I wasn't really sure what to expect when it came to driving between Alice Springs and Darwin. There was a concerning lack of enthusiastic remarks coming from travellers we met heading south. Before we left Alice I started psyching myself up for 10-hour days of driving to avoid stopping at towns which were considered "dangerous". I'm glad curiosity got the better of us and we decided to stop at most of the towns and roadhouses off the highway, otherwise we would've missed some nice little spots.
Here's what we'd advise others to do based on what we found:
DO stop at Daly Waters
Why? Daly Waters Historical Pub is as quirky as they come. Everywhere you look you’ll see mementos left by past travellers and Australiana paraphernalia. There are bras hanging from the ceiling, hundreds of ID cards stabled to the bar and a shrine of broken flip-flops used to decorate an outdoor awning. Each night they do a big BBQ cook up of beef and barra. Somewhere between 50-100 people were there the night we stopped in. Aside from a table of blokes that looked to be on a footy trip, we were probably the only ones under 50; it didn’t matter though, everyone was having a good time listening to a country singer and making the most of happy hour.
DON’T stop at Wycliffe Well
Why? We were excited to visit what’s coined the alien sighting capital of Australia. However, there’s nothing more to do here than read some laminated articles on the wall. We were expecting to meet someone who claimed they saw an alien, or at least tell us some good stories about what had occurred in the area. The man behind the counter of the general store (linked to the caravan park) told me the business had changed hands several times and there were no long term residents. What remains is a store full of made-in-china merchandise and some weathered sculptures of green aliens out the front.
DO stop at Devil’s Marbles
Why? You can wander around for a few hours pondering how hundreds of round rocks ended up in a desert. Or you can read the information boards and scrub up on your understanding of geology! There’s a camp site ($3.50 per person so practically free) situated in the middle of the outcrops which means some seriously good views at sunrise and set.
DO stop at Tennant Creek
Why? Tennant Creek can’t seem to shake the bad press, but one thing to be celebrated is Lake Mary Ann, a few minutes drive from the centre of town. Perhaps it’s the unexpectedness of the place that makes it so great. As you roll into the carpark you’ll be greeted by a dozen spotted turkeys, a handful of chooks and two peacocks (one male with the beautiful feathers!). A local told me people dump them there after deciding they are too loud to keep as pets. It’s sad, but the birds seem well fed and are admired by all the visitors who stop by. The male peacock was so chilled he let me sit right next to him to take a photo.
DO stop at Mataranka
Why? There are two places not to be missed there—Bitter Springs & Mataranka Thermal Pools. The aqua blue water is naturally heated and both are situated among beautiful terrain—think palms mixed with huge gum trees. Bitter Springs is prettier out of the two, but Mataranka is cleaner and easier to swim around in because the water doesn’t move as fast. Lots of people had pool noodles which was a smart idea but ruined the aesthetic of the place. When we arrived at the thermal pools in the afternoon there were about 40 people squished in together. Rather than add to the cesspool, I woke up around 6:45am the following day and went for a 50-minute swim all on my own. It was heavenly!
DON’T stop at Larrimah
Why? In December 2017, Paddy Moriarty went missing in his hometown of Larrimah, at the time a population of 11 people. He and his dog are yet to be found. The news reported that the owner of Fran’s Devonshire Tea House, situated opposite Paddy’s house, was his rival and that he regularly defamed her pies. We decided to stop in at her establishment and order a pie for ourselves. Dan claimed he couldn’t remember eating something so vile and complained he felt sick for the remainder of the car ride. Since then, several people have jokingly suggested where Paddy’s remains may be. I recommend you check out some of the Google Map reviews.
DO stop at Katherine
Why? To walk some of the trails along Katherine Gorge. Our time was limited so we only walked to the first look out, which was about an hour loop around from the carpark. I’d love to get back there to do a 3-4 day hike which passes by areas which are safe for swimming. Apparently a crocodile was pulled out of the first swimming point earlier this year.