It’s been an action packed month, and we’re currently making our way through the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The stunning natural beauty of this country keeps hitting us in the face at every turn, which makes it hard to sit down and think back to all the amazing experiences we have had in recent weeks … but here goes, back to the NT.
From Katherine Gorge we moved straight onto Australia’s largest National Park, the iconic Kakadu. At around 20,000 square kilometers, almost half the size of Switzerland, big it certainly is. We had a definite sense of anticipation upon entering the gates of a place that was so familiar in the Australian vernacular, yet which we really knew nothing about. From afar the place is somewhat intimidating; the rugged, remote landscape, the sheer size of its land area, and, well, the crocodile thing. It really is quite staggering to think that Aboriginal people have lived continuously in the Kakadu area for around 50,000 years! More than half the park is Aboriginal land, and the entire park is run by the traditional owners in partnership with Parks Australia. What’s more, the simple, consistent and effective park branding made Kass’ graphic design heart sing, and she promptly collected a few items to send back to the team at Boheem. All these factors seem to give the park a pretty special energy which is definitely evident on that first long drive in.
We had pretty amazing five days exploring the park, with so many highlights it is tough to cover them all in detail, so here’s an abridged version… We ventured out to Burrunggui (previously known as Nourlangie Rock), explored the ancient Aboriginal shelters and amazing rock art, and ate morning tea surrounded by massive rocky escarpments overlooking Arnhem Land. We swam in the huge natural plunge pool under a waterfall at Maguk Gorge, and tried to relax, soak it all up, and not think of crocodiles. While we were assured there were no ‘salties’ in this area, it was hard to totally relax when you’re 100m from shore floating in large dark body of water! The next day we were lucky enough to see the sun rise over the Yellow Water Billabong, as we cruised along the wetlands and saw the vast array of wildlife, including some impressive salties, come to life. On another day we took a drive out to Ubirr to watch the sunset, a must if you are ever up this way. A short walk through ancient Aboriginal rock art sites, and a climb up onto Ubirr rock resulted in some stunning views of the surrounding escarpments and floodplains, and the setting sun put on a pretty special show too. On the way home we stopped off at the Border Store at arguably one of the most isolated Thai Restaurants in Australia; and delicious to boot! The next day we rounded out our Kakadu experience with some croc spotting at Cahill’s Crossing, a river crossing into Arnhem Land. It didn’t disappoint and we managed to see a number of big crocs cruising around the muddy East Alligator River looking for a feed of barramundi. We mentioned numerous times that it is no wonder that the traditional owners of this land have such a spiritual connection to it. In just a few short days of being tourists, observing as outsiders, it was clear that Kakadu is a very special part of our country, and one that needs preserving in all facets.
From here, it was onto the actual ‘top end’ to catch our breath from 10 days of National Parking. It is hard to fully explain, but Darwin is heaving at this time of year. People come from far and wide to get a piece of the perfect dry season climate. We stayed in a huge (but nice) caravan park that was full to overflowing, and a hive of activity. And we felt that the Darwin government has really tapped into the tourist market well. So far it is the capital of the free activity. We sampled the crazily busy Mindil Beach Night Markets (twice), the excellent Darwin Gallery and Museum, the sandy swimming lagoon at the Waterfront and two impressive waterslide parks, all without paying an admission fee. Our stay in Darwin was also a good chance to catch up with an old school friend who lives there with his young family. And call it fate or good fortune, but Matt managed to catch up with his old work crew as the Sydney Swans reserves were in town. All in all, we found Darwin to be very pleasant place to be at this time of year, but the locals say that all changes as the wet season rolls around. Intriguing, but maybe we’ll sample that another time?
Our first stop from Darwin was less than an hour down the road at Berry Springs. This was a quaint little community with a number of understated gems. We had a nice swim at the huge warmish natural spring (we must be getting fussy), stopped in at the mango farm for amazing smoothies, and spent two afternoons at the awesome Territory Wildlife Park. This park didn’t really stand out on the NT tourist radar, but as we were staying nearby we thought we would take a look. It was a zoo-style attraction, but felt more like a national park, with short little bushwalks between exhibits, making it feel like you were seeing the animals in their natural habitat. The highlight was the great bird show, and the fact that the friendly staff said it would be OK if we wanted to come back the next day for free … so we did.
Next we moved onto Litchfield National Park. This is the little sister to Kakadu, but very popular with people from Darwin because of its proximity and smaller size, making it more accessible. We turned up early at the Wangi Falls campground and were lucky enough to nab the last campsite. After numerous attempts and a flurry of arm waving we somehow managed to manoeuvre our family-sized caravan into a very small campsite; a stressful, but strangely satisfying experience. Wangi is the most popular attraction in Litchfield, with a couple of very picturesque waterfalls cascading gently into a large swimming hole. We were amazed to read that falls like Wangi keep flowing all year round because the sandstone throughout the area acts like a sponge and soaks up a huge amount of water in the wet season, only to slowly release it throughout the dry season. An incredible example of mother nature functioning like a self-regulating tourist attraction. Whilst in Litchfield we also checked out the strange rock formations of the Lost City, learnt about the amazing magnetic termite mounds, and sampled another waterfall swim, this time at a the beautiful Florence Falls.
Next it was back down to our old friend Katherine for a few nights to prepare for our big journey towards the West Coast. We also timed our stay to catch up with our Darwin friends who were staying 50 kms back up the road at Edith Falls. It was great to spend time with these guys in camping mode and the for the kids to get out bushwalking and swimming together. And we know, that’s a lot of waterfalls in a short space of time, and yes you can suffer somewhat from waterfall desensitisation. But looking back, each have their own unique, ancient beauty and are well worth a visit.
We made it to the Western Australian border over a couple of days driving, with a 1 night stay in the tiny remote town of Timber Creek. The NT certainly turned on an impressive farewell show on this drive with the stunning natural beauty ramping up a notch or two. A particular highlight was driving past the Victoria River Escarpment, a huge rocky outcrop that overlooks the river. Another feature as we neared the WA border was the emerging colours of the Kimberley, giving us a small sample of the rich palette that was to come on our trip. Our final morning drive up to the WA border was quite humorous as we knew we were approaching a quarantine checking station where no fresh food could be taken through. We had prepared a full buffet of fruit and salad car snacks for the morning drive, and Matt was defiantly stuffing the last banana into his mouth as he drove up to greet the quarantine officer. No wastage here!! Over the border and another round of high fives for a new state. We were certainly looking forward to our Kimberley adventures and beyond.