Living in a Marsupial World
 
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The next day we reached the Stuart Highway, a huge stretch of road that cuts Australia in half down the middle, connecting Adelaide, Alice Springs and Darwin. At the Barkly/Stuart crossroads, we found ourselves about as close as we would ever get to Uluru (formerly Ayer’s Rock) during this trip around the country. We had all decided a while back that having enough time to see the west coast was more important than catching a glimpse of the famous rock formation. Mar and I were also antsy to get up to Darwin by the 14th so that we wouldn’t miss the Cat Empire concert happening at the botanical gardens, so we continued northward to the “Top End” of Australia.


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That evening, we rolled up to the Daly Waters Pub, a popular curiosity along the Stuart. Apparently Daly Waters was once a stopover for passenger airplanes heading to Darwin and Asia many years ago. All that remains is this pub. We decided to spend the night there per Bill Bryson’s indirect recommendation in his fantastic Australian travelogue In a Sunburned Country. Though his descriptions of the décor were spot on – bras, panties and boxers tacked to the ceiling among autographed rugby jerseys, Dutch wooden clogs and various banknotes from across the globe – the atmosphere was less so. In Bryson’s book, Daly Waters Pub sounded like a gloriously eccentric backwater watering hole that just happened to be situated at a very convenient spot along a fairly desolate stretch of †he Stuart Highway. What we found was an eccentric backwater pub that had realized its monetary potential and was now just another tourist trap. The most surprising part about this place (we expected the ceiling lingerie) was the bar staff – all female, not one of them over the age of 25, and not a single Australian. Apparently, the Australian government offers young travelers on Work and Holiday visas (Americans excepted) a 12-month extension if they spend three months working at a rural local establishment.

 


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More pictures of the actual springs to come...
The next morning we continued our trek north and, after several recommendations, we decided to make our next stop Mataranka Hot Springs, a small spot just south of Katherine. The hot springs are nestled in a desert oasis, supposedly home to a local breed of bat, the red flying fox, which remained incognito during our visit. The waters themselves are less hot springs and more naturally warm ground waters that flow into a very clear, beautiful stream. Compared to the “hot springs” the two of us experienced near Ravenshoe and the hemp farm, which were commercialized pay-to-enter tiled pools that had a thick, gungy film from lack of cleaning (ew), the Mataranka Hot Springs were glorious. Some human-added adjustments had been made including steps to enter and exit the waters, but on the whole the springs and area surrounding were left in their natural state and were absolutely beautiful. The stream with the springs flowed into a larger, aqua green river that was also available for swimming though signs at the entry point cautioned that freshwater crocodiles did inhabit these waters. For those parentals slightly panicking at home please note, freshwater crocodiles do not pose the same threat to humans as saltwater crocs or “salties” – they are generally much smaller, have straight teeth and smaller snouts and subsist mainly on fish. Nonetheless, they can get snippy when provoked so Mar steered clear of this swimming opportunity. 


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Devin and Emily, however, did decide to take a cautious quick dip near the waters edge. After a few minutes in the river, two kayakers drifted by and introduced themselves as two documentary filmmakers currently working on a project with Aboriginal children at a local community. After floating down the river a ways, they returned asking Dev and Em if they wanted to see the crocodile that was sunning itself up the river. Dev and Em responded as if they were joking saying, “Ha, sure that’s really funny.” The two women then said, “No seriously, just hop on the kayak and we’ll paddle you over to show you.” They boarded the front of the kayak and indeed, there was a large freshwater crocodile on the edge of the river. After it hissed at them and slipped under the water, they were thoroughly finished with the swim, and the filmmakers kindly dropped them back on shore. After this bonding experience, the two women asked if the four of us wanted to attend the film festival that would feature at the Barunga Aboriginal Community the following day. This was an incredible honor, because to enter an Aboriginal community it needs to be by invitation. We graciously accepted, excited by this rare opportunity and having no idea what to expect. 


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We stayed in the (croc-free) hot springs for the rest of the day and into the night, soaking in the warm waters and beautiful outback sky all at once. It was incredible. However, because the only designated camping areas within 30 kilometers of the springs were pay sites, we guerilla camped at a small turn off behind an info sign, turning our headlamps off every time a car passed and getting out of there by sunrise the next morning. Awesome.

 



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