot and dusty and miles from nowhere. The nearest beach would have to be 1500km away.
So I caught the train out. I didn't do this because it was cheaper, or quicker, but because there is no one I know who has caught a train to Darwin, and I like the thought of I did it first. It was also really because I have never caught a long distance overnight train in Australia (except to Brisbane but we won't count that) and so I was keen to compare to the ones I have ventured on in Europe and China. And besides, I like trains, it is my favourite way to travel.
In the end, after a 24 hour journey, from the centre o the country to the very top, I came to the conclusion that we just don't do the long distance train business as well as the Europeans. The Ghan was more about the tourists than the travel. It was full up with the blue rinse brigade and there is nothing wrong with that, but it dampens my view of it. I guess I have been spoilt by riding the trans-siberian and real working train with the tourists a secondary thought. And I guess it was probably because the cheap seats was all I could afford. So instead of the comfortable four berths in the middle of Russia, I was cramped up with a stiff neck on the bloody day-nighter seats. It was worse than any long distance flight I could remember. And cold too. But luckily once the day rolled around and it was possible to go to the lounge car (and lounge around) things were not so bad.
A four hour stop over at Katherine was made and we caught a shuttle into town to just wander around it. By this stage I was getting to know some of the other travellers on the train, sharing stories and the like. So as you tend to do, you band together with them and head off. We were all too skint to go and have a look at the Katherine gorge though. And in hindsight I wish I just put up the cash and gone along with the grannies instead of trying to do it independently with the collective band of backpackers. But such is life. I missed Kings Canyon as well .. so I figure it is a good reason to come back through this way one day.
In the afternoon following Katherine we rolled along through the top end and looked out the windows trying to spot crocs and instead having to make do with looking at the massive termite mounds and the grass fires burning trackside. Before evening we came into Darwin .. or at least about 18km from Darwin in some freight terminal. Seems they forgot to build the track into town. Probably because of the expense. Shame I think.
A bus into town and a check in at a hostel before it was priorities and out in the beautiful evening warmth and off to a pub to cash in some $1 meal tickets we got.
The collective band of backpackers was now well and truly formed. The plan was to make the most of our time and make tracks to see some of the local countryside. So we hired a 12 seater mini-van (which my NSW drivers licence managed to cover), went and got some grub, hired some camping equipment and loaded up and headed for Litchfield NP. Kakadu was thought of but it turns out a lot of the main attractions are still closed there following the cyclone and besides it is a fair hike to get there.
Litchfield was absolutely magical though. We gandered and then swam in waterfalls. Visited massive termite mounds and famous magnetic variety. Did some more swimming in rock pools. And took obligatory photos of standing in front of crocodile warning signs. One of the waterfalls was actually closed because of the potential threat.
After the camp out and drive back, we tried to get to see the famous jumping crocs at Adelaide River Crossing, but were a tad too late. So instead we just gandered at the big beasts in captivity at a croc farm.
Since that little cheap escape (turned out it cost us just $60 per person .. instead of a two day tour that would have cost $200), I have been hanging around Darwin town. This town I like. I like the tropics, with an evening that you can wander around in shorts and shirts and build up a thirst. The locals are not pretentious and very friendly. No wanker attitudes, just a laid back mode. And it is nicely laid out with all things central. I went to the Mindel Beach market at sunset and got some more of the vibe there. And did a touristy but surprisingly fun feed the fish at a thing called Aquascene. Catfish and mullets swimming between your legs and going bananas over a few buns in the water.
All good things must come to an end. And tomorrow I am out of here to uncharted waters. Back from backpacker mode and into adventure mode. We shall see how it fairs.