Sunday, March 25, 2018

24 March 2018 - Day 21 - Halls Creek to Katherine

I couldn’t sleep after 3 am and so I got ready, hoping to leave as early as I could, for the road ahead was long. I got to the reception of the hotel by 4 am and looked for internet connectivity. The connection was so slow that it took me quite some time to upload what I wanted to. In the meanwhile, the restaurant was busy with breakfast in full swing at that hour! The hotel seemed to have a large number of employees of some nearby mine staying there; they were in dirty overalls. Some ate there while most others packed large tiffin boxes.

The price for hotel accommodation in Halls Creek had been extremely steep – AUD 182 for single occupancy for one night. This is the highest I would be paying in Australia for private accommodation. The options in Halls Creek are limited too. The other Motel was even pricier. It was not the price per se that I was upset about, it is the commensurate facilities. Microwave, washing machine, Wi-Fi – zilch. And nothing to see in the town. I asked for receipt of the money paid for the accommodation yesterday. Every receipt is valuable to account for expenses of the trip. All these go itemized into my daily expense report. Thus far, the budget seemed to hold; but I am paying far more for fuel, per litre, than I had budgeted for. The saving grace has been the better mileage of the car.

When I left for Katherine at 4.30 am, with 875 km to go, it was very dark and lonely on the roads. Not a single vehicle on the roads. It was a bit unnerving, I must admit. I was most worried about animals on the road. When you travel at 110 kph reaction time is limited. The small equipment I had fitted on the front grill of the car, which is said to emit a very high frequency whistle to ward off animals and rodents, was my only assistance. I hoped that it would work, as advertised. I had taken care to avoid travel between dusk and dawn till now. Today would be the true test of this AUD 6 whistle. Mercifully, I had to drive just an hour in the darkness. Fortunately, I did not have any encounters. I must thank Miller from Sydney, who suggested this, and George from Melbourne, who got me the whistle. Even though I did not encounter any animals crossing my path the sights on the road were heartrending indeed. Scores of young wallabies lay dead on the road, as if butchered. I suspected that Road Trains had done most of the damage. Many of the carcasses were still bleeding suggesting that the ‘assassination’ had happened just a while ago. As far as I was concerned the greater problem were birds that were already ‘feasting’ on the carcasses. They are so engrossed in their meal that they ‘take off’ at the last minute and thereby increase the risk of a bird hit. I suffered one, but fortunately was on the right side of the bumper.
The first stop was at Kununurra. When I drove through the city I realized that I should most definitely have cut Halls Creek off the night halt and substituted it with Kununurra. It looked a languid place with a large water body and more life in the town. Plenty of budget accommodation was advertised too. If I were to re-plan for the trip I would replace Frazer Range Station with Eyre Highway Motel and Halls Creek with Kununurra. I found a Shell fuel station and filled up. A short distance outside of the pretty town is the Ord River Diversion Dam. The project was meant to provide large tracts of land with water for irrigation. A board at the site talks about three families that relocated from Queensland to the Ord River area in 1883 with more than 7500 heads of cattle and 200 horses and reached there in September 1885! Talk about pioneering spirits.

Within about 50 km of leaving Kununurra I hit the Western Australia – Northern Territory border. This meant that the clock would immediately fast forward by 90 minutes. There were warnings about responsible driving and limits about drinking alcohol in public places. The interesting thing about Northern Territory is that a sign board at the border prominently displays 110 kph as the speed limit in the State, unless ‘signed otherwise’. It was signed otherwise for the entire 450 plus km from the border to Katherine. The speed was 130 kph! I could not believe my eyes, till I saw many cars overtake me when I was at 110 kph. The condition of the road was not any superior to the ones in WA or SA, but the speed permitted was nearly 20% more than in those States. In fact, the road warnings in NT were not up to the standards of the other two States either. Anyway, I held steady at around 115 kph to ensure stability of my car.

As soon as I crossed the border my mobile phone connectivity ceased. It just went on the blink. I was in the Keep River National Park and till I reached Timber Creek I was ‘in the dark’. I am totally dependent on Google Maps for navigation, which requires connectivity unless the Maps are downloaded. However, in these parts recourse to Maps is minimal as the roads are straight and signposted very well. The Maps come into play when you want to navigate inside towns. Immediately after Timber Creek the connectivity vanished once again till I got to Katherine. This has been the longest I have stayed without a connection during the entire trip. The connectivity in the Nullabor Plains is far superior. I guess the large National Parks is the reason why the connectivity is poor.

After Timber Creek the absolute joy was the drive through the Judbarra/Gregory National Park, which is the second largest National Park in NT. I guessed that there are entry hours to the park because I came across a couple of gates that may be closed at dusk. The area in and around the national park were home to many indigenous tribes and the place is still held sacred by them. That is why the park is being renamed Judbarra. What strikes you most as you drive through the Victoria Highway (National Highway 1) are the stunning red escarpments. These rocks and caves contain a huge lot of aboriginal art from the years gone by. The park is lush with green trees, tall grass and shrubs. The park offers an escarpment walk for stunning views of the Victoria River. I did nothing of the sort as my eyes were fixed on the constant warnings to be ‘crocwise’; the water bodies of the National Park is home to the largest saltwater crocodiles in the region! I prayed that I should not have a sudden urge to yield to any biological requirement.
In about nine and half hours I reached the Pine Tree Motel in Katherine. A visit to the Katherine Gorge was suggested, but I gave that a miss because I would have to trudge a 5 km slope to the cliff to watch that beauty. With nearly 900 km tucked under my belt for the day I was not game for any strenuous activity. I went around town and came across the old railway bridge that spanned the Katherine River. It is this river that provides the spectacle at the Katherine Gorge. The river is prone to flood during monsoonal seasons. The town had been devastated by two major floods – in 1897 and 1998; the latter led to complete inundation of the town and evacuation of the entire population. The present bridge was built after that event and the old one was abandoned.

I spent a quiet evening in the room catching up on all the backlog and, with internet connectivity being excellent, I was able to upload most of the blogs. A couple of Highland scotch with cola and Arrabbiata chicken with rice and baked beans was my company.

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