It was a short stay in Jabiru but our next abode wasn’t too far down the road. We drove via Jabiru Town Centre, or Plaza, where we refuelled the car. The bakery shop was probably very good in its day, but it’s now closed down.
The Post Office proved useful. It’s late, but we posted the rest of Martha’s birthday present. We could get used to this slow, unhurried, leisurely pace of customer service, stopping to chat to all the local customers, trying to extract confidential information about an on-going case from the local cop, telling someone obviously known to the counter clerk that she couldn’t take away someone else’s packet without formal id. We bought a newspaper too and read it from cover to cover while waiting for the paperwork to be completed. Well, slight exaggeration. Then, to cap it all, the machine didn’t like my payment card.
As we drove along the road, we were on the lookout for wildlife of course. Our score? One kangaroo and two black cockatoos. Yes, we’re 99% sure they were black cockies but they flew away as soon as the car stopped.
Our first proper stop was for a walk to Nawurlandja Lookout. This harsh, rugged, rocky landscape was typical Northern Territory. Bare rocks but with lush vegetation breaking the monotony. Although ‘monotony’ isn’t the right word, really, the whole place is just fascinating.
The rocks reveal the course of flood water cascades during the Wet. Black algae grows where the water flows, then it dries out and leaves what looks like sooty stains when it’s dry.
We admired the tenacity of one lone tree, surviving at all, and keeping lookout over the plains of Kakadu, towards Anbangbang Billabong.
The escarpment way over there would be a challenging climb, but not for us, not today. We proceeded up as far as we were allowed to go on this Lookout, the breeze cooling us down as we gained altitude. It felt more humid today than it has for a while, and this was confirmed by a local, later in the day.
Big. That’s the word. Big environment, big place, big country.
And it’s not just the landscape that is too big to comprehend. Some big rocks are standing and there is no obvious explanation for how they arrived where they are.
Rocks, green grass and other plants and again, just the rare, odd splash of red.
We were going to walk to Anbangbang Billabong but the path was closed. Probably flood water or maybe a muddy path, we surmised.
A shame to miss it but there was plenty more to see. You can add Kakadu to the list of places where we’ll never spend enough time.
And if there wasn’t enough to worry about, snakes, spiders, crocodiles, floods, mosquitoes, we also have to take care to avoid Heat Illness.
One litre of water per person per hour while exercising outside is recommended, but that’s a lot of water to carry around, so this limited the distance of any hikes we planned to do. But, if we come back…
My new favourite place name is Nourlangie. It, like the word ‘favourite’ itself, contains all five vowels. We went for a short hike here, to see more rock art.
The escarpment was much closer now, but still, too much of a climb for us.
A lot of the artwork was painted on walls underneath overhanging rocks, so sheltered a bit from the elements. When an overhanging rock looks dangerous, they prop it up with the thinnest tree trunk they can find.
Or maybe that was just put there for comedic effect, a lie to tell tourists.
I feel so proud of the Europeans that came here and tried to civilise the natives.
I wonder if, like the Maori, the Aboriginal clans were given firearms if they converted to Christianity? Or, at least, pretended to?
Dancing is a big part of ceremonial occasions, and is depicted in many paintings.
Some paintings have been altered, against Aborginal conventions, probably for whitepellas’ sensibilities. But the old stories are still being told. Namarndjolg eventually became Ginga, the estuarine or saltwater crocodile.
Today, the Gunwarrdehwarrdeh Lookout walk was a more practical option for us than the 12 km Barrk Walk, fabulous though that would undoubtedly be.
It’s a Lookout, the clue is in its name, so why am I still surprised by a stunning view?
Namanjolg’s Feather is a small rock perched high up. It’s the feather that his sister took from his headdress after they had broken the incest laws. She placed it here to show what she had done. Later, she became the Rainbow Serpent. Even on the sign depicting the story, the poor fella’s name is spelt two different ways. As if he wasn’t suffering enough already by having a boulder in his hat, euphemistically referred to as a feather.
Later on, we passed a gorgeous little billabong, and Liesel requested this photo, taken from a low angle, presumably so that the croc wouldn’t have to jump so high to eat me.
Other than a few insects, we saw no animals here, but I did hear what I thought was a frog, possibly a bullfrog, as its croak was so deep.
We spent some time at Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre. There were many stories, some passed down through the generations, and some modern people telling their own stories. Some were very sad, about how the country has changed, and been taken over by other people.
We decided not to visit Yellow Water Billabong right now, which is just as well because the road was closed due to seasonal conditions. Probably mud or floods or something, again.
Our new place is not an Airbnb, it’s a Lodge. Cooinda Lodge if you believe the booking form, or Gagudju Lodge, Cooinda if you prefer the sign outside. Home of Yellow Water, as the sign says.
There are boat trips onto Yellow Water, and we booked one straightaway for this evening, ending at around sunset. So we only had a short time in our room to recharge ourselves and recharge the phone battery before joining over 20 other visitors in two buses to the jetty.
The driver opened the gate that had prevented our earlier visit and closed it after the bus passed through. As the bus went down the track towards the jetty, the water became deeper and deeper, and produced quite a wash.
This is why the place was closed to casual visitors like us, we thought. But no. The real reason is that a 4-metre long crocodile had taken up residence in the flooded part of the car park. Everybody breathed in sharply at this news. We were very carefully shepherded from the bus to the jetty which was enclosed in very thick metal fencing, and then onto the boat.
The boat looked strong enough, the sides were very strong metal mesh and there was no way we could pester the crocodiles through that.
It was a very pleasant two hours out on the water, mainly in Yellow Water, the billabong, itself but also venturing into the East Alligator River.
How did Yellow Water get its name? I recalled the book titles we made up at school ‘Vegetarian Breakfast’ by Egbert Nobacon for instance. Or ‘Yellow Waters’ by I P Daly. Well, from experience, when I’m dehydrated, I produce a lot of yellow water and I’m sure that’s quite common in these hot and humid places. But that’s not the origin of this placename. Buffalo were introduced here about two hundred years ago and they had the habit of eating the marsh grass, then walking around and compacting the clay so it was impossible for anything else to grow. When the rains came, they washed the clay away, turning the water yellow.
First East, now South Alligator River: how come, when it’s crocodiles that live here? Unfortunately, the guy that gave three rivers the Alligator name just got it wrong when he saw hundreds of crocs. He probably didn’t want to get too close to them, either.
There was almost a cheer when we saw the first croc before even setting off from the jetty. I was impressed at how quiet the engine was and it made me wonder why many boat engines are so loud.
We were really lucky with the amount of wildlife we saw, in its natural habitat. As Damo, Damien, the pilot and guide said, they’re probably all used to the boats now and know we mean them no harm.
We’d brought water with us but we had to refill our bottles a couple of times from the boat’s own supply. I thought walking around such a small vessel might affect the balance, but it was only genuinely of concern when everyone went to the same side to take pictures.
It was a cloudy sky and Damo suggested this might enhance the sunset. Lots of bugs came by. The dragonflies are ok but we soon got fed up with the mosquitoes, so we applied bug dope.
One guy had a huge video camera and another had a very long zoom lens. I’m sure they have some terrific pictures and film, but I’m quite happy with my little phone camera. Next time, however…
We saw about four or five different crocodiles, mostly female, and the only thing that could have been better is seeing a whole family or group having a siesta on the bank.
We’re over 100 km inland, yet we saw a few sea eagles. They’re very graceful in flight, and happy to pose on a tree, but not if you get too close.
Whistling ducks gathered on the bank, and whistled a merry, if warning, tune as we sailed on by. Their only fault is in being the same colour as the sand, so quite hard to spot.
After seeing the warning sign yeserday about the presence of buffalo, we knew we wanted to see one. And our wish came true. Damo spotted one hiding behind a tree, having a rest, chilling out, eating grass.
He wasn’t bothered by the boat, just looked up in a nonchalant manner. He may have been bored with this group of whistling ducks though, with their tuneless and insistent whistling.
As the Sun slowly sank, it occasionally peeked through the clouds, taunting us with the possibilities of a glorious sunset.
Cormorants go fishing here as do snake-necked darters. They too like standing there, drying their wings out.
We saw more crocodiles, some of which stayed on the surface and some of which dived when the boat approached too closely. I think everyone who spotted a croc was torn between announcing it to the whole boat or keeping it to themselves for better photos without strangers breathing down their neck. Oh, just me then!
The East Alligator River is the only river system in the world wholly enclosed in a World Heritage Site National Park. So, in theory, it has the cleanest water. Unfortunately, some fishing people don’t care, and beer cans have been seen floating by. But the main problem now is with salvinia, a fast growing weed that is in danger of blocking the waterway. It was once sold as decoration for domestic aquariums and it’s thought that someone just poured the whole lot down the drain one day. They’re trying to combat it with a weevil imported from South America that eats salvinia, and only salvinia. I would have thought that after the cane toad episode, Aussies would be very reluctant to import another biological form of pest control. Salvinia fights the lotus lilies for resources, but I think we all agree which looks better.
We saw a family of jacana, little birds with long legs, again, hard to spot because they’re so well camouflaged.
For a brief few seconds, it looked as though the Sun might deliver, but the moment passed, and we went back to looking out for animals.
On the way back, we passed a black-necked stork, a jabiru. Neither name is correct, they’re trying to introduce the Aboriginal name for it, which Damo couldn’t recall in the heat of the moment. The name ‘jabiru’ is taken from a South American bird which it was mistaken for on the day it was named. And its neck isn’t black, it’s more of a dark iridescent blue.
But the consensus is still that it is Australia’s only stork. And I still think storks look prehistoric. The boat drifted by slowly but it was very patient with us.
Even if the sunset was doomed, which in general, it seemed to be, there were odd moments of sheer beauty. The Sun has the power to set trees alight.
We passed by the buffalo again, and now he was standing up, and in a much easier place to see.
He was big. Mahusive. Probably the size of a rhinoceros, much more massive than a moose, if a little shorter in height.
Sunset arrived and as anticipated, it wasn’t as glorious as it often is. This silhouette of a darter in a naked tree in the foreground isn’t too shabby.
Damo had to get us onto the buses quickly: it was dark within minutes and as he said, those crocs could be hiding anywhere.
Back at the Lodge, we had a meal outside while being eaten by mosquitoes. They’re not normal, these things. Most mosquitoes come along, sit down, rub their hands together and then sink their teeth in. These ones just come at you nose first, straight into the skin. No warning tickle of a hair being touched, no high-pitched whine, just straight in. They kept going for my right arm and ignoring the left, for no reason obvious to me. I applied more bug dope and that helped a bit.
I also anaesthetised myself very slightly by drinking my first beer in many weeks. Fair to say, I’m not a fan of kamikaze Aussie mozzies.
It felt strange going to bed without checking up on all the social media and emails. There is no wifi here and Liesel and I aren’t on Telstra, so there’s no 4G for us either. Totally cut off. It’s surprising how often I quickly look something up online each day. Not today, though. I can’t listen to the radio, I can’t download books or even newspaper articles.
But as the sign here says, without wifi, you have a better connection with Kakadu. And that’s very precious.