We had another chat with Judy before leaving for breakfast at Joey’s in Mission Beach. We enjoyed a walk on the beach hoping to see one or two sky-divers coming in to land, but there weren’t any about while we were there. Inevitably there’s a warning sign. If the plants and animals aren’t out to get you, falling humans will have a go.
Yes, I was tempted, a little, to do another parachute jump myself, it would be a great experience over the Great Barrier Reef, but time wasn’t really on our side. Next time, maybe.
There was some interesting wildlife on the beach. Nothing big, so I drew a crocodile in the sand. Millions of small crabs each with their own little hole surrounded by lots of balls of sand from below. Plus one single caterpillar.
On the way back to the car, we found what may have been the caterpillar’s mother, who knows?
On the way out of town, we passed by more of those banana trees with the fruit now ensconced in plastic bags. We wondered whether they were to deter cassowaries rather than insects?
Judy had said not to bother stopping at Cardwell because there are crocodiles on the beach. So we had to stop at Cardwell to see for ourselves. Not one croc. Not even the slightest indentation in the sand that might have been a croc’s footprint.
We passed under several of these ‘fauna rope bridges’ which I’m sure are a great idea, but we’re not sure how the animals know where the crossings are, nor how to use them. From our sedentary position in a fast-moving vehicle, it was very hard to work it out.
Near Rungoo, we stopped at a lookout to look at the rather large Hinchinbrook Island, almost a holiday destination in its own right. In fact, we met a couple who had been there and we directed them to a better viewpoint, the lower one being ruined by intervening power lines.
I heard Liesel say “I have forgotten my teeth” so I queried that statement. She claims she actually said “I have food caught in my teeth”.
Hmm, I thought, that looks good, pies with my name on.
Four kilometres later, we turned right at the traffic lights to find that the place was closed. C’est la vie.
Onwards to Ingham where we took some time out to do some laundry. Luckily, the laundrette was open, very few other shops were. I went for a walk, and I found one coffee shop open.
There’s a pub here that doesn’t sell beer, but that doesn’t matter because we didn’t go. It was probably closed anyway.
By contrast, there were some unexpectedly good photo opps here. Unexpected in the sense that we weren’t really looking out for interesting flora and fauna, it was purely about clothes: wash Ingham and dry Ingham.
If the plants don’t get you and the animals don’t get you and the humans don’t fall out of the sky on top of you, then the buildings will definitely have a go.
Having had coffees and drink Ingham, we didn’t need a Driver Reviver, but what a great idea: free coffee.
We passed an RAAF base where one of their latest fighter planes had come to stop just in time before hitting the highway.
As I told Liesel, the last time I was in Townsville, a third of a century ago, we were driven in, sharing the front seat of a tow truck with the driver. Our campervan had broken down. We didn’t see much of the town on that occasion. But we arrived here today in the sunshine, and headed straight for the Strand.
We saw a dolphin!
Not a real one: it would be cruel, sticking a real dolphin to your garden wall.
It’s election time so be sure to place your cross between two trees.
We thought we’d walk to the end of the pier, which we did, only to find it occupied by people fishing and, at the far end, filletting fish. Not the typical seaside pier, really.
It was good to see so many cyclists, roller skaters, roller bladers and runners using the path above the beach. But we’ve never seen so many dog walkers. All the dogs were on leads, we saw no dog mess, we heard no signs of aggression from any of those dogs.
The Sun was incredibly bright but with a bit of jiggery-pokery, I captured this image. It looks like a nice beach too, although we didn’t walk along it this time. There’s a small swimming area, with a jellyfish net around, but very few people in the sea.
We dined at a Laos/Thai restaurant and again, I couldn’t finish my meal. I think my stomach must have shrunk or something. We found our Airbnb: we’re sharing with a lovely couple, two dogs and a cat. The neighbours have about 43 dogs between them by the sounds of it! They’re taking it in turns to start a Mexican wave of barking.
Mossman Gorge is just north of Port Douglas and was the venue for our first hike of the day. There’s an Aboriginal Village between the visitor’s centre and the gorge itself, and we were requested not to walk through. So, along with just about everyone else, we took the shuttle bus service, and enjoyed a much shorter walk.
In the rainforest, you’re always on the lookout for something different: unusual trees and other plants, maybe even animals. Sometimes it just looks and feels prehistoric, but it’s always gorgeous. We’re grateful for the boardwalks they’ve installed, it’s easier for us townies, but it means that you are still in touch with modern life, with civilisation and to a certain extent, that’s what we’re trying to get away from.
Just one bloke ignored all the warnings and jumped in the water to ruin everyone else’s photos.
Liesel was delighted to walk across the relatively new Rex Creek Bridge. It was a bit wobbly but we all survived.
Normally, there’s nothing special about moss, but this large patch was almost glowing.
Back at Port Douglas, we walked up to the Lookout and along some of Four Mile Beach.
We both commented on how pleasant the temperature was, after being in the heat for so long. One day, we’ll be complaining it’s too cold, I know, but right now, it’s just right.
It’s a nice beach, flat, with perfect sand, but there are three main hazards to look out for. Box jellyfish might come along and sting you. Crocodiles might come along and eat you. Humans might slip off the rocks and fall onto you.
A small section of the sea was safe to swim in as there was a net keeping the box jellyfish out. Both Liesel and I fought the temptation to leap in.
We brushed the sand off our feet and set off for Cairns. The winding road by the coast was great but it was nice when it straightened out for a while.
Liesel pointed and said that that was one job she wouldn’t want to do, and I can see that it might become a wee bit exhausting and even boring and repetitive. Putting plastic bags over the new bunches of bananas before they grow too big, presumably as a pest deterrent. I assume they’re not conventional plastic bags, but allow air and moisture to flow through. Hundreds, if not thousands of trees in fields, different coloured bags making it all look quite artistic. I wonder if we’ll see more sometime, and get a picture?
In Cairns, we looked at the menu outside Yaya’s Hellenic Kitchen and Bar and there were plenty of nice-looking vegetarian dishes to choose from. We went in and the sign at the door said “Please wait to be seated. Grazie.” Hang on, I thought, that’s Italian, not Greek. Greek would be Ευχαριστώ. As we realised we’d entered the wrong place, we were being shown to a table. We had Italian food instead, the waitress was very friendly but we didn’t ask whether her accent was American, Irish or something else: it was certainly flexible.
While eating, we heard one solitary rumble of thunder, and as it was cloudy, we thought a storm was on its way. We had felt a few spots of rain at Mossman Gorge. But no. We later wondered whether it was thunder after all, maybe it was a jet.
After lunch, we walked along the Esplanade and enjoyed watching birds out on the mudflats. The pelicans were a lovely surprise.
They’re so elegant when they glide just a few inches above the water with barely a twitch of the wings.
We passed by the war memorial, always sad to see, but the big gun has been out of commission since the 1960s, so the birds are safe.
This chap was standing still for ages, to the point where I wondered if it was real.
He had his eyes on something, I was poised with the camera, he didn’t move, I didn’t dare blink, I stretched to relieve a crick in my back and boom, he moved, I missed the moment, but he walked away with a juicy morsel and I’m sure he winked at me as if to say “gotcha”.
A couple of exercise areas caught our attention, briefly, but we decided to leave the equipment for other people to enjoy. Not that there was a long queue or anything.
The children’s play area by contrast was fully occupied and we thought these serving suggestions were pretty good.
Back in the car, as we progressed in a southerly direction, we were treated to two signs indicating “The highest mountain in Queensland”. Well, we thought, they can’t both be right. The two contenders are neighbours. Mt Bartle Frere is 1611 or 1622 m depending on which source you believe while Mt Bellenden Ker is a mere 1593 m above sea level. In any case, these mountains had their heads in the clouds as we drove by.
It’s election time in Australia and the radio adverts are the same old same old, but this large mural is hard-hitting in a fun way.
We made a quick detour to Etty Bay, E Bay for short, because it’s famous for the local family, group, herd, whatever, of cassowaries.
The beach was packed: just one young lady reading or meditating or something. I walked to the far end to use the facilities and when I told Liesel there actually was a toilet and I didn’t need to use the bush, she decided to go too. I said I’d walk back up the hill looking out for cassowaries, and she could pick me up when I thumbed a lift. Hah. The only cassowaries I saw were on road signs. I did find some very tasty-looking red berries though.
No, I didn’t eat any, no idea what they are.
Liesel drove up the hill, big grin arriving well before she did. Did you see a cassowary, she asked? No, I replied. I did, she boasted, by the campsite.
I was tempted to say, oh please, please, please, take me back, but it was getting dark. The Sun sets behind the mountains and, being still in the tropics, there’s no real twilight period.
In Mission Beach, we have a room in the house shared with the host, Judy. She is a very friendly, chatty kiwi. She told us there would be no naked people in the pool, so that put the kibosh on my plans. She didn’t need to see one of her guests bending over outside without any clothes on, again. The pool was lovely, though, I just floated around for about 15 minutes, looking up at the lack of stars. It had been overcast for most of the day.
You can do a sky dive here at Mission Beach, landing on the actual beach. I wonder? I will if Liesel does…
The nighttime shenanigans will be dealt with later. Getting up at dark O’hundred seemed such a good idea when we made the plans but the practical side of dragging our carcasses out of bed so early always raises doubt about our sanity.
We drove towards the sunrise and saw beautiful, bright Venus leading the way. Then, just before the Sun appeared, we saw a very thin crescent Moon.
The sky was partially cloudy, but it looked like we were going to have a wonderful day.
All kinds of animals should be stirring at dawn, we thought. There were a couple of kangaroos ‘having a rest’, but our excitement was piqued by the sight of some snakes warming up by the side of the road. No way was I going to get out of the car, but the photo taken from the passenger seat is pretty damn good.
I thought about selling this picture to National Geographic or something, but that would just be money for old rope. I’m sure we’re not the only visitors to fall for this jape.
We arrived at Katherine Gorge, Nitmiluk, Visitor Centre, with plenty of time to spare and we joined 12 other people for a cruise along the river, through the gorge. Nitmiluk means cicada country.
The birds didn’t come too close but the blue-headed honey-eater is very pretty. His song was drowned out by the sound from many, many bats though.
There are 13 gorges on the Katherine River, numbered 1 to 13 and we were going to see the first two, accounting for about a third of the total length. Each gorge is separated from the next by rocks and rapids, so we had to board another boat for Gorge No 2.
The water was calm, a couple of fish jumping, a few birds flying by, but mostly we just gaped in awe at the immensity of the rock formations.
On a previous cruise, someone had asked the guide if this bird was a penguin?
Well, it’s black and white and hiding behind a branch, so an easy mistake to make.
The rocks are sandstone, fragmented and cracked, and eroded by water over millions of years. The trees are fascinating, sometimes growing in the most ridiculous places.
Crayfish are caught in a yabbie trap. Usually, only freshwater crocodiles inhabit this river, and they’re fairly harmless. They only eat things they can swallow whole, such as fish and birds, so we’re quite safe. Unless we annoy them by stomping on their tail, or something. Which we didn’t.
But, after the Wet, and the floods, sometimes gingas, saltwater crocs, can make an appearance.
Evidence of their presence includes badly mangled yabbie traps. The river isn’t opened to the public for recreational canoeing until the rangers are certain that there are no gingas.
Another method of detection is to leave some red, blood-soaked polystyrene balls on the surface. A curious croc will take a bite, decide it’s not really food, and move on. The tooth prints will indicate whether it’s a saltie or a freshie.
We did see one, small, freshwater crocodile today, a long way from the boat, by the shore, and as soon as he saw us, he swam into the caverns behind.
It was fairly obvious when we’d reached the end of Gorge No 1. Many rocks across the river, and some rough water just upstream.
We disembarked and walked about 400m to the next boat. The boats higher upstream are brought in when the river’s in flood, and left there for the season. No heavy lifting required.
The walk itself was interesting: we saw some small frogs in a puddle and some 10,000-year old Aboriginal rock paintings, including underneath where a big chunk of rock had fallen off, many thousands of years ago.
The local, Jawoyn, clan can read these paintings like a book. The information board didn’t tell us which book, though.
Some of the trees are growing right down at water level. They’re so lush, even the water looks green in places.
Because of the way the rocks fractured, some of the bends in the river are very nearly right angles.
In places, you can see where a fracture on one side continues through the rockface on the other side. Again, my geological knowledge is limited but I would be fascinated to learn more about these structures.
This apparently is the view everyone wants:
Due to eddies and currents and erosion, the water at this point is about 20m deep. This is where the Rainbow Serpent is resting and it’s Jawoyn law that nobody’s allowed to swim here, in case they wake the Serpent up.
We were told about some films that have been made in this area. Jedda, or Jedda the Uncivilised, was released in 1955 and was the first to star two Aboriginal actors. We passed by Jedda’s Rock. An imminent release is Top End Wedding which we’ll look out for. The best recommendation was Rogue, about a crocodile that chases tour boats. Our tour guide (spoiler alert) said that it did have a happy ending though: the tour guide survived.
The water is typically about 6m deep in this area. During the floods of 1998, the water rose 20m, engulfing the higher of these two holes in the wall, although you don’t really get the scale from the picture.
At the height of the flood, enough water flowed through the Katherine to fill Sydney Harbour evey nine hours. That is a staggering statistic.
Water from the recent, disappointing, Wet Season, is still making its way through the channels. We saw a couple of cascades today, but many more black stained rocks indicating the presence of waterfalls at other times.
There are plenty of inviting sandy beaches too. But this is where the crocs lay their eggs, so very soon, signs will appear telling people to stay off. After laying the eggs, the mums aren’t interested and there are enough predators around, without people compacting the sand and making it difficult for hatchlings to emerge.
We returned to our starting point, transferring back to the first boat, feeling exhilarated but tired, and not really up for the hike we’d considered.
Some birds and a lizard watched us make our way back to the car park, and we picked up some coffee to take away. The noisy construction will result in a brand new Visitors’ Centre, so we’ll have to come back and see that, one day.
The drive back to base was punctuated by several stops.
We saw a bright green and red parrot-like bird. Actually, it probably was a parrot, it was too big to be a lorikeet. We saw some large birds poking at and trying to wake up the resting kangaroos mentioned earlier, to no avail.
Some of the side roads looked interesting, but we didn’t explore. Some said they were Private Property, some didn’t say but they probably are too.
Liesel took her first flying lesson today, but I don’t think they’ll be asking her back.
We took a chance and parked our hire car in front of a barn decorated with very many old car number plates.
I was too slow to take a picture of the dingo that ran across the road in front of us. And similarly not fast enough to snap the pig snuffling by the side of the road. Then it looked up, with its pink collar and its doggie head. The back end still looked like a pig though.
The powerlines are supported by metal posts. I suspect between termites and annual deluges, wooden posts wouldn’t last very long.
Other sightings included somebody’s trousers in the middle of the road, some cows, goats, horses and some houses on stilts, although I expected to see more of those.
Back home, we had tea, toast and a nap then I played with the butterflies in the garden. We went back to Woolworths for some shopping and decided against a proper, long walk today.
Here’s an early warning for squeamish visitors. I’m about to relate an incident from last night. This is the Northern Territory and Things Live Here that we don’t normally like to see indoors. Maybe in an outhouse, but not in the main, clean, tiled, inhabited part of a house.
If you’re still with me, I apologise in advance.
As regular visitors may recall, I have reason to visit the lavatory once or twice every night, sometimes more often. And if I can’t sleep for some reason, there can be several nocturnal hikes. Such was the case last night. I couldn’t sleep because I knew we had to get up early and so I ended up losing sleep at both ends of the night.
The first time I went into the bathroom, as soon as I sat down, I felt something scratch my arm. Now, the last time I felt something scratch my arm like that was when a mouse ran out of a mail bag at work, up my arm, and into the prep frame. So obviously, I deduced that this too must be a mouse, in my middle-of-the-night torpor. To investigate, I turned the bathroom light on, something I don’t usually do because it wakes me up too much. I was relieved to see that what hit my arm was a bottle of moisturiser that had fallen off the top of the shower screen when I slightly nudged it.
On the other hand, I was shocked, horrified, surprised and not at all delighted to see a cockroach sitting on the bathroom sink. Not as large as the big red one I saw at Jabiru but worse, because it was indoors. Waving its feelers in my direction. Sorry, but I have to admit, I washed it down the plughole when I washed my hands, and put the plug in the sink. I took some slow, deep breaths to calm myself down, hoping I’d get back to sleep very quickly.
I needed to go to the loo a second time but by now, it was 5:15am and very nearly time to get up anyway. So I turned the bathroom light on only to see the cockroach sitting on the floor. Laughing at me. How the heck did it escape? The plug was still in place. It must have come up through the overflow. I was taking my ease when it started moving towards me. I was quite philosophical when it was running about on the floor. But when it started its fast little jog up the outside of the toilet bowl, I screamed to myself, grabbed it with loo paper, and flushed it away. I don’t know what the ‘going to the toilet’ equivalent of coitus interruptus is, but that’s what happened.
No time to continue so I washed my hands. I released the sink plug and immediately, out popped the original cockroach, looking around like an Alien. Giving me the finger. Swear words echoed around but only inside my head as Liesel wasn’t quite awake yet. I grabbed it with loo paper and flushed it away to join its twin.
I have no idea how many cockroaches we’re sharing the house with but I hope none of them stow away in our bags when we leave.
Not a big problem really. This is the Northern Territory, where every conceivable environmental niche is probably inhabited by bugs of one kind or another. That’s what makes it such a fascinating place. Not just the bugs themselves, but the bigger animals that prey on them.
All together now: Good night, sleep well, don ‘t have nightmares.
Here’s another one of those days that took a while to get us moving. The Sun rose on time, I’m sure, and the birds welcomed it with their song. But that was hours in the past by the time Liesel and I stirred our stumps. Tea and toast for breakfast followed by a drive to Cutta-Cutta Caves.
The first European to discover this cave was a stockman, Mr Smith, so for a while, it was known as Smith’s Cave. He’d noticed some of his cattle had gone missing, and he found them by the cave. They’d probably smelt the water.
There are five species of bats living here, and we saw a couple fly by very quickly: probably too early in the day for them, too.
Some of the calcium carbonate glistens giving the impression of stars, which gives the cave its name Cutta-Cutta. At sunset, the bats take these star out of the cave and place them in the sky so thay can more easily find their food. Then, as the Sun rises, they take the stars back into the cave. A lovely Dreamtime story from our guide.
We saw stalactites and stalagmites, columns and other formations.
During World War 2, many local servicemen came into the cave and shot up the structures that had taken millions of years to grow. The guns were so loud, they deafened themselves, thus qualifying for medical discharge. Some of the newer stalactites have only been growing for about 70 years so they’re very delicate right now.
Along with the whole of the Katherine region, this cave was flooded in 1998. The water caused a lot of damage but most of the formations survived. This structure on the ground, ‘oyster shell’, is very delicate and is likely to be destroyed the next time water comes flooding through.
A couple of people told us that the recent Wet season was relatively dry: a cyclone took all the water away, so the story goes.
There are tree snakes in the cave too, although we saw only a clutch of recently laid eggs. We saw spiders’ webs and some of the other guests saw spiders, but we didn’t.
A rock wallaby lives in the entrance to the cave, and it’s a sub-species with feet specially adapted to be able to cope with the slippery limestone floor. Hmmm, another mistruth for the visitor?
Tree roots can be seen hanging from the roof – even roots of trees that have been burned above ground level. These roots will eventually petrify, become calcified, and be the starting point for new stalactites, perhaps.
It was a much shorter walk in the cave than some of the others we’ve visited, but, being a Tropical Cave, it was much warmer inside too. No sheltering from the heat here.
Afterwards, Liesel and I went on a short bush walk, admiring the trees and the rocks and the gravel and the termite mound with some twigs sticking out. And for a few minutes, we watched an ant struggling with a piece of grass five times its own length, trying to carry up the sheer cliff face of a step. An ant friend tried to help, but without success.
From ants to termites. I stopped to take a picture of a big termite mound city. Instead on one enormous mound, there are scores of smaller ones, but maybe in years to come, each one will be a magnificent eight-footer.
Katherine Museum closed at 4pm so we only had about 90 minutes left to explore it.
The town has a fascinating history and it seems a shame, in retrospect, that we spent a third of the 90 minutes watching an old TV programme about the infamous floods of 1998. Everybody lost just about everything as the Katherine River flooded up to a record-breaking twenty metres.
Dr Clyde Fenton was the local flying doctor, and his plane, Gypsy Moth, is on display at the Museum.
We read about the ‘stolen generations’, the ‘half-caste’ children taken form their parents and brought up mainly by churches, Catholic, Methodist, they all had a hand in this travesty.
Ironically, one of the oldest-looking artefacts at this venue was the sign outside.
Liesel drove back home while I walked along a path that took me pretty much to our front door. Not that Google Maps knew that, of course, it kept telling me to re-join and walk along the main road.
The community gardens were pleasant and I saw some ibises there doing whatever they like to do with their long, curved bills. I do like the Australian sense of humour, it doesn’t even stop at the gates of a cemetery.
I thought it important to make a pilgrimage to the actual river, thinking I’d be safe, there are no crocodiles in this neck of the woods.
Was I wrong! Not one but two kinds of crocodile live in this area. I tiptoed back and up the steps to what I hoped was a safe distance.
From the old railway bridge, I could see the river in all its glory. It looked peaceful enough from this height.
There were some other passers-by on the path too, some very colourful specimens.
The old steam engine was well decorated, not sure how official this artwork is. Still, better than boring old tags.
Can you imagine what it must be like if you live with a stutter and you’re trying to tell a taxi driver that this is where you live?
I arrived back at base literally dripping with sweat, from the heat and the exertion. But people of a squeamish nature should look away now because here comes today’s…
“Things I Didn’t Want Or Need To See, Thank You Very Much”
On the walk back from the museum, I passed a playing field which was fenced in all round. That’s not unusual, but the barbed wire along the top was, maybe. From a distance, I thought: oh no, even here, people hang their little black bags of dog mess on other people’s fences, that’s disgusting. But as I approached, the awful truth revealed itself.
Dead bats in various stages of decomposition. One corpse had a zillion flies buzzing round. At the other extreme, there was just the bare skeleton of what I think was a fruit bat, since the middle corpse still had some reddish fur. My guess is that they landed on the fence, got stuck in the barbs, and couldn’t get away.
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.
One of the places we really wanted to visit was Ubirr, to look at the ancient Aboriginal rock paintings. As we drove along the road, again we passed many Floodway signs. We came across our first flooded road and drove through easily enough, the water wasn’t too deep.
The second flood was much wider. On close inpection, I could see the double white lines in the middle of the road as far as at least half way across the puddle. Puddle? Almost a lake. The car rental man had warned us about some roads only being suitable for 4WD vehicles, and told us that we weren’t insured to drive between sunset and sunrise. He hadn’t said anything about flooded roads.
But, if we hadn’t continued, we would never see Ubirr. There was comfort in seeing other vehicles at the car park, and they definitely weren’t all 4-wheel drive. Certainly not the campervans! So, if we became stranded, at least we had company!
Helen had told us that crocodiles can be seen at Cahill’s Crossing when the tide changes. We were here at low tide, and the water was low enough to be able to cross over into Arnhem Land, if we wanted to, and if we had the permit. But, no crocs in sight. Just a couple of fishermen and a few fish jumping in the fast flowing water. Actually, fishermen jumping in the water would be quite entertaining. High tide wouldn’t happen for another twelve hours, which is a shame.
As we drove into the car park, we saw a black snake slither sinuously across the road in front of us. It was very fast, totally black as far as I could tell. Yes, it was good to see from the safety of our vehicle.
We also saw our first dingo, out in the wild. Jenny sent a video warning. “What do dingos do, Martha?” “They bite our bottoms!” This advice, given to Jenny on Hamilton Island some years ago, will now be passed on down the generations. And has been passed back up to us ancients.
Some of the tracks were closed, probably overgrown vegetation or a landslide or something, we surmised. But, knowing the dangers in this area, well, in Australia generally, we didn’t venture beyond the sign.
Even so, we saw plenty of fascinating geological artefacts. Rocks stacked up as if by human intervention, large cliff-like escarpments, things last seen in a TV documentary, or even in a Geography text book at school.
Termites know no limits and their skyscrapers provide magificent lookout posts for lizards.
No luck with crocodiles, but this fallen palm frond has some very impressive sharp teeth.
From Cahill’s Crossing to Ubirr was a short drive, and we joined many other people as we walked around the trail, admiring the rock art. Some was easily identifiable, but fortunately, the information boards helped with some interpretation.
From Ubirr too, we could admire the rock structures, including the overhanging rocks that provide shelter, and a place for the paintings to be preserved, sometimes for tens of thousands of years.
Although an Aboriginal artist is not supposed to touch up or improve on someone else’s work, after a time, a painting can be overwritten with a new one, a palimpsest. Experts can tell the various ages, and see how the ancients’ lifestyles changed over time.
We climbed, or clambered, up the rocks and were both taken aback by the view, in all directions. It really is a big country, almost overwhelming.
The colours here are incredibly bright, as if the intensity has been turned up to 11. The green grass, the blue sky, the white clouds.
At first glance, this picture could be an elephant, but it is the Rainbow Serpent, a character that features in many Aboriginal stories, some not very nice. And some stories are really warnings , without happy endings.
The Rainbow Serpent usually lives peacefully in waterways but can be upset by some noises, especially children crying.
One day, the Rainbow Serpent heard the constant cries of a child coming from an Ulbu camp. The child was crying for sweet lily root but when night fell, the child was given sour lily root by mistake. The cries became even louder and could still be heard in the morning.
Suddenly, cold gusts of wind sprang up – a sure sign that the Rainbow is near. The Rainbow Serpent ran into the camp, trapped everybody with its huge circular body and swallowed the child and most of the people.
Just one chapter in the journey of the Rainbow Serpent, passed down through the generations.
Some Aboriginal sites are deemed sacred because they can be the source of a horrible disease. The swollen joints of Miyamiya are depicted in an old painting.
It’s been a mystery during our travels in Asia and Australia: just where do geckos go during the daytime? I now have the conclusive answer.
I visited the public lavatory before leaving Ubirr, and when I opened the baby changing table, I revealed not one but two geckos having a rest. Not the sort of thing you need to see unexpectedly if you have a baby in one hand and a nappy in the other.
And another first: we saw a goanna run into the bush at the side of the road as we drove away. I didn’t even catch the tip of its tail in the photo!
We reached the flooded road again and at least now, we knew it wasn’t too deep.
I waded through the water, hoping there were no crocs, nor even leeches, but I was surprised to see little fishes in the water above the road surface. All that, just so I could take a picture of the boat we’d rented in Darwin.
Next stop was the Bowali Visitor Centre, near Jabiru, the Headquarters of Kakadu National Park. Amongst other fascinating exhibits, we saw this notice. It’s a few days out of date but we were glad we hadn’t seen it before the morning excursion!
It goes without saying that I had a cup of coffee, so I won’t say it. We watched some wildlife through the window. Window? There was no glass, just a hole in the wall.
We read a lot about how the original peoples here live with the environment, look after it for future generations and it’s a philosophy we could all adopt.
Yes, I am aware of my own contribution to the destruction of the planet by flying all over the place for the last nine months. And when I can think of one, I’ll add a ‘but…’. The displays in this visitor centre certainly makes you think about things in a non-white, non-European, non-western manner.
I’m sure we’ve seen these trees without realising. An-binik trees grow in the rock country of Kakadu and nowhere else in the world. They’re typically thirty metres tall or more, and provide shade for smaller monsoon forest plants. A relic rainforest species with links to ancient Gondwana. Every time I think the breadth and depth of the history of this place is within my grasp, something else even older, bigger comes along. In another quirk of fate, our Jabiru accommodation shares its name with this ancient tree.
We haven’t seen a warning sign for a while, so what a delight to see this one.
This is Aboriginal country but that doesn’t stop mainly white prospectors from wanting to mine for the uranium here. That would be terrible for the local environment, no matter how much they bribe the local officials, if that’s what it comes to.
Kakadu is one of the few places in Australia where there has been limited or no extinctions of plants or animals during the last 150 years. It hosts more than 200 ant species, more than 1000 species of flies, most of them buzzing around my face at any given moment, more than 100 species of reptile, more than 64 species of mammal and about 280 species of birds, over a third of those known in the whole of Australia.
Like the song says: Since they built the uranium mine, what’s just left now is just toxic slime.
One final stop today, at Jabiru Lake. We were going to walk around it, but it is much bigger than anticipated. And yes, there were croc warnings. People have had plans to keep the crocodiles out and let the lake be used for leisure activities, such as swimming. One expert says that to do that, you’d have to build a 20-feet high fence all around. Twenty feet? The implication is that crocodiles could, if they wanted, get over a 19-feet high fence. The mind boggles.
So we sat by the picnic table and watched birds for a while, instead of walking.
We saw cockatoos, wagtails, magpie geese (in the distance, natch) and other water birds. And another first: actual termites outside, looking busy.
Later, as we were eating in the communal kitchen, Liesel asked if what she’d just seen was a snake. Where? There, up by the ceiling. The only way I could check was by holding the phone out at an awkward angle and taking a picture. Glad to report, it was just a plain ordinary gecko. What I didn’t really need to see was the cockroach outside the communal bathroom. All showy with its antennae as long as its body. And you just know, if there’s one, there’s a million.
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.