There are only 2 direct flights out of Dili, the one from Bali that I took to get in, and the one to Darwin I took to get out. Landing in Australia was only a 90 minute flight, but years and worlds away from Timor. The last time I was down under was 2007, when I lived in Brisbane, and the North Territory is totally different to the east coast. It’s gotten a lot more expensive, according to my memory of the average price of a meat pie and gingerbeer, and the Australian dollar is also stronger, so I was happily couchsurfing to avoid the $30/night hostels filled with German teenagers.
I wanted to go from Timor to Papua, since they’re sort of geographically contingent, but of course that doesn’t matter to airlines. If I wanted to do that, I’d have to go to the Indonesian side of West Timor, fly to the Indonesian Paupa, and cross overland to Papua New Guinea and take a handful of days to travel overland to Port Moresby. Or, I could fly to Bali and pay another $35 visa on arrival and $20 international departure tax just to use Denpasar. But, the easiest and probably most enjoyable way to cross from South-East Asia to the South Pacific is through Australia.
I didn’t spend much time in Darwin, but landed on a Friday and spent one roaring night out with my host Nick. In our brief introduction chat, he suggested Kakadu national park as a place to spend the weekend, since he had never been there either but had a jeep and the weekend off. So I spent Friday afternoon rushing around Darwin trying to take in some of the shops and sights, and made it as far as the post office to send some post cards and birthday gifts. I saw the man-made beach, but didn’t make it down the 80 steps to the crocodile-free lagoon.
To get to Port Moresby, I coulnd’t fly from Darwin, so I took a 2.5 hr internal flight to Cairns. I once drove there from Brisbane, and remembered the low-lying square blocks around the CBD which reminded me of an old Western town – just replace the cowboys with European backpackers and swinging-door saloons with tourist booking offices.
I couchsurfed with Willy Chu, whose name made me want to break out into singing Beyonce, at an apartment that slightly resembled a resort in Bali. I ate some pies and actually made it to the crocodile-free lagoon there, and Willy took me hiking to a freezing cold water hole where we could swim under waterfalls without worrying about crocodiles.