Touring in the Wet
A trip to the tropics during the wet season requires a bit of planning, but the experience is worth the effort.
WHEN TRAVELLERS CONSIDER heading to the tropics, we are given
three essential warnings: don't forget a hat and sunscreen; don't
pat the crocodiles; don't go in the wet season.
These are all worthwhile pieces of advice. But are they absolute? The first two points should be accepted without argument, however, there is some equivocation about the third.
ENTER THE TROPICS
In Australia, the tropics fall north of latitude 23° 26 16 S, known as the Tropic of Capricorn - a line that passes near Rockhampton, Qld, just north of Alice Springs, NT, and out across the western coast, between Carnarvon and Exmouth, WA. The Tropic of Capricorn represents the most southerly latitude at which the sun can be directly overhead.
This line is currently moving north at a rate of almost half a second (0.47) of latitude - or about 15m - per year, so there is a good chance the signs you see marking the line are inaccurate.
Anywhere north of the Tropic of Capricorn will be impacted by a wet season, which usually lasts from December to March, but can vary depending on locality and other overriding weather factors. The wet season is preceded by about three-months of build-up, when temperatures and humidity begin to rise. By this stage, everyone is keen for the rain to arrive.
When the wet season does come, it rains almost every day, usually in the afternoon or evening. At times, heavy rain can be an all-day affair, especially if there are cyclonic depressions in the area. Sea surface temperatures can rise higher than 30°C and this rapidly feeds energy and moisture into these systems, creating strong winds and rain.
Heavy rain leads to sheet-surface flow across any flat ground and the rapid flooding of low-lying areas. Unsealed roads turn to mush, many areas become isolated, strong winds can damage property and the constant heavy cloud looks very unpleasant.
Also during these summer months, a number of oceanic stingers become active in coastal waters. Some of these, such as the box jellyfish and irukandji, are quite deadly.
So, why would you possibly want to travel to the tropics during such a time?
UPSIDES OF THE WET
There are many reasons to consider travelling in the Wet, especially if circumstances prevent you from making it in the winter months.
From a tourism industry perspective, the Wet is definitely "out of season" in the tropics. While everyone has their hooks out after your wallet down south during the summer, in the north it's bargain time. Tourist attractions become cheaper and much less crowded, and accommodation is readily available everywhere, although some resorts close for the season.
You won't be queuing with hordes of tourists or, even worse, missing out entirely on some special attraction. You'll have your choice of campsites, and you won't be battling dozens of other keen photographers on the side of the boat to get that shot of a 4m crocodile on the river bank.
Much of what you see will be more worthwhile and exciting than in the dry months. Rivers will be full and waterfalls will transform from trickling rills to raging torrents that will leave you breathless.
Roadways along hillsides will be lined by waterfalls in every gully, making your travel much more charming. In forested areas, tropical flowers will be in bloom everywhere, adding rich colour to the scenery. Gorgeous butterflies and other insects will also be more active.
And don't worry about not being able to swim in the ocean; those richly-flowing rivers will be quite warm. Where it is safe to do so - above major barriers where saltwater crocs don't travel - you'll be able to swim in crystal clear water, even under waterfalls.
Of course, there are some things you need to remember. The first is a tolerance of wet weather, because it will rain to at least some degree on every day. To combat this, organise a flexible schedule of things to do and see so you can stay indoors on days of heavier rain and outdoors when it's dry.
Take wet weather gear - even cheap plastic ponchos will do the trick - including suitable footwear, because there will be places where you can't avoid getting your feet wet.
Since the weather is warm, you won't have to take much in the way of warm layers, so you will have lots of room for shorts and lightweight, loose-fitting cotton shirts. Remember, everything will get wet and you will be drying clothes frequently.
Another thing to remember is to be very careful when choosing your campsite. Check for possible flooding in heavy rain and make sure there's room for water to get away. Ensure your canvas doesn't leak (take a wax stick to address any newly discovered holes), and make sure your weather seals are rain-proof.
Don't expect to be sitting around the campfire, or cooking with hot coals on a camp oven.
Also, make sure you check the weather reports daily because a cyclone can do more than ruin a holiday. Be prepared to move at short notice - away from the sea, where the wind and rain will diminish.
Don't be put off by the dire warnings. Be prepared to see a side of our tropical north that is unique and very special - a side so many will never see because they choose to avoid the Wet.
Source: Camper Trailer Australia #53