Sitting here in uggies, in front of a fire, drinking pinot, at the end of the earth (which some people also know as Hobart), I was feeling very cosy. Roasty-toasty. And then I started flicking through Instagram. Whaaaaat? Is that…sunshine? Ocean? Palm trees? Thongs???? Where are all these scantily clad people getting such amazing tans? In the middle of winter?
Ah yes, when the temperatures plummet in the south, there’s more than one way to get roasty-toasty. Head north!
And so begins the annual migration of nomads young and
not so young / young at heart to the top end, to Kakadu, to the Kimberley, to the Cape. Escaping the chill (of the thermal and beanie variety) in the south, to chill out (of the palm tree and hammock variety) in the North.
It’s around this time of year, when the southerners start getting out their coats and scarfs and boots, that up north, the waters of the wet season recede, the roads dry out and become passable, those far north cyclones tend to calm down a bit, and those hard working Kakadu rangers (bless them) do their darnedest to round up those pesky crocs.
Time to swap your hot chocolate for some pina coladas. Time to swap runny noses and germ sharing on crowded city trains, for swimming under waterfalls, riding camels along Cable beach, eating laksa at Mindil Beach Markets, and giving your 4WD some hell to get up to the tip.
One of my favourite memories from our trip around Australia was heading north up the Stuart Highway in July. We had spent a few months at Uluru. Which were amazing – a truly incredible experience. But as winter crept in, there were times where I forgot we were living the dream and found myself sitting in the freezing cold, in a campground, in a camper trailer, with a horrendous cold, with the nearest chemist 500kms away, missing my couch, tv, walls and consistently hot shower quite desperately. Everything was dry and static – the unnatural fibres of our (fake target) “uggies” would mingle with the dry air and metal surfaces of the camper trailer to give us electric shocks every time we touched something. My tan was fading rapidly and I also seemed to be physically blending into the outback with my dry skin starting to resemble scales. Wah, wah, wah – we very badly needed to head for some warmth, humidity and reptilian action (not involving my scaly skin) of the croc variety.
We started to thaw out as we headed past Alice. We stopped a few hours later and ate our dinner that night under the stars…luxuriating in not wearing thermals. We camped under the Devils Marbles. I mean right under. And we hoped that whatever had mysteriously kept the giant boulders balancing precariously on each other for thousands of years would last one more night and that we wouldn’t be crushed by rolling marbles. We weren’t – phew.
The next day we were jumping into the pool at the Daly Waters Pub (which, by the way, is an Absolute Must Do as you head north. It had everything you could possibly want from an outback pub. It had beef, it had barra, it had a pool, it had music and loads of nomads who wanted to dance with our kids. It had kids activities that involved the kids roaming the pub and looking for clues to a quiz – and which did not require parental supervision, and for which they were rewarded with free ice creams. And, wait for it, it had….outstanding customer service!! (not always a given in the territory). Top night). Most importantly, we had shed the long johns and were back in our travelling uniform or singlets, shorts and thongs.
Two days, and 1500kms after leaving the fr-fr-freezing outback, we emerged into the balmy tropics, and thawed out completely in crystal turquoise springs of Mataranka. Get past the tropic of Capricorn, and it’s all warm times from there.
Of course, being Australia, we like our good times and outdoors mixed with a bit of danger and creatures that can do you some serious damage. The north has that in bucketloads (or oceanfuls). We were reminded constantly that no waterway in the top end is safe. And as thorough as all those park rangers have tried to be in “re-locating” our reptilian buddies during the dry season to clear the “designated swimming areas”, it is still extremely disconcerting to swim out into a pristine waterhole with 10 metres of unknown below you.
But still, swimming we were – in blissful 33 degree balmy warmth – in the middle of winter. What a country we have, where in the same month you can be skiing in the south, or lying under palm tree, or boab, in the north. A glorious country in which we can chase the sun all year long, and choose what form our roasty-toasty-ness comes in.
I can say that I definitely prefer my winter with palm trees and beaches (and pina coladas). I am watching with excitement as the Gibb River Road in the Kimberley opens, campers flock to Lake Argyle, the Old Telegraph Track to Cape York dries out, and the social media travel pages are bombarded with spectacular Darwin and Broome sunset shots. I feel warm and happy just looking at these and am counting down the days until I can ditch my uggies for some barefoot sand action.
If, like many people we met on our travels, my retirement consists of spending 3 months a year in Broome / Darwin / Yeppoon / [insert idyllic beach location you can taunt your shivering mates back in the south with], then I will be one happy camper (also hopefully by retirement age I will not be quite literally a ‘camper’ and will have finally graduated to a caravan…perhaps with some aircon…it does get bloody hot up there.)
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