We’re back in the land down under, where beer does flow and men chunder. Specifically, we’re now on a road trip in the Northern Territory. We’ll see sights unique to Australia, enjoy experiences unique to The Territory and potentially learn words from about forty different local Aboriginal languages.
The first port of call as we left Darwin is a common place here in Aus but no longer seen in the UK. Woolworths provided some vittles for the next few days as well as a short, sharp kitchen knife, something missing from otherwise well-appointed Airbnbs.
I also bought Darwin’s only flynet, for Liesel, just in case. It took some tracking down and the bad news is, it’s attached to a baseball cap. But beggars can’t be fashionistas, as they say.
As I walked to the ATM, a man asked me where the post office is. I apologised for being only a visitor and then remembered that actually, we had some stuff to post too. Oh well, it’s all in the bowels of one of our bags, now. It can wait a few more days.
The one disappointing sight in Darwin was this.
A row of three former flower beds by the looks of it, but now devoid of plants, just some rocks embedded on the otherwise flat surface. I think this is to deter homeless people from kipping there. It’s sited at the back of the Uniting Church which had so much else on offer to the community. Very sad.
As we drove out of the smallest Aussie capital, we passed by numerous termite mounds of various sizes. There seems to be no pattern to their location, out in the open, right up against trees, some in shade.
We enjoyed watching the birds of prey hovering and swooping: there must be some tasty titbits around. We couldn’t identify the birds sharing a carcass on the road, but they were like very large overgrown crows.
Humpty Doo is a lovely placename but we had no reason to stop there, with such a long drive ahead of us.
We turned off the Stuart Highway onto Highway 36. At least one sign said ‘A36’. And it was exactly the same as the A36 at home apart from there was much less traffic, there were no potholes, the sky was blue and there were termite mounds at the side of the road.
We stopped for a quick coffee at Allora Garden Nursery. Did I say quick? Make yourself a coffee and sit back, it’s a long story.
We entered the nursery, passing by some very kitschy garden ornaments and sat down in Estelle’s Café. There was nobody behind the counter so I gently rang the bell for service.
A young man arrived, let’s called him Bruce. What do we want? Two coffees please. I’ll have to get someone to make the coffee.
A couple of minutes later, a young lady arrived. I’ll call her Sheila. Can I help? Yes, we’d like two lattés please. She went behind the counter and looked at the coffee machine.
We then heard an announcment over the PA asking Estelle to come to the café. She arrived and made us our coffees. Very nice. We looked around at the various garden ornaments, including tigers and giraffes. There were some actual plants to admire too.
When we’d finished our beverages, I went up to the counter to pay. Oh no, we don’t have a cash register here, you’ll have to pay at the front desk.
At the front desk, we ended up behind an Australian lady who had fallen in love with a concrete dog and she just had to buy it. Bruce was there, politely wrapping it in several layers of bubble-wrap. Oh, but she did love this dog, as soon as she saw it, she knew she had to have it.
Another lady, Doris, cooee’d me to the other cash register. I’d like to pay for my two lattés please. Two lattés? Yes. Bruce, how much does a latté cost? I have no idea, sorry.
Doris then walked all the way back to the café presumably to ask Estelle or Sheila how much a latté cost. I don’t know if there was a correct answer because on her return, Doris suggested, $5 each, is that alright? Yes, just let me out of this place, I said as I threw the money at her and pounded on the counter. No, not really.
The car told us it was 35° outside and we could believe it although we were much cooler in the vehicle.
We made a slight detour to go for a hike, a tramp, despite the temperature. We’re here to see nature, and that’s easier to do outside the car.
We never did find out whether Bird Billabong was so named because of the ornithological delights here or because it was discovered by a Mr or Ms Bird, thousands of years after the Aborigines first found it.
It was so quiet. When the birds and insects briefly ceased their singing and buzzing and chirruping, there was no sound. Nothing. Not even the wind rustling the leaves in the trees. The faint thumping sound was blood pulsing through our ears.
The path was well-defined and we made good use of the sparse shade. We also stayed in the middle of the path because… snakes. We stomped to warn them of our presence but the side-effect of this was that we scared the insects away too. The sad thing is: we’ll never know how many snakes we’ve deterred because they’ve legged it after sensing our vibrations. Legged it? Hmm, yeah, that’ll do.
This was a great walk for entomologists, so many butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and other flies. If only there were a Shazam for insect identification. We heard but didn’t see grasshoppers.
As I brushed something off my arm Liesel asked if we’d just walked through a spider’s web. It certainly felt like it, I agreed. We accelerated very slightly but neither of us turned round to see what gigantic, lethal spider we’d potentially upset.
One interesting thing we noticed was different kinds of scat. We told ourselves, kangaroo, wallaby, echidna, but definitely not crocodile, oh no, no, no, never.
The quiet, the sky, the solitude, all wonderful. Yet for some reason, while I was really pleased and excited to be here, it didn’t send the same shivers up the spine as my first visit to Uluru or Henbury did, all those decades ago. But there is something almost electric in the air, something very special, a connection with the first people here, perhaps, and with nature.
Odd splashes of colour emphasised just how green and lush the landscape was, after what was apparently a relatively dry Wet Season.
The flash of sky was too fast for my shutter finger. The bright blue dragonfly wasn’t going to be caught on camera that easily. But blue flowers certainly appealed to the orange butterflies.
It was terrific seeing so many butterflies here, and so many different kinds too. We lost something really special at home by using all those pesticides for so many years.
The view over Bird Billabong from the lookout point was stunning. We sought out frogs sitting on lily leaves but suspect it was the wrong time of day for them. We stayed still and some birds did come a little closer but they know about the crocodiles that live here and were on full alert. I think we both hoped to see a pair of nostrils and a pair of eyes on the surface of the water, but sadly no such luck today.
Despite what the Lonely Planet Guide said, this was not a circular walk, so we retraced our steps back to the car park.
We noticed other tracks. Certainly at least a couple of motor vehicles had driven along this trail. But there were also horse hoofprints. Unless of course the local crocs have taken to wearing horse shoes.
Out of the blue, a kangaroo hopped across the path in front of us, closely followed by a second. Well, that made the whole exercise worthwhile!
Then we saw a couple of small, beige birds up in the trees. Bugs are great, but birds and mammals, especially marsupials are greater. Sorry, bugs. The magpie geese were numerous, we saw them from a distance but they weren’t going to hang around for us. The rubbish, blurry black and white photos are now nothing but a memory.
Soon after rejoining the main highway, we saw an emu cross the road in front of us. Wow, a actual emu! And then another. We couldn’t believe our luck. This is when you need a dashboard camera on 24/7, to catch the things that I’m too slow for.
There was a kangaroo by the side of the road, eating grass, not necessarily waiting to cross.
Then another. Then another pair. And for the next couple of miles, we lost count of the roadside kangaroos. We knew that slowing down or stopping would be their cue to hop off into the bush, so we just kept moving.
They all looked up as we passed, but none of them waved at us. In fact, even the other drivers didn’t wave back at us. In the old days, driving in the Aussie outback, all drivers acknowledged each other with a wave. Not the Aussie wave of a fly being swatted away from in front of your face. It was more raising the forefinger of the right hand as you approached and passed by an oncoming vehicle.
Kakadu National Park is a name that resonates. It’s real outback Australia, old, old, Aboriginal history, rugged, Crocodile Dundee country. And here we are!
The speed limit in Northern Territory is 110 kph except where otherwise stated. We assumed this meant that any exceptions would be slower. No. We passed signs indicating a limit of 130 kph, that’s 81 mph in English money. No, we didn’t. The highway was dead straight, perfect surface, no potholes, no side roads but still, we’d seen animals cross the road. Yes, we let some other vehicles overtake us, but we were in no hurry. The road surface was quite loud, we realised. It has to withstand very high temperatures all year plus flooding for possibly months at a time. It’s probably a much more resilient and harder material than the cheap stuff British roads are made of.
There are many signs telling us we’re about to cross a Floodway with depth meters close by. This whole area must totally change at the height of the Wet Season, and would be interesting to see.
Most if not all of the creeks and rivers that we crossed warned us of the presence of crocodiles, and suggesting it’s best not to swim. But it’s so hot, I can see why people might be tempted to jump in the water.
We decided not to join a cruise to see jumping crocodiles. We know they jump naturally if they fancy chomping on a bird, but to encourage them to jump for visitors seems a bit risky. As Liesel said, one of the only advantages we have when running away from a croc is being able to climb a tree. You don’t want something like that jumping up after you!
Although we didn’t come across any flooded roads today, we did pass several areas of wetlands, just off the side of the road. I’m sure there are crocs lurking there too, so no, not really tempting.
We were welcomed to Jabiru by a jabiru, a black-necked stork: in fact, Australia’s only stork, and we soon found our new place. We looked at the Bush Bungalow, the so-called ‘Love Shack’ that we’d booked online, the one without aircon, and we looked at another room, which did have aircon. Yes, we chose the latter. We needed some decent sleep.
We’re in one room in a block of six, and the receptionist, with her gorgeous east European Aussie accent, told us that we’d probably have the place to ourselves anyway. If not, we’d have to share the bathroom.
Our next-door neighbour was very friendly, and very nearly answered to the name Skippy.
We had a nice, simple salad and some nice crusty rolls to eat. And yes, we had a good night’s sleep, despite the AC unit being the loudest we’d so far encountered!
But we agreed that our decision not to rent a campervan on this trip was a good move. It’s fab country and the heat makes the place what it is, but neither of us sleep well if we’re too hot, and that just makes both of us cranky. Yes it does.