May 12, 2010
Whether it’s outback UFO hotspots, giant bananas or stubborn micronations, Australia offers plenty of adventures for the novelty-seeking traveller
Regular contributor David Whitley steps beyond the obvious highlights in Australia, and finds that it all starts getting a little odd. And the further away he gets from the big cities, the weirder the country seems to get”¦
Australia has a weird penchant for putting giant fibreglass objects by the side of the road in mundane towns. Since the Big Banana was unveiled in 1964 alongside the Pacific Highway in Coffs Harbour, hundreds of variations on the theme have cropped up across the country.
Some Australians regard them as a tick list to be completed, while others just want to see the most absurd. The Big Pineapple at Nambour, the Big Prawn at Ballina and the Big Merino in Goulborn are all quite superb.
Rockhampton, lying on the Tropic of Capricorn in Central Queensland, is real cowboy country. It has statues of cows all over the place, hosts bull-riding sessions every Friday night and regards a dinner without a massive steak as a bit wussy.
The Central Queensland Livestock Exchange, until recently known as the Gracemere Saleyards, are where most of the cows, bulls and steers are bought and sold. Over the chorus of a thousand moos, men in big hats and tight jeans do business – and tourists are allowed to come along and watch. The auctioneers gabble impenetrably, the cowboys herd the cattle through a bewildering maze of pens and the smell of dung fills the air.
As a gimmick to attract people to an enormous stretch of nothingness goes, the Nullarbor Links is a brilliant idea. Billed as the world’s longest golf course, it stretches for 1,365km from Ceduna in South Australia to Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. It follows the Eyre Highway across the virtually featureless Nullarbor Plain, with one hole at each town (most of which are little more than a roadhouse) on the way. Caddies are advised to invest in a car.
This outback roadhouse has been billed as Australia’s UFO hotspot and is thought by sci-fi nuts to be one of the most active alien sites in the world.
The roadhouse, which has a basic holiday park attached, has taken to this tag with gusto. Little green men can be found painted all over the place, signs warn of UFOs presenting a traffic hazard and a rather plastic-looking spaceship is parked on the lawn. Wycliffe Well can be found alongside the Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory, about 375km north of Alice Springs.
Coober Pedy is a South Australian mining town that just so happens to produce more opals than anywhere else in the world. It also gets rather hot there, so the majority of the population has dealt with the scorching desert sun by building underground cave homes.
Some of these – such as the one at the Umoona Opal Mine – have been turned into rather spectacular show homes. Once you’ve marvelled at the Flintstones-style house, you can descend into the mine to learn about how families sit around the kitchen table making bombs. These are later used to build extensions.
This resort, at Jabiru in the middle of the Northern Territory’s Kakadu National Park, has all the facilities you’d expect but it looks rather strange. That’s because it has been designed in the shape of a massive crocodile. It’s best seen from the air, but where else can you say you’ve slept in the belly of a giant croc?
If you believe Prince Leonard and his 13,000 subjects worldwide, there are two countries on the continent of Australia. In 1970, farmer Leonard Casley decided to secede when the West Australian government decided to impose wheat quotas.
Australia has done nothing to get the land – roughly the size of Hong Kong – back since Casley first styled himself as a prince. This is despite Hutt River declaring war in 1977. Nowadays, it’s possible to get your passport stamped in the principality – which is just under 600km north of Perth – as well as buy Hutt River coins. You may even be served by a member of the royal family in the souvenir shop.
In the dusty Western Australian wheat belt, New Norcia sticks out like a basketball player in the cast of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. It is Australia’s only monastic town, and is still run by the Dominican monks who call it home.
What makes it particularly striking is the gorgeous Spanish architecture in the schools and chapels – it looks like it belongs in Salamanca or Toledo rather than an obscure corner of the Australian bush.
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