Hello one and all,
Although I am now in Cairns, I have many exciting things to tell you from Darwin and a smidgeon from my last day in Alice Springs to share! I will confess that I have had a sudden and unexpected attack of homesickness (no doubt brought on my excessive dreaming about Marks and Spencers) so I am here to regale you with my tales of fabulous adventure in a sly effort to make myself get a grip and remember that I am living the dream!
My last day in Alice was really good - after checking out of my hostel and leaving my bags behind, I took a stroll to the Alice Springs Desert Park - which is 7km outside of town. Not quite the most gentle of strolls since I arrived red faced and shiny after an hour and a half walking in 30 degree heat with a 3kg handbag! (suffice to say I immediately on arrival booked the $10 shuttle bus back for the afternoon!) The Desert Park is a great little place with free audio guides, so you can walk leisurely around the park and look at the three different types of desert areas - dry rivers, woodland and the bit with the red sand. I learned loads about all the plants (mostly now forgotten) and saw hundreds of different birds (though I was mostly excited by the flocks of wild budgies that kept appearing!) and saw plenty of beautiful desert scenery. People assume because the desert is so dry that it is dead (or at least, I mostly thought this) but in fact the desert is teeming with life! My favourite part was the nocturnal house, where you could see all the various creatures you would never normally see. I fell in love with the Mala wallabies, which are nearly extinct due to the introduction of foxes and feral cats from elsewhere. They are very cute, and there is a nature reserve in Western Australia that is entirely devoted to looking after them and shooting cats on sight. Not good for the cats, but very good for the mini skippies out there. Saw lots of geckos and snakes too, though they are incredibly hard to spot in the dark! And hunting for the stick insects was like where's bloody wally. (All the pics in this entry are my own by the way - finally got a new camera and got the pics off the old one)
After the Desert Park I jumped back on the Ghan for another 24 hour trip and headed towards Darwin. Now the Ghan is very sneaky with the way it makes money, as it likes to stop in the middle of nowhere for up for 4 hours and you are forced to pay your way out of boredom. In the case of the journey north, the train stops tantalisingly close to Darwin at a wee place called Katherine, which is home to the famous Katherine Gorge. Instead of killing time on the train, I elected to go canoeing, thinking that there would probably be a group of us and we could have a merry old time paddling around in circles for a couple of hours. Instead, I was loaded onto a bus full of elderly people and told that I was the ONLY person in a train of several hundred that had elected to canoe, at which point I was promptly shoved out of the bus and directed towards the canoe hire. I expected that there would be a guide or someone; some health and safety insurance policy that required I be supervised at all time etc etc. But no - I was pointed to the paddles and lifejackets by a guy who seemed more or less completely stoned and stuck in a canoe. As I was paddling out I made a joke about crocodiles, to which he replied that this area was 'infested' (seriously, no one EVER wants to hear the word 'infested') with fresh water crocs, but that the salties (the ones that eat people) only come up when the wet season starts (a month from now) and oh-don't-worry they only get salties once every couple of weeks. But I was in the canoe and I was floating away and it was way too late to chicken out, so away I went. I should mention at this point that the last time I canoed was when I was about 10 at PGL.
When you are fearing a sudden and unknowable death however, you figure these things out pretty quickly and I was soon paddling along, taking a few pictures (most of which are wobbly due to the extreme shaking of my hands). To cut a long story short, canoeing in the Katherine Gorge was one of the single most incredible things I have ever done. Not just because I eventually gave up on the fear and embraced the chance of a watery grave, but because the Katherine Gorge is simply stunning. It is like canoeing through Middle Earth - and I temporarily renamed myself Ashwen of the River Deep. (It is safe to say that being alone merits a certain amount of craziness.) It was the single most peaceful place I have ever found myself. I even stopped shaking after the first hour. :)
Back on the Ghan, I resumed talking to Sabine, a girl from Bavaria that I started talking to in the station at Alice. We agreed to meet up that evening in Darwin, and she brought along Catharina (from Holland) who was in her room. The Vic is a tacky pub in Darwin which does a free meal when you buy a drink - though after two nights of soggy chips and questionable lasagne you start to reconsider the word 'free'. The following day I booked tours to Kakadu National Park and Litchfield National Park, at which point we met Litten, a med student from Denmark who we persuaded to join us in Litchfield for the day. We then spent the afternoon together the four of us and then saw one another every day for the rest of my stay. They were my favourite thing about Darwin - travelling becomes so much more exciting when you have lovely friends to share it with! I was also lucky enough to get three lovely girls in my room in the hostel, so Darwin was really looking good! We went down to Aquascene, which is a daily fish feeding that happens in Doctors Gully off the Esplanade. Hundreds of fish come in with the high tide to be fed by hand! It was very cool and a totally unique experience. One of Darwin's quirky attractions! We also went to the waterfront - a little man-made lagoon near the harbour where it is safe to swim due to the big croc fence keeping the nasties out. It was lovely to swim - as it was 35 degrees that day and incredibly humid. The following night we did the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets which were loads of fun - with yummy food and arts and crafts type stuff.
Litchfield was the next adventure - it is a couple of hours from Darwin so we took a tour out there, which did a Jumping Croc cruise on the way. The Adelaide River is home to a lot of salty crocs (not somewhere you would want to swim!) and on the cruise they dangle meat off a long pole and the crocs leap out of the water to get it. Seeing my first huge croc was pretty scary - they look absolutely prehistoric and all you think when you see them is 'why is that dinosaur still alive?' It was an awesome cruise and I got to hold another snake too, which was fun (though the snake man did not look happy when I told him Tiger the Centralian Carpet Python felt just like a handbag I have back home...)!
After the crocs, we headed to Litchfield to see the giant termite mounds, which are over 12m high. The termites take 10 years to make 1 metre, so they were often 120 years plus!
We also went to Wangi Falls and went swimming in the waterfall, which was stunning. You literally feel like you are in a shampoo advert! You can't help but think you're in Paradise - it was breathtakingly beautiful. We also swam in Buley Rockhole which was also stunning. It is so different to the UK, it feels otherworldly. If you are ever in Australia, head north. It is worth every cent.
After Litchfield I did Kakadu, which is the more famous of the two. Kakadu is full of sweeping rock formations and bright Aboriginal cave art, as well as waterfalls and rivers. We did a walk to the top of a big rock to look out at the view which was incredible (I am running out of words for beautiful!) and then we saw the cave art, some of which was several thousand years old. Kakadu has such a rich history with its Aboriginal keepers, and it is inspiring to see hundreds of years of dreamtime painted over the rocks.
We also did a cruise on the South Alligator river (a total misnomer - there are NO alligators whatsoever in Oz - only crocs) and saw loads of birds and more crocs and some generally beautiful things. It was 38 degrees in Kakadu which was extremely hot for my poor British body, but I am gradually getting a bit of of tan, so that's making me feel a bit better about it. It's hard not to wilt in the heat when you are 6 shades paler than your average person!
After my last day in Darwin (complete with waterfront swimming and more market time) I bid farewell to my Darwin buddies and went to the airport at 2:30am for a ridiculously early flight to Cairns. After an hour sleeping on a couch at the airport, followed by the most uncomfortable flight I have ever taken (even worse than Ryanair!) I arrived in Cairns at 8am, looking like the back end of a badger on a bad day. I spent yesterday half heartedly exploring the town, and today I went north to scope out a job I will not be taking (two weeks working in a bar on Osborne Road has put me off bartending for the rest of my life) so tomorrow I will get a grip and go find some things to do. I am hoping to bungee jump while I am here, as well as explore the Great Barrier Reef. I am also thinking about heading out to Cape Tribulation to see the rainforests there, and might do a tour of the Atherton Tablelands too since they are so close. I was originally planning to stay longer in Cairns and work here, but so far I am not in love with the place, so I am considering heading south a bit sooner and hunting for work a bit further down the coast. Who knows eh! We shall see :)
That's all for now! Miss you all - you guys are never far from my thoughts and I feel so lucky to have such incredble family and friends back home. Thank you as ever for your unfailing support, especially when I ring up feeling sorry for myself. Lots of love to the UK - and someone please send my love to Marks and Spencers.