Two days in Kakadu

November 5, 2011

DSC_6436.jpg I did my best in planning this extended trip of Australia to allow some downtime at the weekends with camera. The first weekend in Adelaide where I planned to get up to Flinders was consumed with writing against deadlines. The second in Sydney, where a long walk in the Blue Mountains beckoned, was lost to my side trip to Bogota (out Sat, back Wednesday), the Qantas strike and some nastiness in Bogota Airport (more on that when I get time). Catching up from two trans-pacifics while giving a couple of lectures and a seminar more or less wiped out Wednesday and Thursday for anything other than survival. This weekend I finally had a “hang spring cleaning moment” hired a car on arrival at Darwin airport Thursday afternoon and set off on Friday for two days in Kakadu from which I returned to night and finally have a chance to post.

Now everyday I had had to work I have woken up early, but Friday of all days my body decided to sleep in with the result that I was late off. However it worked well on time. I had a 4by4, a Long black and story books on the iPod to keep me occupied. The latter was a little surreal as I have been catching up on the Blandings Castle series on long car journeys (they keep the mind occupied but too occupied) and the juxtaposition of the Northern Territories with Wodehouse’s world of country houses is, shall we say extreme.   

Now I made a point of buying SPF 30+ spray (I am a pale skinned Northern European) and thought I might escape the need for a hat. After a brief stop at a Wetlands Centre after entering the park I found the nearest station and bought a large supply of insect repellent (which mitigated but did remove the main negative of the trip) and a rather natty leather black bush hat the wearing of which may get me divorced when I return to the UK. If I could have bought the corks I would have, and I will never laugh at such a eminently practical idea ever again.

The first real stop of the day was at Mamukala wetlands for an impressive display of Magpie Geese and the first of many wonderful panoramas where water and light intertwined in the camera lens. From there it was a short drive to the highlight of the rock paintings at Ubirr. Rock paintings and petroglyphs have always been a fascination for me, so both this site and Nourlangie were the main focus of the trip. The picture, right is from the second of these sites. Ubirr has paintings that range backwards in time over 20,000 years and include the first representations of white people (hands in pocket smoking a pipe). It took some management to avoid the two tourist parties in order to get both a clean picture, but also to have the chance just to sit and look in silence. I managed it, and remain amazed at the human need for aesthetics to make sense of their lives. Unlike the tourist parties I had time to climb up to the lookout (see opening picture) and got a real sense of the richness of the land in this part of Australia.

The one disappointment was the absence of thunderstorms and a good sunset. I had been promised both at this location, but a grey cloud eventually covered the sky and I finished the day with the Bardedjilidji walk, somewhat intimidated as I approached the river section by the various crocodile warning signs.DSC_6709.jpg I stayed that night at the Holiday Inn in Jabiru, in the main for the novelty of being in a hotel built in the shape of a crocodile. It was a typical end of season experience (we are at the end of the dry season entering the wet where most roads become impassible). By that I mean it was OK, but nothing special. I went for a meal to be asked twice if I was on my own in a rather pitying way and opted for a steak as the last risky option on a fairly limited menu. It served its purpose and the next day I faced a choice. My original plan was to go to Noirlangie then pick up a Yellow River Cruise for ornithology and crocodiles. That I thought would occupy the morning then I could drive down the 4by4 track to the Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls in air conditioned comfort during the heat of the day, do the walk and return than evening. However it was to to be. Checking with the National Park Office I was told that I didn’t have a robust enough 4by4 for the conditions (no snorkel, no sand tracks) and I was on my own which they were not comfortable with. That left me with a choice. Booking a tour for the falls, or self-driving the rest of the planned itinerary.

I chose the latter, in part because there was no water on the falls, best to come back at the end of the wet for that. I think it was the right choice. The rock paintings and the view point were incredible and I was lucky on the Yellow River. It was the end of the season and there were only eight of us on the boat, no tour parties and all interested in the wildlife. The guide was at least part Aboriginal and knew the birds of the creeks backwards. Yes we saw the crocodiles, yes they were fascinating, but the bird life was the real highlight. The contrast with the advertised trip to “jumping crocodiles” on entry to the park, with various yokels dangling dead chickens over the side of the boat. The silence of the ones we saw, demonstrated the terrible efficiency of this most ancient of predators.

Three different types of kingfisher, barely large enough to see (pictured above) and countless other species. The scenery of the Yellow River under sunlight was also incredible and I was grateful for the exposure bracketing feature on the camera (which, with the lens stabilizer made a real difference with the rock art paintings. I also thanked various deities for the suggestion of someone in Ottowa that I invest in a new camera strap. For walking and wildlife it was a real blessing, allowing the camera to sit on my hip but move upwards to a shooting position in seconds.

Trip over I planned some addition stops in Gunlorn, but the previous weeks travel was catching up on me After almost hitting a termite mound at the side of the road I drew off, caught some sleep, and then headed back for Darwin. Kakadu was incredible, it needs 4/5 five days in different seasons. Hopefully I will be back.

Tomorrow its time to pack again and down to Canberra, Melbourne and for the weekend, Hobart. From northern to southern extremes but I have plans for both weekend days in Tas, starting with the market on Saturday and moving on to Port Arthur on the Sunday.

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