ABOVE: Tony hunts for the elusive common crow butterflies at Butterfly-less Gorge,
Butterflies had decamped from Butterfly Gorge but the Germans are doing a great job of travelling and working in remote Australia. So we learned at Douglas hot springs 200km south of Darwin.
Matthias the Munich wine maker relaxing in the hot springs said German backpackers still make up the biggest segment of that tourism sector in Australia.
We had been wondering if young Germans had been overtaken by French backpackers because they are bonjouring over the outback in astonishing numbers. The Irish are here in force, of course, with lesser numbers of British, Dutch and Swiss pouring beer, petrol and generally running the country beyond the metro limits. Not a lot of young Aussies are out here.
Among the older foreign folk traipsing the outback and coastal towns, we have been surprised at the number of Swiss couples exploring steadfastly through the heat and dust, revelling in space, spectacular scenery and sparse population.
Matthias, 30, assured us Germans are still No. 1 in the Aussie backpacker market. He worked as a wine maker in Vietnam for a few months on his world odyssey. In Australia over the last six months he has worked as a porter at Fraser Island’s Kingfisher Bay and at the Moffatdale Ridge and Clovelly vineyards in the South Burnett.
He lit out from Germany to explore the world armed with degrees in economics and wine making. He met Jessica, a 19-year-old traveller also from Munich, in a Cairns car park and they pooled resources to head for Perth in his 4WD Patrol.
Over a cold beer and an excellent Mofftdale Verdelho, we discussed wine, environmental issues and why the tearing down of the Berlin Wall was a grand news event but not a terrific economic move for West Germany.
Matthias with his economic degree and the wisdom of hindsight unfettered by emotion, explained a steadier integration of the two Germanies would have avoided downturn in the wealthy West when millions of East Germans landed on the Bonn welfare lists. It would also have allowed East German companies time to adapt to capitalism instead of faltering and being taken over by West corporations.
Heavy stuff at the relaxing hot springs that proved as excellent as the Verdelho. Three streams converge at the junction of the Douglas River, one hot, one cold and one warm. You can pick a pool with the temperature to suit along the pandanus-lined sands.
National Parks runs the camp at the springs, about 30km to the west of the Stuart Highway, 130km north of Katherine. Douglas Springs was better than expected and we set off along the 4WD track to Butterfly Gorge, about16km further up the track. That proved below expectations as butterfly numbers were on a par with North Korean backpackers.
We surmised they might have been driven out by the heat and long dry season but made a note to find out when they return. We have already ticked off Douglas Springs for a return visit so no doubt we will make that trek to the gorge again when we wander that way again and the butterflies are returned.
I sent a query on the National Parks on line feedback form but at this stage I have had no response to the question about what happened to the butterflies and if their departure is seasonal.