Friday, August 24, 2007

Heading south...

Darwin looks so much bigger than it really is. With about the population of Dunedin, this kind of view deceives greatly and makes it look like a metropolis. It may, of course, one day become more metropolitan. One day...

Ancient mining equipment, suited for a gothic movie.

The Hiway Inn, situated at the junction of the Stuart and Carpentaria highways. Here it isn't horses being exchanged like at the many 'waystations' dotting the landscapes of the inhabited areas of Tethys, but everything from road trains and tank-carrying army vehicles to tiny cars like our Corolla are being tanked up with fuel—brought here by yet other road trains. But as for the rest of it, the functions of what's usually called 'roadhouses' around here is pretty much the same. Fuel, food, drink, lodging; and occasional entertainment.

Not far from there, a little bit off the main highway, a place called 'Daly Waters', famous basically for its pub.

And it appeared to me that it's here that old helos come to die...

The thing about being a tourist, even one speeding along for long stretches at 90+mph—and, no, dear N.T. policeman, I never said that; you misread; put your damn glasses on!—is that, even though you may overtake these tanks on low-slung semi-trailers, when you stop they overtake you and you've got to do the whole damn thing again. The stops may be idyllic—spot the wallaby and Kookaburra in the picture below—but you pay for them by being made to feel like some road-bound Sisyphus.

I lost count of the number of times we overtook these babies in their long stretched-out convoy.

Often, by the time we were sitting up the butt of one of them, we had overtaken a whole bunch of vehicles with no hope of overtaking this sucker: cars with trailers, trucks, road trains campervans, etc. That's where the 1800 cc came in handy, plus the very nice acceleration of the Corolla, and on occasion, when the coast was clear, the overtaking maneuver took in all 100-200 meters of tank-plus stragglers. Hit the right-hand lane, make sure the coast is clear—not difficult, with roads as straight as can be as far as the eye can see, and usually on level ground...

...turn on your lights high beam, so they know you're coming, and here we go!

The army drivers were invariably polite and freed as much of the right lane as they could. It helped not having a wide vehicle ourselves, plus the fact that the N.T. roads have a very good surface. They need to. They are the arteries of the Territory, who need to carry huge and heavy vehicles without rutting in summer temperatures of 40+ degrees Celsius. None of the pansy-ass road surfacing common here in New Zealand.

Anthills. Anthills. Anthills. They're ohh and ahh at first, and you marvel at all the shapes and sizes—from Lord of the Rings dimensions... barely a bump on the ground—but after a while it's like "look, these are a bit different, huh?" "yeah..."

There are, my wife concluded quite rightly, a lot of ants—and termites, which I think aren't strictly 'ants'—in Australia. Well, yes. No matter where you sit down, you got to watch out for these little blighters crawling around the place.—just in case they're either of a noxious and very painful variety, or else because they soon summon a shitload of buddies to the tourist who has so suddenly appeared and carelessly dropped bits and pieces of his lunch here and there; or maybe just planted his butt in some place and said butt looked potentially interesting.

This is but a small portion of a bunch of boulders called The Devil's Marbles, just about 100 km south of Tennant Creek along the Stuart Highway. So we got up real early that morning in our Tennant Creek motel, so we could get to the Marbles before sunrise and watch it there. We managed it in time all right—early enough in fact to awaken several of the hundreds of tourists camped, in tents, cars, caravans, campervans, there since I-don't-know-when-the-day-before— and watched the sunrise. A truly amazing sight. Even the tourists couldn't really spoil it, though I hate tourists. (Yeah, I know. Don't say it or even think it, or I will have to come and kill you).

For the clueless among you, that's me pointing at the sun, just so you know where it is.

And that's our little rental. When we collected it from AVIS's Darwin office it was all clean and without the gazillion bugs littering the front, and also without the fine red dust that had by then seeped through even the tiniest gap as we trundled over some unsealed roads to places you can only get to via unsealed roads. N.T. dust is among the finest mineral dust in the known universe. Oh, yes, definitely.

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