I went out on a wetlands cruise yesterday – Richard wasn’t interested, but this was one of the things I really wanted to do, so I booked the trip.
When we had our tent car, we stopped near the Corroborree Billabong, and had lunch at the famous Corroborree Tavern. (Pronounced cor-RAH-bore-ee – does NOT rhyme with Tipperary, which is how we kept saying it.) This is sort of southeast of Darwin, and takes maybe 90 minutes or so to drive out there. Our driver was a wealth of information on the history and development of the Northern Territory, the environment (especially bird life), and Aboriginal practices. (He does volunteer work with some of the local Aboriginal groups, helping to explain “white man” practices, to assist with the transition from traditional living to modern western life.)
Anyway, a billabong – it’s kind of difficult to explain a billabong, because it’s more than just a pond or lake – more of a shallow lake that connects to waterways and rivers and Anyway, a billabong – it’s kind of difficult to explain a billabong, because it’s more than just a pond or lake – more of a shallow lake that connects to waterways and rivers and marshlands, and forms part of a wetlands area. Billabongs usually have waterlilies, for some reason. And all the wetlands in the Top End are huge areas with their own ecosystem, each slightly different from the next.marshlands, and forms part of a wetlands area. Billabongs usually have waterlilies, for some reason. And all the wetlands in the Top End are huge areas with their own ecosystem, each slightly different from the next.
We were in the Mary River Wetlands, which is the only non-brackish wetlands in the NT. The other rivers feed into the ocean and are considered tidal rivers, so that some salt water gets back into the river and the wetland system. Mary River has developed bars of sediment that prevent the sea water from washing back into the river, so the whole wetland system here is fresh water – and this creates an environment for different plant and animal life.
We cruised out into the billabong, and through various channels into the actual river – except there are arms and necks and other little branches connecting the river to other parts of billabongs and mini-billabongs – it’s all one huge waterway. The water was quite high, with very little bank showing – it had rained over the weekend, and just three inches of rain was enough to refill the entire wetland system here, confusing the migrating birds who were expecting more bank for their seasonal nesting.
The pink lotus blossoms and lavender or white waterlilies were everywhere, with huge leaves floating and making little sheltered environments for fish. Trees were standing in water, grass islands were floating on water, and our flat-bottomed boat was able to drive into places that looked like solid ground but were actually just floating masses of plants. It was so deceptive – these “islands” looked like you could walk across them, but you’d just fall in and get tangled in the weeds and probably eaten by the crocodiles.
So, the crocs – we were able to spot two fresh- water crocs, and four salt- water crocs. And yes, saltwater crocs can live in sea water, brackish water, or totally freshwater. They’re the top of the food chain around here, and they know it. So they didn’t seem to mind if we drove the boat right up against the bank and all of us took photos – although most of the male crocs would open their mouths to show their teeth, which might be to frighten us off but more probably was so they could cool off, just like panting dogs. Does make them look fierce though, doesn’t it?
Then there were the birds – eagles nesting (two or three pairs in giant nests on top of the few tall trees); various kites and other raptors; all kinds of egrets and herons, in bright shiny white and rich deep blue and dusty grey green; jabiru, which are white and blue-black; several kinds of ibis; a few crested spoonbills; flycatchers who knock the stingers off bees and wasps before eating them; and a little brown and white shore bird with a bright red cap on his head. Birds everywhere! It was a birder’s paradise, there were so many flying and swimming and walking around or sitting in trees. There’s some kind of water bird who isn’t waterproof, so their bodies sink underwater and only their head and neck stick out of the water – when on land or on trees, they spread their wings to dry out. And various ducks, some of whom flock together despite the fact that they’re different kinds of ducks. As I said, birds everywhere!
When we finally returned to the car park to pile into the van, it was late afternoon and the wallabies were waking up and starting to bounce around. They stayed away from the water’s edge, though, because they know better than to tempt crocodiles. (They seem to be smarter than humans at that.)
It was a great day out on the billabong, and I had a wonderful time! If anyone ever gets to Darwin, definitely check out www.wetlandcruises.com.au - they do a great trip!