Here Be Dragons

Driving away from Uluru - of all the testing journeys facing the modern traveller, few are as difficult as leaving Australia's greatest natural wonder.
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During the time you’re at the erstwhile Ayer's Rock, you feel like you're missing out if it isn't constantly in your eye line. So when the time comes to say goodbye, you could be forgiven for thinking you'll spend the early part of your journey either craning your neck or glued to the rear-view mirror.

If you're thinking about compromising your road safety, think again. For the empty roads of the Red Centre are rarely empty for long. Sure, you might go hours without seeing another car but on your lonely ride back to Alice Springs you should at all times be aware of the Northern Territories' unique menagerie.

Few people come to Australia for its camels, but since it boasts the world's largest population of dromedaries and the majority of these live in the desert scrub, you've a far better chance of encountering these feral beasts than a Ford Territory. And don't think the ill-tempered hairballs you've seen at the zoo will prepare you for the real thing. Well over two metres tall and sufficiently athletic to outrun a horse, the Australian dromedary is a handsome breed capable of eliciting genuine gasps of astonishment. And if you hit one in your people carrier, your no claims bonus will come off worse.

Camels, though, are but an aperitif for the other great natural wonder of the Central Desert. For the scrub outside of the Alice is one of the few places on the planet where the words 'here be dragons' still have some cache.

The modern-day dinosaurs in question are Perentie monitors, the largest lizards this side of the Komodo dragon. And when one slouches his way across the warm tarmac, it's only the street furniture that alerts you to the fact the Jurassic period's long over. Not that the monitors - or 'goannas' as they're known in these here parts - have ceased thinking they're the rulers of this rugged kingdom. The prospect of losing a tail has caused many a squirrel to sprint clear of an on-coming vehicle. Perenties, however, leave the sprinting to their prey - the infected wounds they inflict allowing the monitors to take their time over everything from their next meal to crossing the road.

Colossal beasts of burden, prehistoric mega-lizards - these and other natural history highlights such as Wedge-Tailed Eagles (capable of felling an adult kangaroo) are sure to capture the imagination of the world's Chris Packhams but they can't rival the scope and wonder of Uluru. Still, they're guaranteed to ease the pain of bidding farewell to a place no right thinking person would ever want to leave.

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