Tax Return Time! Tax Return Time! Tax Return Time! Oh wait... yeah travel blog.
Our adventures across the Northern Territory have been fantastic. What a great part of the country to explore. Relaxed people, beautiful nature and plenty of culture.
After resting up in Jabiru we hit the Kakadu Visitors Centre for a park pass before driving to the northern part of the park where the East Alligator River marks the boundary with Arnhem Land. This place is called Ubirr.
Our first Ubirr adventure was a circular walking trail called Bardedjilidji Walk. We wound our way amongst impossible natural sandstone sculptures, layers of softer sediment worn away to create top heavy structures, or towering clusters of striated monoliths that look like ultra futuristic underwater apartment blocks. We ducked through a small cave-arch passage, then found ourselves at a natural fortress wall-gate, big enough to drive a wagon through. Figs force their way into any small crack in the stone, sometimes holding stones up, sometimes tearing them apart. We passed a couple of small billabongs and plenty of 'danger crocodiles no swimming' signs before returning to Gary.
Next up we drove around the corner to Cahills Crossing. This river crossing changes direction with the tide and can get pretty deep in the wet or on a big tide. We saw two four wheel drives that had made poor choices... neither of them Land Rovers thankfully. Some locals (Arnhem Land is the other side of the crossing) were fishing in the river. A little meander along the nearby Manngarre walk trail took us through some river adjacent monsoonal rainforest. A jungle of green and the heady smell of life, growth and decomposition all around.
In the late afternoon we made our way up to Ubirr proper. Here we saw massive rock art galleries - drawings of fish, turtles and a 5 000 year old Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger). Before dingoes came to Australia, Thylacines and Tasmanian Devils used to roam the mainland. We climbed up to top of a rocky outcropping and saw the iconic Kakadu view. Sandstone mountains thrust up from the tangled greenery in one direction, the untamed wilds or Arnhem Land to the east, the grassy Nadab floodplains to the north, sunlight glinting off standing water that probably hides a whole lot of crocodiles. A photograph really can not do the place justice. It is too big and wide and detailed and expansive. This is a special place.
We descended from the rocky lookout and tagged along to a ranger presentation about the rock art story of the Rainbow Serpent and cultural family arrangements of skin and moiety. We decided to camp nearby at a place called Merl campground. Thousands and thousands and thousands of mosquitoes so loud they kept us awake at night. Wouldn't camp there again.
Wednesday morning we squished up a few dozen more mosquitoes inside our roof tent and made our way south through the National Park. Next stop: Burrunggui, otherwise known incorrectly by white folks as Nourlangie Rock. Here we wound our way through more rock art sites and eventually to a lookout with a great view of the mountainous cliff edge of the Arnhem Land Plateau. A rich and vibrant landscape of sandstone, conglomerate, burnt bushland and cool caves.
One thing about these Northern Territory National Parks - the signs up around the place are super informative and thought provoking. Here we learned about the way aboriginal population and land use changed over the last 20 000 years - long enough for changes in climate to affect the landscape, available food plants and animals. Signs often ask the reader thought provoking questions about the environment, culture, geology, flora or fauna. Parks NT is doing a great job.
From Burrunggui we drove around the corner to Anbangbang billabong for lunch. A large semi-lake peppered with beautiful white flowers (and probably a hiding crocodile or two) and birds foraging for abundant food all over.
Next up we drove down to Yellow Water, a large wetland area on the South Alligator River. We meandered along an elevated boardwalk in the heat and had a great chat with a South Australian couple (Beth & Wayne) about social issues in regional Australia and saw our first (and only) crocodile in Kakadu. We checked out the nearby Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre which had a really great walk though exhibition of artefacts, history and culture of the many language groups that make up Kakadu.
We wound our way south through Kakadu and eventually spent the night at Pine Creek.
The next day we hit up a couple of parts of Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park we had skipped by on our way to Darwin. Edith Falls was a great spot with a very large swimming hole - it would have been a great place to stay a night or two, but we need to get to Cairns for Ruth's birthday. Katherine Gorge itself is an epic landform. We only hiked to the first lookout, but you could easily spend a few days (or a week) exploring all the hiking trials between the gorge and Edith Falls. A resupply in Katherine and we drove down to Mataranka for the night.