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Australia: The Northern Territory

Historically, before tourism, Cairns in Queensland was where those who didn’t quite fit into the rest of Australia went — things were less formal up north. Darwin was where people who found even Cairns too restrictive went. Darwin was where the city theatre was open air, with deck chairs on a concrete floor. When it rained, which it did a lot during the wet, people just sat there, watching anyway. If the rain was extremely heavy, the projector was stopped as the light didn’t make it to the screen. This was usually an excuse to talk, and have another beer (not that Darwinians needed an excuse). But you still sat there, waiting for the rain to stop. Darwin was that sort of place.

Darwin's different now, a thriving small city, but it still clings to its outpost history. Darwin is, after all, closer to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, than Canberra, Australia’s capital. And there are still plenty of Top Enders whose idea of fun is to chase down wild water buffalo in a beat-up Toyota 4WD, jump off at speed to grab the buff by the tail, throw it and truss it. By themselves.

But like most of Australia, there are many faces to the region. A little way to the west of Darwin is Kakadu National Park, another World Heritage area. This is a land of swamps and drought, where heavy rains fill depressions and give food and broodsites to millions of waterbirds, then dry to a parched and often flaming grassland.

Interspersed between these low forests, rivers and swamps is the history of the Gagadju Aboriginal people, the traditional owners and occupiers of this land, painted and etched on rock and tree. The Gagadju and related groups are still there, combining traditional and modern life; hunting wallabies from trucks and digging yams with steel tools, while dancing their dreaming songs in sacred gathering grounds. There are few, if any, other places in the world where stone age art work can be seen for the looking, and where the people of the art continue to renew it even today, continuing the history into new millenia.

The Aboriginal people recognize six seasons in the Top End, and although the Wet, from mid-December to March, is fascinating in its own right, getting around is difficult. The most spectacular time is November, when vivid lightning storms decorate the skies and ridges. Wildlife viewing is best from June to October, when the waters start to recede and the birds concentrate on the remaining swamps.

Further south is the Red Centre, desert country, a land of red sands, dry riverbeds and white-trunked ghost gums. Standing here, near the very center of Australia, is Uluru, or Ayers Rock. Rising a thousand feet above the desert floor, Uluru is sacred to several groups of Aboriginal people who still live in sight of it. Although famous for its shifting sunset colors, Uluru has a brooding presence that speaks to its role in tens of thousands of years of Aboriginal culture. Nearby, the rounded rock hills and valleys of Kata Tjuta hold their own mysteries and beauty.




You can share your stay with the wildlife in Alice Springs at Alice Station B&B - this is why you should.



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