I’m now starting to lose count of how many visits I’ve made to the beautiful outback of Australia, a place I sincerely love exploring – it’s alluring charm and magic is never lost on me. Each time I visit I leave feeling lighter and with a heart full of lasting memories.
I am captivated by the world’s oldest living culture, which has co-existed with nature for tens of thousands of years, enduring the raw land and some of the harshest elements in Australia.
I love to learn, and over the years (and visits) I have been fascinated with learning what I can about the Aboriginal peoples and their Countries in The Northern Territory.
It is an honour to hear the creation stories and to experience the essence of the land and country. One of my favourite things I’ve learned is about the six seasons of the year and how aboriginal people use the life cycle of the plants and animals to tell the change in seasons, what is coming and how to then migrate with the stars. The laws of the land means to know what nature is doing; a sentiment I feel deeply connected to.
On this recent trip to The Northern Territory I was fortunate enough to travel with one of my best friends Anne and a friend I made briefly in Dunedin (New Zealand) last year Carmen – two incredible and inspiring photographers/ women. We hit the road, a non-stop ten-day adventure in our amazing motorhome from Britz (which we cutely named “Willy Wilbert”) writing new stories and creating new memories.
We travelled from Darwin to Alice Springs and everywhere in-between, moving each night across to the land, under the stars of the best night sky I have ever seen.
I’ve said it before but I have honestly never seen a place as incredibly diverse as The Northern Territory – it really has something for everyone. In just 10 days, we would experience all kinds of weather, from warm and sunny to chilly. Packing for this adventure during winter saw one side of the suitcase filled with summery attire for the Top End , the other packed with winter woollies for the Red Centre.
We began our journey in the ever-so-stunning Litchfield National Park. A return visit for me, driving past the familiar and impressive sight of hundreds of termite mounds (some up to 100 years old) standing proud in the wide swathe of the empty ground.
On our first stop we took a refreshing early morning dip in the crystal clear waters of Florence Falls. Set inside a pocket of monsoon forest, we swam as the mighty two-tiered waterfall plunged into the pool below. It’s never easy to get up well before the sun and drive to your destination, but it all quickly fades away when you are standing atop the viewing platform above the falls with a panoramic view of an open valley and the waterhole quiet below. We enjoyed having the morning to ourselves before more floating-noodle-bearing visitors began to arrive (if you have been to the NT you will get this reference) and as we sat in the sun to dry off, we admired the new comers reaction to the energy in the air pounding off the falls.
After a lazy picnic lunch in the sun, we found ourselves at the base of best-known and most popular attraction in Litchfield National Park, Wangi Falls. It was my first visit to Wagni and although many other travelers accompanied us, I was so impressed with the lush forest and large lunge pool. It was a beautiful place to float the afternoon away and sit right underneath the rushing water.
Each morning began the same, it’s really nice to have a little bit of routine when you see each rising sun in a new location. After a delicious breakfast of coconut and berry warm oats, topped with almond butter and granola, we had the energy to explore. Making the most of the Top End’s waterfalls and chasing that summery feeling, we found ourselves at the upper pools of Edith Falls. A morning well spent diving underneath, floating on our backs and drying out on the warm rocks surrounding this picturesque waterhole.
We had a hard time moving on, but knowing there was more unexplored Territory waiting ahead we hit the road and arrived at the ancient stone country of Nitmiluk National Park. Comprising of a system of 13 immense gorges, carved over the millennia by the Katherine River, Katherine Gorge is more than a location of beautiful landscapes and escarpment. The gorges hold great cultural value for the Jawoyn people, for the traditional owners as Nitmiluk refers to a cicada dreaming place – the place where the spirits of creation abide.
We watched as the golden light illuminated the land and felt alive sitting at the top of the Baruwei Lookout, retreating to our camper as the blue hour faded and stars begun to sparkle. It was an early night, as we rose to see the first light on the dawn cruise through two of the impressive gorges.
Within half an hour of Nitmiluk we found ourselves swimming in the natural pools of Katherine Hot Springs. Here we met some local children on school holidays and spent the afternoon in the thermal pools chatting away with some new friends about life, travel and everything in-between.
One of the best observations I’ve made on the road is the sense of freedom in many ways, but specifically in terms of communicating with strangers regardless of their age or lifestyle. In our daily life how often are we guilty of bypassing people in the street, on the bus, during a morning/afternoon walk or on the beach and not acknowledge one another? On the road we let go of those reservations and talk to the strangers in front of us – or in this case – whilst floating in the hot spring. It’s really an interesting way of learning about the local “secret” spots, where others have been, where they are travelling next and how they found themselves there in the first place.
Some of the best conversations I have ever had have been fleeting interactions, yet profound moments, on the road and in some cases lifelong friendships have been made.
And so another day began with another natural wonder. We actually decided to stop, take a rest and blissfully spend the entire day submerged in a stunning oasis known as Bitter Springs. Hidden away amongst endless palms and tropical woodlands, Bitter Springs are crystal clear spring-fed thermal pools with an ideal temperature of 32 degrees Celsius – the perfect way to spend the day unwinding. We actually couldn’t believe a magical place like this exists.
Swapping our summer attire for winter woollies we headed further south. Our next stop was the quirky Daly Waters Pub – the original outback pub, iconic to the region and literally in the middle of nowhere. We traded our home cooked motor home meal for the night and enjoyed a pub-style (vegan) dish, a glass of wine (for me) and an evening on the dance floor with the grey nomads, dancing and singing our hearts out to all the classic covers that Lou Bradley was playing.
I’ve been itching at the chance to go back to the ever-evolving scene of Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles) and the 502km drive from Daly Waters to these stunning geological treasures was completely worth it. Located in the traditional country of the Warumungu, Kaytetye, Alyawarra and Warlpiri people, they call the Devils Marbles Karlu Karlu, which literally translates to ‘round boulders’. Stories of their creation tell a spiritual connection that is echoed throughout the landscape.
I had left a piece of my heart here when I worked on a job for Australian Traveller Magazine back in 2014. I vividly recalled this otherworldly landscape of huge granite boulders, defying gravity, balancing precariously on one another, casting long shadows across a wide, shallow valley.
After watching the sunset and the pink sky linger for what felt like hours, we ate our dinner around a shared campfire and spent a night under the stars. Staying out late we watched the land come alive in a different way as the impressive outback chandelier night sky took our breath away.
Our next stop was the final destination, Alice Springs, but our journey was far from over. We were treated to exquisite outback winter weather and had a chance to revisit some old favourites in the West MacDonnell Ranges. A calm sunrise spent at Ormiston Gorge flying the drone with views of Mt Sonder and Mparntwe, the traditional land of the Arrernte People. Making our way back to Alice we stopped off at one of my favourite places to take a dip in the NT, Ellery Creek Big Hole. Surrounded by high red cliffs and the sandy Ellery Creek, this stunning waterhole, formed by massive floods over thousands of years cuts through a gorge in the West MacDonnell Ranges. We admired the beauty from dry land, Carmen was the only one brave enough to submerge in the freezing (but refreshing) waters; an action that speaks volumes of her infectious zest for life and willingness to step outside of her comfort zone.
What followed that afternoon left me in tears of happiness and was one of the best afternoons I have ever had at work. The legendary owner of The Kangaroo Sanctuary, Brolga actually called out in front of a crowd of people
“Hey you, crying girl, want to come and cuddle Yaru”
“ummmmm me, cuddle a baby kangaroo?! YES PLEASE!”
We were lucky enough to walk through The Kangaroo Sanctuary at sunset – cuddling some rescued little cuties, feeding them and learning about history of the land. The Kangaroo Sanctuary was established in 2011 with 188 acres for rescued orphaned baby kangaroos (and adult kangaroos) and with a mission to educate and encourage people to rescue and care for kangaroos in the NT and Australia wide.
Sometimes, well most of the time, I have to pinch myself how much I love my job, but an afternoon spent at The Kangaroo Sanctuary is a highlight for any animal lover.
We woke up quite early the following morning, still floating on a high from the Kangaroo Sanctuary and soon to be floating high through the sky with Outback Ballooning. A golden morning spent spotting kangaroos hopping below and soaring through the cool air, as the mind disappeared into the layers of the raw earth below.
Our final destination was a special request of mine, I wanted return and stand before the night sky at the sacred Rainbow Valley. Arriving mid afternoon we frolicked through the red dirt, settling on a location to marvel as the sandstone bands began to change through every colour of the rainbow, from ochre red to orange and purple and then illuminate under the grand night sky.
The Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve is on the traditional lands of the Upper Southern Arrernte people and is known to them as Wurre. It is a truly special place I feel grateful to revisit and share, wishing upon many shooting stars dashing across the expansive sky.
Some thing I really love about being on the road – and even revisiting places – is how the land changes through the seasons, but mostly I just really enjoy sharing the experiences with like-hearted people. Enjoying living through my friend’s eyes as they light up with wonder witnessing the unique beauty of the outback for the first time.
I love the open road, the playlists and sing-alongs, spending each night sleeping in a new destination and waking to witness the rising sun. There is something magical about the Australian Outback, I feel connected with the power of this country and immersed in the wonderfully rich, ancient intricacies of the Indigenous culture. From marvelling at distant skies, being silenced by the outback sounds, to watching in amazement as the transformation of colours of the land highlight the stunning beauty of this remarkable, diverse region. It was an absolute pleasure to share a piece of my heart with one of my best friends Anne and to have the beautiful Carmen along for the journey. Creating a strong bond and memories of a lifetime, sharing a common interest for all things around working hard and making sacrifices in the name of adventure. Celebrating all the decisions and all the roads that ultimately lead us to these very moments.
That is what life is all about.
A version of this article originally appeared on Mellisa Findley’s travel blog.