darwin - Where's Byrne?


31.03.2012 – 06.04.2012 Sunny 34°C

It was a hot and sweaty twenty-minute walk to Bali airport in the early morning sun. After being ripped off the night before we had no money left for a taxi and only just enough for a bowl of noodles each at Mertha Jati for breakfast. Security and check in was easy enough, no queues and no trouble. Our flight to Darwin, again with Air Asia, was two and a half hours and it seemed to drag, maybe because I was clock watching.

On arrival we jumped on the shuttle bus to Darwin City centre, namely Mitchell Street and to a hostel we had booked online called Chilli’s. They were offering a refund on the shuttle bus if you stayed 2 nights or more which was the convincer to book. Checking in was a bit more difficult thanks to the cocky prick on reception, a dead ringer for Alex Zane but with wavy greyish hair. I had already taken a dislike to it, $25 a night too (£17). Our room contained two bunk beds and we were sharing with an Irish guy from Cork called Owen. There was a jacuzzi out the back on the sundeck and the kitchen was small and well equipped but lacked enough plug sockets. Internet and Wi-Fi access was $4 an hour or $8 for 24. Rip off. There was a disjointed atmosphere, partly I think because there were so many Chinese and Japanese that kept themselves to themselves but also because the place was too big, three floors with fifteen rooms, each with four beds. I’ve stayed in big hostels before and you just don’t get any sense of camaraderie and it’s far harder to get talking to people. No alcohol was allowed on the premises either because they have a sister hostel up the road with its own bar. Work that one out. They need to rephrase their signage simply to ‘no alcohol’ instead of ‘you can only drink at the Youthshack Hostel up the road’. The greasy haired twat on reception at check in even asked us if we had any duty-free. I was expecting to be frisked by the bender.

After check in we walked next door to Australia’s Tesco, Coles, for some dinner and had a stroke with the prices. I literally couldn’t believe them. $4 for six hot cross buns, that’s £2.50. The cheapest loaf of bread was £1, the nasty stuff Tesco sell for 20p. A cooked chicken from the Deli was $10, nearly £7, and they’re small. That night we had bread and peanut butter for dinner.

Waking the next morning for the free breakfast the hostel were banging on about, which was a loaf of bread and portions of jam and marmalade, we met Joe and Lynsey, an English couple from Devon and Bristol but who had met at Coventry University. We discussed the shock I was still in over the cost of living in Aus and he said it was the same for them when they first arrived and invited us to Parap weekend market. The Darwin bus system works by charging $2 which permits as much use as you like for up to three hours. The market was average, offering lots of food choices and toot marked up as souvenirs and authentic Aboriginal gear. We were already comparing the prices to the supermarket though, some things being cheaper, others more expensive. We spent $8 on fruit which was dinner that night. The Abo’s living on the streets were eating better than us.

The time had come to check out of Chilli’s staying just the two nights to get our $13 each back for the price of the shuttle from the airport and good riddance. Down the road on Mitchell Street we checked in at Dingo Moon Lodge for $25.50 a night but with an amazing breakfast. Multigrain and white bread for toast, bagels, English muffins, pancakes, jam, Vegemite, Nutella, four different cereals, milk, OJ, tea and coffee, fruit and two different types of 1kg pots of yoghurt. We were spoilt for choice and ate as much as we could to try to last the day. It was much better at Dingo Moon already, with about forty or so people staying there and we quickly made mates. Dan, a yank from Michigan and Slim, Joe, Richard and Leanne from Faversham in Kent were our room mates for the first night. The Kent massive had just completed a relocation deal driving a new Merc camper van from Cairns to Darwin for $1 a day and getting $500 towards the petrol. There are some great relocation deals out there. Google for more info. Unfortunately we had to move rooms the next morning as all the people on the bottom bunks, including myself, were ravaged throughout the night by bedbugs. Nine months in dirty Asia and nothing, come to Australia, a clean civilised country and you get mauled by insects. The next two nights we were in a room for three with Dan Yank before being moved again for another three nights into an eight bed dorm. Less easy to make friends there. Walking past Youthshack I’d noticed a sign for $10 jugs of beer, which is pretty good for Darwin. The rest of that night is a bit of a haze. We met up with Joe and Lynsey again who were already with another couple. Dan Yank came with us and the Kent four appeared with two other English guys in tow. A pink wristband was slapped on me by an ugly promotions girl and I was frogmarched over the road to a club, where I was refused entry because I had no ID. The bouncer said I could have a drink in the now empty bar next door though. Thanks. Luckily this connected to the entrance of the club and with Yanky Dan covering our backs B and I slipped downstairs to claim our free entrance and drinks. The Kent Four had now become eight and Slim, the Muay Thai boxing frontman was by far the most pissed, dragging me to the bar for a drink, which I didn’t turn down. $60 on his credit card. A bit later he announced it was my round so I followed him to the counter to get him a drink and was served by a huge titted hooker in a bikini, in fact all the barmaids were in bikinis but I’d only just noticed. While the bouncing melons were preparing my drinks, over my shoulder Slim begins to reel off a fucking huge list of other drinks. Common sense kicked in and I immediately thought I am not being caught for that. I reversed, turned and slipped into the crowd for a tactical toilet break. $100 on his card. I did buy him a drink later, even that cost me $20. Don’t remember getting home. Woke up with a fat hangover.

Our plan was to get to Cairns asap because there was by far a bigger concentration of camper vans for sale there. Cairns is widely considered a buyers market as many backpackers do Sydney to Cairns and go home. Darwin was proving to be a bit of a black hole though to get out of. Flights and coaches were silly prices because of Easter coming up and trying to hitch a lift was hard. There were plenty of Ad’s on Gumtree and on notice boards in hostels but no one ever got back to us, presumably they were old and out of date. A German guy replied to us and we were all set to leave with him until he text us saying his plans had changed and that he was leaving just before we were due to meet to thrash out the details. Germans… Completely out the blue we had a text from Romain and Anthony, a couple of French geezers looking to do the trip via Litchfield National Park and Karumba on the north coast. We had emailed them when we were in Bali but got no reply. A day later we were set to go once again, with them just wanting half the petrol money. They had a four sleeper van so we could even kip with them (well, not with them). Perfect.

06.04.2012 – 13.04.2012 Sunny 30°C

Darwin – Cairns. Today was the day our camp trip to Litchfield and five-day drive to Cairns began. It didn’t get off to the best of starts when we awoke to find some bastard had eaten or thrown our fridge food around the garden. Twelve eggs, which I nicked back off someone else, $6 worth of Deli turkey I’d bought half price the night before, a bag or carrots, a bag of onions, $6 worth of mixed lettuce leaves and a $4 block of cheddar was missing. Pissed up fuckers.

B and I weren’t sure how the trip with the French guys would go as they really did have ‘French accents’ and thought a lot of jokes and general larking about would be missed by them but it started off alright. It was a couple of hours to Litchfield and I wasn’t too crazy about the camping idea as I fucking hate camping but we thought we’d do it so we actually achieved something in our first week not to mention because we were desperate to get out of Darwin. We found a spot at a paid campsite ($6 each) and Anthony jumped into Bear Grylls mode, gathering wood and dry lint shit for a fire. B and I prepared a salad. It wasn’t great, it was hot, even hotter next to the fire, the smoke was melting our eyes, the marshmallows stuck on dirty twigs tasted better unroasted and I was fucking mauled by mosquitos. That was followed by an uncomfortable nights sleep in the hi-top part of their camper van because of the heat and with B next to me, it made it worse. At breakfast I was eaten alive again by mozzies and we packed up and spent the day driving around seeing the sights of Litchfield which was basically waterfall after waterfall.

Litchfield National Park. We drove down the Litchfield Park Road to the first things to see. The Magnetic Termite Mounds were impressive but I didn’t realise there would be millions of them on our drive to Cairns so this was a bit of a waste of time. After that it was Buley Rockhole and Florence Falls, waterfalls with rockpools you could swim in. I wasn’t impressed. Tabletop Swamp was closed (thank God) so we moved on to Tolmer Falls, another waterfall. Greenant Creek was next up which had a one and a half kilometre trek to some rockpools at the end of it, B, myself and Anthony waited by the picnic area while Romain completed it. Wangi Falls was after this, and in my opinion this was the best out of the lot. A huge waterfall but not miles away and a two kilometre walk around it with an amazing view from the top. You’re not allowed to swim here though because of crocodiles. The following site, Cascades, was closed as was Walker Creek and Bamboo Creek Tin Mine (thank God again). Verdict: It’s not my cup of tea and can’t see why it’s anyone elses. Wangi Falls was good but we were ripped off paying $5 for a litre of water from a kiosk (there are no water fountains), and the rest are just walks and waterfalls. The mosquito’s are everywhere, and Litchfield is supposed to be better than Kakadu, I wouldn’t bother.

After Wangi Falls we got on the road to begin our ride to Cairns and made it to Newcastle Waters camping ground to sleep for the night. It wasn’t as bad as sleeping in Litchfield as it seemed to be getting cooler.

Day three began with a quick brekkie but with the French guys fucking around so much we didn’t get on the road until 9am. We made it past Tennant Creek and on to the main road which went all the way to Townsville although we were turning off beforehand as Romain and Anthony wanted to go to Karumba on the north coast before we hit Cairns. We stopped in Katherine for supplies from Woolies and an ice cream in McDonald’s and got back on the road, stopping at another free campsite for the night, eight hundred Ks along the road in total for the day, and set-up for dinner. This was the worst place we stopped by far. As we pulled up we noticed flies, everywhere. Trying to prepare dinner, eat and wash up afterwards was a nightmare. It literally was like the moments before Armageddon or a curse thrust upon the roadside. We’d got used to sitting in the van with the windows open and mosquito screens across and then batting any mosquitos flying around throughout our few hours card playing before we went to bed, but this time we were batting flies. They were everywhere and I’ve never seen anything like it.

Waking up the next morning for day four, I couldn’t wait to get on the road as breakfast was a repeat of dinner with the flies everywhere. We managed to get to Mount Isa where we stopped for another ice cream in McDonald’s, then back on the road to Cloncurry and north towards Karumba. Another night at a free campsite.

Day five we arrived in Karumba by midday. I had no idea what was in Karumba or why the French guys wanted to stop. Every time I asked them about it, they just said it was meant to be good. It wasn’t, although I don’t regret going there.

Karumba is a tiny town with a local store, a bakery, a small library and a couple of petrol stations. Going up to the point, where the beach is located, there are a couple of bars. And that’s about it. The town, being so small and every shop independent, was great though. It was like walking on to a movie set of a film dated a hundred years ago, we were only missing the horses. We had a drink at the Animal Bar, a place Romain had been banging on about as the Red Hot Chilli Peppers had visited a few years before and wrote a song about the place. I had never heard it but he played it to me after to prove it. It was just a regular Aussie drinking hole. We stayed on a site used by Road Trains to drop their trailers while they deliver one at a time as there were showers with hot water there. We weren’t supposed to stay but it was either there or the road.

The sixth day we left Karumba, determined to do the 700km to reach Cairns. We managed to reach Innisfail, 30km away so stayed there under a huge steel roof on the side of the road, as by now it was dark and a pissing storm had begun.

Day seven we finally arrived in Cairns. What a fucking nightmare journey and one I’ll never forget. Most of the reason we wanted to drive to Cairns was so we didn’t miss anything but the truth is, there was nothing to miss. Miles and miles of open road with greenery and red sand, a few Wallabies and Kangaroos and a car every now and again. It cost $600 in fuel to reach Cairns ($300 for me and B and $300 for the French blokes). The flights were $300 each so we did get there on the cheap but was it worth seven days, being dragged around Litchfield, stopping at Karumba, being attacked by flies and eaten by mosquitos? I’m not sure…

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