(written by Dave)
Interesting night in the camp overnight. The crew watching the big show in the pub came back in various states of inebriation. The nice quiet couple camped next us, whom looked quite innocent in the afternoon were really hooting it up – the wife making a very loud phone call just outside our tent and the husband later relieving himself in the grass next to our tent. They were both very quiet this morning. Funny, I would never have picked them as rebel rousers. They pulled in covered in red dust so they must have still had their bush camping manners in use.
Since we did not cook last night, the stove was packed away this morning. We decided to splurge on brekkie in the pub. We packed up a very wet tent (from the grass, not the next door neighbour) and took the bikes over to the pub. Pancakes for brekkie again – fantastic. Not too many folks in the pub but they had a fire in the fireplace and it felt great. It is warmer now in the mornings, maybe 8-9 for the low, but it is still cool if you are in lycra. Eventually we pried ourselves from the pub and hit the road a little after 9.
We didn’t make it far to the first attraction of the day at the “Stuart Tree”. The highway here is named after an early explorer named Stuart. He was supposed to have carved “S”s in lots of trees as he went. It would take a pretty good imagination to find an S in the old fenced off stump but what the heck, you need some reason to get us tourists to stop.
Soon after the tree, we came across the second historic stop – the Daly Waters airfield and hanger. It turns out that the area was a big WW II staging area with Australia and US forces scattered round at various bases. Not much left of most areas but the hanger is in good shape. Later we would see sites for WW II hospital and get lots of WW II stories at Larrimah where an even bigger group of services were based. We’ll see a lot more of this as we go towards Darwin. Darwin was bombed pretty heavily during WW II and there was great fear in Australia of an invasion.
Both our first two stops were before we reached the actual highway. Yesterday it was 4k off to Daly Waters and those attractions were on the return route. Once on the highway it was pretty much nothing all the way to Larrimah. There was one roadside pull out with a very sorry looking monument to Alexander Forrest, a key contributor to the overland telegraph. The monument was small and a little beat up, it was surrounded by burnt out bush land and had clearly been used as a loo. It was probably not worth the 5k, 500m, 300m and “you are here” road signs. Given the lack of anything else to see, we concluded that the highway budget for brown roadside attractions had to be used somehow.
We didn’t have much to eat other than a couple bars and were getting hungry as we approached Larrimah. There were several signs calling out “Fran’s Pies and Scones”. Being a little hungry is not the way to avoid such temptation. We called in at Fran’s and found one of the best lamb pies we’ve ever eaten. We were the only guests so we got a full dose of Fran and her version of local history as well. All and all a great stop and find – not so secret as Fran claims that she is in one of the Lonely Planet guides.
Next stop was the pub. If Fran was welcoming and talkative, the pub owners were just the opposite. We managed to get a tent site and a cold drink but not without a bit of grumbling. Funny how some of these folks hate what they do, especially when how they do it has such a big impact on their success.
The pub itself has less “character” than Daly Waters. However, what it lacks in character, it makes up for in wildlife. They have a free zoo on-site, complete with fresh and salty crocs, emus, wallabies and more birds than I’ve seen in a long time. The zoo is free with most of the cages looking pretty adequate. The animals seemed pretty content and well looked after. It is clear that not many caravans stop here. It’s too close to Daly Waters and the stop after, Mataranka, so Larrimah gets a little forgotten. With publicans like they have here, you can see why.
After the zoo we strolled over to the town museum (there is no town really, just the pub, Fran’s and few odd house). But they are still showing off the glory days in the museum. Lots of stories about the war and all the folks stationed here. Plus a good number of stories about how the town was the southern terminus of the rail out of Darwin (stopped running in 1974). It would appear that some folks are still holding out for the train to return. Hope springs eternal.
Dinner was in the camp kitchen with lots of leftovers made into a spaghetti sauce. Plus we had a couple rolls that we picked up from Fran. All and all an interesting day, a little history and some local characters to liven things up. Tomorrow we are off to Mataranka ourselves. They are supposed to have great natural hot springs at the park there. Hope that works out as we have 2.5 months of sore muscles to soak.