The Top End: Giant termite mounds are everywhere
We turn right onto the Tanami Road and on to the blacktop (had we turned left, we'd be back on the dirt again within 10 miles, heading through the heart of the Tanami Desert for Halls Creek in Western Australia, some 600 miles away), and within a few miles spot feral camels grazing by the roadside. Before the rail link between Adelaide and Alice Springs was completed in 1929, thousands of camels, imported mainly from India, were used to transport goods across the desert. These descendents of those original pack animals have thrived in Australia; one million wild camels are now estimated to roam the Outback, the largest wild population in the world.
It's hot and steamy, near Darwin, but there's little rainforest.
Joining the Stuart Highway, named after John McDouall Stuart, the first explorer to cross the continent from south to north, we turn north again, heading for Tennant Creek. When Mum and Dad's Dodge rolled along here in 1955, the road was virtually a single lane the whole way. The whole road's been resurveyed and remade since, but it's still only a two-lane blacktop. And it's not that busy: We see just 22 vehicles in an hour.
The Stuart Highway has the highest speed limit of any road in Australia, 80 mph. A few years back, though, you could legally drive it as fast as you dared. It's too long a road for the limit to be vigorously enforced all the way, so at times we cruise at 100 to 110 mph, the Outbacks easily eating up the miles.