Bandito Camping in Katherine Gorge

Trip Start Feb 12, 2011
Trip End Nov 19, 2011

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Where I stayed
Nitmiluk National Park

Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Thursday, March 24, 2011

With morning upon us, nothing sounded better than coffee, so I was thrilled when Erica brought me cup as I pumped another $75 worth of gas into the Octo-Bus.  As a bonus, the attendant didn't charge her for the coffee, and only charged her $18 for the gas and I began to wonder if we could rely on laziness and incompetence to help fund this expensive leg of our trip.

Our first stop in the morning was the Nourlangie Rock Art Walk, which was a relatively easy hike by some ancient aboriginal art murals and natural rock shelters, tucked in the base of a large series of rock formations.   The mid-point of the hike was a lookout, so we headed straight for that, which gave a little glimpse of the wide open expanse of Kakadu.  The trek back was easy, and quite cool as it hugged the rock face and was covered in shade by smaller rock formations, once used as shelters and places for Aboriginal murals.

Our next stop was the Mirrai Lookout Walk, which is really a hike, but as Erica already pointed out, they don’t seem to make a distinction.  The hike proved promising, as it was a pretty steep rocky climb amongst shrubs and overgrown bush.  About half way up, I began to question our decision to make the 'walk’ in nothing but flip flops and shorts (Erica did bother to wear a top).  We had a small bottle of water with us, and it felt like it was about 100 degrees out.  Having been in Africa, where the known predators are easily spotted being many times your size, the predators in Australia are invisible until it’s too late.  I don’t know why, but it’s always when I have to step through thick brush overgrowing a trail that I am reminded that Australia is home to 18 of the world’s 25 most deadly creatures, almost all of which live underfoot and it’s probably not a good idea to be traipsing around shirtless, in flip flops and shorts.

With those thoughts running through my mind, and just as we were about to reach the summit covered in sweat, Erica blew a tire.  Expletives out of the way, and mere steps from the lookout structure, Erica hobbled up the steps to assess the situation.  It didn’t take long to analyze the flip flop in question and determine, it was fatal as the nub popped off and Erica would be faced with a long steep descent down a rocky trail.  To add insult to injury, the lookout wasn’t much of a lookout at all, as the trees around us were lush with green and the vast majority of the 360 degree view was obscured by foliage.

After a bit of rest and some water, I utilized an ancient aboriginal flip flop repair method I read about in the cultural center, and laced a supple white gum branch through the strap of her flip flop to at least hold it in place for the ride down.  We made the descent at a slower pace, and with only a few stops to adjust the repair, Erica made it down relatively unscathed and neither of us got bit by a nasty reptile, spider, or scorpion.

Sadly, because we caught the tail end of an abnormal wet season, and the majority of the park was underwater, we had seen most of what was available by Noon, and we decided to press on to Katherine instead of staying an extra evening with the mosquitoes of Kakadu.  At the very least, the drive was stunning as clouds moved overhead and the landscape and foliage changed ever so slightly as we drove south through the tiny town of Pine Creek and "The Perfect Spot for a Swim" according to the local travel brochure.  Taking the advice of our brochure we drove off the Stuart Highway to the Copperfield Recreation Dam and reservoir, which was just past an abandoned shooting range.  The Reservoir, was an over flooded lake full of reeds and mud and a few lousy picnic benches, but we made the most of it and enjoyed a quiet lunch completely alone, skinny-dipping.

By mid afternoon we were in Katherine, and upon the advice of the tourist office we decided to camp at the windy Nitmiluk National Park to avoid mosquitoes.  With a bit of time to spare, we checked out the mall which featured a Woolworth’s, a newsstand, two boutiques and a Target “country”.  For as much as Target has dominated the discount shopping experience, Target “Country” is a tiny version of the worst of target, but it was just big enough to carry a replacement pair of flip flops for Erica.

With a fresh bag of Ice we arrived at the campsite after the reception closed, but with enough daylight to make the hike to the Baruwei Lookout.  With more Kangaroos (or were they Wallaby?)roaming the site than campers, we had the hike completely to ourselves, and it was a well maintained trail to a peaceful lookout overlooking a flooded Katherine River.  We spent an hour relaxing while waiting for a sunset that never materialized into anything special and trekked back to camp to enjoy the pool.

Australian campsites are pretty flash (Australian for fancy) and the pool was a mini oasis, unlike the disappointment we had both experienced as children when the ‘pool’ on  a road trip was short for cesspool, filled with green water and duck poop.  Even more exciting was ecosystem around it, bats and birds overhead, dozens of toads, small geckos, and plenty of insects to feed them all.

After a good dip, Erica prepared chicken sausage and veggies the grills, while I made cocktails and checked out the toads and curious wallabies surrounding us.  The Roos had no fear and you could pet them if you wanted to, but Erica thought it best to not encourage the bad habit of feeding them.  There was a nice breeze, few mosquitoes, and it was a bit cooler than Kakadu, which lead to our first comfortable sleep in several days.

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