How far would you be willing to travel for a beer? If you’re anything like the residents of Marble Bar, located in Western Australia’s Outback, the answer is “pretty far”.
According to the Daily Mail the Ironclad Hotel, which was located in Marble Bar, closed down last month, taking the town’s only pub with it. As a result, many of the locals have been making the 150-mile round trip journey to Nullagine just to enjoy a frosty pint at the Conglomerate Hotel. By Outback standards, Nullagine is practically right next door.
It is estimated that more than a quarter of the residence of Marble Bar have been making the commute to Nullagine on a regular basis, and as a result, the amount of beer being consumed at the Conglomerate has tripled. In fact, the situation has gotten so dire, that the pub may run out of beer before they can get resupplied later in the week. If that were to happen, residents of both towns would have to travel an additional 125 miles to get a taste of their favorite beverage.
The Daily Mail is quick to point out exactly why the Marble Bar locals are in such need of a cold drink. The town holds Australia’s record for the most consecutive days above 100ºF. Set back in the 1920’s, the record still stands at an astounding 160 days of triple digit temperatures.
There is hope in sight however, as plans are already afoot to reopen the Ironclad very soon.
[Photo Credit: Alamy]
It’s rare that a town with a population under 30,000 is known by everyone in a country as big as Australia. But Alice Springs is no ordinary town. It’s defined less by its size and more by its location and quirky nature. Known colloquially as just Alice, the town is considered the capital of Centralia (the efficient abbreviation for Central Australia). If you’re going to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock), or anywhere else in the Red Center, odds are you will be starting or ending your journey in Alice Springs. How does a tiny outpost in the middle of the desert become known the world over? By doing everything the hard way and with a big smile.
Alice Springs is an Outback town, plain and simple. It’s 1,500km from Darwin and Adelaide and almost 2,500km from Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. It is in the middle of one humongous country. It has survived and thrived for decades, however, thanks to ingenuity, creativity and, in recent years, a tourism industry that has capitalized on those traits.
So, you’ve found yourself in the middle of Australia with a few days to kill. Now what? Well, expect plenty of fun, for one thing, and some of the most breathtaking views you’ve ever seen.
- Palm Valley Tours – A bumpy 130km drive to the southwest of Alice is an amazing natural wonder that will make you believe that your eyes are deceiving you. In the middle of Finke Gorge National Park, in what appears to be a wide expanse the barren Outback, is a valley filled with lush, healthy palm trees. Relying on underground water supplies and only minimal amounts of rainfall, these palms have flourished for thousands of years. The tour bus takes you along unsealed, rugged roads and through some of the most striking landscapes in the entire Territory.
- Alice Springs School of the Air – Since when is a school a tourist destinations? Since this became the first school to communicate with students in remote areas via peddle-powered radios. The Northern Territory was, and still is, a region built around cattle stations and massive, remote plots of land occupied by very few people. As such, children are often hundreds of kilometers from the nearest school. The Alice Springs School of the Air was the first school to connect students and teachers utilizing the technology of the day. They have since upgraded to computers, webcams and chatrooms to allow students to attend classes with their peers who are scattered throughout the Territory. The visitors center shares the fantastic history of the school’s growth, development and the many innovations that have allowed it to educate the youth of rural Australia for decades.
- Royal Flying Doctor Service – Think setting up education in an area as remote as as the Northern Territory is difficult, try providing medical service to those sequestered locations. What do you do if you’re injured on a farm that’s 1,000km from the nearest town or hospital. You call the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which was founded in Alice in 1928. The visitor center in Alice is also the dispatch office, where people with medical situations can call for a doctor to be flown out to treat anything from traumatic injuries to flu outbreaks to childbirths. You can see the history of the RFDS, as well as how calls are processed and proceeds from sales in the gift shop help keep this essential service operating.
- Outback Ballooning – I’d always been curious about flying in a hot air balloon but turned off by the high price of the experience. Also, while I’m not afraid of heights, I am a firm believer that only fruit should be collected in a basket. People deserve a metal casing. But after watching the sunrise over the Outback on the outskirts of Alice while floating several hundred feet above the ground, I realized that ballooning is the only way to travel. Or, the only way to see the majesty of an amazingly desolate yet beautiful landscape seemingly in the middle of nowhere. And the champagne breakfast afterward is sure to settle the nerves of anyone who was left jelly-legged from the ride.
- Anzac Hill – Apparently, every single destination in the Northern Territory has a “perfect” spot to watch the sunset. In Alice, there is no better place than Anzac Hill (partially because there is no other place – Alice is flat other than this one bump). Atop the hill sits a war memorial (ANZAC stands for Australia-New Zealand Army Corps) and a remarkable 360° view of the little town that could. Wrap up your trip to the Red Center by watching the sun sink behind the MacDonnell Ranges that lurk in the distance.
Alice is home to countless indigenous art galleries and plenty of pubs and restaurants serving bush tucker ranging from yams to wallaby. It’s also the only city in Centralia with an airport that hosts flights from virtually any other city in Australia that you may be coming from or going to.
You may have noticed that Uluru is noticeably absent from this list. The rock is nearly 500km from Alice and is by no means a day trip. While Alice is the closest city to Uluru, they are neighbors in the sense that anything within 1,000km is your closest neighbor when you’re in the Outback. If you’re planning a trip to Alice and Uluru, expect one of your days to be spent in transit from one to the other.
In a quirky country like Australia, it takes a lot for a small town to stand out. Alice Springs has done more than that. It has prospered and evolved from a tiny outpost in the bush to a popular tourist destination for people the world over. And there’s one event that draws the biggest crowds to this little hamlet. A regatta in the town’s dry river bed. Confused? Well, check back tomorrow to learn more.
Mike Barish traversed the Outback on a trip sponsored by Tourism Northern Territory. He traveled alone and had no restrictions on what he could cover during his travels. That would explain how he ended up eating water buffalo. You can read the other entries in his Outback Australia series HERE.
Before departing for the Northern Territory, I was discussing my trip with some Aussie friends. When they heard that I was going to Darwin, they raved about two things: the food and the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets. Darwin is a melting pot of Southeast Asian and Australian cultures, with immigrants from Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines making up a substantial portion of the capital’s population. As such, Darwin has more to offer than just Australian meat pies and wedges (this is not to say that I couldn’t survive on pies and wedges, because I happily could). And if Darwin is a melting pot, then Mindil Beach Sunset Market is the vortex that is produced when you stir it all up.
Every Thursday and Sunday throughout the dry season, hundreds of vendors selling everything from raw oysters to sarongs gather at Mindil Beach to peddle their wares, socialize and watch the sunset. Children run freely around the beach, frolicking with ice cream cones in hand and remnants of that afternoon’s candy still on their shirts. Tourists and locals mingle as they meander through the makeshift paths between booths filled with local musicians’ CDs and food stalls serving everything from roti to shaved ice. And since the market only operates in the dry season, you’re virtually guaranteed perfect weather throughout the evening.
As with any market, there are things worth knowing in advance. I went to the Mindil Beach Sunset Market not knowing what to expect. I left with plenty of tips for your visit to Darwin.
- Get there early – The market opens at 5:00pm and things are relatively quiet for the first 45 minutes or so. The parking lot can become a bit chaotic later in the evening, so do yourself a favor and just head up there right when it opens.
- Do a few laps – There’s nothing worse than buying a souvenir only to later stumble upon something significantly better. The vendors at Mindil Beach are tremendously friendly, so if you’re not sure that you’re ready to commit to that silver bracelet, ask the merchant to put it aside for you. If you don’t see anything better, go back and buy it. Just be polite and let them know if you’ve changed your mind so that they can put the product back out for others.
- Don’t stuff yourself all at once – The plethora of fantastic and authentic food at Mindil is worth sampling tapas-style. Grab some chili crab from one vendor and a chicken satay from another. Leave room for the mind-numbingly sweet desserts created with lychee, tropical fruits and plenty of ice and syrup.
- Don’t get the tacos – I love Mexican food as much as the next guy, but Australia is no place for Mexican food. I’ve spent enough time there to know this all too well. You’re not here for tacos. Stay focused.
- All that glitters is not gold – Just like any street fair or market, some vendors are selling authentic local goods while others are pushing schlocky crap to make a quick buck. Look at everything carefully, ask the merchant as many questions as you’d like and don’t be afraid to walk away empty handed if you’re not satisfied.
- Walk down the beach for the sunset – Mindil Beach is a mob scene around 6:00 in anticipation of the sunset. Nothing ruins a serene moment more than hundreds of digital cameras chiming. Around 5:45, take a stroll down the beach away from the masses and the market itself. Enjoy the sunset in solitude and then return for your next wave of curried everything,
- Learn to use a whip – Perhaps my favorite booth at the Mindil Beach Sunset Market belongs to Mick of Mick’s Whips. He sells, well, whips (along with various tchotchkes made from crocodile skins) and teaches anyone who’s interested how to use them in his whip arena. Even this Yank from New York City was cracking the whip before the night was through.
There’s not much else to it. It’s not rocket science, it’s just one of the coolest little markets in one of the most diverse towns you’ll find in Australia. For more information on the Mindil Beach Sunset Market, check out their website. Just be sure that you arrive hungry.
Mike Barish traversed the Outback on a trip sponsored by Tourism Northern Territory. He traveled alone and had no restrictions on what he could cover during his travels. That would explain how he ended up eating water buffalo. You can read other entries in his Outback Australia series HERE.
Residents and tourists in Sydney, Australia, might be feeling as though they been transported to Mars, and in fact, a glance around at the city covered in red dust against a red-orange sky does bring to mind images of what a colony on the red planet would look like. Despite its other-worldly appearance, the haze that converged on Sydney yesterday is earth-bound, composed of red dust from the Outback.
Australia has been suffering one of the worst periods of drought since the 1940’s and an eight-year dry spell and record high temperatures have combined to create the country’s worst dust storms in 70 years. The storms normally only affect the interior of the country, but this time, they’ve covered Sydney as well, all but shutting down the airport and halting the service of passenger ferries for several hours.
According to The Age, air quality in Sydney was reported as 40 times worse than the level regarded as “poor” and 20 times the “hazardous” level. People are being advised not to go outside, especially if they have respiratory problems, and to take care when driving in the poor visibility. Officials said they had received over 250 calls from people reporting breathing problems as a result of the thousands of tons of dust in the air.
The storms were visible on radar and their effects were felt as far away as New Zealand, 1400 miles away.
For more amazing images of the dust storm, click here.
What was supposed to be a story of personal endurance and an amazing rescue, has slowly turned into a nasty family battle revolving around a lot of money.
When 19 year old backpacker Jamie Neale was found after 12 days in the Australian wild, the photos showing Mr. Neale reunited with his father probably brought a huge smile to the millions of people following the story.
The whole thing has now turned into a battle of the words (and cash) between Mr. Neale and his dad. According to one story, his dad left Australia and headed back to the UK just 19 hours after his son was rescued. The reason? A $200,000 interview he had arranged. His second TV appearance netted just under $100,000, half of which was promised to go to the various rescue operations that participated in the search.
The other side of the story paints a different picture – that side claims Mr. Neale is the bad guy, and that he is the one refusing to donate the $50,000 to the rescuers. To give the whole thing an even bigger soap opera appeal, Mr. Neale claims his dad actually walked out on the family when he was three.
UK outdoors specialists are now questioning the whole incident, and have doubts about the story Jamie told the press. I’m not sure we’ll ever get to the bottom of the story – and that is probably for the best, as there is obviously more to it than meets the eye.