by Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador 

I told Goway Travel and the Tourism Northern Territory crew that I am as brave as they come; I’m willing to stare two-pronged danger in the face, go toe-to-toe with crocodilian terrors, and dance with thorny mayhem – so long as it’s behind three inches of safety glass. That’s how I ended up at the Alice Springs Reptile Centre, shoulder to shoulder with owner Rex Neindorf’s fantastic collection of slithering, slinking Outback wonders. Less a zoo and more an educational outpost, the Reptile Centre is an excellent introduction to the fauna of the Northern Territory, and an opportunity to debunk some of the myths surrounding Australia’s misunderstood animals – though I never did get comfortable enough to give Terry the saltwater crocodile a kiss on the lips. Rex, who has been performing reptile shows in Alice Springs since 1997, even allowed me to tag along on a reptile call-out, where he rescued a western brown snake from a local lady’s living room, and spared here toes a bite from one of the country’s most venomous snakes.

Alice Springs Reptile Centre

Alice Springs Reptile Centre

With the Reptile Centre serving as the perfect primer, we set off into the Outback, the landscape cast in muted tones due to an uncharacteristic rain that lent the scene an air of mystery. We ripped along the Stuart Highway for a few hundred kilometers – if there is a longer, straighter road anyplace on this earth, I have never seen it – glimpsing kangaroos and camels through the rain streaked glass. We arrived at the Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge at Kings Creek Station for a posh Outback dinner capped by Port and marshmallows around the fire, and weighed the pros and cons of staying up all night telling stories by the fire against retiring to our glamping digs in order to get an early start at Watarrka National Park. The compromise included drinking wine by the fire until after midnight, then rising to shine just a little after 5am – a win-win situation all the way around.

Dinner at Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge

Dinner at Kings Canyon Wilderness Lodge

The sun decided to join us shortly after 7am the next morning, when we were standing on the rim of the massive Kings Canyon, at the heart of the national park. It’s easy to feel small in a place this big; the canyon walls tower more than 100 meters above the valley floor, concealing a lush forest that’s home to more than 600 species of plants and animals. Our outstanding guide added plenty of color to the experience by regaling us with Outback lore, tales of the local Luritja people, and true-ish stories of the drop bears that may or may not haunt the valley. I didn’t personally come across a drop bear, but that doesn’t mean they’re not real.

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

I did come across a bit of bonafide Outback adventure on a quad bike at Kings Creek Station, setting a new personal speed record while zipping over dusty dunes of falu red. I won’t tell you how fast I went – trust me, it was super fast – but I will tell you that I tore into our Outback campfire cookout with reckless abandon; a lamb shank never has tasted so good. Camp was made in the crook of a giant rock – complete with cave, rife for exploring – and was hosted by a pair of cattlemen from the Station, whom captured our attention with tales of life lived in the wild. I dare anyone to visit this place for more than a few hours and not consider breaking free of the husk of the everyday to live free under the big skies of the Northern Territory.

Northern Territory

Under the big skies of the Northern Territory

For highlights of Flash Parker’s tour through Australia’s Northern Territory, click here.

Flash Parker is an AFAR Ambassador, photographer, travel writer and author from Toronto, Canada. His work has been published by Lonely Planet, Conde Nast, Canadian Living, USA Today, Get Lost Magazine, GQ Magazine, Asian Geographic, Escape Magazine and more. Follow Flash Parker on TwitterFacebookInstagram or on his website.