2002 Trip - Kimberley & Kakadu. Part 8 – Darwin to Kakadu

Wednesday, Dec 11, 2002 at 14:20


Darwin turned on a hot night and a hot and humid morning with heavy dew and some cloud. The locals were talking about an early “build up” to the wet. Clothes out overnight to dry were still wet so we just packed them away for drying when we stop today.

Yesterday while we waited for the cameras to be repaired we headed to the Botanical Gardens. There we spent the morning looking through the rainforest, palms cycad and other collection areas. The rainforest gully is only 20 years old but the trees are very big and the large variety of palms from many tropical regions is very interesting. Some palms are very tall while some have huge fronds. It was pleasantly cool in the shady areas, but still very humid. We had lunch in the gardens, followed by some quiet reading time – pleasant in the shade with a slight breeze.

The camera repair man managed to fix the cameras and for a reasonable charge too. He has a high opinion of these old Minoltas so perhaps that helped. Then we were on the road again and reached Leaning Tree lagoon in good time to get the washing out and get dinner while it was still daylight. This lagoon is becoming familiar to us, and it is popular with other travelers – currently we can see four other campers. There are a few pelicans here this time and 2 jabirus as well as numerous regulars including many black cockatoos.

There was another heavy dew next morning, so we had a slow morning while we waited for the washing to dry. We have heard that there are a few crocs in this lagoon, but they don’t interfere with watching the white waterlilies open as the sun gets higher, and watching the birds feeding. Eventually we get going, heading for Kakadu.

On the way we passed a number of army vehicles (APCs) in combat mode- camouflage nets, helmets etc. There is a big military exercise underway near the park. On paying the park entry fee we had a look at the information panels and head for the 2 and 4 Mile Holes. The road is marked 4WD and is OK as far as 2 Mile Hole which seems to be a deep hole surrounded by trees, and not many birds. So we pressed on to 4 Mile – the road deteriorated into deep long corrugations in places, but its good in others. We hit a large branch, smashing the off-side mirror. 4 Mile appears to be the centre of a huge wetland area, and as the vegetation is more open it’s easier to see the birds.

We had lunch in a pretty spot at one end of the main body of open water. There is evidence of pigs here. After lunch we explored on foot then drove towards the other end of the billabong where the water is wider. There were several excellent camp sites under big paperbarks; the one we chose had a croc sliding into the water close by. We were joined by a very patient pied heron and a jabiru, both clearly expecting to be fed. There were crocs in the water but no more to be seen on the banks where there are large numbers of whistling ducks. Sea eagles are overhead. Its all very peaceful despite the occasional boat racing by. A brisk breeze is keeping the humidity reasonable.

Mozzies attacked in plague proportions after dark, so turning in early was the only option. We heard dingoes howling during the night and it became quite cool and mist formed towards morning, making for a beautiful sight over the water. But the mosquitoes were still with us, and we had to spray troopy out before leaving. No crocs in sight this morning, but lots of water birds taking off. We let the tyres down which seemed to help on the corrugations during the trip back to the bitumen.

Our first destination was Red Lily billabong which was down a less traveled but still fairly corrugated road. We drove most of the length of the lagoon and did manage to find some red lilies – lotus – across the water, together with large number of whistling ducks. But the lagoon has been severely degraded by pigs and buffalo – the banks are very ploughed up and the water is muddy. We started to go to Alligator billabong, but a very muddy creek crossing made us reconsider. Heading back to the bitumen we spotted an expanse of white through the trees. This turned out to be a small shallow wetland covered with various white lilies and a few birds. We were able to drive quite close to it, but weren’t able to get close enough to take close up photos of the waterlilies. This was a much prettier spot than the red lily lagoon, and it had minimal feral animal impact.

Back on the bitumen we stopped at the bridge over the South Alligator River, a popular fishing spot if the number of parking spaces is any guide. This is a big river, very muddy and running with a strong current. No crocs in sight but the tide is well in.

The next stop is the Mamukala wetland, a highlight on the tourist circuit. The information cum viewing centre has interpretive information mainly about how aborigines used this extensive wetland area. Pied geese are main birds feeding on the roots of water plants, but there are many other types of birds also present, together with a big water monitor. Pigs had churned up the ground under the centre, and there was quite a lot of Salvinia, (a weed) in the water.

From there we went to the Bowali visitor centre for a welcome ice cream, postcards and a look at the displays, which give an good aboriginal view and interpretation of the land. On to the camping area – only to find that the tent areas are suitable only for walk-in tents so we found a spot in the caravan area. We are next to a young couple in a Troopie who were keen to see our set up. They are travelling for a couple of years working intermittently – Richard is a vet and does locums, Del is an optical dispenser.

We enjoyed a cooler night again, with some dew. Our first stop is back to the visitor centre to find a phone as it’s one of our son’s birthday. Then into Jabiru for essential food and petrol. The supermarket is quite adequate – the town is very spread out so it’s hard to get a sense of it as a town. The young girl at the checkout, on learning that we came from Canberra, proudly told us how the local school had raised funds so the kids could have a trip to Canberra. We reckon they will be as surprised as we are at the change of scenery!

Then up to Ubirr to see the rock art, bitumen road all the way as this is one of big tourist highlights. The art site spans several thousand years from very small early paintings of running men and a thylacine, through to depictions of white men with pipes and guns. There are layers of painting in various styles with fish and turtles in intricate detail prevailing. We followed the trail to the lookout that gives magnificent views over the wetlands and escarpment to the east, and over the nearby sandstone formations that are eroded into fantastic shapes. The floodplains are a vivid green contrasting with the blue sheets of water and rust red of the rocks. Altogether an amazing place, where we can begin to understand why the place is so special for the aborigines. The climb up to the lookout was not too difficult – even coming down was OK.

Driving to Ubirr we were struck by the numerous signs peremptorily warning us to keep to the road – beyond the road is aboriginal land where we must not go. It is hard to reconcile the art sites with present attitudes exemplified by this signage and its unwelcoming tone.

After lunch we set out on a walk in the monsoon forest starting at the boat launching ramp at Cahill’s crossing. There several people were watching the tide turn and the crocs swimming around only 50m from where several people were fishing from the causeway. The walk followed the river down, so we saw more crocs despite fishing boats tearing up and down the river. At one lookout we stopped and watched the tide going out – very fast stirring up lots of mud. Here we saw a few small mud skippers. Our young neighbours from last night caught up with us here, and walking with them saw some bats and a yellow tree snake. We decided to return to last night’s campsite, stopping on the way for a hot shower at the large Merl campground. Back at our camp we set out to walk to the nearby wetland, but only got as far as some water totally covered with Salvinia. It is one of the problem weeds in the park.

Next day we set out for Nourlangie and a walk around the art sites and lookout. These sites are in rock shelters around Nourlangie – there are big rock overhangs and underneath it is much cooler. The rock shelter has been in use for up to 20,000 years and tools from the site show different stages of development. There are numerous grinding holes in the rock where food gathered nearby was processed. The art sites show human figures, mostly representing dreamtime stories, one about incest, another about the lightening man and his wife whose children are the red and blue grasshoppers that show up just before the wet.

The ranger gave a good explanation of the art and also explained the kinship system – very complicated – and how it relates to food and how it is used. The ranger was part aboriginal and had his wife and 2 small children with him.

From there we climbed up to the lookout – not difficult – for views across to Nourlangie and beyond to the Arnhem land escarpment. Then down to the Anbangbang Billabong for lunch and a walk all the way around it. It is a very pretty little billabong with Nourlangie and other rock outcrops as a backdrop behind it, making the whole area very photogenic. From there we went to the adjoining lookout which involved walking up a long rock face for good views to Nourlangie, the billabong and escarpment. The rock is quartz conglomerate and in places it is weathered into fantastic shapes.

By the time we had done all that it was time to find a camp so we headed for Sandy Billabong, stopping en route for a shower. The road into Sandy Billabong was a bit corrugated but the camping area is beautiful, right beside a big wetland with small white waterlilies and quite a few birds, and even a wallaby out feeding. Sandy Billabong is close by and very different with lots of clean sand and deep water but no lilies or birds. There are many pandanus and paperbarks, but today we have not seen any crocs.

Next morning we had a slow start while we waited for the morning mist to clear, and to allow the washing to dry. We spent the time planning our route and travel times to home – a long way away. We are now close to the point where we have to be heading homewards, so any spare time we will try to spend here where it is warmer. When we were finally ready we drove to Yellow Waters, first to the resort from where we could ring home, and to get a couple of postcards. Got a good one of a buffalo as a reminder of John’s famous encounter.

The main activity here appears to be a cruise – we saw one or two boats out on the water and 3 more tied up. We chose the board walk which continued on to the closer end of Home Billabong, but overall it was not a particularly rewarding walk. We saw some red lilies in the distance and got some close up shots of waterlilies. Watched some fair sized fish and saw recent evidence of buffalo damage, also horse droppings. Few birds or water lilies – disappointing compared to other areas where we have been. No crocs either. We drove to the nearby camp area on Home Billabong for lunch then decided to head for Gumlon. On the way we stopped in to a lookout for views over the escarpment.

The road into Gunlom is very good despite the precautionary signs. On arrival we found it was a paying campground, but the fee is modest and facilities are good. There are a couple of walks to do and the waterfall and plunge pool look impressive despite only a small amount of water coming down. Numerous people are swimming despite croc warnings – a bit confusing. There is a small sandy beach that allowed us to wade into the water so we had a cool refreshing swim in beautiful surroundings, and not a croc in sight – just as well. We decided to spend most of tomorrow here, doing the walks and having another swim, but also to do some much needed laundry in preparation for the homeward stage of the trip when we will have less time for such activities. Here it is less humid and a bit breezy and there are no mozzies. There are white and salmon barked eucalypts with lots of blossom and at night we heard bats feeding, and managed to spot a couple of them.

Today we have been on the road for 8 weeks. First thing in the morning John joined a ranger guided walk to the lookout above the falls. The track was steep and rocky but nevertheless the group included young children and an elderly lady using a walking stick. This part of the park is in “sickness country” in which dwelt Bulla who is a spirit being who lives in the soil. Major disturbance of the soil causes sickness or other serious events. Hence mining is not welcomed, is taboo. Pockets of very radioactive minerals have been found in this country.

At the top of the falls is a good view and a number of smaller pools. In the wet the falls become huge and the campground is under water to a depth of 3 or 4 metres. This walk took a couple of hours during which Val washed sheets and towels and just relaxed. Before lunch we did the 2.5km walk to the river via a small billabong. The walk went through partly burnt country that was not particularly interesting. However the S. Alligator River was pretty, lined with pandanus, figs and many large clumps of bamboo. The river is sandy, clear and shallow – quite different to how it looks further downstream. After lunch and packing up we had another swim in the plunge pool. There were only a couple of other people in the water. The water was very pleasant although the abundant little fish did tend to nibble rather enthusiastically. During the day we had several chats with a couple who were just setting out on their 4WD adventure with a brand new vehicle, new equipment and fresh from their 4WD training course. While they were very keen they seemed to lack a bit in practical experience. We all have to start somewhere.

We left Gunlom mid afternoon and came to Kambolgle Ck. which is a free camping area beside a pretty creek. It turned out to be pretty basic but that was made up for by a bandicoot which came out just after sunset and spent an hour or so foraging around Troopy. It seemed to be used to campers and was not shy. It was about 6 inches long with a short slender tail and pointed snout – a very pretty little animal. During the night it became quite windy and there was some high cloud in the morning. Its time to head for home.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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