Joan Larsen Encore: Alone in Australia’s Outback

Posted on October 16, 2013


By Joan Larsen

Mysterious.  Remote.  A faraway place of endless wonders.   Another world – all its own – lies in the direct center of Australia, just waiting to be explored.  Australians call it The Outback — but surprisingly few of them have visited.  Fewer still have explored it from its bottom to The Top End.

We did.

We were young and adventurous, drawn to faraway places, and more than ready to embark upon a journey to Australia’s Outback.  Once there, we found a simply glorious balance of light, landscape and sky that can take the breath away.  We were not there to just admire the scenery and the very strange-looking animals that call it home.  We immersed ourselves in it, finding every single way to see it all.  Even now, we call it unforgettable.

It was not so long ago that the roads were still unpaved in what is called “The Outback”, deep in the center of Australia.  Accommodations then?  Only a single tiny motel-of-sorts that was pretty primitive .    .   . but the “up” side was that few people were seen here as there was “no room at the inn”.  We had this beautiful, desolate world to ourselves — and oh! the scenery!!

The Olgas

Springing from the flat dry earth at the end of a sandy road, The Olgas – these 18 mounds of conglomerate rock – were where we were going to hike in early morning.  Even then it was hot.  By 11am, if you didn’t leave, you would die there.

Our tiny group felt like the first explorers, wandering among the crevices between the red rocks – sometimes coming across two of the few creatures that could take this kind of heat.  Below, this trying-to-be-ferocious lizard is the Thorny Devil.  He’s actually harmless, fits easily in your hand, and is interested only in ants, fierce as he looks.  His home is the Olgas, so he lives in incredible beauty.

If you see my footprint in the photo below, you will see how tiny and beautiful this lizard is!  He definitely wanted to be admired – and well, I found him irresistible!

And now, below . . .

The 1141 foot high Ayers Rock

(and now try to imagine me climbing it!)

Only 18 miles from the Olgas, Ayers Rock is the largest rock in the whole world.  These days travelers come great distances by plane just to see it.  To the aboriginals, Uluru (Ayers Rock) is sacred… so you can imagine the controversy there has been lately about climbing it.

Do you remember the world without Nikes – the neatest of shoes that grip the stone quite well?  Way back then, we only had Keds… but then we were young and felt pretty invincible.  However, we had seen the sign that said that 20 people had died climbing Ayers Rock fairly recently… and, well, it did give us pause.  But a little more than half way up on the rock slippery as sandstone, we began to realize that it was going to be getting down off this gigantic monolith that was going to be probably just the time we could easily slip and break our necks.  We “chickened out”, something we rarely had done ever before.  But look back at the photo of Uluru and imagine us almost making it to the top in the shimmering heat!

Kakadu National Park

But gold stars would elude us until we got to the Far North – directly in the center of the continent – to what is commonly called The Top End.  At the time, there were no motels in this remote outback.  (Now there is one good one).  But there were 18-foot, very formidable and dangerous salt water crocs lying on the Yellow River banks close to where we slept, mammoth water buffaloes with intimidating horns wandering often in groups —WHEREVER they wanted to go.  But most unforgettable were the other-worldly nightly forays of hundreds of kangaroos that silhouetted the evening sky in every direction, forming a living zoo around the only accommodations at the time – old time silver trailers that were our home away from home.

Saltwater crocodile on the Yellow River

The Outback and The Top End are definitely Crocodile Dundee country:  the nothingness, the jungles, the waterfalls coming out of nowhere, and the sight of so many birds and animals seen nowhere else in the world.   Seeing Australia’s Center before the world discovered it was a treat.  We had it to ourselves, feeling we were among the first explorers.  How do I ever explain what it was like?  It was a world like no other, a world that had to be seen to be believed. . . and definitely, one not to be missed when visiting Australia.

Flying out of Darwin