Darwin and Kakadoo

Trip Start Apr 30, 2004
Trip End Jan 28, 2005

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Thursday, September 30, 2004

Wed Sep 22nd - Day 148
A double room was available for our next 2 nights so we jumped, from the top of our bunks, at the chance.

It was a day of deciding upon and arranging onward travel, and gloating at a cricket victory over the Aussies.

If you hadn't noticed Australia is ginormous. Where to begin and which route to take are questions that have created hours of heated debate, and are still mostly unresolved. Right up at the top of our things to do and see in Australia was whale watching and from all we've read Hervey Bay would seem to be the ideal location. The humpback whales are seen here between the last week of July and the end of October so we agreed we needed to get there sooner rather than later. So we're flying to Brisbane on Saturday morning. School half term means all the budget seats are long gone. Last week our flight to Brisbane would have cost A$197, this week its A$309. This however is still cheaper than the 60 hour bus journey.

tomorrow we are booked on a 1 day tour to Kakadau National Park. The 3 day camping trip we'd have liked to do was about A$450 each, so was a no goer. We also visited a National Camper van rental company and enquired about hiring their cheapest van to do a months trip between Brisbane and Cairns. The daily rate of $78 wasn't extortionate, but add to that the cost of insurance of $35 a day and again it was a non starter. So we're probably going to buy a bus pass.

The YHA has excellent facilities including a pool, roof terrace and large well equiopped kitchen. It was a real treat to be able to cook our own meal.

Expenses A$2.5/pound): Accom 59, phone card 35, supermarket 14.35, hat 7.95, drinks 5.70, fruit 5.40, sold books for $50.

Thu Sep 23rd - Day 149
Up at 5.45am and on the bus by 6.30. A modern comfortable bus and with only 7 other passengers there weas plenty of room. Phil, our driver and guide was a 65 year old local with a wealth of knowledge and stories and the obligitory dry sense of humour.

It was a long but fascinating road to Kakadoo, everything was much greener than we'd imagined, although Phil told us that this was due to the exceptionally wet,wet season they'd had (3.5 metres). We passed huge orchards of mango trees, peppers and banana palms and large areas of pig scrub. Incredible cathedral termite mounds, standing tall like park sculptures were dotted throughout the landscape and birds of prey seemed to be as common as seagulls. We saw eagles, osprey and road kill gangs of Whistling Kites squabbling over the carrion. We also saw wild pigs and our first wallabies. It's a strange sight indeed to see a wallaby sat by the roadside.

After entering Kakadoo National PArk the road traversed vast areas of flood plain grassland and we passed several billabongs alive with wading birds. Kakadoo is World Heritage listed for both its natural and cultural importance (1 of only 20 in the world). It encompasses a variety of habitats, has a mass of wildlife and significant aboriginal rock art sites. There are over 5000 of these sites, which date from 20,000 years to 10 years ago, nearly all of them are off limits or inaccessible.

Ubirr, our first stop, is open to the public and has one of the finest collections. Ubirr is an outlying outcrop of the dramatic Arnhem land escarpment at times reaching 200 metres high, this jagged 500km long sandstone cliff line, form the natural boundary between Kakadoo and Arnhem land.

To give you some idea of the vastness of this country, the Arnhem Land Aboriginal Reserve, which is an undisturbed area of great natural beauty, virtually closed to independent travellers, is the same size as France.

It's busy at Ubirr and the well trodden path leads through numerous examples of aboriginal rock paintings. Phil explains many of the stories behind the paintings and that they are a major source of traditional and historical knowledge for the aborigines.

A plague of a hundred or so hormonal teenagers descended on Ubirr while we were there. It would have been impossible for them to look less interested, and at one point, their teacher made a group of boys let us by, with the quality comment "Stand aside and let some real people through".

The highest point at Ubirr is the Nardab Lookout which offers 360 degree views, with the Arnhem Land escarpment behind and the vast wetland plains out front.

More driving followed, on sealed roads that every 50m or so had a post with measurements. In the wet season the whole area becomes a vast lake and these posts not only lead the way but also let the drivers know how deep the water is.

A walk round the well presented Bowali visitors centre is followed by more driving. Eventually we reach an area called Yellow Water, where we spend a couple of hours cruising the Yellow Water billabong. The flat bottomed aluminium boat was virtually silent as we drifted through the beautiful paperbark swamp, allowing us to see eagrets, ibis, snake neck darters, azure kingfishers, cormorants, collared kingfishers and white bellied fish eagles. But best of all we saw four salt water crocodiles, including one huge 4.5 metre male. We didn't go swimming.

Half the bus and Phil the guide jumped off at Cooinda, where they were staying the night. Our new driver Ben, drove us uneventfully to within 20 minutes of Darwin, we then had a tyre blow out. He skilfully brought us to a halt then spent an hour replacing what was the inside of a double back wheel.

After a round trip of in excess of 800km we arrived back in Darwin at 9.30pm.

Expenses: Accom 59, Kakadoo trip 288, park entrance 32.50, dinner 22.20, hot choc 3.20.

Fri 24th Sep - Day 150
An enjoyable hot sunny day spent cycling round Darwin. The capital of Northern Australia has been a very pleasant surprise. We hadn't looked into it a great deal as it wasn't really ever in our plans, but we kind of assumed it was going to be a hot and dusty two shack sort of a place. But we couldn't have been more wrong. It's actually very green and flowerful, with a modern lively and easy going lifestyle and despite being closer to Jakarta than Canberra this is definitely Australia. Where all blokes are 7 feet tall and built like Mal Meninga (ex Oz rugby league captain) and up here many of the girls are as well.

During our sedate cycle we rode the length of beautiful Fannie Bay and Mindil Beach (no swimming its the start of the deadly Box Jellyfish season), visited the superb Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery and watched yachts entering the top quality Darwin marina complete with canal like loch gates to keep the water levels in the marina constant. (Anyone objecting to the Ramsey marina should come and see this beauty).

With our flight to Brisbane not until 01.45 we had a lot of time to fill. We'd had to check out of our room at 10am, but for $2 per rucksack were able to store them all day. We just sat and read and watched people come and go. At one point an old VW camper van pulled up looking as if it had barely made it, covered in top end red dust. Six people stumbled out, there was barely room for them and all their gear. They were smiling
but I can't imagine their 50 million mile journey from the east coast squashed in a camper van was much fun. Darwins the end of the road for many travellers and its streets contain the full range of touring automobiles.

At midnight we caught the shuttle bus to take us to the airport.

Expenses: bus $17, bike hire 30, YHA membership 70, lunch 6.75, fruit 3.95, dinner 7.05.
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Island Eye on

Nice find. Thanks for making it so clear - help is appreciated.

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