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Darwin and Kakadu National Park

4 May 2010 4,985 views One Comment

Friday

in. and out of Darwin.

We were out of Darwin airport and on the road within minutes. Obviously Darwin and its airport are smaller than the village I grew up in but I was still impressed.


I’d booked us a ‘nice family shopper’ as Lisa called it – more on that excellent choice later – and we sped towards Kakadu. Once we got out of ‘town’ the landscape was interesting: bush, rivers and an absolutely stunning sun set. But once the sun went down it really hit us how remote we were. We’d seen no other vehicles for ages, the radio was out of range and it was pitch, pitch black like you only get in the country. The head lights were picking up all the bugs buzzing around, like it was raining bugs – when we got out of the car the front was plastered with them!

We arrived in Jabiru where we’d booked a bush bungalow, a self contained hut on stilts with sun / storm shades, an outdoor kitchen and private bathroom. We loved it. But we weren’t equipped to use it; no water, no food, nothing. So we hit the road again.

you’re not from around here are you

The Jabiru Sports Club is not the place to go if you don’t like being conspicuous. Two tall, blonde English girls walk in, we may as well have been pink llamas. And I think we gave them their first sale of Corona this century! And after providing the evening’s spectator sport there was no food anyway, not even a bag of crisps! Lisa was ravenous now, and anxious. So clearly anxious in fact that we were offered “a piece of fish” by one of the enquiring locals. We politely declined, adios-ed our Corona and went in pursuit of ‘the supermarket’ and the ‘other hotel’.
The former was the petrol station. It and its shop had been closed for a few hours. The latter was Jabiru’s best resort hotel, thoughtfully, artfully built in the shape of a crocodile, “the restaurant is through the door, under the back left leg” no less. Food ordered, relief visible, we brought the beers closer to home (Cascade) but no more reasonable in price. The cost of food and alcohol in Kakadu continued to surprise us over the following two days and we later found out the purpose is to restrict the (over) consumption of alcohol, or make you pay. Fed, watered, with roadies, we returned to our bungalow and called it a night.

Saturday

talking our way to a meal

We were up reasonably early the next day and got out quickly knowing that finding breakfast wouldn’t be easy. We quite literally followed our noses to a National Parks canteen where there was catering for the miners. We were informed that they were closed for the day but the staff didn’t really stand a chance against our keen city persuasiveness! Actually the staff were incredibly sweet – I really can’t Kakadu’s good old fashioned helpfulness & hospitality – they let us help ourselves to the hot and cold buffets since it was all ‘going to waste anyway’. Lisa was on hot buffet detail and I did toast. Not that toast really came under ‘going to waste anyway’, and not that it was particularly appropriate to turn down the white-sliced and ask for wholemeal but there you go, North Shore girls!
So, we ate. Although it was early (8ish) it was already incredibly warm: full sunshine, blue sky day, warm wind, mosquitoes and flies everywhere. Clearly the air con would get a work out.

Kakadu makes us work for it

We had a rough plan of what we wanted to do and we head out of Jabiru in direction of Jim Jim Falls. We were bombing now, full of our miner’s buffet breakfast, cruising in our family saloon, music on, gabbing away like we ruled the world.
It was May 1st, by definition the first day of the dry season and, like I say, it was toasting. I said to Lisa “really, you wouldn’t know it had been ‘the wet’ yesterday, it’s barely soggy around here.” Turn a corner. Brakes. Stop. The road was crossed by a river and there was a meaty 4WD being rescued by a tow truck. The mechanic guy from the tow truck waved frantically at us, “don’t do it!” One look at the dripping 4WD was enough for us, Lisa and I were laughing so much, “barely soggy”, how wrong could I have got it..?
So.?? Jim Jim Falls wasn’t happening. Plan B? Go to Ubirr. Except, no, that road was closed due to flooding. We started to worry; was most of Kakadu closed? Were we about to feel the raw end of having planned nothing??
I later found out we’d driven past the (large) sign indicating which roads were open etc. Not caring for details, we’d flown past, too busy with Bon Jovi and packets of crisps at the time. So, now we went to the Bowali Visitor Centre where the lovely and patient ranger gave us some ideas of where to go. We listened and went.

finally seeing the Park


Kakadu really was pretty. There was a real sense of space: huge skies, piles of rock that came out of nowhere. We did a short walk at Nawurlandja, and looked over a sea of green tree tops, it was stunning.
Feeling more inspired we started another a walk at Nourlangie and saw our first Aboriginal rock art, very ancient and impressive. We walked further into the bush and it was only moments until – following a track that no one else was taking – we again felt utterly remote. Obviously we weren’t prepared for this: 200mls of water and a packet of wet wipes between us, so we didn’t carry on for long. And it was hot now, absolutely sweating hot. Given which, we decided it was time for some aircon, choons and to find our next place to stay.

Kellerman’s in Kakadu

By the time we pulled up to Gagudju Lodge at Yellow Water we were fantasising about long cool drinks, plunge pools and bar food. We really needed this resort to deliver on our Centre Parcs dream and, at a price (love Kakadu’s economy!) it did. There were quite a lot of other people around, it was a key lunch stop for tourist buses etc. There were also a lot of dingoes prowling around. Indigenous creature sighting: ding.

Following the advice from the information centre earlier in the day we set out for Mirrai Lookout for sun set. It was a pretty sharp climb but at the top was a full 360 view of the Park. It was clear, another sea of trees, and so peaceful, the perfect spot for Lisa and I to put the world to rights. The sun started to set, but unfortunately it wasn’t as spectacular as the night before and we scrambled back down to the car park.
The rest of the evening was spent at Centre Parcs, sinking beers, listening to the footie, trying not to swallow bugs or accidentally walk in to dingoes.

Sunday

the main event

We’d had a really uncomfortable night. The humidity, heat and bugs never seemed to ease off and Jack, my tent, wasn’t really cutting it against our bungalow from the night. Still, we were awake early to do the one thing we’d truly thought about and planned. We were going on a sunrise crocodile cruise.
The boats were big & open, and our guide was superb; softly spoken, deeply passionate about the Park and informed about everything she saw. It’s always a challenge at the start of a wildlife trip to show interest in the small stuff while you’re really waiting for the main event but we couldn’t not appreciate the beauty of the Park: mangrove trees, reeds & lilies, the soft, hazy morning light & reflections, and the many waterbirds.

the more main event


And then we saw a crocodile: ding ding ding. A saltwater croc, would have been 7 metres long. It made your mouth dry. Such a huge, powerful thing. And his skin looked so tough and aged. Basically you knew you didn’t stand a chance. But he slid gracefully through the water, submerging fully and then popping back up again, not too far away. We stayed with him for a while; you couldn’t get over the size and overall impression of him, it was hard to look away.


Now that was out of the way I (but I feel everyone really) made more time and attention for everything else around us. We enjoyed lots of different birds – our guide spotting them from afar, just incredible given how tiny and fast they are – they were amazing colours, and all shapes & sizes.
We saw more crocodiles but I think (isn’t it always the way) that the first was best. As Seth Godin says, the next one has to be purple…

Kakadu. done.

Back at Centre Parcs we had (another) buffet breakfast, stuffed the car with our gear, checked the aircon was fully operational, stocked up on liquids and hit the road out of the Park. Kakadu. Done.
Just as we were flying out of the park we encountered some more indigenous wildlife; two kangaroos bounding across the road, right in front of us. Lisa’s first kangaroo almost ended up under the wheels. Could have been one helluva story…

Litchfield

A quick stop at the Humpty Doo Hotel, a ‘proper’ Australian pub, but we’d already seen that at the Jabiru Sports Club and we weren’t tempted to have a beer this time. We carried on to Litchfield National Park, the scenery wasn’t as dramatic or ‘big’ as Kakadu but it was really pretty. We targeted Florence Falls, a well known swimming spot. It was still crazily hot and we’d been in the car for a while so I was literally tongue on chest, hanging out to get in that water.

There were heaps of people but it was a nice crowd, sitting in the pools, chatting, drinking, splashing. I was in the water within moments and Lisa came in a bit too. We checked out all the fish – there were some really big ones – and mucked around in the pools. On the walk back to the car – now that we weren’t completely sweating hot – we appreciated the park a bit more, it was really pretty, winding over streams and other mini falls. And typical Australia there were people everywhere with deeply impressive picnics.

prowling the Darwin strip

Now, Kakadu had been beautiful and Litchfield had been an extra treat but it had been a long day and we were now ready to ditch the car, grab a shower and eat & drink ourselves silly. Fortunately we were only an hour or so out of Darwin. Our backpackers was on the ‘main’ street and when we stepped out (unlike Jabiru) we could see everything the town had to offer: backpackers, bars, some cafes.
Feeling that there simply had to be more than this we followed the mantra that in Australia, find waterfront, you will find food. And sure enough there was a not horrible harbour area with a not horrible hotel, bar and restaurant. We had decent pasta dinners and wine, lots of wine. And after all the wine, of course, suddenly Darwin’s main strip of bars looked a lot more appealing. We put in an excellent performance.

Monday

nothing to see; not a problem

It’s fortunate that there’s absolutely nothing to see in Darwin because the next day the main attractions for us were: Coles, two cafes, Woolworths, the bottle shop, our backpackers kitchen & roof terrace. Darwin. Done. Hangover. Done. Back to Sydney to examine the photos of those crocodiles…


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