Get me to Kakadu and make it snappy!

Trip Start Oct 17, 2007
Trip End Oct 16, 2008

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Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Saturday, June 28, 2008

The World Heritage Listed Kakadu National Park is 19804 square kilometres of Aboriginal land leased to the Australian Government. The National Park, which is roughly half the size of Switzerland, contains woodland, wetlands, rivers, waterfalls and rocky country and is teeming with wildlife of every shape and size.

We stopped on the way for a spectacular jumping croc cruise on the Adelaide River. The advertising says you're "guaranteed" to see a wild croc jump, so we were hopeful of seeing one or two throughout the cruise. We were simply blown away by the number of large 'salties' basking on the river banks and swimming around the boat. This is not a good time to be hinking about what happens if the boat goes down - and come to think of it the crew never actually made any safety announcements about life jackets and stuff, which we suppose tells you all you need to know.

We thought we were off to a promising start when a large croc made a bee-line for the boat and looked hungrily at the chunk of meat on offer. It was so close, those cold, predators eyes sizing each of us up in turn. But, alas, he just couldn't summon up the burst of energy needed to jump for his breakfast, so we chugged on down the river in search of hungrier beasts.

We didn't have long to wait for our next customer, an enormous 6m long male (that's over 3 Pauls end to end!) called Hannibal believed to be getting on for 100 years old. Unfortunately he hadn't had long enough in the morning sun to raise his body temperature so although he was hungry, he too was not quite up to jumping. This was shaping up to be a frustrating morning!

We carried on, passing a few crocs on the bank trying to catch the sun's warming rays and a few in the water who either weren't hungry or were too wary of the boat to approach. In one of the few croc spotting lulls we took a look around and were amazed to see in excess of 20 beautiful kites and a white bellied sea eagle following the boat. One of the crew began throwing small scraps of meat from the top deck and none of it hit the water - the agile birds of prey gave a magnificent display of their ability to take prey on the wing. Breathtaking!

Not wanting to be outdone the crocs upped their game and the next one to approach the boat, about 4m long, was determined not to leave without brekky. We stood, breath held, as he dipped under the surface and then rose again fixe on his target. With an almighty surge of power he propelled over half his body length out of the water and snapped his ferocious jaws shut around the meat on the end of the line, before dropping surprisingly gracefully back into the river. He suraced once, to swallow his prize whole, and then was gone, leaving a boat full of people not quite believing their eyes. We were fortunate enough to witness this awesome spectacle a couple more times with other crocs before the cruise was over and we gained a whole new level of respect for these perfectly adapted predators.

Safely out of harms way we squeezed back into the Kakadu Dreams Landcruiser (8 of us in bench seats in the back - no room for shyness here!) and we rejoined the Arnhem Highway on course for Kakadu. As we hurtled along we got our first view of the South Alligator floodplains, parts of which were used in the filming of "Crocodile Dundee" (lots of the film was shot in and around Kakadu) and then the Arnhemland Plateau which ranges from 30 to 300m above the plains.

We took a 1km sandstone walk around Ubirr, one of the few Aboriginal art sites open to the public and saw some amazing art work, much of it remarkably detailed considering the "paintbrush" was usually a blade of long grass which had to be dipped in the ochre or charcoal paste for every stroke.

We climbed to a lookout 250m up on the plateau and were rewarded with fabulous views over the Nardab floodplains and monsoon forest. We even spotted a couple of black wallaroos feeding in a clearing. We drove on to Yellow Waters billabong to watch a "Top End" sunset and we couldn`t believe our luck when one of the resident salties decided he would "spoil" our sunset pictures by swimming right in front of the sun!

After setting up our mozzie tents near Jim Jim billabong it was time to stoke up another camp fire and get some tucker on the go. Once again kangaroo was on the menu but this time in the form of juicy stir fried steak and Paul assures us it was delicious. With the moon rising much later in the night we had a wonderful view of the Milky Way and the Southern Cross constellation (stars on the Australian flag) and fell asleep to the sound of frogs croaking and small rodents rustling in the leaf litter.

As the sun crept over the horizon we were up, breakfasted and off for a day of hiking, swimming and serious 4 wheel driving around the National Park. First up, a bone shaking drive through deep sandy ruts, creeks and flood ways up to half a metre deep and rough, corrugated dirt tracks to Twin Falls, where a reasonable hike over large rocks and unmade paths brought us to the top of the falls for some spectacular views of the gorge. A small pool with waterfalls at each end provided a safe place for a cooling dip and a welcome watery neck massage.

After lunch we did a short boat cruise and walk to the white sandy beach at the bottom of Twin Falls, but as tempting as the pool looked it was not guaranteed crocodile free (they`d caught and relocated 6 in the last couple of months) so we couldn`t swim and had to be content with a cooling spray from the cascading water.

Following some more uncomfortable bouncing about in the back of the 4WD and another short rocky hike we were on the edge of the plunge pool at the foot of Jim Jim Falls, the highest straight drop waterfall in Australia (150m drop). Some of our group were mad enough to take the plunge into the freezing cold water and swim the 80m or so to the bottom of the waterfall, but not us. We did get in for a minute or two and then the loss of feeling in our fingers and toes told us it might be a good idea to get out and admire the falls from a warm distance.

Another cosy night under the stars and we were again up with the sun and before too long careening along the narrow, twisty 4WD track to Maguk (Barramundi Gorge). Our only break was a brief pause when we spotted a black headed python by the side of the road and all piled out of a closer look and a quick photo. A short relatively easy hike into the gorge and then a bit of a clamber over some enormous boulders on a not very well defined path to the safe, croc free swimming holes above the waterfall.

We spent a good couple of hours throwing ourselves off rocks into the beautifully clear, refreshing water, swimming and relaxing in the sun. Having built up a healthy appetite we polished off lunch in no time and just enough time before heading back to Darwin to stop off at a section of the Mamukala wetlands to see some of Kakadu`s abundant birdlife, in particular Magpie geese.

In the 3 days we had, we saw some wonderful things but we barely scratched the surface of this vital wildlife haven. In fact, even if you were to drive every single road in Kakadu you would still see less than 1% of the National Park. It was also really hard to believe that during the wet season most of where we`d been would be under at least 10 foot of water and the roads in and out would be impassable. We are very grateful that the park rangers take the trouble to clear the paths and remove the crocs year after year so that we were able to visit this beautiful unspoilt wilderness.
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