Once we were done hanging out in Alice Springs, it was time to start the long (and somewhat boring, OR SO WE THOUGHT) drive up to Darwin!
First we headed up to the nearby Devils Marbles a.k.a. Karlu Karlu Conservation Reserve. The drive there was pretty uninteresting, although there was a super kitschy UFO cafe/souvenir shop partway. The exciting part for Chris was that in the Northern Territory the Stuart Highway has a number of open speed zones, wherein you can drive as fast (or as slow) as you want. He decided to take the opportunity to see how fast our car could go fully loaded, which turns out is about 160 km/h. We slowed down almost immediately though so as to avoid burning through all our fuel at once.
We decided to camp right amidst the Devils Marbles, since the park was pretty quiet due to it being about 40 degrees out. When it had cooled down in the evening we took a walk around the marbles and got some nice sunset pictures.
After the sun went down we were treated to some pretty amazing starry night skies, and had some long exposure fun with our headlamps.
The next morning we took a few sunrise pictures, then headed off early as we were hoping to reach the Top End by that afternoon.
After a fairly uneventful drive to Tennet Creek, we were heading north when we passed a dead kangaroo on the road being eaten by birds. Having been well trained at this point by the lovely people at Josephine’s Kangaroo Orphanage and Brolga’s Kangaroo Sanctuary (VISIT THEM!!!) we stopped to check and noticed the pouch was wiggling! We peeked inside and lo and behold, there was a little pink joey crying inside. I was having a small panic attack at this point (it was so small and sad!), but Chris got his head in the game and moved the body off the road, and together we managed to extract the little joey and put it in one of our pillowcases.
It looked like the birds had been trying to peck at him a bit, so Chris then drove very speedily back to Tennet Creek (we were only about 40km past) while I held the joey and let it lick water from my fingers. After a slightly stressful drive we found the vet clinic in town, where they were able to contact a local wildlife carer who said they could take the joey. Success! We were now a couple of hours behind schedule, but feeling very proud of ourselves.
The rest of our drive was uneventful (we checked several more roadkill roos, but didn’t find any more joeys) and hot, and we made it to Elsey National Park by late afternoon. We had decided to camp by Bitter Springs, as we were in desperate need of a swim by that time. Bitter Springs are actually a series of thermal pools – cool enough to be refreshing, but warm enough that you can stay in the water forever. The water is crystal clear and you can float down the pools, watching all the birdlife and looking for turtles as you go. There are also tons of wallabies around; it seems like wallabies are more common in the north than roos are. The only downside is there are also a lot of flying foxes, which are pretty cool to see but they leave an annoying guano smell around.
Nitmiluk National Park
After a brief stopover in the town of Katherine, we headed to Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park. Katherine Gorge is actually a series of 14 gorges, and really really long. The first gorge was closed due to crocodiles, so we decided to get up early so that we could do the 14km (round trip) to Butterfly Gorge, which is located near the start of the second gorge, and was thus the closest place where you could swim. Our other option was to rent a canoe, but the price was pretty ridiculous.
Anyways, the hike started off pretty easy, then got super rocky (though the views were great), so we were pretty excited and sweaty when we reached the entry point to the gorge after about 3 hours. We were the only ones there, so after I got over my initial fears about rogue crocodiles, we had a nice swim. There was a near catastrophe when some birds tried to steal Chris’s car keys out of our backpack while we were in the water, but otherwise no disasters. Thankfully, the walk back was shorter and easier.
Next we headed to Edith/Leliyn Falls. The bottom pool a.k.a. plunge pool was only about 200m from our campsite, so it was much easier to go for a swim. We snorkelled across the pool (about 150m) to climb on the falls, and saw some fish and a few turtles.
We saved visiting the Upper Pool for the next morning, as it was a bit of a hike. The falls at the top were nicer though I think, and since wet season hadn’t quite started yet they were still tame enough that you could climb right on and under them. A nice bonus was the fact that we were the only ones there.
After we had packed up, we headed over to Kakadu!