by Kelley Ferro
Never have I been anywhere that has more “sky.” I know what you are going to say— “every place has the same amount of sky” but trust me, when you are standing in the desert of the Northern Territory, you might rethink that statement.
As I stepped onto the tarmac in the Northern Territory, I felt like I had just stepped onto a different planet. The Earth was glaringly red, sharp mountains jutted out of the expanse of desert, the trees looked like they had withstood millenniums and the sun was so bright it hurt my eyes. This place felt like it had seen the dawn of time—it felt ancient and primal. However the people of the Northern Territory could not have been more vibrant, youthful and fresh.
I was met at the gate with the biggest smiles and that warm, welcoming feeling continued throughout the trip. The Northern Territory Aussies were just happy to have us there. Everyone seemed so healthy and full of life and very much in tune with the natural surroundings. I was blown away by the nonchalance of Rex the Reptile Hunter, who cracked jokes while catching a lethal Western Brown Snake slithering by our feet. I listened to stories from the trio of brothers at Earth Sanctuary who knew just about everything about the sustainable living in the Outback. And I can’t leave out Mark, our cameleer and owner of the Camel Farm, whom I swear was having conversations with these leggy creatures as we rode across the plains into the sunset. This dry Outback sustained so much life and much of it was not in human form.
I had ridden a camel on a previous USTOA adventure in Egypt, so I assumed that I knew basically all that what was need to know about camels. They make funny, Chewbacca-like* sounds, they look at you as if they are unimpressed and they are really, really tall—much taller than any horse. But it wasn’t until I was plopped in the middle of Australia, in the expanse of beautiful Outback that is the Northern Territory, that I realized camels are SO much more.
Camels are not native to Australia, they were introduced in 19th century to help build up central Australia as their hardy nature makes them perfect for the harsh desert climate. When they were no longer needed, they were let go and these dromedaries flourished. At one point there were over one million feral camels across Australia. (Disclaimer: I learned all of this while watching Australia’s new hit movie, Tracks, on the plane. Tracks details the solo journey of one woman and four camels across the unforgiving outback and it’s a very good watch). All this feral camel information came in handy when I was 4 wheeling through the remote Kings Canyon. Our guide casually told us to watch out for wild camels as he sped off. I was expecting lizards or maybe a bird, but it’s not every day that you are dodging camels while racing through the Outback on a quad!
Besides being important in developing the Northern Territory, camels are also loved for sport. Alice Springs hosts an annual Camel Cup, where the fastest camels come to race for the grand prize. I once thought that these lumbering beasts could only chew their cud sideways and amble on their bony legs. I was wrong. These beasts can move! When they were speeding around the track, they were quite a dramatic spectacle. In addition to the races, there’s plenty of camel related entertainment for everyone. From the dancing camel mascot, to the human rickshaw races (we came in dead last) to the food-filled fairground atmosphere. Aussies come from far and wide to attend this camel fueled day. And the icing on the cake? While donning my most American get up, I was honored to be crowned Miss Camel Cup by Australia’s famous Big Brother star, Tahan.
I held a python, I took a photo of the horned lizard up close, I smiled face to face with a crocodile, and I fell asleep to the lullaby of the dingos outside of my tent, but I can’t deny that my favorite Northern Territory experience did indeed involve the camels. At the Uluru Camel Farm, I learned that each camel has his or her own personality. The owner, Mark, explained that some are mischievous while others just want to play, some are stubborn and some require humans to earn their love. The baby of the farm was named Milkshake. Unlike her fellow brethren that were caught in the wild and trained to take guests on tours, Milkshake was born on the farm and hand-reared by the cameleers. She thought she was a human and she had no qualms about getting friendly with all humans around her. She also seemed to be a bit of clotheshorse (see below).
Mark led us on a camel ride at sunset and these slow moving vehicles made me turn into a lower gear and breathe in the intricacies of Outback life. Sitting on top of Wally, a recently caught and trained camel, I realized how life out here was so synchronistic. Every plant, animal and human had to work together to survive in the stunning but severe landscape of the Outback. And as Wally and I ambled into the sunset, I felt like I was a part of that balance for just a brief moment in time.
*Little known fact: Did you know that the voice of Chewbacca in “Star Wars” was actually made by a camel?
Kelley Ferro is a travel expert & video journalist living in NYC. She films her show, Get Lost, around the world–hopping on a plane at least twice a month She is also the executive producer for Tripfilms.com. For more on her travels, follow Kelley’s Facebook page.