Litchfield, Darwin and Kakadu...Week 19

Sunday, Aug 25, 2013 at 19:10

Member-Heather MG NSW

Monday August 12th.
We are very glad we have chosen to stay at the Big 4 Park in Batchelor as it’s a quiet little place and the sites are big and roomy and the pool has been very welcome as a place to cool off in the heat of the afternoons. Also the amenities are clean and staff is friendly.
With only one day to explore Litchfield, we were out and about quite early and arrived at the viewing area for the Magnetic termite mounds before any tour buses. Having not ever seen this particular type of termite mound, we were impressed with the tall and very narrow structures, all facing the same direction like tall headstones in a cemetery. Unfortunately they were fenced off so we couldn’t walk amongst them but we did photograph one another standing in front of a huge Cathedral mound which I think are also interesting.

During the morning we called at Florence Falls and Buley rockholes, then Wangi Falls and finally the Cascades. We decided to do some of the walks at each place, and not just visit the viewing platforms, partly for exercise but mostly to really experience the landscape up close. At first it was cool however later in the morning we really felt the heat and had to carry and drink lots more water than we usually do. Our swimmers remained in the car as by the time we really would have loved to get in the water, we were at Wangi and the depth was far too great for me, an almost non swimmer, to feel confident in! We decided to wait until we returned to the van park to cool off!
We lunched at Tolmer Falls in the car as it was one of the few places without a good shaded picnic area, and then decided to drive the 10 kms or so of 4WD track to see the rocky ‘Lost City’. I wandered around there in 33 degree heat, feeling quite lethargic and barely wanting to photograph the big soaring ‘buildings’ although in cool conditions, would have loved it!

Each of the falls was different and although they were all beautiful, both of us felt a little underwhelmed. Maybe we are becoming jaded because we have been on the road for so long, or maybe it’s because many of the wonderful places we have visited in WA in the last few months are just SO incredibly beautiful.
We ARE glad we went and saw Litchfield as it would have remained one of those ‘we should have gone while we were close’ places once we got home. And each of us is different, so what we love others may hate!
Anyway, we arrived back at the van by 3pm and decided to do a load of washing, as we have been changing clothes so often because of the hot weather and had quite a stash in just a few days. It dried before dark, hanging under our awning, and we went for a dip in the pool and then wore our wet swimmers around until we dried off.
I baked a fruit cake, and then a pizza for dinner. The hot afternoon was perfect to prove the dough, so it sat outside on a chair covered by a clean tea towel for an hour or more. While we can run air conditioning it’s no problem to have the gas oven working as we still keep cool and comfortable inside.
Tuesday August 13th.
With less than 80 kms to travel today, we didn’t leave the park in Batchelor until 9.30. On our way out of the town we pulled in at the public dump point and disposed of the toilet waste, rather than waiting until the we arrived here and then having to carry the cassette for ‘miles’ to the dump point. A good move as although the Big 4 park in Howard Springs does have a dump point, it is stinky and overflowing!
When I booked our site $45 powered, before Big 4 Member discount, I asked for one big enough for us to unload the boat, as we can’t leave it on the roof of the Paj while we have it serviced. The young Man who met us inside the boom gate gave us a choice of two places, the first had limited power, and because we have booked powered site to run the air conditioner during the day, we chose the second which is big and roomy and down the rear of the park.
I had read some scathing comments on Wikicamps about this place but, apart from the dump point, we are very happy with the place. The water pressure isn’t exactly great either. Amenities are ensuite type, big and new looking.
By lunch time, we had set the campsite up and John had unloaded the tinnie. During the afternoon we took a drive South to the Shopping centre on the Stuart Highway and stocked up on groceries, which then had to be packed away. The freezer took a while to freeze everything but it all seems to be working well, as is the fridge, on Setting 4, despite the warmer weather.
I phoned one of the van parks in Jabiru to book us a powered site for a couple of days, later in the week, to be told that there was no need to book and to just come on out as it wasn’t busy……
We braved the heat and took a walk around the park later in the day. This took a while as it is very big, with two pools and a water park play area for kids which looked inviting to me too. There seems also to be a few amenities blocks which is good seeing it’s a very busy place.
With the air conditioner keeping us cool, I cooked a small lamb roast and vegies for dinner and then after showers and washing up and the outdoors seemed to have cooled down, we opened all the windows and put the 12v fan on, to sleep.
We were amused while watching ABC News tonight there was mention that the ‘Dry Season is officially over and humidity is set to increase’…..not really good news for us as we are already finding it quite oppressive!
Wednesday August 14th.
We slept well, and in fact, John is still sleeping quite late although I have adjusted well to the NT time zone.
After breakfast we decided to do a drive into the City and have a look at the Wharf Precinct and just have a look around. We reckon it’s more like a large country town rather than a city and seemed easy enough to get around, although we did drive down some small, narrow and winding roads near the water! I took a few photos of boats in the water…postcard type scenes and we decided we had seen enough! We just are not all that excited about shopping, casinos or clubs and towns and cities just don’t turn us on!

When John asked whether there was anything else I wanted to see, I replied the ‘Territory Wildlife Park’, about 56 kms south of the city back down the Stuart Highway. What a good choice that turned out to be. Although we didn’t arrive there until after 11am and it was starting to really heat up, we had a wonderful time. Our Concession entry fee cost just over $18 each and we were just in time to catch the train which leaves every half an hour and stops at various exhibits round the park. It was pretty nice to be able to sit in the shade and then just get off when we desired.

We spent ages in the Nocturnal House before visiting the Billabong and then wandering through the Monsoon walk and the wonderful walk-through aviaries. We were pretty impressed to be able to see many of the interesting (and to us unusual) animals, birds and reptiles which frequent this part of Australia.
We caught the train back to the Main station and bought lunch which we ate in the air conditioned complex, then used it to take us to the Aquarium. Once again we took out time to wander through the exhibit, and of course like everyone else who visits, were pretty impressed with the large estuarine croc. By the time we walked past the dingoes and then the Oolloo sandbar with the freshwater whiprays, we arrived at the Flight deck just in time to see the last few minutes of the ‘Birds of Prey’ show which was a bit of a shame, but by then we had had such a good few hours we were still very happy!
The impressive bits for me…..sawfish, crocodile, numerous birds, the olive python and the huge king brown snake, so many of the birds in those walk through avaries, the whole Nocturnal house….I can’t choose one! I thoroughly recommend it as a must do, especially if you have limited time to spend here. It’s so difficult to see most of these creatures in the wild.
The temperature gauge inside the car read 36 degrees when we turned on the ignition….and it felt every bit that hot to us! By the time we arrived back at the van, we were once again cool and so glad I had left the van air conditioner running.
Thursday August 15th.
Up and out of the park early so we could drop the Pajero at the Mitsubishi service centre close to the city centre. The courtesy bus dropped us off at the Museum and Art Gallery of NT at 8am however with an hour before opening, we decided to do a walk along the foreshore on a cement track and headed down to the site of the Mindil Markets which are set up on Thursday evenings during the dry season. At this time of the day, there were a few sleeping backpackers or homeless people and council workers out and about.
We returned to the Museum and spent a few hours wandering through the various exhibits. I especially enjoyed the extensive aboriginal art, including the Telstra 2013 awards, on display, and a most entertaining collaborative exhibition by Tim Winton (author) and a photographer titled ‘Small Town’ with its wonderful photographs of the mundane and the start, often ugly scenes which we also have remarked upon as we drive through or stay in such places throughout Australia. Both of us also thought the Cyclone Tracy exhibit very interesting and it was horrifying to go inside the ‘sound room’ and listen to the noise on Christmas eve as this devastating storm raged across Darwin in the 70’s and demolished the city.
We took advantage of the Café and had morning tea…for John a ‘big breakfast’ with the lot!
By 11.30 John had spent as much time as he wanted inside the gallery so we decided to find our way back to the Mitsubishi place with the intention of calling in at the Mazda dealers next door, to look at the BT 50 utes… I used the Google maps app on my phone to locate the place, and our position and then we basically just walked through the Botanical Gardens to Stuart Highway, so it was a lovely scenic route. With the literature on the Mazda in his hands John was happy to sit in the lounge at the service centre and read up on the vehicle which will probably replace the Pajero within 6 months of our return home.
It was 3 pm before the car was finished and we finally headed back to the Van Park where the full heat of the day hit us. There was the job of loading the boat on the roof and then John rotated the tyres on the Pajero, both very hot and sweaty activities. I was happy to stay inside the van in the cool but did offer my help and cool drinks every now and then!

Friday August 16th.
It was a good feeling to be leaving Darwin this morning and heading the short distance South before heading east on the Kakadu Highway towards Jabiru. We pulled in at the rest area near Mary River Crossing and had a look at the water but because of the early time, decided not to stay at the Caravan park nearby.

We bought our 14 day $25 passes to the National Park at the Bowali visitor centre near Jabiru then booked into the Kakadu Lodge and Caravan park ($36 powered), selecting a drive through site with partial shade. While lunching, we decided to get out and do as much as we could during the afternoon and just ignore the heat as much as possible. With plenty of water and armed with maps and information, we drove back towards Darwin to the beautiful Mamukala wetlands and did a 3 km walk around the area catching glimpses of the flocks of waterbirds as they fed and rested on this vast area. It was very hot and tiring but worth the effort as we saw jabiru, magpie geese, whistling ducks and many other unusual (for us) birds. We also had a look from the bird hide and viewing area.
It was pretty nice to return to the air conditioning and 20 degrees, which felt so cold against our wet skin! Travelling back towards Jabiru, we turned towards Ubirr and the art sites some 40 kms away, first calling at Cahills crossing to view the East Alligator river and the place where at high tide the crocs sit and feast on fish as they swim across the crossing. There were a couple of people fishing, we thought standing too close to the water at only a metre or so from the edge, and the water level wasn’t rally high enough so we left and drove to the Ubirr art site for a look.
I found Ubirr very impressive.

Saturday August 17th
Packed up and left Jabiru before 8.30 am after a quiet night, calling at the dump point just 50 metres from the entrance on the main road into the town. We towed van into the art sites south firstly visiting Nourlangie where we did the 1.5 km circular walk past an ancient Aboriginal rock shelter and then several outstanding art sites, before climbing the short distance to a lookout over the neighbouring countryside. While there we spoke for a while to a youngKakadu Ranger, and I expressed my delight with the art. He suggested we take the short drive into Nanguluwur and do the 3.4 km return walk to the art site there too. I am so glad we did as it is obviously far less visited than either Urbirr or Nourlangie and there were some wonderful X-ray drawings of fish and turtles, hand stencils and also a sailing boat.
I was interested to hear the Ranger state that the weather has indeed changed during the past few days and has become hotter and more humid, so it’s not just us feeling this change. I can’t imagine how it must feel in a couple of months time, but it must be bloody awful! Each time we do any walking, we arrive back to the car drenched in sweat, and we are both drinking at least double the amount of water we usually do.
By the time we returned to the car and van it was close to midday and very warm, so after turning the fridge back to 12v, we drove south to Gagudju Lodge at Cooinda where we hoped to be able to stay a night, powered and do the ‘Yellow Water’ cruise.
Arrived at Lodge at Cooinda had no problems booking in for the night ($46 powered) or with tickets on the sunset cruise ($90 per person for two hours). Full Telstra phone signal however no TV. The sites seem small here and close together however with the air conditioner going all day, we can’t hear too much outside noise. It was very hot again, so again it ran all day and until after 9pm.
We took a short drive to Jim Jim Billabong during the afternoon and John tried fishing for a short time with no luck. While there we spoke to a few young French backpackers who seemed lovely and very friendly.
The buses for the cruise ferried us to the jetty a little after 4 pm and we were loaded onto three boats. It was a slow and leisurely trip around the waterways, while we spotted crocodiles and birds and listened to an informal commentary by the driver, a young woman. I took many photos as the reflections on the water were pretty good and the landscape just so different from anywhere else we have seen. The two hours seemed to pass in a flash and we arrived back just after sunset, feeling very hot and sweaty. Once again we thought it was well worth doing, given our lightning quick tour of Kakadu…a great way to see the wet lands.

Sunday August 18th.
Mary River Roadhouse.
$35 per night powered site, (park anywhere), rustic amenities, laundry, swimming pool and camp kitchen. Much quieter than at Cooinda lodge although with only 11 sites, all of those seem to be occupied. There is no phone signal or TV here.
We left Cooinda quite early having been woken by the neighbours who must have been getting organised for the dawn cruise as they were up by 5.30 am. Our plan was to book into the roadhouse, unhitch the van and drive the 39 kms or so to Gunlom falls so we didn’t have to tow the van on the dirt road. What a good decision that turned out to be, as the last 9 kms especially was very rough and slow enough that we just crawled along in a few places. We did pass a couple of people driving 2WD cars, and plenty of camper trailers and 4WDs belting along at speed dust billowing out behind them and obscuring the vision. John deflated the tyres just after we started out on the gravel and stated(again) that this would be the last time on this trip! I just say ‘OK’ and hope that by the next time we want to see something off the highway, he will have forgotten and decide he really does want to have a look!
Gunlom has a lovely flat green and shady day area and the camping ground looked pretty good too. There are hot showers and flushing toilets and sites suitable for caravans however I reckon the road is so bad you would want to stay for longer than a day or two if you bothered towing a van in there!

We took our lunch and small packs and after having a look at the falls and big circular pool at the base, we decided to do the 1km return walk to the top, which had warning signs about being steep and difficult. We passed and were overtaken by young happy people on our way up but didn’t find it a difficult a walk, just hot! I guess my benchmarks for walking difficulty are Cradle Mountain summit (Tas) and then lately Mt Augustus summit (WA) and it just didn’t come close to either of them.
The rewards at the top were worth the climb, with a number of pools, one an ‘infinity’ pool which seemed to be right on the edge of the escarpment. We did take our swimmers but there were many others there and we didn’t feel all that comfortable getting into them and in the water. Instead we chose a shady place by ourselves where we had our lunch, enjoyed the beauty, and discussed whether the drive had been worth it. It was!
We were back at the van before 2pm and with such hot weather and vacant washing machine, I took the opportunity to do our dirty clothes and linen. They dried in no time flat!
We decided this afternoon that we will start out for home and with just 12 days travelling time to reach Kiama on Friday week, we will need to cover 350 kms a day to do the approximately 4,000 kms. Why Kiama and why on a Friday? One of our daughters and the grandchildren live there and we want to stay a few days in a van park there over a weekend to see as much as we can of them all before we arrive home. I know we are not spending enough time seeing this part of the NT however John has been giving me signals for some time now that he is keen to get home and with the hot weather affecting us both, it’s probably wise to go. We are both keen to see the family again and feeling as though the trip has been long enough, probably a first time for me to feel like this!
Today is the end of week 19..

Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. John Muir
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