Blog 29: Northern Territory and Queensland - Jabiru to Mount Isa
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.
On the advice of some people we met months ago (can't remember where, maybe the first time through South Australia back in December/January) we stayed at a place called Bitter Springs, walking distance to a thermal pool. We managed to take an evening dip in the crystal clear 32 degree water. So very relaxing.
On Friday morning we spent some time exploring a little of the Elsey National Park. A walk around the springs where we swam the evening before snagged us some better light for photos and saw us searching unsuccessfully for a couple of geocaches (haven't done that in a while!).
Next we drove (via Random Breath Test in Mataranka town centre) to another spot in the park to take a short 'botanical walk' around the river. What a lovely and tranquil spot! There was no one else around so we meandered through a little magical woodland of paper barks, wattles, figs and pandanus. We criss-crossed over small streams covered in silken tangles of orb spider webs. For a while we just sat and inhaled the cool green air in the dappled light. Wandering in nature, alone or with just a best companion is good for the soul. No sounds of road or planes or other people, just the gentle distant background hum of a beehive somewhere and the rustling of the breeze in the trees. So nice.
We went over to the Mataranka thermal springs next, but that was crowded out with a couple of bus loads of high school students. We turned around and left.
After our Elsey National Park Adventures (another great Northern Territory National Park) we hit the highway. Splitting the difference, Barkly Tableland on our left, Tanami Desert on our right we drove almost 600 km south to Three Ways. Met some more nice people there.
Yesterday it was another 650 km, this time east to Mount Isa. We crossed the border into Queensland and said goodbye to the NT. We ate three bananas and threw one away at the border (no Bananas, Mangoes or Sugar Cane allowed in). The closer we got to Mount Isa, the more cattle we saw on and adjacent to the road. We drove past Bob Katter's office and found somewhere to stay for a few nights. Mount Isa seems like an interesting place.
We thoroughly enjoyed both our visits to the Northern Territory and would recommend anybody to visit. A great state for road tripping. Awesome indigenous culture, beautiful National Parks, friendly and laid back people.