11 Sep 2014

To the Top End

As most of the readers of the blog nowadays are from outside Australia I should explain that the Top End is the Australian term for the vast area at the top of Australia including the top of the state of Queensland,the Northern Territory and the top of the huge state of Western Australia.
It is an extraordinary area.Flying from Sydney to Darwin takes four and a half hours and after an hour flying over the farmland of New South Wales the rest of the flight is flying over uninhabited waterless desert.Sometimes you can see a solitary straight dirt track but for most of the flight it is totally empty.Hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of emptyness.

The Top End has two seasons.The wet season from approx late September to late May when it is very hot-over 40ºC and very wet- monsoonal like wet with big storms.Then there is the dry season from June to end of September when it is almost totally dry and warm/hot.

The Top End is sparsely populated.Darwin with a population of 127,000 is the only major city.The other towns in the Top End are really small and there are only a handful of them.The main highways with some exceptions are tarmac but all the other roads are dirt.If you live in the Top End you drive a 4WD.No alternative if you want to travel out of town.In the wet season the towns and small settlements are cut off by flood waters.Some for months on end.The rivers turn into raging torrents sometimes kilometres across.There is no mobile phone network outside the few towns.If you need a mobile phone you have to use a satellite phone.Forget about updating your Facebook page regularly or watching cats playing the piano on YouTube.Go fishing instead.
The distances are huge.Light aircraft and regional airlines are used extensively.Air North the local regional airline is excellent with very moden aircraft and a very professional operation.
The Flying Doctor Service provides medical services to remote outposts.

It is a very rugged,rough and extraordinarily beautiful area.The colours are spectacular-particularly at sunset.It is Kodachrome on steroids.The soil everywhere is red.All the vehicles are coated in red dust.There are vast ranges cut by deep and very spectacular gorges with waterfalls and billabongs.
The vegetation is very similar to African savannah-desert grass ,low scrub and boab trees with termite mounds everywhere and the ground littered with broken is harsh unforgiving country.and even at this time of the year( september) it is very hot.Break down with no drinking water in your vehicle out here and you are in trouble.Serious trouble.

The major industry of the Top End used to be cattle farming with many cattle stations bigger in area than some European countries.The stations are so big that the mustering is done by helicopter.
Now mining has overtaken cattle farming to be the major industry. LNG,coal ,iron ore,uranium,bauxite and diamonds are mined.
Tourism is also very important with backpackers,campers and caravan/RV campers and many retired Australians -so called grey nomads- drive the huge distance from the southern states to spend the Australian winter months in the Top End.If you live in the Top End you embrace the outdoor lifestyle totally.

Bird life is prolific.It is too hot for kangaroos but there are plenty of wallabies - a smaller species of kangaroo-venemous snakes and crocodiles.
Crocodiles are a protected species in Australia and they are a major problem in the Top End.The freshwater crocodiles are apparently benign but the saltwater crocs (salties) are very aggressive and dangerous.This year alone a number of people have been taken by crocodiles in the Top End and the salties swim hundreds of kilomteres up rivers so they can be in a lake or billabong a very long way from the sea.Not a comforting thought.

I have just spent ten days in the Top End.Two days in Darwin including a trip south to Litchfield National Park.One day in Kununurra with a light aircraft flight over the Bungle Bungle landform in Purnululu National Park as well as the Ord River irrigation area and the Argyle Diamond Mine.
Then three days deep in the Kimberleys at the Emma Gorge tented camp and then back to Kununurra and a flight to gorgeous Broome.
Here is a selection of my photos from the trip to give a taste of the amazing colours and scenery of the fantastic Top End.All Leica photos - either X1 or X Vario .
Termite mounds,Litchfield National Park,NT.These all mounds are aligned N-S
Giant termite mound,Litchfield NP
Wangi Falls,Litchfield NP

Early morning Lake Argyle ,Ord River nr Kununurra ,WA.
Bungle Bungles from the air.Purnululu National Park
Bungle Bungles.Shaped by wind erosion from wind blowing across flat Tanami desert
Bungle Bungles only "discovered " for tourism in early 1980's.

Boulders in pool at head of Emma Gorge

Pool  Emma Gorge

Sunset Emma Gorge

Chamberlain Gorge

Boulders,Chamberlain Gorge

Reflections,Chamberlain Gorge
Chamberlain Gorge,late afternoon.

Crossing the Pentacost River,In the wet this would be a wide raging torrent.Now at the end of the dry it is just a creek

Chamberlain Gorge

Next  four photos of sunset from a bluff on the Durack Range looking down the Pentacost River and the Chamberlain Gorge and over El Questro Station.

Wllie Creek -below-and the magnificent Cable Beach at Broome from a helicopter.Broome town is on the coast close to the horizon
Fishing Broome style.Drive your Toyota up the beach for a few kms.Find an empty spot- not difficult-erect the awning.Pull out a few cold beers and throw in a line.


1 comment:

  1. Stunning pics John.

    I notice in my latest issue of Octane trhat one of Charlie Bormans favourite objects is his Canon G12!