Cattle Trucks and Critters

Trip Start Nov 13, 2006
Trip End May 13, 2007

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Flag of Australia  ,
Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Another early 6.30am start awaited us as we boarded the 4WD landcruiser
that would become our home for the next two days.  Luckily for us
the majority of our fellow travelers had been on the Lichfield trip
the previous day. With eight of us crammed into the back of the truck
on two benches and struggling to arrange our limbs in a comfortable
fashion it was certainly cosy and as we began our drive down to the
first stop we were already bouncing around in the back of the van, a
taste of things of come when we hit the dirt roads later on. 
After half an hour we arrived at a deserted beach where we would learn
some of the local Aboriginal skills.  We were met by Tony and Sean
who led us to the waters edge across the deserted beach to greet the
land by washing our hands and feet in the water according to the
traditional customs.  We also collected some shells from the beach
to use later to make jewelery.  Next up was a lesson in how to use
the aboriginal bird spear and spear thrower. By attaching the thrower
to the spear and swinging your arm in a certain manner it was possible
to release the spear whilst still holding on to the thrower sending the
spear soaring into the air with ease.  This was ably demonstrated
by Sean, but our first few miserable attempts saw the spear plunge to
the ground after only a few metres.  A bit more tuition and we
soon got the hang of it and when the target (in this case a wooden
kangaroo) was introduced our competitive spirits kicked in with
everyone trying desperately to hit the kangaroo and win the prize of not
having to cook or wash up for the rest of the day.  In the end no
one managed to hit the target, although a few of us got close before we
had to move on to our next task, didgeridoo playing.  It was
actually a lot harder than it looked to make a decent sound from the
didgeridoo and even more tricky to master the characteristic sounds
created by moving your mouth at the same time as blowing and also by
breathing circularly in through your nose whilst still blowing out
through you mouth.  The next craft was more my forte, jewelery
making, using the shells we had collected from the beach and rope
created by twisting thin strips of bark, enabling us to produce
necklaces and bracelets.  As we were leaving, our host Tony gave me
a lovely plaited rope necklace that he had made out of a single strand,
it was a very complicated design and I took some more supplies with me
to attempt to recreate it later on.  Back in the van, we continued
on towards Kakadu stopping just before we entered the park at the
Adelaide River.  Here we boarded a small boat to take us down the
river on a jumping croc cruise.  The boat driver Morgan expertly
maneuvered the boat down the river as we searched for Salties, huge
saltwater crocodiles which inhabit this area.  It was breeding
season, so the crocs would be hard to spot being mostly concealed in
their nests along the river bank.  After about ten minutes
cruising along we spotted our first croc, swimming in the water in
front of us with nothing but its eyes and snout visible above the
water.  Morgan jumped up and fetched a long stick with a piece of
meat on the end to lure the croc closer.  It saw us approaching
and came towards us in search of meat.  Seeing the raw flesh
dangling only metres from the boat it jumped out of the water and with
a huge and lightening fast snap of its jaws grabbed the meat. 
Next Morgan lured the croc onto the bank so we could get a better look.
It was massive, about 3 metres in length with a mottled brown and
yellow back splashing about in the sticky mud of the bank and managing
to cover most of us with the same in the process.  Further down
the river we encountered several more of the beasts including a huge
male several meters long. Luckily for us he wouldn't come near the boat
and stayed a distance away glaring at us with his big eyes from the
water.  We arrived back on dry land after an hour of cruising in
one piece and thankful that the crocs had not taken a liking to any of
us and settled back into our cosy van for the next leg of the journey
to the park entrance.  We were beginning to get on really well
with our fellow travelers and played games and sang in the bus as we
rattled along the deserted roads.  In our group there was Dave, a
retired canal boat owner from England who had commandeered the front
seat next to our guide Jamie.  In the back we had Andreas and
Christian from Austria, Dee from Canberra taking a break to do some
volunteering and Matt from Newcastle in Australia who was over in
Darwin to visit friends.   Also enjoying the cramped conditions
were fellow Brits Jane, who had traveled for 9 months through South
America before coming to Aus and Chris an architecture student on a
short break.  We had such a laugh that we were soon at the parks
western entrance where we paused to stretch our legs and look at the
map.  For the rest of the day we would travel the whole length of
the park, a distance of several hundred kilometers before reaching our
home for the night on the southern border at Mary River Roadhouse. Our
first stop inside the park itself was at the Bowali Visitor Centre
where we learned about the aboriginal owners of the area as well as the
plant and animal life within the park.  Then it was time to see it
for ourselves, we made the short journey to Nourlangie Rock one of the
best aboriginal art sites within the park.  Here we saw some very
impressive cave paintings dating back thousands of years. These
depicted traditional ways of life, foods such as the Baramundi, animals
including Wallabies and also the creation stories of the area. 
Nourlangie is also the site of more recent paintings depicting the
first contact with white settlers and showing guns and other western
symbols.  It was very interesting stuff.  Back on the bus we
journeyed on through the park passing miles of lush vegetation until we
reached Mary River Roadhouse, a collection of huts in the middle of the
forest where as the light dimmed the air was filled with a cacophony
of noises from the abundant wildlife. Huge insects, frogs and lizards
swarmed around as we prepared our lovely BBQ dinner and had a few beers
with the group.  The slightly creepy owner of the roadhouse tried
to persuade us to go for a midnight swim in the local rock hole however
no one was up for it having heard too many croc attack stories the
previous day. It was time to get ready for bed, due to another early
start the following morning and to use the dreaded open air
bathrooms.  These were also filled with huge swarms of flies,
beetles, spiders, ants and even a green tree frog sitting under the rim
of one of the toilets. We braved the insects in order to take a hot
shower, although I preferred the toilet cubical with the huge yellow
lizard in it to the one with the frog.  It was certainly an
interesting experience although we were all bitten to death by the
flies and mosquitoes by the following day.

At 7am the next morning, after a surprisingly good nights sleep in our
uncomfortable dorm beds, we headed back in to the park to visit some of
the most beautiful rock pools and waterfalls in the southern part of
park. First stop was Motor Car Falls, we parked the van and set off on
the 4km trek to the falls through the already steaming jungle.  We
made a funny sight, covered with waterproofs and towels to protect any
exposed skin from the annoying but non biting sand flies and the
attacking marsh flies and mosquitoes which were swarming around in
their thousands.  We arrived an hour or so later sweaty and tired
at the foot of Motor Car Falls a beautiful secluded spot with a huge
croc free plunge pool at the base of a rushing waterfall. Everyone
stripped off to their swimmers and jumped in the water, apart from Dee
and I who perched on a rocky ledge where we could sit up to our necks
in water without having to swim. We stayed for about an hour in total
seclusion until another noisy tour group arrived. At this point Jamie our guide
decided it was time to move to a quieter spot, so we set off again
trekking through the fly infested landscape until we reached Boulder
Falls, the most beautiful waterfall in the area with three levels of
crystal clear rock pools. Here we swam through two levels of pools and
lazed around in the water. Jamie also showed us how to use the clear
sand at the base of the pools as an skin exfoliator and soon we were
all grabbing handfuls and scrubbing away, having a great natural spa
bath. It was beginning to grow late and we had to move on to our last
spot Moline Rockhole where we prepared some food and headed down to
view the pool. The weather was beginning to get stormy again as was the
pattern almost every afternoon and no one was prepared to brave the
slimy waters for a final swim. So we settled back in the van to enjoy
the long drive back to Darwin, playing the Mintoes game and other
favourites and singing along to Jamie's cheesy CD collection. Soon we
were back in Darwin and keen to keep on partying, so Jamie arranged a
table for us at The Vic where we could get some free food and have a
couple of drinks together to round off the tour. The drinks soon turned
into several and we all headed down to The Lost Arc to dance. Finally
we said our goodbyes and headed back to our hostels at around 4am, it
had been a great tour with a superb and fun bunch of people and we all
agreed that we would love to keep in touch in the future. Kakadu itself
was a beautiful area but it was more the people on the tour which made
it a great end to our stay in the land of Aus.
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