The Big Wet

Travel tips for the next time you can get there.
Up north in the rain? It could be a recipe for … a mighty big feed of adventure!

Written by Marty Ledwich
Article from RV Daily Magazine

We understand that all holiday travel has been suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis. But we will be able to travel again, so start planning your next tropical adventure now. Stay safe!

A trip to the tropics during the monsoon might be a bonkers idea but it has its advantages. In fact, it might be the trip of a lifetime.

My first trip to outback Australia was very much ill-conceived. I thought it would be a good idea to leave Melbourne and drive as far north as I could in two weeks, and turn around and come back again. It seemed harmless enough, except I left on Boxing Day, in a Toyota Camry with little more than a cheap tent, an air mattress and a clapped-out Engel fridge on the back seat. Everything was fine until I got to Mataranka.

Anyone who has travelled around the tropics during the wet season will know what happened next. The 39-degree heat and 90% humidity were bad enough. What I wasn’t prepared for was the intense thunderstorms and torrential rain that announce the monsoon has arrived. No fun in a crappy tent.

That said, it was beautiful. The normally dry brown land had a fine carpet of bright green grass sprouting as far as the eye could see. There was water flowing in all the creeks and rivers. Birds and other native animals were abundant, including mega flocks of budgerigars and wedge-tailed eagles that stood as tall as a small child. And as dangerous as the thunderstorms were, the lightning show each night was spectacular.

Access

Travelling to the tropics of Northern Australia during the big wet is an experience every Australian should enjoy at least once in their lives. That said, you need to be prepared for the challenges that come along with such a trip.

For starters, travelling during the wet season means you’re outside of the peak season. A lot of the more popular tourist attractions shut-up shop. The reasons for this are varied but most places are closed because the drop in visitor numbers make it uneconomical to stay open. The weather also plays a big part. Roads that would normally be open during the peak season may become impassable as creek levels rise. Dirt roads turn into muddy quagmires making passage all but impossible; many are closed.

However, with a little research, it is possible to find places that are open all year round. Many tour operators have different programs that are unique to the wet season. As an example, tour boat operators in Nitmiluk National Park (formally Katherine Gorge) have larger, more powerful boats that can safely traverse the swollen Katherine river. Their wet season tours take you further upriver to parts of the gorge that are inaccessible during the dry.

Savings

Another huge advantage of being in the north during the wet is the lack of other tourists. Every caravan park is virtually empty meaning you have the pick of the best spots. You may even have the pool and other amenities all to yourself. The sparse number of people on tours means you can experience the popular attractions without noisy crowds ruining the serenity or ignorant wanderers spoiling your photos.

If you’re a budget-conscious traveller, you will love touring here in the off-season. The rates for accommodation and tours are a fraction of what they would be during the peak. As an example, between November 8, 2019 – March 31, 2020, you can stay at Discovery Parks Lake Kununurra in the north of WA on a powered site for 28 consecutive days for just $300. From there, it’s easy to visit some of northern WA’s most popular attractions including the Bungle Bungles, Lake Argyle and Five Rivers Lookout in Wyndham.

For Kylie and I, we came here to experience the weather and to see its effects on the landscape. Although this year, the build-up and subsequent monsoon have arrived much later than normal, we haven’t been disappointed. The thunderstorms are like nothing you will ever likely see in the southern states. The storms start to form in the late afternoon, early evening and by 9pm they are in full swing. They move much slower than the storms we’re used to, meaning the light show hangs around long enough to get some incredible photos.

Rain!

It’s what comes with these storms that travellers need to be extremely careful about. The rain that accompanies them is torrential. Totals of 50 to 100mm or more in an hour are not uncommon. As a result, local streams and rivers, that might otherwise be bone dry, suddenly turn into raging torrents. This means roads, even major highways, get flooded leading authorities to close them to all traffic. You need to be prepared to stay an extra night or more to allow floodwaters to recede sufficiently for roads to be reopened.

As severe as the storms can get up here, they are nothing compared to the really severe weather events that occur in Northern Australia at this time of year: Tropical Cyclones. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, the Australian cyclone season officially runs from November to April, although very few have occurred in November. These huge storms are well known for their destructive winds and widespread flooding rain. They form in the warmer waters of the tropical coast and can travel long distances inland cutting off communities for weeks. Travellers need to keep an eye on weather forecasts and, if a cyclone is likely to affect their plans, move out of the danger zone.

Touring northern Australia during the wet season is not all beer and skittles. It can be frustrating and dangerous at times, and it is certainly not the place for the unprepared. But with some care, research and patience, a trip to the big wet can be an exciting experience.

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