I was yearning to discover the Australian Outback that surrounds the Northern Territory. Therefore, in June, I embarked on the 3-day “Cicada Dreaming” Tour with the most experienced company “Wayoutback Australian Safaris” starting from Alice Springs and ending in Darwin. This trip takes you right through the incredible Top End.
If you are interested in geology seeing the balanced rocks at Devils Marbles, visiting the Capricorn latitude line, bathing in hot springs, waterfalls, rivers, gorges, aliens and old gold mining towns then you need to do this trip! Seeing the changing landscapes through the minibus window going from semi-arid desert to greener fields with termite hills spread along the way is something to behold.
DAY 1 – Alice Springs to Banka Banka Cattle Station
The minibus collected me directly from my hostel in Alice Springs early in the morning. I was the last person to enter the bus that was refreshingly empty, only eight passengers out of the 21-people capacity. This boded well for an extremely comfortable trip with the added bonus of getting to know my fellow passengers on a more intimate level. Our guide, Ian, took the time to explain how the trip was planned. The trip up to Darwin is approximately 1500 km travelling on the long Stuart Highway, which meant we would have quite a few driving hours along the way!
Our first stop was at the line of latitude Tropic of Capricorn. We promptly descended from the bus to learn more about this geographical marker and take pictures.
We then drove up to Aileron, where we were able to admire the huge metal sculpture of Aboriginals that guard the valley with their spears.
Later, we stopped by Barrow Creek to fill up on fuel. Here we met the owner of the Barrow Creek Hotel that has a huge collection of mementoes from around the world that he has accumulated over many years, either by bringing them back from his various travels or from passing tourists. It was a pleasure meeting him and if you tell him where you come from, he will certainly have something to tell you or show you about your country!
For lunch, we stopped at Wycliffe Well to have a picnic. Preparing lunch all together was great as we were finally able to properly meet and get to know each other whilst eating a delicious wrap. If you like stories about outer space and little green men, this is the place for you. Wycliffe Well is a holiday park situated in the middle of the Northern Territory, self-proclaimed the UFO capital of Australia! This place is filled with alien references from several well-known Sci-fi movies, there are also plenty of painted murals and fun alien themed stuff, including the body of the alien from the film Paul and a UFO landing pad. Inside the restaurant, they have an abundance of newspaper clippings of articles relating to the numerous UFO sightings that have occurred there.
You can also find aboriginal spot painting art to buy.
Our first aboriginal land sightseeing was Karlu Karlu, which translates to “boulders boulders”, also called “Devil’s marble”. We hiked for less than an hour around the area to admire the varied shapes and sizes of the perfectly balanced boulders.
Ian told us a little bit about the flora of the region and about the erosion process of the granite that these giant boulders are made of. The most famous boulder being the one that is perfectly cut in half.
We continued driving to finally arrive at our campsite a little before dark. Banka Banka (meaning “Bees bees”, there used to be a lot of them apparently). Wayoutback has its own private campsite inside Banka Banka, with a large kitchen and dining table. The campsite is fully equipped with showers, toilets, kitchens and even a bar! The campsite is surrounded by cattle with a few horses thrown in for good measure!
For dinner, we cooked some sausage, meat and vegetables and prepared a salad. We also learnt how to make damper bread that we then cooked in the fire, it was delicious.
We camped around the fire in our swags (a simple individual tent) sheets, pillows and blankets were a welcome addition to passing a comfortable night. It was amazing to be able to gaze at the stars shining so brightly with no light pollution to distract from the show going on over our heads, we could clearly see the Southern Stars.
DAY 2 – Banka Banka Cattle Station to Katherine
We all awoke before sunrise after our first night spent sleeping in our swags. We had a good breakfast at the campsite then started our drive up to Daly Waters. We had a few quick pit stops along the way to stretch our legs, buy some snacks and use the toilets. I indulged myself with a delicious chunky beef pie in one of the gas station restaurants.
It is certainly interesting to see the landscape rolling past the windows of the bus. The further we advanced towards the north, the greener it got.
I was astounded to see the enormous amounts of termite mounds along the side of the road! At one point, Ian pulled over on the side of the road and jumped out of the bus. He came back with a tortoise that he had spotted dangerously crossing the road. We gave it some water and returned it safely back to its habitat.
When we finally arrived in the cute tiny town of Daly Waters, we cut our vegetables and prepared our hamburgers at the famous Outback Daly Waters Pub. Food was always prepared by the bus team and was a really enjoyable part of the group trip. The pub is historical and full of mementoes of previous tourists that stopped there. The pub garden has two swimming pools.
We made a group decision to spend less time in the pub and more at the areas hot springs to enjoy the sunny weather, therefore, we had a rather quick lunch at Daly Waters and then headed to the Bitter Springs Thermal pool, we were given the choice of going to the better known Mataranka thermal pool or the Bitter Springs Thermal pool which is usually less crowded.
The water was incredibly clear and warm and was a delight to swim in. Ian kindly lent us some masks so that we could snorkel and see the bottom of the river.
After spending two hours relaxing there, we drove up to Katherine, the second biggest city of the Northern Territory. We gathered some firewood for the evening from the side of the road on the way there.
We were the only ones at the private campsite. It had all the usual facilities: kitchen, toilets, showers and tents with beds to sleep in. We all cooked a great dinner together and made another damper bread, this time sweet, with apples for dessert. When darkness fell we gathered around the campfire and had a great evening telling stories and jokes whilst watching the flames and roasting marshmallows.
Day 3 – Katherine to Darwin
This was my favourite day of the Cicada Dreaming tour, spent in Nitmiluk National Park.
We woke up early and had breakfast at the campsite then drove to Katherine Gorge. We hiked up the hill to discover a breathtaking view of the gorge.
We were able to read stories about the Rainbow Serpent that lies inside the mountains and learn more about what the aboriginal call “sickness country”, a place you should not disturb. Whilst hiking, Ian told us about the surrounding flora and fauna and we were tempted into eating some fresh green ants – spoiler alert, they taste like lime! We spent a moment admiring the view and returned to the bus for the drive to Edith Falls (also called “Leliyn”).
There is a bit of a challenging steep hike uphill and then again downhill to finally arrive at Leliyn, but if grey nomads can do it, so can you! This waterfall sits in a rocky environment and has a natural deep pool you can safely swim in. We all had fun trying to swim across the waterfall, then relaxed on the warm orange rocks as if we were lizards basking in the sun! After swimming, we went back to the start of the trail where we had our appreciable lunch before jumping back on the bus to head on towards Darwin.
We stopped at Pine Creek, an old gold mining town, to fill the tank and buy some delicious homemade ice cream. We were lucky enough to meet the several friendly snakes they kept outside and had the chance to hold them for a while and take pictures. These were definitely the nicest pythons I have ever met!
Our last pit stop was at Adelaide River. We saw the original buffalo “Charlie” from the movie “Crocodile Dundee”, and also a huge stuffed five-metre estuary crocodile. Here, it was possible, to purchase some typical Aussie Outback souvenirs such as kangaroo scrotum bottle openers, crocodile paw back scratchers or even cane toad coin purses!
We finally arrived in Darwin at around 5pm. Ian dropped us at our hostel, the YHA Backpackers. This hostel is quite busy and has several facilities such as a big kitchen with plenty of stoves, a swimming pool and an animated bar.
I was eager to see the sunset, so I left my backpack in the hostel lockers and headed to Mindil Beach. On Thursdays and Fridays, from April to October, there is an open market by the beach with plenty of food trucks and stalls where you could buy various artwork, clothing, beauty products etc. This was one of the most incredible sunsets that I have ever had the chance to see, the colours were so bright and beautiful. We could see the reflection of the sky on the beach and on the water. Some people were practising poi with fire, it was almost hypnotizing.
The Cicada Dreaming tour is outstanding, the Northern Territory has so much to offer. Be aware that this trip entails a lot of driving on the Stuart Highway, it helps you appreciate the enormity of the Australian outback. The camping was brilliant, the sites well equipped and bonding around campfires with my fellow passengers was a definite plus. Everyone helps with meal preparations which, again, helps with getting to know one another. This trip can definitely be taken as a group or as an individual person, as I did, because you are automatically immersed in the group and never feel isolated. This trip is not a difficult one the fitness levels needed are not exceptionally high and is accessible to most people.
Being in the outback in the middle, it seems, of nowhere is something that has to be lived to be understood. If you are looking for a completely different trip in the outback this is a good one to do.
Useful information :
Before taking my trip, I was able to find all relevant and helpful information on the company’s website, however, rest assured that whilst on the trip you will always be able to recharge any electrical appliances, fill up your water bottle and buy any snacks as needed, although you will most assuredly be well fed!
All of the participants participated! Teamwork is essential as the guide cannot, obviously, do all the guiding, driving and cooking! So, everyone worked together for meal preparations and other varied tasks, I found that this was not a chore but more another adventure and actually made the trip even more interesting. We bonded around the saucepans and the campfires!