19 – 23 April 2013
Sorry to not have been in contact, we’ve been on the road and off the beaten path. Actually, we’ve been on the standard path of Top End travel, but this really is out in the middle of nowhere. There may be electricity, but our internet devices don’t pick up the satellite or wifi signals, so we’ve been out of contact with the world.
From Katherine, we drove north on the Stuart Highway and turned east on the Kakadu Highway, going to the Kakadu National Park. We stopped at the Mary River Roadhouse, where one can find out what areas are open and what areas are still closed. And buy the necessary park pass.
April is in the shoulder season – the monsoon rains of the summer are usually over, and the wetland parks are drying out. Rivers return to their normal courses, roads are open, waterfalls are no longer raging torrents, and saltie crocs return to their estuaries.
This year, the wet season wasn’t as wet as usual. It was, however, later than usual. Which means in April, much of the wetland area is still under water. Park roads are closed. Rivers as well as waterfalls are still raging torrents. Canoes aren’t allowed. Swimming isn’t allowed. Roads and parking lots and campgrounds are still under water. And saltie crocs are still swimming around, hoping for some unsuspecting tourists.
In Kakadu, about 75-80% of the sites are closed or inaccessible. We chatted with the ranger at Mary River, and he showed us on the park map what sites and campgrounds were open. (Not much.) He also agreed with Richard, that it made sense to NOT buy the pass, drive up to the major visitors center, and get more information before buying the pass – since so many parts of the park are still closed. So we drove in about 90 km, to the first campsite. And circled. It was about 4:30 PM, and the wallabies were just waking up – so we encountered some fifteen or so wallabies who stopped to watch us, a few bouncing off into the distance.
We still had an hour or two of sunlight, so we drove up to the Yellow Water Billabong, to stand on the dock and look for crocs. Except, of course, the parking lot was still underwater. We drove on to Cooinda, a resort – and walked to their billabong (which connects to Yellow Water) to look for crocs. (Didn’t see any.) The resort had a dining area, a camp area (including unpowered sites for tent campers like us) – so we figured we’d stay there. Turned out the unpowered site area was underwater until last week, so it’s still closed off and drying out – so we were told to park in a certain area and just not use the power.
It was fairly nice, and we were comfortable in our funny rooftop tent. We hung out in the dining area for a while, and I met a funny little boy (he had me take his photo hiding behind a green frog) and his lovely great aunt, as well as her daughter. They’re Aborigines and live in the area – Kakadu, like Nitmiluk, is Aborigine- owned lands leased back to the government and run as a partnership with the national parks department. So this woman and her family were hanging around, and then heading home. (I’m not quite sure if they lived in the park or not.) She was so nice, and welcomed me to Australia and their park!
There were all kinds of crested white cockatoos, green and red parrots and lorikeets and rosellas and who knows what else – some green all over with red patches on the wings, some green on the top side and red underneath – all kinds of interesting birds. Various hawks, buzzards or vultures, and even the wedge-tail eagle, which is beyond huge! But my favorite was the little white and brown owl, who was sitting on a bench in the bus stop – he really was just sitting on the back of the bench, looking around, and didn’t seem to mind when I went over to say good evening. He looked at me, looked around, looked at me, turned his head, and then went off flying into the night.
And there was some kind of bird that let out a shrill scream, long and lingering, into the night. No idea what it was, but really sounds as if someone is being tortured or something. Very eerie.
So we spent one night at Cooinda, in Kakadu. The next morning we drove up to the main visitors center and found that more areas were closed than we thought. Since there wasn’t any chance to hike, or swim, or much of anything else, we continued on the Kakadu Highway to where it meets the Arnheim Highway and heads west, back toward the Stuart Highway which sort of bisects the country. More wallabies along the road, watching us drive by – and one adventurous wallaby later in the day who for some reason decided to cross the road in front of us! Fortunately, we saw him from a distance and were able to slow down from our 120 kph – and wallabies are funny animals. When they walk slowly, they use all four feet and look like hunched over old people limping across the road. So he started like that, and we thought maybe he was sick or injured. But halfway across, he stood up and looked at us – we stopped – and then he straightened up and bounced the rest of the way across and into the bush.
We drove through bush, forest, over low rolling hills and across floodways, low spots in the road where there are measuring sticks up to two meters tall, so that you can see how deep the water is and decide whether or not to attempt driving across. (Does anyone seriously drive through two meters of water???) Kakadu is beautiful, very green and lush – and then suddenly we were in the wetlands, the marshes, where the trees stop and there are just miles and miles of bright green marsh grass, interspersed with ponds and puddles and lakes and billabongs. Tons of waterbirds here – ibis! Spoonbills! Jabiru! And of course great blue and great white herons, other various herons, small shore birds. We saw all of them. But no crocodiles crossing the road, or even looking up from their billabong.
We exited Kakadu and headed for Litchfield National Park, on the west side of Stuart Highway and a bit south. We spent the night in the town of Batchelor – which has the funny entrance sign saying “Voted The Tidiest Town in the Northern Territory” – and it really was a very clean and tidy little town! Found a nice campground on the road heading to the park, and settled in for the night, seeing more wallabies hopping around between trees and campers.
In the morning we had breakfast in the camp kitchen, and watched the wallabies bounding around in the fields surrounding us – big, medium, little wallabies, and my favorite: the mama and baby who came out of the bush, looked around, the baby climbed into his mama’s pouch, poked his little head back out, and she went bounding across the field. I always wonder if the joey holds on inside, or yells “wheeeeeeee” as they speed along, or what!?
We drove into Litchfield National Park, which in addition to the usual giant termite mounds in this part of the country also has numerous waterfalls and swimming spots – of course, most of them are still closed. Still waiting for the summer flood water to recede. Or to dry out. Or the saltie crocs to go home. So we drove to one waterhole that was open, and Richard did a little swimming in the cold cold water. People weren’t really swimming, more like sitting in the pools and letting the river zoom by them. It was like a series of shallow waterfalls emptying into pools, then a few rapids, a drop, another pool – and of course one had to climb over and down rocks to get into the water. I skipped it, but Richard braved it. For a short few minutes.
Well, since we had the same problem with not much to do in Litchfield, we left the park and headed south again on the Stuart Highway, to the town of Adelaide River. It looked like a nice town when we drove by on the way to Katherine earlier in the week, so we thought we’d explore. And we found another nice campground, with space for our funny little tent – this one is located at the Adelaide River showgrounds, I guess like an annual or seasonal livestock show and fair, or something. There seems to be a race course, which is fairly overgrown. And overrun with wallabies – I walked out at sunset and saw wallabies in the fields, under the viewing stands, around the race course – and yes, a few bouncing and bounding along the course itself, racing each other.
There are the usual white cockatoos, green and red rosellas and parrots and lorikeets, various hawks and eagles.
And Australia’s national bird, the mosquito. The mozzies! We’ve met them, up close and personal. Endless legions of mosquitoes, who call their friends to sample the new blood that has shown up. They bite through clothing. Swarm car doors. Swarm tent doors and windows. And of course occasionally make their way inside. Fortunately, they don’t like insect repellant, so we both stay sprayed up and sticky. And the mozzies are worst at dusk and dawn – as the evening cools off, they slow down, and they disappear in the heat of the day. But they are relentless little guys, and they really make the camping rather uncomfortable when they’re around.
But waking up with wallabies for three days in a row makes up for it.
On our way back to Darwin, we stopped in the town of Acacia for a bit of brekkie, because things were still closed in Adelaide River. We had toast and tea or coffee, and were talking about where next. A man came in, possibly the husband of the lady who made our toast, and asked if we were afraid of snakes. We said no. He came in with a baby python, a dark grey with pale grey zigzags, twining itself around the man’s fingers. He showed us the little guy, we chatted about this kind of python (I forget which kind it was), and he told us all about the snakes to avoid because they’re so deadly.
I told the man this was the first snake we’ve seen in nearly three months in Australia.
So he turns to the little snake and says, “Look at that, you’re a celebrity!”
Oh this country cracks us up!