Our departure from TiTree was at some horrible hour before dawn, but that wasn’t so bad due to time zones and daylight savings, and I was running on NSW time and was 1.5 hours advanced.
I should explain. Australia has 3 time zones, mostly. Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania are on EST (GMT+10) South Australia and Northern Territory are on Central Time (GMT+9.30) and WA is on WST (GMT+8). In the summer Tas, Vic and NSW go to Daylight Savings time, but Qld doesn’t, SA goes to DST but the NT doesn’t, and WA doesn’t. So I gained 30 minutes going into SA, then another hour by going into the NT. A 5am start was actually a 6.30 start in NSW. Which is still too bloody early.
Border Village on the SA/WA border on the Nullabor Plain runs on a special time zone of GMT+8.45, which covers an area about 10km either side of the road and stretches about 400km toward Perth. If you look at a map you’ll understand why.
Dad drove and I snoozed. We fell in behind a petrol tanker road train that consisted of a B-Double with 2 trailers. That’s not a 2 tank B-Double, that’s a 2 tank B-Double with 2 other tanker trailers. It was 53 metres long.
We pulled in at the Wauchope Roadhouse for breakfast. It was 7am and already 30C. I found a table outside and waited for my bacon & eggs on toast. $9 each! (and they microwaved the bacon. Blegh.) While I waited a male peewee landed on the table, followed quickly by a younger peewee. The youngster begged for food, the dad shoved a bug in it’s mouth, gave me a “That’s how it’s done” look and flew off. Mum says my peewee is doing well and growing fast.
10km north of the roadhouse is The Devil’s Marbles, a formation of huge red granite boulders that is a sacred site for the local Aborigines and a place for tourists to climb all over. I was delighted to discover the proper name for the boulders: Karlwekarlwe, “Sacred meeting place” in Karlentijpa. The Aborigines had perfectly good names for things long before the Europeans gave it all boring names.
Three Ways Roadhouse is like all the other road houses, except that it’s at the junction with the highway from Mount Isa. We’d be going home that way because it’s 400km shorter, if the monsoons don’t flood the road. Dad went inside and I waited. A peewee landed on the bonnet, looked in the window and flew off. I began to wonder if the peewee mafia were keeping an eye on me. Dad returned to say that road trains and 4WDs were getting though, but other vehicles had a 4 hour wait. Later, the night we arrived in Darwin, Mt Isa was hit by a monsoon fall of 220mm in 8 hours. The town was isolated for 2 days and as the waters receded they could see the roads and bridges had vanished. Going home that way was out of the question. Bugger.
As you head north the country changes from the sparse grey scrub of the Outback to the lush green scrub of the Never Never. The trees became taller, the undergrowth denser and the termite mounds bigger. On the horizon ahead I saw a cloud, and 200km up the road we were under patchy cloud cover. Water began appearing beside the road and the rivers showed recent flooding. Past Daly Waters the bush beside the road had a thin layer of standing water. The road ran on a low embankment less than 50cm higher than the water. Summer had turned into the Wet Season.
We paused for lunch at Mataranka, an actual town that calls itself “The Capital City Of The Never Never.” That’s the sort of claim to fame that ranks beside “The Cheese Capital Of The World” or “The Capital City Of Nebraska.”
You know you’ve been on a Road Trip when you see a sign that says “Darwin 412km” and you think you’re nearly there. (You also know you’ve geeked too much when you read “Elliott Pub N.T.” as “Elliott Pub, no text.”)
Beyond Katherine signs began appearing that pointed to WW2 historic sites: staging camps, supply depots, and, closer to Darwin, a war cemetery, airfields and AA emplacements. More of these later.
Until WW2 the road from Alice Springs to Darwin was a track, impassible during the Wet. The US Army Engineering Corps set to work building a proper road between the cities. This was the main road until the early 70s, when construction of the current road was started (and completed in the mid 80s.) The plan of action should the Japanese invade was to evacuate and withdraw and let them have The North, with its heat, dryness, crocodiles, swamps, snakes and other cuddly Aussie animals. Then, when the Japanese finally became fed up with the place, take it back. The invasion didn’t happen. The diggers stopped the Japanese on the Kokoda Track, and the Arafura Sea was full of the RAN and US Navy.
Odd things to think about while you’re driving through the lush tropical bush, but there you go.
100km from Darwin we hit out first rain storm. It’s sad when you have to drive 3700m to see rain. At 6pm we were in Darwin. I drove into the centre of the city (City? Hobart is busier than this!) and parked on the Stokes Hill Wharf in Port Darwin. It was the sea. We’d driven from south to north.
Dubbo to Darwin: 3,822km
I've just been told that there really is a Capital City Of Nebraska. I'm sorry.