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Outtakes of the Outback

September 23, 1990|MARGO PFEIFF and JIM HUTCHISON

Where to stay: In Darwin, all manner of accommodations are available. At the Diamond Beach Casino (telephone 011-61-89-462666), room rates start at about $145. At the Sheraton (011-61-89-820000), rates begin at about $115. Christo's is an excellent Greek and seafood restaurant downtown, next door to the Sheraton.

At Kakadu National Park, the Four Seasons Kakadu (011-61-89-792800)--no connection to the North American chain of the same name--is a crocodile-shaped hotel with room rates starting at $125. The Four Seasons Cooinda (011-61-89-792545) starts at about $110.

In Katherine, the best place to stay is the Frontier Motor Inn (011-61-89-721744), complete with a pool and tennis courts. Rooms start at about $75. The Inn's restaurant serves a variety of entrees, from seafood to steaks.

In Alice Springs, there are accommodations to suit every budget, with the Sheraton Alice Springs (011-61-89-528000) at about $160. Their Sunday brunch is legendary. The Yulara Complex at Ayers Rock has everything from camping to the Sheraton Ayers Rock (011-61-89-562200) at about $200. In between is the brand-new Red Centre Hotel (011-61-89-562170), with rooms beginning at about $125, and the Maisonettes (011-61-89-562131), with kitchen units for about $80.

Getting around: Territory Rent-a-Car, on the Stuart Highway in Darwin (011-61-89-818400), has a one-way Darwin-Alice Springs self-drive package that includes six nights' accommodations and seven days' air-conditioned car rental with unlimited mileage, for approximately $470 per person. Territory's independent-traveler one-way package for a mid-size, air-conditioned car, for seven days with 1,240 free miles, is about $670, drop fee in Alice Springs included. For those who prefer camping, there is a seven-day independent-traveler package for up to four people that includes a car and all your camping needs (tents, sleeping bags, stove, etc.); just buy your own food and gas. Price is about $900.

Precautions: Don't wander out of sight of the main road; once you lose sight of landmarks in the outback it's like being in the middle of the sea. It's wise to carry a good first-aid kit, several gallons of water and some food in case of emergency. The temptation to speed in flat, open country is almost irresistible, but it could cost your life--most cattle stations along the road are unfenced and stock wander at will. Driving at night is especially dangerous, as wild camels, brumbies (wild horses), buffalo and kangaroos also cross the road.

Rent a car with air conditioning. Before heading out, have the rental company check the spare tire, show you how to change a tire and where the tools are. Before heading out of each town, make sure you have enough gas to make it to the next station.

Don't swim in rivers or water holes in the Top End, as crocodile attack is a real danger. Check with the tourist office or other local authorities before swimming on the beach. During the wet season, box jelly fish and sea wasps are present in Darwin waters--stings from both can be fatal. The Top End sun is strong; wear a hat and sunblock on exposed arms and legs. In the bush, carry insect repellent containing DEET to ward off mosquitoes in the evenings and bush flies during the day.

For more information: Contact Northern Territory Tourism at (800) 468-8222.

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