Driving Australia’s desolate Stuart Highway
For humans, the best feed comes courtesy of the Daly Waters pub in the town of Daly Waters. Its take on surf and turf, a beef and barramundi barbecue, is almost as legendary as the pub itself. This classic Outback watering hole is covered in banknotes, T-shirts and underwear donated by patrons from all over the world. A band plays sing-a-long anthems outside until anyone staying the night has had far too many beers to care about the unnervingly large spiders hanging out in the pub’s rustic cabins.
Eventually, the Stuart Highway bursts far enough north to find water, but swimming is not advisable. The tropical northern reaches of the Northern Territory are the domain of the saltwater crocodile. Some terrifyingly large beasts hang out in the rivers, creeks and lakes.
Nowhere is this more true than the Adelaide River near the town of Humpty Doo. Here, boat tour operators such as Adelaide River Queen Cruises actively try to attract the crocs by dangling meat over the side. The ancient predators slowly sidle up to the boat, then leap out of the water to grab their prey. Their jaws make a thunderous boom as they snap close.
The end of the Stuart Highway is something of an anti-climax. It merges into the urban road system of the Northern Territory’s capital, Darwin, without fanfare. But the city is an intriguing one, where Asian influences, hippy spirit and Outback hardiness collide.
At Darwin’s Mindil Beach Sunset Markets, all three are in evidence. Craftspeople sell handmade goods, the food stalls offer dishes from Sri Lanka to the Philippines and men drink large beers outside the Roadkill Cafe, a foodstall within the market. Its banner reads “you kill it, we grill it”.
However, the activity stops for sunset over Fannie Bay, located right outside the market. Crowds abandon their browsing to step onto the sand and watch the sky light up in blistering reds and oranges. It feels like a fitting end to the journey; nature’s firework on display at the edge of a continent that one extraordinary man explored 150 years ago.