A racy little number

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

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Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Being the jammy so and so`s that we are, we got ourselves a free one day trip to Litchfield National Park when we booked ou Kakadu tour. Litchfield is 100KM South of Darwin and similar to Kakadu with its main attractions being waterfalls and swimming holes. The park also boasts 2 distinct types of termite mounds - Cathedral, which can grow to enormous sizes and have irregular turret and buttress shapes, and Magnetic, which are unique to the area and get their name because the thin gravestone shaped mounds all face the same way (just off the North/South line). Each mound houses millions of tiny termites who work tirelessly to build and mantain their home one grain of sand at a time - constructing roughly one cubic metre of mound each decade. Some of the larger ones are 80 possibly up to 100 years old.

Closed throughout the wet season due to dangerous currents and the likely presence of crocodiles, the plunge pool at the base of Wangi Falls had only been open for swimming 2 days when we visited and still people were falling over themselves to get in. You wouldn`t have got us in there for love nor money so we moved on to the equally beautiful Florence Falls where a short loop walk took in the view of the falls and led to another swimming hole, every bit as busy as the first.

We did eventually get a chance to swim at Buley rockholes billed as "Natures 5 Star Spa". The series of 7 small pools linked by waterfalls were perfect for a refreshing splash about. We did have a lovely day (if a little hurried) in Litchfield but the school holidays and the close proximity to the city made it a very busy place and we certainly preferred the deserted "all to ourselves" feel of Kakadu.

Since Paul and Julie got together, Julie and Scruffy have been weaned onto a diet of Top Gear and Formula One, so the natural progression of this was to go and see Australia`s premier motor racing event, the Australian V8 Supercar Championship. Somehow having managed to avoid the series all year, and then realising that we actually were in the right place at the right time we simply had to go.

The weekend started Thursday lunchtime when Scruffy dragged us along to a meet the drivers autograph session and a 20 strong car transporter convoy which brought the city centre to a complete standstill and had thousands of locals and tourists alike lining the streets to wave and cheer.

Friday was essentially a practice day for the drivers and a chance for us to get familar with the layout and vantage points of the 2.9KM Hidden Valley circuit. Saturday brought the first of three action packed V8 Supercar races. We should mention that although there are several different teams the only cars used are the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore, and supporters are definitely divided into the red camp (Holden) or the blue camp (Ford) with nothing in between except us who just wanted to experience it and see some good racing.

The support races weren`t bad either, the V8 Utes being particularly entertaining and not afraid to trade paint when push quite literally came to shove!

The third and final day was even more spectacular and V8 fans from all over Australia had decended on Darwin`s Hidden Valley to see who would win the 6th Round of the 14 Round championship. The atmosphere was electric as the V8`s took to the grid for the second race and Ford fans were in conifident mood after FPV`s (Ford Performance Vehicles) Mark "Frosty" Winterbottom had won the first race and was starting from the front. The 2 Fords led again with Holden`s Garth Tander (reigning champion) back a distant third, it looked like a repeat of the first race... that is until the safety car was called onto the circuit so the marshalls could clear something off the track - bizarrely a Holden flag!

The field all bunched up for the restart and Tander managed to find a way past the 2 Fords and send the Holden fans into raptures as cheers and whistles went off all around the circuit. Despite some heavy Ford pressure, Tander held off till the end and made it Ford 1 - Holden 1 with one race to go. But it wasn`t to be for Holden as the Ford duo were too strong and easily made it an FPV 1-2 with Tander once again the highest place Holden in third. FPV`s Steve Richards was the winner of this race and the overall round.

The event was really well organised with free buses all weekend from and to the city and suburbs, huge TV screens showing the action all round the circuit and entertainment for young and old both on and off the track. The weather was perfect, although the 30+ deg C heat was quite exhausting after 4 days of it, and despite slapping on gallons of water and drinking loads of sunscreen we still think the heat might have got to us just a little bit.

Onto races of a very different kind we, along with half the population of Darwin, piled on to Mindil Beach to watch the slightly bizarre, annual Beer Can Regatta. As the name suggests, the event sees teams of locals constructing vague boat-like objects out of empty beer cans, mostly held together with lashings of sellotape, and then pitting themselves against each other in a short, frantic race to be the first round the buoy-marked sea course and back to the beach.

We think it`s fair to say that some teams had obviously spent more time emptying their cans than sticking them together and the amount of beer consumed was inversely proportional to the success of the vessel - but there`s no doubt that everyone had a great time planning, building, racing and spectating in what is certainly a unique event on the racing calendar.

And so, as we hurtle along the runway at Darwin Airport - one of NASA`s designated emergency shuttle landing sites - we look down at the city, glad that we visited in the dry season when temperatures limit themselves to a manageable 30 deg C with 30% humidity rather than the wet, with temperatures regularly topping 40 deg C, near 100% humidity and people getting ever so slightly tetchy because of it. It would have been pretty cool to see the tremendous thunderstorms and torrential rains of the wet season, but we guess we`ll see enough of that when we come home!
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