Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
Trip End Apr 23, 2005

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Flag of Australia  ,
Sunday, August 1, 2004

Thought for the day: There is evidence of ritual burials (necklace of teeth and body dressed in costume) in Arnhemland some 3,500 years before the pyramids were built!

Abstract:Final few days in Darwin - Territory Wildlife Park, highlights of which were seeing nocturnal rainforest sweeties, like unbelievably cute sugar gliders & seeing an Osprey submerge whilst catching a fish; Took G to Dr as had a throat infection & watched Lord of the Rings 3 at the deckchair cinema with additional entertainment from fruit bats and a gecko on the movie screen; took in our first top end wetlands at Fogg Dam & Mary River National Park where we were definitely twitchers, our favourite birds included the majestic sea eagle & plumed whistling ducks & coming face to face with our first salt water crocs, before 'doing' Kakadu including wonderful Aboriginal rock art and lots of bush walks & waterfalls in the nip!; Amazing fresh water snorkelling at Bitter Springs thermal pools before pressing on to Cairns some 2000km away along the Gulf Track via the Gulf of Carpentaria & Hell's Gate and amazing Lava tubes at Undara National Park; had first rain in months on the Atherton Tablelands above Cairns where we had our first look at the wet tropics before descending to Cairns.

Nitty Gritty: G had been getting more and more unwell whilst we were in Darwin and an eventual visit to the doc resulted in a diagnosis of a neck gland infection for which antibiotics were prescribed. What every convalesing traveller needs is a trip to the Territory Wildlife Park just outside Darwin where sore throats were soothed by the sight of the cutest of critters in the nocturnal house where the animals waking day has been altered so that they wake up in our day and we were treated to the delights of small marsupials such as dunnarts bombing around the place and pebble mound mice , water rats whose aqarium was fab so you could see them paddling underwater and steering with their tails. G fell for the sugar gliders which have webbed arms so that they can glide through the tree tops. Another highlight was an arial display of an Osprey who demonstrated how they catch fish by plunging into water so that they are totally submerged and it really was a wonderful experience to watch this.

Lord of the Rings continues to be a cure for all ills so we watched Return of the King again at the deckchair cinema where yep you guessed it, we sat in deckchairs for the whole 3 plus hours and yep you've guessed it, we were bent double when we eventually stood up. The film was enhanced this time by flying foxes screeching at all the right moments adding to the suspense and a small gecko catching insects on the movie screen towards the end which bought a smile to the face.

The wetlands were calling and having spent months in dust and desert, we yearned for lilly pads, saltwater crocs and water and that's exactly what we found at Fogg Dam and Mary River National Park, the latter being where we spent 5 days hanging out whilst G's neck glands returned to normal. Fogg Dam was a dam construsted in the 1950's as part of a failed rice growing enterprise and is now home to hundreds of species of water birds including lilly trotters or jacanas, magpie geese and mossies! Mary River NP is Kakadu's lesser known neighbour and we thought the wetlands there were actually better than those we saw later at Kakadu NP. A lot of thought had gone into naming the first wetland area we explored - bird billabong - but it certainly lived up to its name as the place was teaming with plumed whistling ducks (which whistle rather than quack and so G wasn't as keen on them), darters and cormorants, bee eaters, kites, eagrets, herons etc etc and the roosting noises at sunset were deafening. We also saw jabiru cranes, feral pigs that we wearn't quick enough to run over as G fancied a suckling pig roast would have him back to normal and a heard of feral water buffalo which seemed odd, but if you can have feral Arabian camels in the desert, why not feral water buffalo in the wetlands.

Lord & lady campsite went on to see from the comfort of their camp chairs overlooking a wetland, huge salt water crocs (no need for binocs where they were concerned!), whistling kites building a nest and trying to duff up Mr & Mrs sea eagle as they flew overhead the kites nest resulting in clashing tallons on one occassion, magpie geese roosting in trees (yes really!), agile wallabies at dusk with joey sticking its head out of the pouch and once it was dark, still in our chairs which we didn't leave all day, listened to woof woof owls (barking owls) that sound just like a dog barking in the distance - what a truely amazing place.

There was no putting it off any longer, the Aboriginal lands of Kakadu were calling to us and all the other tourists who come to Australia as it is the best known and therefore busiest NP in Oz and is basically a chunk of Arnhemland (East of Darwin) open to joe public. It really did live up to it's reputation and the rock art was amazing especially the lightening man who makes thunder by banging his knees and elbows together.

Having developed chair shaped backsides we were pleased to be able to stretch our legs by doing some long walks on the Kakadu escarpment that runs through the park where the views from the top were vast.

Two famous waterfalls are accessible, Jim Jim & Twin Falls and although Jim Jim does not flow during the 'dry', there was a great plunge pool at the base of the drop but G couldn't be persuaded to take a medicinal dip as the water was only 14 degrees and he thought he might change sex. However this didn't stop him standing under the water in the nip at Twin Falls when no one was around. Another highlight was seeing a sea eagle on its nest feeding a large chick a huge fish dad had caught. There is an excellent Aboriginal Cultural Centre in the park which was really informative, sad that it was full of foreign tourists and very few, if any Australians......

We approached Kathrine and had the ideal chance to try out our new gadget, an underwater housing for Rach's camera, we went snorkeling in some thermal springs (Bitter Springs), it was very pretty but Graham descovered the disadvantage of underwater photography... its important to a) remember its a snorkel not Scuba so you can't actually breathe underwater and b) you have to watch were you are going or you bump into slime, weed, other people and worse logs (ouch!).

We got fuel in Kathrine and decided it had the highest mullet/long beard to population ratio of any town so far and we should press on in case we were infected with need to hunt feral pigs or trade Larry in for a ute and dog... Graham was embarrised buying a bottle of Stones Ginger wine (to which we had an unexplained craving) and having to stand in a queue of feral Bruces carrying at least two slabs of VB each.

The next big trip beconned, the crossing of the Gulf of Carpentaria via the Roper River and Gulf Savannah tracks (1500km). We turned off towards Roper Bar and was amazed that the first 60km was bitumin, this was to be the story of the whole track which according to our old guide was a challenge... Upgrades and causeways to the river crossings have made the track very smooth (though corrigated) and we were able to comfortably do what we thought would take 8 or 9 days in only three. The first night we had possibly our best campsite so far, under huge red river gums and paperbarks overlooking the Roper River, no mosquitos, nice fire and fabulous sunset. The beauty of the place made Graham feel like a bushman so we decided to cook potatos and Onions in the embers, unfortunately we forgot them and after one and a half hours the potatos where black and crispy and the onions where well on the way to being fossil fuel... we got the frying pan out and cooked up some bacon, all thoughts of living off the land forgotten. The track did have some highlights though.. the 'lost city' in Limmin National Park which if you suspend disbeleaf looks like lots of highrises, Graham got enthusiastic again and decided to climb one of the taller ones, having reached the top and taken some photos, I quickly realised I couldn't get down... Rachel had to stand below and say left a bit.. down a bit.. for my feet and I was tempted to do the Papal kissing of the earth when I finally alighted the rock... The next evening we camped on a river bank with lots of enormous Cycad palms which were up to 18 feet tall, goodness knows how old they are.. We lunched at a roadhouse for the first time in a long time (on account of the usual fare being refried dogmeat on a stick (Dagwood Dogs)) when Baramundi and chips were on offer at 'Hell's Gate' roadhouse about halfway along the track just inside the Queensland border.

We finished the 'difficult' part of the track in Burketown a charming outback town, which actually had kangaroos bouncing down the high street. Whilst there an enebriated local asked us to give him a 'lift to the next town', we said no, having no wish to transport drunks. The fact the next town (Normanton) was 250km away also had some bareing on our decision. Just past this town we went to see the last camp of the famous pair Burke and Wills (119). These two are generally legendary figures amongst Australians having trekked from Melbourne to the Gulf in 1860 with no experience or guides. They famously died on the way back near Coopers Creek, having missed their relief party by one day. No-one seems to rate Stuart who only months later successfully crossed from Adelaide to near Darwin plotting what was to become the route of the telegraph, train and road and perhaps more importantly living to tell the tale. At the risk of committing blasphemy they sound like a pair of idiots... however I suppose Scott became more famous than Admunson..

We finished the gulf by driving up to Karumba and looking over the ocean, we were suprised to see two Jabiru in the sea! We bought some fish for tea to celebrate, we camped at Leichthard Lagoon and watched the birds untill it was too dark to see then had the fish, yum..

We treated ourselves to a tour of the Undara Lava Tubes 200km west of Cairns - that sounds fairly dull we hear you say, but it was very interesting. To cut a long story short, a very long time ago there was a volcano called Undara, that holds the record for the largest area of lava spread, some 160km from the volcano.The lava formed huge tubes several hundred metres in diameter and stretches of these tubes can be visited. Whilst the tubes were impressive, where the friable walls have collapsed, ribbons of rainforest have established themselves in an otherwise dry, 'outback' environment, and these were fantastic.

Between us and Cairns lay the Atherton Tablelands and what was remarkable was how one minute the surroundings were dry and the next we entered the 'tropics' and the roadside was lined with lush rainforest. We were so pleased to have finally entered this region as we were eager for a change. The tablelands had been extensively cleared, but pockets of rainforest remain under world heritage listing and the dairy pastures reminded us of Surrey. The air was cool and damp.

We spent the night in the tablelands on a little campsite at the back of an old couples house which was charming and G was in seventh heaven as there were ducks everywhere waddling around in the damp. After dark with the assistance of a torch we tried a little nocturnal wildlife spotting which didn't amount to much but the rainforest was great.

We awoke to the sound of rain, our first in months and the campsite resembled a wet farmers field in Wales and we could hear the farmers voice in our heads from a previous camping trip 'another lovely day!'. However you don't get rainforest without rain....

We would have loved to have stayed another day in the region, but Cairns and more importantly Cape York beckons for what will be our last trip with trusty Larry.
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