Darwin – Katherine – Alice Springs – Marla – Adelaide

Wednesday morning five weeks ago, finally, more than three months after I arrived the first time in Darwin, I was able to continue my journey. As the railway station in Darwin is nowadays pretty remote, it’s about 20 km from the city centre and even the nearest bus stop is about 7 km away – which makes it definitely convenient for commuting 😏, Berny offered me to drop me off at the railway station, and even he admitted that he was not yet in this part of the city. There were also shuttle buses directly from various hotels from the city centre to the railway station, but as Berny lived in Palmerston, this was not really convenient. In order to get into the train it was necessary that I check-in, but I refused to give my large backpack away. In essence I just received a boarding pass, that’s everything you get, you even don’t get a ticket, and this at this price 😯. I asked the conductor, when we will arrive in Alice Springs, and the answer was tomorrow…yes, I know, so when will we arrive…after breakfast 🀨. Are you operating on a schedule or on hope? Nevertheless, we departed on time at 10 o’clock, after a few minutes we crossed the east arm, from where I had again the last glimpse to Darwin. Then we rode through Savanna land, which was pretty green, just from the bit of rain the days before. While I had lunch, yes everything is included, also all beverages, coffee and so on, we passed Adelaide river followed by the bypass of Pine Creek. As the meal portions are designed for an age, which is probably twice than mine, Sam the train manager offered me, that I always can order a second dish, if I want. I’m yeah for sure, I don’t wanna starve. After about four hours we arrived in Katherine railway station, and got pushed into several buses for our first “off train excursion” to the Nitmiluk national park, as I had never been there before. There are no buses readily available in Katherine. That means, the shuttle buses from the morning, which already picked up the passengers in the city centre of Darwin, drove all the more than 300 km down the Stuart highway empty, just for this 30 min bus drive to the national park. How sick is that?…how I like all this organised tours. You don’t need to draw any decisions, you don’t have any options, your just obliqued to do what your told to do. It feels like in prison, and now you do what they told ya. So after all seven buses or so arrived, we queued up in the sun, yeah it was pretty hot and for some older woman a bit too much, until we got pushed into the boats. Then we had a guided boat trip, luckily I haven’t spent money on that before, in the first and second gorge. In between it was a 400m walk…on a boardwalk, seriously nothing dangerous! Except that one boulder, which definitely teased me to do some moves…but no time…get into the next boat. After we finished all the boats, we drove back to the railway station. We departed Katherine during sunset. In essence, we spent most of the time during the day outside, and riding during the night, so that I couldn’t see anything from the landscape south of Katherine.

Thursday early morning five weeks ago I woke up for sunrise. It was already far south of Tennant Creek on the way to Alice. About half an hour before we arrived there, I could see the MacDonell ranges. In Alice we had our next off train excursion. Oohh, how excited I am…to get squeezed into another bus. That’s exactly the reason, why I travel by train. We were expected to walk at least 4 km, well it’s already 10 o’clock, getting warm now, but I thought still manageable…but no, today we skip that walking part, due to the fitness of the other people 🀨. We only walk 15min near the Simpsons Gap, and as we’ve time we stay there for another 40 min, just to be in a rush at Emily gap. That’s definitely a nice spot with some kind of zebra drawings from three siblings from the Aborigines. As it’s a sacred site for them, they ask not to make any photos of it. After crossing Heavitree gap directly at the exit of the town, some people looked to the West to Pine gap…you know that US facility which consists of 99% of gardeners and facility managers πŸ˜‰. In the afternoon we rode through the southern part of the NT, crossed the Finke River and eventually the border to South Australia. In the evening we stopped in Marla. For touristic purposes a campfire was burnt and everyone could have a drink of some kind of sweet alcohol, no thanks, I just take another beer, once I’m back in the train.

Friday morning five weeks ago, we were already deep in South Australia, and rode already since Tarcoola on the track from Perth. There were large bushes around, and I could even immediately spot a herd of sheep. I got a short glimpse to the Flinders ranges, just before a thunderstorm passed by. In Port Augusta we arrived back into the civilisation, everybody had again mobile reception, and for me Port Augusta was the next easternmost point that I reached on my journey with the train after I left Komsomolsk-on-Amur more than 15 months ago. Shortly south of Port Augusta we passed a concentrated solar power plant with a large receiver tower, and suddely there were cornfields, a lot of cornfields. It was so surreal, to get out of the desert and to see this yellow fields just in the middle of the harvesting season. We passed Port Pirie during the next thunderstorm and Crystal Brook, with the turnoff to New South Wales. But it seemed that all railway stations along this track were closed forever, so no passenger train will stop there in the future. On the way to Adelaide there were heaps of wind turbines installed on all the hills, and the wind seemed to blow steadily as all were in a good rotational speed (yes, I know the power is proportional to RPM and torque).

After more than 50 hours, including the three unnecessary stops in between, I finished my longest leg in time and distance, if the organised off train excursions are not considered as getting off the train, in Adelaide. Coming from the humid weather from the north, Adelaide feels a bit chilly, but I definitely appreciated that. Originally I wanted to take the train from Darwin to Alice Springs, getting out there and driving on my own to Uluru, and then taking another train and finishing the trip from Alice to Adelaide. But, surprise, surprise, that’s impossible from August to October. Only from October onwards its possible again 🀨…nobody can explain this. But as Uluru got finally closed in October of this year, and I wanted to be on top before they do that, that was definitely not an option. So in essence, I made out of this restrictions a 13,000 km Roadtrip ☺️.

Newly painted locomotives from “Pacific National” for the 90th anniversary of the Ghan
This can is designed overseas, but made locally
My armchair in my single cabin is comfortable, but is unfortunately orientated opposite to the driving direction
The aisle is pretty narrow and sneaks like a wave between the cabins of the two sides
The savanna directly went into green, just from a bit of rain the few days before
Passing Adelaide river…
…and crossing Edith river.
A cargo train with double stacked containers is waiting on the siding, when we’re arriving in Katherine, to ride to the north.
That’s exactly where I always wanted to be, in a tourist queue with old white people
Sailing into the first gorge…
…in the Nitmiluk NP…
…followed by the second gorge.
South of Katherine, the savanna, seen during dusk, is still pretty dry
Dry bush land far south of Tennant Creek during dawn.
Eventually the MacDonell ranges appeared…
…just before Alice Springs we approached them…
…the train needed to do some curves to gain the altitude
A large paperbark tree is threatened by fire from fast growing grasses, which were introduced for the cattle industry of the pastoral leases
Walk through the dry river to the Simpsons gap
Before the completion of the narrow gauge railway from Oodnadatta, Alice Springs was supplied by Afghan camel drivers.
Crossing the narrow Heavitree gap together with the Todd river and the Stuart highway
Passing some dry hills in the southern NT
Crossing the Finke river, which is prone to flooding once in a while
Only small bushes and sturdy grasses exist here in the southern NT
Pretty surreal, passing this siding full of sand in the middle of nowhere in a comfy carriage, with outside temperatures hitting almost 40Β°
Finally crossing the border to South Australia with maximum speed of about 115 km/h
Relaxed riding through the flat outback of South Australia during dusk
The next cargo train, with presumably oil carriages, is waiting on the siding for the northbound ride
Lovely sunset without any clouds at the sky
A heard of sheep is looking for some food in the bushes…
…during dawn…
…just before the next thunderstorm approaches infront of the Flinders ranges
Port Augusta…back in the civilisation, from here on I can travel now further to the East after more than 15 months
The central receiver from the concentrated solar power plant
The Flinders ranges are wrapped in low hanging clouds
And suddenly cornfields appeared…
…just in the middle of the harvesting season.
Passing Port Pirie during the next thunderstorm
The pub of Crystal Brook
The hills around Snowtown are all covered by wind turbines
Finally arrived in Adelaide
My Boarding Pass for the Ghan

Darwin

Saturday morning five weeks ago I went to the actual Manton Dam, which was actually just a few minutes from the rest area. The Manton Dam was built in the 1940’s as reliable water supply for Darwin. But as the city grew, it’s capacity was too small, and nowadays it’s mainly used for recreational activities and as backup water source. Several salties are living in the outflow of the Manton Dam. Hence, step away from the water edge and be careful. After more than 2 months and 13,000 km I finished my round trip around the NT and finally came back to Darwin. In the afternoon I visited the Botanical garden. This was still on my todo list since I arrived more than 3 months earlier. I strolled around the shade of the several different kinds of trees, bushes and flowers. But it was also obvious, that without lots of irrigation the vegetation wouldn’t be as green as it is today. After the devastating cyclone in 1974 the botanical garden needed to grew up from scratch, as almost all trees were broken. Therefore fast growing trees from abroad were chosen. Sure it looks quite nice today, but what I know from fast growing trees in Germany is, that at the next storm they snap like matches. Afterwards I made a short detour to East Point. There’s a nice panoramic view from there across Fannie Bay to the CBD. That was the mooring point of my arrival in July earlier that year. On the other side of East Point you have a view to Nightcliff. All along the shore there’re the old remainings of concrete from WWII. None of them were in use anymore, and none of them were an effective defence at all. In the evening I went to the place of Bernhard my host in Darwin. He lives in the caretaker house of a school with some green garden around. The following days I stayed with him. Thanks to his support and recommendations I was able to sell my car a few days later.

In the mean time I visited Lee point, which is basically the northernmost point of Darwin. It has a nice beach for a walk, and also some concrete remains of WWII. Basically this area started to develop during that period of time. Furthermore, I went to the Howard Springs nature reserve. Well due to the dam which was also built during WWII as recreational area for soldiers, the dammed creek is nowadays full of bacteria and it’s highly recommended not to have a swim in that dirty pond. Apart from that there’s a tiny patch of rain forest near the creek, but not really worth having a stroll around it, maybe except that this is the only rain forest you may see.

Manton Dam
Amphitheatre in the Botanical garden…
…beside blooming trees
That was the only crocodile, I’ve seen in the botanical garden 😏
Fannie Bay with the boye of the mooring area…
…and the former defence steel rope against submarine attacks…
…at East point.
It seemed to be blooming time at the time of the year for this trees
This small possum fell off the big mango tree in Bernies yard. A few minutes later it was picked up from some caretaker, which Berny called before.
Lee point has a nice beach to have walk
Eehhm, yeah, exactly. This is what I also did 🀣.

Manton Dam

Six weeks ago I headed further north along the Stuart highway. After a short break in the morning in Katherine, I went at noon about 30 km north and made a stop at the Edith Farms road, which is at 14Β° 18′ South. The sun reached at 12:25 it’s zenith (0Β° azimuth, 90Β° altitutde) at this longitude. Or in other words, a perpendicular pole (in that case the length doesn’t matter) casts a shadow of 0 cm, and my aim was to see that. So I was well prepared and even 15 min earlier at the correct position, as well as the sun was…until 12:23…and then a cloud came by πŸ™„. That reminded me of the total solar eclipse 20 years ago in Germany, which I watched with my grandmother. But there we had some luck, as its duration was longer than just a few seconds. Well with a ground speed of 450 m/s (or 1620 km/h) my car is not really suited to catch up again at another longitude this day, and the day after the zenith would be even further south, until it reaches the Tropic of Capricorn at the 21st/22nd December the beginning of Summer in the southern hemispehere. Anyway, at least I tried to see the zero shade. But now I’m again north of the zenith of the sun, even as I’m in the southern hemisphere. That’s a bit strange to recognise, as it can be confusing to determine your orientation just by time and the azimuth of the sun.

In the afternoon I stopped in Adelaide river for a break. Afterwards I wanted to visit the railway museum, but this one was also closed, even as it should be open according to the opening hours. Nevertheless, I was walking around the outside of the former railway building and had a look to the different old rolling stock on display. In the late afternoon I drove up to Manton Dam and had a short swim before sunrise. The saltie trap was empty, so I hoped that there wouldn’t be any salties around the beach. Nevertheless, I wasn’t in a mood to give it a long tryπŸ˜‚. I just was looking for some refreshment after this hot and humid day, which made me really sweat the whole time.

When the sun was at its zenith…
…I was looking into the first clouds of today…
…and my improvised pole with almost no shade
A thunderstorm is emerging next to the…
…Stuart highway, but didn’t hit me at all
The former railway station at Adelaide river, which served the narrow gauge line…
…with the old rolling stock on display
The narrow gauge track on the left and the normal gauge track on the right reunion in Adelaide river the first time, as their tracks are different all the way from Darwin.
The Manton Dam during sunset

King River Rest Area

Thursday five weeks ago I headed along the Roper highway to the west and made a short stop at the Roper valley east rest area after about 30km. I didn’t know that there’s was such a nice and free rest area in the vicinity, so I could have just stayed there overnight. Anyway, from this rest area on the highway is sealed until the Stuart highway. Hence, I increased my tyre pressure here in order to have less friction and less wear of the new tyres. About 30 km before I reached Mataranka I gave an indigenous was hitchhiking and I gave that couple a lift. Well they had to squeeze onto the front, which is legally allowed, but still a bit narrow. But for this short time ok. We had a short chat during the drive. I didn’t get it completely if they were looking to meet other people in Mataranka, or if they need to pick up their car there. In any case they had already or still some alcohol intus. Typically they communities are dry places, and hence, people coming to the twons to get drunken. I’ve not idea if this is each day the case for Mataranka, or if it was “Halloween” at this day. That’s not the typical Aboriginal holiday, but hey, it’s a reason to drink alcohol, if you need one. The bloke also told me about the Thermal Pool, which is a few km south of Mataranka and also a nice place to swim. But I wanted to head to Bitter springs first. Unfortunately, this was closed due to recent Bush fires. And while I was waiting infront of the gate even some rangers came by. But they told me, that it won’t open the next ten days or so. Hence, after my lunch break, where I observed all the Aboriginal people coming with a carton of beer from the bottle shop, and then hiding in the bushes…well, that lasts not long until the police showed up. As this area is, surprise, surprise, an alcohol free area. So the people just got away, probably hiding or sitting together further in the bush. The rainbow springs was open, and the warm bluish water was constantly flowing. It’s not Artesian water, as was explained, but instead the water is catched during the rainy season in the surrounding mountains, and then transported and heated at a depth of 30-100 m in several cracks to the springs, which eventually allowed for a constant water flow of the Roper river the whole year around. While I was splashing around the pool, well it’s just too small to swim, I met a French traveller. We had a long conversation and she told me, that she stayed in a nearby farm to pick water melons…with 60 other backpackers. She only need 10 days until she got her 3 months of remote work. But that’s pretty hard at the moment. As the temperatures can reach easily 40 degrees, combined with a humidity of over 80%, makes you sweat the whole day. And that’s sometimes just from being outside. In the late afternoon I headed off along the Stuart Highway to the north and stayed at the King River rest area. It was the first time nice a few weeks that I camped at a place with other cars. And what I didn’t took into account was, that some blokes run their generator during the whole night for electricity, probably for their TV. Well, as this was rather annoying I parked my car 100 m away at the other side of the parking area, to net get bothered by this bloke, as I didn’t know when he decides to stop that.

In the morning along the sealed Roper highway
The water from Rainbow springs, just flows a few metres until you can swim in the thermal pool

Roper River

Wednesday five weeks ago I followed the Nathan river road to the north out of the Limmen national park. The road had different qualities, most of the time it was ok, but suddenly there were also heavily corrugated patches, where a grading would have been very nice. This road was mainly leading through savanna area with the corresponding trees. Once I reached the Roper River Road which is leading to Port roper the road quality suddenly improved, as this road was just recently graded. So the drive out to the roper highway was no longer a bis deal. On the way to do that I first stopped at the Lomareium lagoon. Which is a great spot for birdlife. And while I was walking along the dirty banks of the lagoon, I guess there might be also crocodiles in the water. I only saw some small traces, so I guess these were just freshwater crocs. For an extended lunch break I stopped directly at the roper river, opposite to the Ngukurr community. This spot was full of rubbish and hence, attracts a lot of ants. When I was there, the roper river just had high tide, and I carefully watched out for some salties, but I couldn’t see any. While I was calmly staying at the bank, I hear some branches cracking and also some dry leaves. It sounds as somebody would walk along the undergrowth, so I looked behind me…twice, but couldn’t see anything. Until I saw a green head which belonged to a two metre brownish snake 😯 ooh….Fuck. So I didn’t move at all, I just observed her for a few seconds. Then it detected me, and suddenly disappeared underneath the next bush. So that’s in essence the reason, why you might not want to walk through the undergrowth with flip flops and short trousers. I walked back to the car and looked into the direction in which the snake went to, but actually couldn’t see her again, and didn’t want to chase for her. In the late afternoon I finally arrived at the Roper highway and checked out the campground at Roper bar, that’s the location where Ludwig Leichhardt crossed the Roper river as first white person in 1845. But as the campground was empty and I didn’t want to pay for nothing, I decided to drive a few kilometres further on, and just stopped at an area about 50m next to road. There were maybe 5 cars during the evening, so traffic wasn’t too bad at this spot.

Yellow blooming bushes underneath the savanna trees
Lomareium lagoon is full of animals looking for a sip of water…nice place to spend some time and have a walk along the bank
Roper river during high tide opposite to the Ngukurr community…with 4G mobile connection πŸ˜›
The tail of the brown snake is about 30cm right of the left can, just a second after she saw me, and about 1-2m away from me. Unfortunately, I was too late to take a photo of its green head. If you can’t see it, then you’re not supposed to walk with thongs around this area, which I obviously haven’t done. Even as the snake itself didn’t make any noise, it’s movement alone was enough to detect her. But for sure only, because I didn’t move, nor I was talking to someone else.