“Shoot!” exclaimed Ben.
I looked over nervously at him behind the wheel wondering what was wrong.
“I missed 22,222,” he said pointing to the odometer.
Catching the kilometers in a pattern is one of our many road trip games that help to pass the time during these long, straight stretches of Australia’s Red Center.
We are two days into a rental car relocation through iMoova, driving a nearly new white Toyota Landcruiser 4×4 with all the fixings, more than 2,700 km from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory to Broome in Western Australia. We have a rooftop tent that sleeps five, along with dishes, a fridge, hot plates, water jugs, pillows, etc. that are needed for camping and surviving in the bush. Oh, and a 130 liter gas tank.
So far it’s been an incredible trip. After a couple hours at Apollo where we picked up our vehicle, we were on the road out of Alice (what the locals call Alice Springs) just after noon.
The further we got out of Alice, the more we got a feel for road-tripping down under. The wide open, flat, straight roads allow you to see as far as your eyes can reach and even with our 4x4s air con (Aussie slang for air conditioning) on full blast, we were still sweating through our shirts, unable to cool down. The heat is unreal. Even if the air is cool in the vehicle, the windows and doors just radiate heat as they’re warmed by the sun and the air outside.
As we added more and more kilometers to the 4×4, we noticed that the roadhouses were getting further apart. A roadhouse is similar to a truck stop in America. A place for gas, food, often with a cafe, restroom, usually a campsite, and souvenirs. Just out of Alice there seemed to be a Roadhouse every 50-75 km but the closer we get to Katherine, they are more commonly 130+ km apart.
These same roadhouses serve not only as a place of necessity, but sometimes as a tourist attraction. Yesterday we visited Wycliffe Well, the U.F.O. capital of Australia. There were newspaper clippings that papered the walls with stories of the latest U.F.O. sightings, and you could buy any alien souvenir you could dream of.
Another strange yet more common sight are the random termite mounds dressed as humans. There are thousands of these reddish brown sentinels which we recognized from our African safari. However, something we didn’t see in Tanzania, was the mounds wearing t-shirts, wigs, glasses, hats, earrings, scarves, and Bulls jerseys. It’s as if they are snowman of the desert. We have yet to figure out what their role is but perhaps they’re just entertainment for those like us who are on a long monotonous drive.
Also adding to the adventure are things called road trains. They are like a mullet for semis, the party in the back just keeps going. These road trains can haul many trailers and can reach lengths of up to 53.5 meters. The longest one we’ve seen so far was towing four semi-trailers. Just think about how long you would have to brake before turning. Since there are stretches of road with no speed limits, the gusts of wind those trains provide as they pass is thrilling to say the least.
Similarly to New Zealand, Australia also has large brown tourist site signs. On Stuart Highway which we have spent more than 1,000 kilometers on, those sites seem to mostly consist of memorials that are oftentimes a rock or a brick pyramid of sorts. One really cool tourist site that we found which wasn’t a memorial was the Devil’s Marbles. A collection of hundreds of rounded boulders, this site seemed unnatural. The boulders that were egg shaped were standing up as if they were defying gravity while the rest of the boulders were piled in precarious stacks that didn’t seem like they should hold. We spent more than an hour in the incredible heat walking the paths between the spherical rocks.
Something else that we have had to consider is animal traffic. There have been numerous signs warning us of cattle who are not fenced in and we’ve seen more than a handful of dead cattle on the side of the road. Additionally, we’ve seen wild camels, wild horses and feral goats on the road. Because of these and kangaroos, we aren’t allowed to drive in the dark. That has limited us a little, but our legs and bums are thankful for a bit of respite.
Like with most things we’ve over prepared with hours upon hours of podcasts, audio books, and music. Thankfully we’ve been so entertained by the character that is the Northern Territory, we haven’t had to rely on them much to pass the time. This has only wet our appetite for our real cross-country adventure which will start when we pick up our camper van in Broome.