We’ve crossed the border into the Northern Territory. 130km speed limit all the way. It already looks different. No more rocky outcrops or trees. Just red dirt and bristly bushes that look like alfalfa heads, miles and miles of alfalfa heads. You don’t fully appreciate the beauty of the outback until you stop. The sounds, the light, the stars at night. It has a real calming effect. Cools down the hottest temperament from all day sweaty drives. Bill from Mt Isa said it would all just open up for us now, and he wasn’t talking about our futures, he was talking about the road, the sky, the dirt and that endless feeling that we are actually nothing.
Banka Banka was an oasis in the desert, a little patch of green and some fresh spring water. After that we stopped in at Daly waters pub for the night. A wacky outback pub that had strung old bras and undies, thongs and license plates all over the walls. They had cold beer that made your head spin in the heat. Another backpacker behind the bar. I’ve got nothing against them, I was one once, but I guess I was hoping some Shazza’s or Mongrel Mick’s would pour me piss and have a chin wag but every pub and Roadhouse from Bourke and Wills and back has been countered by a pretty little thing with a British accent. Not quite what I imagined, until we met Fran from Larrimah. A plump apple and mango pie fed parakeet. She squawked orders at anyone that entered her gate. She force fed us overpriced food and talked and squawked and guffawked. We felt trapped in our Devonshire teas, held hostage by her mangy maltese terriers and garden gnomes. Finally we goose stepped the mutts and ran out of their holding our guts.
We made it to Mataranka without having to spew, talking about the larrikin from Larrimah the whole way. The drive got a lot greener all of a sudden as we headed in to some natural thermal springs. We swam on a Sunday in water as warm as a babies bath. It felt at odds with where we were. In the middle of deserted plains of varying shades of brown, palm trees surrounded a hot spring full of people with ruddy faces. We stayed at the National Park on the Roper River which was also fed from the bubbling limestone broth. The signs said open for swimming, that traps were set for crocodiles at the end of every wet season and if there were any sightings then the crocs were removed. Hmmm. Not exactly reassuring. The river had pontoons in the middle to swim out to, perfect for the scene of a B-grade horror film. No-one in sight except for a couple of crisp Swedes baking, the music to Jaws or the crocodile equivalent playing in the background and the biggest croc you’ve ever seen eats them up with salt and vinegar. Anyway safe to say we didn’t swim, despite the sign, the exhausting heat and the perfect pristine water.