Katherine - A Visit to Mrs. Frog

Trip Start Aug 17, 2008
Trip End Jun 17, 2009

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Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Friday, October 10, 2008

Exhausted after all the exciting things we've seen in Kakadu, we've decided to take it easier in Katherine, a town South of Kakadu, on our way to Alice Springs.  For a town its size, it has plenty of things to do and see.  We've got there in the afternoon and we've checked in at this beautiful caravan park.  The novelty for us was that each RV site had its own shower and bathroom unit.  While very excited about this in the beginning, the excitement quickly subsided when L discovered that this is still a shared bathroom: the other occupants being a half a dozen of various frogs and toads.  Not very pleased by this discovery, L asked the man of the household to help the frogs vacate the premises.  G's hidden ancestral hunter skills came to surface when he grabbed a leaf and started getting them out one by one.  As we found out later, using a leaf was not such a bad idea, as the skin of one of the toads contained an irritant that could've had some unpleasant consequences if touched.  The funny part was the reaction of the people at the reception desk when we told them about the incident.  They seemed totally unimpressed (albeit somewhat apologetic) as apparently this is a common occurrence in this area and the locals don't seem to mind them at all.  Which we can't say about L, whose enthusiasm for visiting our private bathroom has noticeably subsided and she preferred using the common bathroom for the duration of our stay there.
After this experience we decided to "spoil" ourselves a bit and made a reservation for dinner at the resort's restaurant; a nice change from the canned or dried food that we've been eating for a while.  It is funny that due to the excitement and the heat, we really did not eat much in Kakadu.  Actually since we've arrived in Darwin, we've noticed that we really didn't get hungry so we didn't eat a lot throughout the day (due to both heat and excitement, we guess).  Even so, every day we drank plenty of water mixed with a bit of fruit juice to save ourselves from dehydration.  Well, at the restaurant, our appetite came back in force, helped by some surprisingly good food (no, frog was not on the menu and not due to shortage of raw material :-), probably the best food we've had so far in Australia (Barramundi, a local fish, and lamb combined with some great New Zealand wine).  Talking about food at the Top End, two aspects need to be mentioned: the food is nothing to write on the blog about (really bland) and is very expensive by U.S. (and even European) standards.  It might be because no chefs are rushing to make a career in these backwaters of Australia or the fact that in this area very little can be actually cultivated and everything has to be hauled in from great distance.  Whatever the reason, we hope the situation changes when we reach southern Australia, as we do miss a good meal now and then.
During our first day in Katherine we've haven't done much even if, as always, we were up at 7 A.M.  This "early to bed, early to rise" has already become a pattern that we've developed to adjust to the caravan park rhythm.  Since these parks are usually at the periphery of the towns (and Northern Territory is not particularly renowned for its exciting night life), we've preferred to have a beer while watching the stars, reviewing the day that just ended or planning the upcoming day, followed by some reading and then going to bed early.  The closest we've had to a splash so far were the 2 cans of beer each that we've had one night; real party animals, won't you say? ;-).  Talking about beer, the laws are very strict here for those purchasing alcohol.  If you buy more than one beer, they will scan and read your I.D. with a special device (the U.S. driving license works OK) so we've been quite surprised to see this knowing how liberal with alcohol Aussies can be when abroad.  On a side note, alcohol is also very expensive; we did not find a six pack of beer cheaper than AUD $15 (U$12).  This, again, might be due to the isolation and the remoteness of the places we've been visiting so far so we'll keep you posted when/if the situation changes.
Overall, there are three things worth mentioning about our stay in Katherine: the Katherine Gorge, the Katherine School of the Air and the Hot Springs.  The Katherine Gorge is this gorge beautifully-carved by the Katherine River. It is hard to imagine during the dry season that a river so mellow with unbelievably clear and beautiful water can produce such a gorge but we understand that the river looks totally different during the wet season.  Since it is still the dry season here, we've rented a canoe and went up the river one morning.  We found a beautiful spot with a sandy beach and this time we dove in and it was absolutely fantastic.  Our first real outdoor swim during this trip and it was a real treat; the water temperature was just perfect and the water was so clean, it was hard to believe that this was not a swimming pool (without the chloride).  While there were crocodiles in the river, the majority are freshwater crocodiles, smaller and less aggressive to humans than their saltwater cousins.  Actually, many of the beaches along the river were closed, as it was crocodile nesting season and the crocodiles laid eggs all over the park beaches.
The second great swim we had in this trip also happened to be in Katherine, at the Hot Springs.  Another natural pool, of even greater clarity than Katherine River with always refreshing water at 85 Fahrenheit (~31 Celsius).  There were quite a few tourists when we got there but, as the night was getting closer, we got the pool just for ourselves in the end and it felt really nice.
Last but not least, we've visited the Katherine School of the Air.  No, this is not a flying school, is a regular elementary and middle school that teaches children in remote places of Australia by internet, satellite and regular mail.  They only have about 300 students but the area they are covering is exceeding the surface of France, Germany and England combined.  It was interesting to see the teachers' dedication and the ingenious methods there are using to teach children remotely.  A tour here helps people not to take school for granted anymore.  It was so much easier for us when we were in school, walking less than 20 minutes to get to school.  And it was rarely this hot as it is in the Outback.
So, after a bit of relaxation, followed 2 days of intense driving (900 miles/1,300 km) on the famous Stuart Highway to the red hot heart of Australia.  During the first day we drove approximately 700 km which would not be that bad on an interstate but, on a two-way road it was a bit challenging.  Especially when you have these huge trucks, road trains as they call them here (a truck with 3 regular trailers in the back, some of them reaching 160 feet in length), coming both ways and a tiny little van that doesn't really do 100 km/h very easily.  For lunch we stopped at the Daily Waters Pub, the oldest functioning pub in the Northern Territory.  The pub is really interesting, with banknotes, T-shirts and business cards from all over the world hanging from its walls but also with a great atmosphere and all kind of Outback memorabilia.  We were also lucky because we got there in-between tourist buses stopping there for a drink.  Therefore, we had pleny of time to discover that L's favorite Australian beer so far is Tooey's Extra Dry and to chew on the specialty of the day, grilled barramundi burger; a real treat.  After admiring a flock of parakeets that were bathing on one of the sprinklers next to the pub, we headed to Tennant Creek, our stop for the night. 
Tennant Creek is a very small desert town that was asleep by the time we got there at dawn and also asleep when we left early next morning, so we can't say much about it.  The drive we had ahead of us was not as bad as the one we've already completed: just 520 km.  On our way we stopped and walked around Devil's Marbles, a formation of rocks eroded in very peculiar shapes.  As the name says, most of the rocks ended up round, scattered in very unusual positions over an area of about two square kilometers (see pics).  We took our time and had lunch at Ti Tree (a real dive, unfortunately; and the food was, as usual in this part of the world, pretty bad).  L thought she might live longer if she has a salad instead of the big burger that G order, but she was proved completely wrong.  The salad consisted of a slice of tomato, a slice of beets, a leaf of lettuce and a considerable portion of cold meats and cheeses; looks like vegetarians do have a rough time in this part of the country! ;-) 
On the final leg of our trip to Alice Springs we stopped at a mango farm where they advertised "free wine tasting".  Intrigued by the possibility of tasting wine made of mango (did you know such a thing existed? We didn't), we stopped for a brief visit.  We tasted some intriguingly delicious mango wines, ice cream and mango port wine and, in the end, we decided to buy an unusual but very pleasantly-tasting mango sparkling wine, to celebrate reaching Alice Spring, the heart of Australia.  Which we did that night at the "G'Day Mate" caravan park that we've chosen as our headquarters in Alice Springs.  Oh, but not before stopping to take a few photos of the monument marking the Tropic of the Capricorn, a few km before the entry into town.
This was the story of our trip to Katherine-Alice Spring.  We'll tell you next how our stay in Alice Springs went.
P.S.  By the way, G. is growing a beard.  He wants to save water in the dessert ;-)
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