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Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Top End, Northern Territory - a journey into Time


From November 10 to 15, 2008, I visited the Top End of the Northern Territory, doing three comprehensive bus tours with AAT Kings - Nitmiluk National park (one day), Kakadu National park (two days), and Litchfield National Park (one day). Total distance covered was about 2200 km!

My trip started in Melbourne, via a Jetstar A320 Airbus, taking 3 hrs 45 mins for the non-stop journey to Darwin.
This was in the pre-monsoon season, with shade temperatures around 40 degrees on each day!

For the Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday nights I stayed at the "Value Inn", in Mitchell St - this was a "cheapie" multi-story motel/hotel, with basic facilities, and the room was very small. No storage space to hang clothes. The TV didn't work, and the "hot" water was tepid! This place is promoted as the "only self-service motel in Darwin"! No breakfasts - across the road was a nice cafe which opens at 5.30 am.

Directly opposite was the Transit Centre - this was the coach terminal, the main stopping point for the Airport Shuttle Bus and the tour buses.

Tuesday 11 November 2008
My first tour started at 6.15 am, which took a group of 12 people 350 km south to Katherine, the gateway to the Nitmiluk National Park, along the Stuart Highway. About 100 km from Darwin we stopped at the Adelaide River War Cemetery. Then on to the small settlement of Pine Creek, some 100 km further south, once the centre of a gold rush in the 1870s. Sections of the old narrow gauge railway line remain in the town, with relics of the gold days.

Our first big stop was at the impressive Edith Falls and the vast swimming pool at the base of the Falls.

From there, we moved on to the Katherine Gorge Visitor Centre for a nice lunch, then to our waiting boat for a cruise in the First Gorge. There are 13 Gorges in all. At the end of the First Gorge, we had to get out and do a 500 m walk over the rocks to get to the Second Gorge, where we boarded another boat.

When we reached our turnaround point on Gorge Two, the steering mechanism on our boat failed - the steering cable snapped. This left us drifting aimlessly for some time - we managed to get back to the jetty about 1 km away safely, but very slowly, after improvising repairs.

This meant shutting down one of the two outboard motors and using the remaining motor for emergency manual steering. Some of us then grabbed brooms and poles to push our boat away from the cliffs.

The scenery in and around the Gorges was magnificent!

Wednesday 12 November 2008
This was Day One of the Kakadu National Park tour. This took us across the Marrakai Plains to the Anbangbang area, to inspect the marvellous Aboriginal Art rock paintings, estimated to be at least over 2000 years old. Some of us continued up a steep trail to the Gunwarrdehwwarrdeh Lookout, which yielded superb views across the Kakadu Escarpment and the Floodplains.

Then, we joined the Yellow Water Billabong Cruise, with thousands of birds and almost as many saltwater crocodiles! We visited the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre, then continued to our overnight stop at the luxurious Kakadu Aurora Resort, near the South Alligator River. This is a large complex, offering camp sites, cabins, and excellently appointed air-conditioned bungalows. Guests may use the covered outdoor pool. Several walking tracks start here, and lead into the jungle.

Thursday 13 November 2008
Our first stop was at Ubirr, to inspect Aboriginal Rock Art, some of which was high up on the cliffs! Then we climbed a 250 m peak at the top of the rocks, for a wonderful 360 degree view of the Kakadu Escarpment and surrounding plains. This was hard going, in 40 degree heat!

Lunch was at the quaint Border Store Roadhouse.

Our next stop was the Guluyambi Cruise, on the east Alligator River, which is the border with Arnhem Land. White people (Balanda) must have permits to enter Arnhem Land. Our cruise took us to Cahill's Crossing and to a beach on the Arnhem Land side, where our Aboriginal guide demonstrated the art of making spears, clubs, knives, and other weapons and tools.

Many crocodiles were watching us from the water or from the banks!

We then went to the Bowaii Visitor Centre and on to the Mamulaka Wetlands.

After that, it was a long drive back to Darwin, stopping for dinner at the Adelaide River roadhouse, arriving in town at 9pm. An interesting DVD was put on in the bus, about the Kakadi National park and how the Bininj/Mungguy people recognize six different seasons throughout the year.

This knowledge of nature is fundamental to the culture of kakadu and its people, who have lived with the changing landscape for tens of thousands of years, adapting and using the land for shelter, food and general well-being.

The Kakadu NP covers nearly 20,000 square km, and is recognized in its listing as a World Heritage Area.
It is home to more than 68 mammals, 120 reptiles, 26 frogs, 300 tidal and freshwater fish species, 2000 plants, 10,000 insect species, and 290 bird species.

Kakadu's traditional owners have leased their land to the Director of National Parks, to be jointly managed as a national park. Joint management is about Bininj and Balanda people working together, solving problems, sharing decision making and exchanging knowkledge, skills and information. Overall direction is provided by the Kakadu Board of Management which has an Aboriginal majority representing the traditional owners.

Friday 14 November 2008
The tour on this day was to the Litchfield National Park, 130 km SW of Darwin. My group of 11 inspected the unusual Magnetic Termite Mounds near the town of Batchelor, then visits to the Tolmer Falls, Florence Falls, the Wangi Falls, and the Buley Rockhole Cascades. Some of us cooled off by swimming or paddling in the pools at the base of the Florence Falls and Wangi Falls, mindful that it was 40 degrees in the shade! Three of us did the 2 km circuit climb along the Shady Creek Track through the rainforest to the top of the Wangi Falls.

It was then back to Darwin, arriving around 7 pm.

Saturday 15 November 2008
An early start - I had bought some breakfast things the night before at the 24-hr Coles Supermarket opposite my Inn.
I was at the bus terminal just across the street from the "Value Innn", at 5.30 am, for the shuttle bus out to the airport, for the 8.15 am Jetstar flight to Melbourne, which took three hours and 30 minutes!

This trip was extremely tiring, due to the long distances travelled, the fierce heat and extreme humidity. Despite those limitations, it was a marvellous experience, with an enormous range of sights and sounds to enjoy.

I will long remember the Aboriginal Rock Paintings, the rocky lookouts, the superb views, the rugged Escarpment, the wetlands, the Gorges, the rivers, the savannah woodlands, the monsoon forests, the waterfalls, the billabongs, the chit-chat with other people in my groups, and of course the crocodiles!

I will remember the plastic bottles of chilled water from the tanks on the buses, which became warm water after only a few minutes!

I close with this quotation, from Jacob Nayinggul, Manlakarr Clan, acknowledged to the Kakadu National Park Visitor Guide:

"Our land has a big story. Sometimes we tell a little bit at a time. Come and hear our stories, see our land. A little bit might stay in your hearts. If you want more, you can come back".

I hope that this account of my trip will have been of interest to anyone reading this. See the Photos from my trip.

The photographs are representative of features and attractions which are of importance to me.

Boh Boh (Goodbye in Aboriginal)

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