Kakadu National Park
We entered Kakadu National Park from the south after a quick stop for supplies in Pine Creek. Now, we were kind of visiting the Top End at an awkward time, it being late November. November is known as the “build-up” in the north because it’s the very end of spring, so the temperatures are getting very hot and clouds are appearing but wet season hasn’t quite started yet. There is a some saying about the build-up making people crazy because it’s so hot all the time with no cooling rain. It’s also an awkward time to visit because the many seasonal 4WD roads could close at any time if the rains starts. Some appeared to be prematurely closed just in case. Some swimming areas also start closing because rising water levels mean crocodiles could enter them. Many of the popular gorges/waterfalls are Crocodile Management Zones, meaning that they are cleared of crocodiles at the beginning of the dry season so that people can go swimming, but as the wet season starts they may become unsafe. So, the downside was that we couldn’t visit all the waterfalls in the park, but the upside was that the ones we could visit we basically had all to ourselves, because there are so few tourists during the wet season.
Anyways, our first stop in the park was Gunlom. It’s a waterfall which is particularly neat because if you climb to the top, you can basically swim in what in a natural infinity pool. It was a hot climb, but the payoff was that we were the only ones swimming there.
Next we went to Maguk, where a short walk along a river lead to another waterfall. Chris passed on swimming due to the CROCODILE DANGER signs that were on the nearby river, though the waterfall itself is supposedly a safe swimming area. I took a quick dip and didn’t get eaten, so.
We stopped to camp in Cooinda for a couple days. There were some HUGE termite mounds on the drive, which was kind of scary to think about.
Kakadu’s claim to fame is that it is one of only 22 UNESCO World Heritage sights listed for both its natural and cultural heritage. As such, in addition to waterfalls and billabongs, there are a number of rock art walks to do. We visited Nourlangie, one of the bigger ones where there is lots of quite well preserved rock art, some of them being thousands and thousands of years old. It’s tricky to date rock art but they can often make inferences based on the content of the images. For example, some contain drawings of the thylacine, an animal which went extinct on the mainland before the British arrived, whereas others contain images of rifles, an obvious reference to the invading Europeans. Interestingly, you aren’t supposed to touch up someone else’s painting because that ruins its spirit, but it is perfectly acceptable to just paint a new image on top, leading to several layers of images sometimes. They help preserve the rock art nowadays by drawing lines of silicon on the rocks to prevent rain from dripping onto the drawings.
After spending an afternoon lounging in the pool we were up early the next morning for a sunrise cruise on the Yellow Water Billabong. It was an exciting morning for us because it was our first time seeing wild crocodiles in Australia! They swim really close to the boat, and some are pretty huge and scary. Others are kind of small and cute.
We saw two almost get into an altercation, with some exciting crocodile growling. Chris was a bit sad they didn’t attack one another.
We also saw tons of birdlife on the billabong, including funny ducks, cute jacanas and kingfishers, big herons and brolgas, and impressive sea eagles.
Next we drove up to camp in Ubirr, which is basically at the border of Arnhem Land, a mainly Aboriginal region that you need a permit to visit. We took a walk around the Manngarre monsoon forest there, where we saw THE MOST FLYING FOXES EVER. They are kind of cute, like little flying teddy bears, but also kind of scary because they hang around in such big groups. You don’t notice at first, then they make a rustling noise so you look up and there are like a hundred of them in the tree above your head. It’s a bit alarming.
Part of the walk was for women only, as it was an Aboriginal women’s sacred site. Chris was jealous he couldn’t come along.
That evening we went to see the rock art galleries at Ubirr. It seems the Aboriginals really like to draw things they eat.
There were also some nice views of the surrounding area, although it was a bit smoky because they were burning some of the land. Controlled burning is something that was practiced by the Aboriginals and continues today (with the help of the park rangers) in order to rejuvenate the land and encourage biodiversity. Burning gets rid of old, dead plant matter (thus preventing huge fires in the future), stimulates germination of new plants, and creates animal habitats.
As the sun set over Ubirr, some super cute rock wallabies came out.
The next day we went on the Bardedjilidji walk, which went around some crazy sandstone formations.
We ended up at Cahills Crossing, which is the tidal river that separates Arhem Land from Kakadu. At high tide, crocodiles appear to eat the barrmundi. We saw a few crocodiles lazily floating around, but nothing too exciting happened.
On our way out of Kakadu the next day, we stopped by Red Lily Billabong and Alligator Billabong. They are quite a ways off the main highway, but not too difficult to drive. I’m not sure if I would like to actually camp at the sites there though, because they are quite near the billabongs and they are known to contain crocodiles.
Mary River National Park
The camp had some bushwalks, so we took a stroll around and saw a couple kookaburras, and also gave ourselves a heart attack by almost stepping on a snake. He was more scared of us though, and immediately slithered into the foliage of a nearby tree.
Before heading into Darwin the next day, we drove the Wildman 4WD Track through the national park. Chris was excited because we got to take our car down little bush tracks in the forest. The track is quite a relaxing drive and has some nice closed in treed areas. We were a little worried about the creek crossing at the end of the drive as it had rained the night before, however it was only a few minutes after we had crossed a very steep ditch that we realized that was actually the creek and we had finished the track.
After that, it was on to the mythical Darwin! Mythical mainly because we had been talking about reaching it for so long.