(To any Australians reading this, please don’t be upset with anything I write. Your country seems rather unusual to many of us from tamer parts of the planet.)
I planned a two week trip to Australia; I stayed for six. I had no idea I would be so bowled over by the place. Plus, it’s, um, big. I wanted to stay six years.
That said, Australia is full of extremely dangerous things: while cruising down a river in the northwest, the man operating the boat, a tough and sunburned outback-type, went pale when one woman trailed her hand in the water; he shouted at her to stop – this incredibly macho guy was manifestly disturbed by the prospect of a crocodile snatching a passenger off his boat. “They live to kill,” he said in a numb voice. He proceeded to tell me how these huge “salties” (one was over 15 feet) kill after mating, eat their kids, and are patient, sly, and obscenely dedicated killers. He transferred his dread to me with the telling. (Yet, in practically the same breath, he asked would I come live with him out there on his houseboat, but I demurred. He needs to work on his pickup skills.) That was definitely not my only scare; the continent is chock full of ways to die; stressed guides everywhere were constantly having to shout, “Watch out! Don’t touch that! Don’t step there!”
Australia boasts lots of “mosts” and “ests”: steepest ride; most venomous animals; largest ecosystem; oldest surviving civilization (50,000 years!); oldest fossils; most dangerous birds (birds!) . . . and the safest airline.
I spent a lot of time on trains: first from Sydney to Queensland; then Adelaide to Darwin on The Ghan, with a stop in between at the Red Center; then Perth to Sydney on the Indian Pacific. Sadly, one has to fly to Broome; I never wanted to leave that place, but for the crocodiles . . .
Another crazy story: Australia has a lot of wild camels. Because the roads in the Outback are so empty, drivers go very, very fast, and camels and other critters suffer the consequences. There were so many carcasses, carrion birds were said to have developed health issues from the unhealthy diets of easily-picked fatty organs. Roadsigns hoping to get folks to drive slower read LIFT UM FOOT.
Yet another story: once I was having lunch on the second floor of an open-air restaurant in Sydney, the country’s most-populated-with-humans city. Halfway through my sandwich, I saw that there were hundreds of bats hanging upside down in the trees an arm’s-length away. How I did not notice that right away I will never understand.
Also, kangaroos are not out in the wild: they’re in the neighborhood, hop hop hopping along, cruising around like the neighbor’s loose dog.
In those six weeks, I hiked the Blue Mountains and King’s Canyon. I cruised the Daintree River. I saw a platypus. I rode in a submersible in the Great Barrier Reef. I camped in Kakadu. I explored the fantastic Red Center, including Uluru, or Ayers Rock, and Kata Tjuta, or The Olgas. I visited Broome in the far northwest, and it holds a place of special affection in my heart. I toured the gold-seeking Super Pit, with its machines with 13-foot-tall tires. I crossed the Nullarbor Plain. (I did NOT climb the Sydney Bridge.)
What a place. Hope you enjoy the photos. I thought using the bat photo as the header was appropriate for this time of year. There will be more photos of Down Under next week, and no talk.