Exploring the top end

Kakadu National Park, Australia


It is the middle of winter and the temperature reached almost 30 degrees. I was at the top end of the Northern Territory in Darwin looking longingly at the ocean wishing I could cool down, but the mere thought of accidentally bumping into a box jellyfish kept my toes well above the shoreline. It was not the only dangerous thing to look out for on this trip as every waterhole, billabong, river and small pool held the threat of ‘Salties’ (Saltwater crocodiles) or according to the locals if you were lucky the non-human attacking ‘Freshies’ (Freshwater crocodiles). Either way I was determined not to go anywhere near the water let alone swim! Having said that I still did venture into the plunge pool at Wangi Falls in Litchfield NP. Liz and I must have got the record for the quickest cool down swim ever.

From Darwin my friend, Liz, and I and our new found friend, Wicked Maureen, headed in the direction of Litchfield and Kakadu National Park. Wicked Maureen provided us with transport, camping equipment and a comfy bed (well after 3 weeks maybe not so comfy) and a bright bodywork design that everyone felt the need to take photos of. Her only faults were her gluttony for car oil and the occasional wobbly she threw when going over 90km/h. But we loved her anyway as it was a great way of getting around and stopping wherever we wanted.

Litchfield NP was very peaceful with lots of waterfalls and pools. It was also home to the fascinating termite mounds that towered above you. Two types stood just across the road from each other – the common cathedral mound and then the magnetic mound that resembled a cemetery across the plain. It was in Litchfield that we camped for the first time with Wicked Maureen. The campsite was run on a honesty system so we popped our money into the box and went and found a spot as close to the ablutions as possible so we did not have to venture too far in the dark. We had a lovely meal of Chilli ConCarne made from kangaroo mince. At 98% fat free it became our favourite at our camp dinners as we cooked hamburgers, more con-carne and had some fantastic Kangaroo steak on the BBQ.

Leaving Litchfield we stopped off at the Famous Jumping Crocs. It was closed when we got there in the afternoon so we had a nose around and met one of the employees who gave us permission to camp the night. We were offered the use of his kitchen and the best yet – a hot shower. The evening was very entertaining as we listened to our host tell us stories of other travellers and his job at Jumping Crocs. Having spent the night on the premises we were first in line and got the best seats on the boat so we could watch the show.

The guides were very knowledgeable as they told us about the nature of the ‘Salties’ and how they are one of the oldest surviving animals from prehistoric times. It was fascinating watching them jump their own body length out of the water to grab the piece of pork dangling in front of them. I am however unsure how I feel about partaking in the feeding of wild and dangerous animals. I have strong views of the practice of feeding sharks for the tourist cage dives in South Africa and would never condone it, yet here I was doing something very similar in Australia! A long drive to Kakadu NP let me battle with my conscience .

Kakadu NP was filled with beautiful landscape from billabongs and wetlands that were the home to colourful water lilly’s, birds and naturally crocodiles. We explored as much as possible on a 2WD and walked up to viewpoints, through forests and to see some great rock art that included the lightening man. Not sick of National Parks yet it was on to Nitmiluk NP that is home to Edith Falls and Katherine Gorge. We had a good relaxing time at Edith Falls before going on a 8km walk around Katherine Gorge. Leaving the National Parks behind we started on our long and desolate drive to the Kimberley’s.

It was from here that you notice how isolated you feel on the long roads and hundreds of kilometers that separate each town (which was normally a petrol station and roadhouse) and attractions. We were pleased to have ‘Wicked Maureen’ with a well stocked food cupboard and water supply. Kununurra was the biggest town we stopped at and the first town to have mobile network coverage in days. It was the start of the Kimberley’s with terrain that changed every so often from flat to rugged and then flat again. It did feel like there were vast amounts of nothingness as we drove but looking back we still managed to see and do quite a lot like visit :

  • the big croc and dreamlike statues in Wyndham,
  • the hidden valley which housed the mini bungle bungles and the head-lice dreaming statue (not sure why one would be dreaming of head lice though)
  • Boab Prison Tree near Derby and
  • Halls Creek.

Halls Creek was entertaining not just for the China Wall, the old ghost town and the fascinating story of an aboriginal, Jack Jugorie who operated on his friend while following instructions sent by Morse code by a Dr Tucker who was based in Perth, but for the road that got us there. Suitable for 2WD the tourist information insisted, we made our way along the unsealed road only to have our teeth rattling from the start – it was like driving on corrugated iron and driving fast or slow did not seem to help the effects. We forgave Wicked Maureen after that for her now and again wobblies that were mild in comparison to the rattling experienced on this road.

Our last night in outback of the Kimberley region we stayed at one of the free camps on the cliffs and watched the sun slowly set and cast a beautiful red tinge over the landscape. It would be our last night in such a setting as we headed further west to the ocean – gone was the dust!


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