Alice Springs to Darwin
August 18th: Good Bye, Alice!
Like in Utah’s desert, last night and this early spring morning were pretty cold in Alice Springs ! I was glad I had the warm hoodie given to me at the mission office in Adelaide. Elder Buckner and I got up early. I showered, and he loaded the trailer with our suitcases. To protect them from bugs, road dust and potential rain, each of them was placed in a large trash bag, and then all of them were secured with bungee cords under a heavy tarp. I was really glad we had done this by the time we got to Darwin – the front of the car, trailer, and contents were totally plastered with bugs. The further north we got, the more of them we collected! (I had to take a photo of this crazy tree outside their flat before we left. It reminded me of how I feel after being in the car for too many days – or was it how I look on a dance floor? Anyway, it was so good to get a day off at the Tennis’s in the middle of our trip!)
The Tennis’s made a great breakfast for us of scrambled eggs, cherry tomatoes, pork and beans (which Elder Tennis loves), with toast and orange juice. After that, Elder Tennis reviewed with us their instructions
for cleaning up church membership records. They had also typed up some details on the process and how to handle any potential hurdles that could arise. Sister Tennis had worked for 3 years as a volunteer in the Member Find department of the church in Salt Lake, which gave her a great background for developing this program here. She said that the church takes their shepherding of members very seriously, so great care is needed on our part in this work.
Answer to a Prayer
They also shared a wonderful story with us about their oldest daughter. She had always felt a strong stewardship over her younger siblings. There were times when she was growing up that she took on the responsibility of caring for them when their mother was ill. While she was on her mission, her younger, married sister who was expecting her first baby came down with toxemia. The attending doctor, despite the insistence of both her mother and mother-in-law, said it was not toxemia and refused to treat her for the condition. About 2 months before her baby was due, it became so severe that her kidneys shut down and her liver began to shut down. She had gone from 125 pounds to 180-190 pounds and was so filled with water she could not even bend her fingers. the doctor wanted her to deliver this preemie baby naturally, which she did. Thankfully, the baby was fine. However, she was at death’s door for 3 days. The doctors did not know if she would make it, or not. the Tennis’s knew that they had to tell her older sister, or she would never forgive them if her sister died without her even knowing that there had been a problem.
Upon hearing of the situation, this sweet young missionary became frantic, and felt that she had to immediately go home. She was beside herself with worry, but decided that she needed to pray. She then heard a voice clearly ask her, “What more can you do than I?” She realized the truthfulness of that statement given to her from the Lord, and stayed on to finish her mission. And with the Lord’s help, her sister pulled through.
Meet the Mormons!
On the lighter side, we also saw the now famous “Meet the Mormons” boat entry for the Henly-on-Todd Boat Regatta dry docked in the Tennis’s backyard. The Alice Springs elders won first place “sailing” it in the typically dry Todd riverbed, even beating out the Navy, who had come from Darwin! (Contestants come from all over Australia. Some of the boats in another event are powered by 4WD vehicles.) I heard it was great fun! Alice also has an annual Beanie festival where contestants enter their most creative beanie hats, some of which end up selling for big bucks.
This fun town of 25,000 is also known for it’s quirky camel race, the Alice Springs Camel Cup. If you want a good laugh, look at some of the YouTube videos here. Did you know that there are herds of wild, feral camels in Australia, which is also the largest exporter of camels in the world? And where are they exported to? – Saudi Arabia!
Although we hated to go, we ended up leaving Alice Springs at 9:40. I misplaced my sunglasses, so driving in the car was a bit challenging with the sun coming in the front window most of the day. However, the thought of not living out of suitcases in the near future was spurring us on! Two days to go and we’d be in Darwin!
Alice Springs straddles the usually dry Todd River on the north side of the Mac Donnell Ranges, just south of the Tropic of Capricorn. Driving north of out town we started climbing again. It was gradual, but very noticeable. There were many more trees and some hills, but the landscape soon flattened out other than the gentle uphill grade.
Termites, Termites … and MORE Termites!
About 50 miles out of Alice we saw termite structures scattered in areas on the sides of the road. They were very concentrated in places, maybe 2-6 feet apart. Most of them were a foot or two tall, but some were so large, people had occasionally adorned them with clothing – usually shirts, jackets and hats. I loved the one above that seemed to be directing us on to Darwin – another great example of the Australian sense of humor. There are said to be about 600 species of termites in Australia, with only 9 or so that cause problems to properties. We also passed through a number of “floodways” like we did on Tuesday. During the rainy season, roads all over the Outback can and do get impassible and can delay the delivery of mail and retail goods for days.
We also actually saw some other roads here, too! From the big directional signs we at first thought they would be comparable to the one we were on (two paved lanes), but it turned out they were just dirt outback roads leading to settlements.
Running alongside most of the highway as well as in Adelaide & the settlements we passed through, we noticed metal telephone poles that even had pegs attached on the upper sides for climbing them when the ladder-like rungs become difficult. That, combined with all the brick, stone and block houses here, leads me to think that either construction lumber is not plentiful in Australia, or there’s a termite worry. They do mine iron ore, but most of the steel is imported. We also started to see clouds about 3 hours out of Alice Springs to the north, hinting of the humidity to come. They increased as we drove, but remained scattered.
Aileron Roadhouse Sculptures
The most interesting landmark we saw during this stretch was a couple of gigantic metal Aboriginal sculptures at the Aileron Roadhouse. The man on the hill stands 17 meters or about 56′ tall. They were likely erected to bring more traffic to the roadhouse. There was an Indigenous art gallery also, but we only drove by on this short loop off the highway.
Near Ti Tree Roadhouse we started to see taller ghost gum trees and even saw some fields full of young grape plants. They grow a lot of grapes in Australia! These cultivated grapes seemed pretty far from everything, which made me wonder how they watered all of them in that remote location. We also checked the elevation just outside of town to see how much we really had been climbing, and it was only at 1700 feet. When we got to Tennant Creek, it was at 1100 feet, even though it seemed like we had still been climbing!
At Last – Devil’s Marbles!
We came to the famous landmark of Devils Marbles about 60 miles or an hour and a half before Tennant Creek at 2 PM. We spent about an hour there taking pictures … I love rocks! …
… and then speaking with a couple from Queensland in NE Australia that had driven there primarily on dirt roads for over a week in their Land Rover. They showed us the camper top it had, which was unlike anything we had ever seen in the States. (Many truck beds here are also quite different and practical, which Elder Buckner really likes.) They were extremely friendly, like nearly everyone we’ve met in Australia.
Devils Marbles was much more extensive than we had expected from pictures we had seen. It covers many acres of land, and had trails crisscrossing all over to allow people to hike around and see them all. We didn’t take time to see any other than in the main part since we were not dressed for it, it was hot, and we didn’t want to spend that much time. There were a lot of camping spots there, but they resembled parking stalls more than the campsites we see at home. The camp trailers here are called caravans, and most of them sit much higher off the ground than in the States. Northern Territory also had restrooms (toilets, here) in the rest stops we visited, unlike the rest stops of South Australia we had driven through.
When we stopped at one roadhouse I spotted a male peacock nearby! I thought it must be tame, but I later learned that there are lots of wild ones in the bush. Who knew?
We encountered even taller trees (although scattered) and greener, thicker vegetation a bit north of Devils Marbles. The termite colonies were also nearly everywhere, and reminded me of cemeteries! We also saw about 6 Brahma cows right on the shoulder of the road. Bob had seen a total of about 10 dead ones hit along the road before there in addition to only one dead kangaroo just out of Alice Springs.
The town of Tennant Creek has a population of just over 3,000, with half of them Aboriginal. The average temperatures there in August range between 58 and 82 degrees F, and it was quite warm when we got there. I was so grateful for good air conditioning in our room!
We stayed at the Bluestone Motor Inn (their term for motel). It was roomy, but parking for both the trailer and car proved a bit challenging. We ended up parking them separately. After unloading our luggage from the trailer, we drove out to a BP gas station that had an attached Red Robin chicken fast food cafe where we met the two Tennant Creek elders, Elders Bouche and Anderson. We gave them a bag of groceries from the Tennis’s and bought their dinner. They then left for an appointment and we went back to the motel where Bob turned on the Rio Olympics and I worked on my journal. In the morning we would have about 12 hours’ driving time to Darwin, so would need to get up early.
We woke up on Friday in Tennant Creek to cloudy skies with only a touch of blue here and there. The free continental breakfast we’d heard about ended up being $15 per person, so we skipped it and got on the road by 7 AM. The temperature was in the high 60’s with a cloud cover after being in the mid 80’s the day before. The further north we got, the more vegetation we saw & more humidity we could feel. We stopped for gas at Mataranka, where there were some beautiful flowers that seemed a bit out of place behind their home grown marketing efforts.
On to Darwin . . .
It was all downhill from here (figuratively and literally) other than the hills surrounding the Darwin area. Elder Buckner also had the after burners on 🙂 in his effort to reach Darwin before dark.
. . . After a Quick Stop in Katherine
Even though our time was tight, it was a must to stop and meet the two elders in Katherine from the Darwin zone who cover this hot area on bicycles, year-round. We had a short but wonderful visit with them. The little town of Katherine has about 1600 residents, of which 28% are Indigenous, or Aboriginal. Nearby is beautiful Katherine Gorge, one of 13 deep granite gorges along the Katherine River in Nitmiluk National Park. Our schedule was too tight to even take a peek, but we knew we would be back that way again to visit Elders Nelson & Langi and could see it then.
Not far out of Katherine we saw the first riverbed that actually had water in it, and wasn’t dry. Even the termites were thriving, with 9′ tall fluted columns boasting about it. We were getting really close – only 197 miles or 3 1/2 hours now to Darwin. Elder Buckner started driving like a horse that knows its way back to the barn.
At 630 km out of Darwin we started seeing occasional broad leaf trees. Then about 370 km north of Katherine we started to see much greener foliage and different kinds of trees that were growing thickly in places – a big change from the feathery desert plants we had gotten used to seeing. We also started to see other paved roads and a lot more vehicles, which steadily increased as we neared the coast and the population center there. At about 15 miles out of the Palmerston area, we found ourselves on a four-lane road that even had a median!
We arrived in Darwin about 5:20 PM, which gave us enough light to find our new flat in Zuccoli and meet the Farrers, another senior missionary couple in Darwin. Zuccoli is a suburb of Palmerston, which is a suburb of Darwin – that’s how it’s done here! Even Katherine is considered a suburb of Darwin. It was a bit confusing at first, because addresses are given by neighborhoods, not the main city in which they are found. Zuccoli is a brand-new community or neighborhood that is growing like crazy, and was much nicer than I had expected. Our flat was too, and there is practically no yard work! See – there are some positives to cement yards!
Home Sweet Home – At Last!
Coming up soon: Getting Acquainted With Darwin