Our flight from Bali dropped us in at silly o’clock in the morning but we were delighted to find Tom & Erin in the arrivals hall when we’d passed through customs. Customs itself had been a bit of a laugh as we’d filled out the forms with boy-scout honesty and precision accounting for the ridiculous selection of herbs, medicines and odd foodstuffs we were still carrying from Asia. Not really knowing what to expect but with me cursing the fact that we were lugging this stuff around at all we had a brief show-and-tell with a gent from Ireland who was happy with all the stuff we’d dragged out of our bags.
Tom & Erin had a long layover before their connecting flight to Cairns so we hung out with them for a little while before they set off to their gate.
We’d let the hostel in town, Chilli’s, know of our crazy 5am arrival time but it was a bit of luck that we happened to bump into the unaware night porter at the door of the place as he was leaving after doing his rounds. He tried to sort us a room but had nothing available that we could check into early. He showed us to an old couch by the pool instead where we slept for a few hours and I introduced my blood – this year’s prime choice apparently – to the local mosquito population.
Before long the hostel was alive with movement and any hope of rest was lost. There was no scope for early check in so we stuffed our bags in the luggage room and set out for a wander.
It was then that it really began to sink in. We’d heard tell of it before from other travellers and even the natives but never expected anything quite so extreme…
…Australia is EXPENSIVE.
I’m not talking a slight premium here, or that it’s just expensive relative to South East Asia. I’m saying it’s expensive relative to the rest of the world. I’m talking £8 a pint man! I’m talking the same price for a box of cereal [at least in one place we went – let’s not exaggerate; there’s no need].
Coupled with the fact that we’d only really suffered dramatic costs in Japan [which was cheaper] and the impact was even more significant. It took me a long time to get used to it. Eventually I came to terms with the reality that if you’re a part of Australia’s economy – working there – then it’s all relative to income. Job’s pay much, much more than their equivalent role back home – at least across the people I’ve met who were plying a trade in Aus. We met one lad from the UK who was pulling in nearly $50 an hour sorting eggs on a production line. Now that’s extreme, granted, and for all I know I may have got the wrong details after my jaw hit the floor but I’ve met no-one else who’s not pulling in far more than back home. Put it this way – I’m on the lookout for a way in because this party is too good to miss.
So if you’re part of it you can live it and save plenty too if you play it right. But we weren’t part of it. So we were stuffed.
Thankfully Australia is simply worth it.
Back in Darwin we had our first experience of Coles, one of the 3 major supermarket chains we frequented during our time in Australia – the others being Woolworths and IGA. Coles feels like Tesco [incidentally Woolworths feels like Asda and nothing like the old UK High Street Dodo] and scavenging around the aisles we found a few random foodstuffs that didn’t send us into absolute budgetary panic.
Back at the hostel we waited a while past the official check-in time before our room was ready but once in we collapsed. The rest of the day was spent dozing, doing laundry, watching movies and sharing a bag of chips that set us back more than a meal for two back in ‘nam.
The next day we packed in the free breakfast and set about organising our week in Darwin. We hit the tourist information centre and booked a car for 3 days to drive around Lichfield National Park. Kakadu National Park is the more famous of the region but after reading up we felt it lent itself more to a 4wd 5 day trip and that was simply out of our price range. We also got details of a tent hire place so that was our accommodation.
We wandered around the local shops and sorted an Aussie mobile that proved invaluable during our time in the country. Later in the afternoon we hot the local library for free internet time and then took a stroll along the esplanade. We cooked up some pasta in the evening for us to survive on while camping and again retired early.
The next morning we sorted the car – a tiny Hyundai Getz – before swinging by the hostel and picking up most of our gear [had we taken it all we’d have had no room for a tent] and supplies then set out for the camp gear hire place.
This turned out to be a ladies house. She had a shipping container full of gear and thanks to crossed wires thought we only wanted a cool box [or ‘Esky’ as they’re referred to in this part of the world]. After a little untangling we had a tent too and were on our way south in search of Lichfield.
On our first day we saw super-sized termite mounds and magnetic termite mounds, the latter built tall but exceptionally thin with their tips facing north & south. The termites have seemingly built this way to avoid the scorching heat of the midday sun. Neither types of mound were particularly compelling viewing.
We eventually reached Florence Falls and elected to set up camp for the night and make our way down to the waterfall and plunge pool. The water was ice cold but refreshing in the baking heat.
As always when camping once the sun had fallen we were plunged into near total darkness so after food it was an early night. Not that much sleeping went on in the furnace of a tent we’d hired. Still, at least the mozzies got a cooked meal for once.
After breakfast we left the tent up and visited the other prominent sites in the national park. We saw Tolmer Falls from a sky-high perch, Wangi Falls from ground level and learned the hard way that Australians aren’t very good at measuring distances. A 1.6 kilometre hike to the Cascades was the better part of 4 km in the midday sun and took a fair bit out of us. While a swim was welcome when we eventually made it I’m not sure it was worth it.
Later that evening we a got a great sunset and wolfed down the remaining pasta before settling down to bake for the night.
We awoke to find some other people had set up around us. They were kind enough to brew us a welcome coffee while we packed up our portable oven / tent. We set out for a date with Jumping Crocodiles on what was Good Friday. The idea here is that you cruise along the Adelaide river in a two-storey high boat while the guides hang fishing rods with hunks of meat as bait over the side. The now well-versed saltwater crocs slink on in, position themselves so they’re virtually vertical underwater then launch themselves upwards out of the river straight at their prize, mouths wide open.
The spectacle makes for great fun to watch and far too many photos. Afterwards we visited the somewhat mundane Wetlands Centre before tracking down a posh campsite with a pool. We cracked [it was never really going to take long] and dropped roughly £15 on a six-pack of VB. After a swim I set out to find ice as the camp office had closed. After an hour I returned empty handed but happened across a late check-in so got ice from the office after all. Cold beer was meant to be.
Thankfully the night proved much cooler and we got much more rest than the previous two.
We rose, packed up and headed back to town. We grabbed a coffee at a garden centre with a strange obsession for large outdoor models / sculptures of Dinosaurs and Buddhas and dropped the tent then the car back. We checked back in at Chilli’s, had a healthy lunch, an unhealthy tea, and sorted everything we needed to before our flight to Perth the next day.