There are many sights in the Top End, most involving having to endure extreme heat and either ridiculous humidity or dryness. Hiking the hikes, watching the birds and avoiding the crocodiles is, unfortunately, a fair bit more troublesome when having a stubborn and terrible dry cough. But do I quit?
The Outback, NT, Australia
There were early starts, these days. Some due to long driving days, others due to spectacular sunrises. But mostly it was to avoid the most intense heat during midday, not only for us fragile vikings from “thu nerth”, but for the fact that even local wildlife tend to be siesta-ing during the warmer hours.
First stop was Kakadu National Park, which isn’t easily covered in one day (which is why we spent two days there). Named after a mispronunciation of Gaagudju, which is the name of an Aboriginal language spoken in the northern part of the park, the area covers some 20.000 sqkm (roughly half the size of Switzerland, or the entire Ångermanland, for that matter) and is joint owned/operated by the Australian government and the two local clans, Bininj and Mungguy.
To understand Kakadu, one has to gain insight of the people who live there, and has lived there for ages, and who knows the land. The traditional owners have been around for a long time. Exactly how long is up for debate, but we do know that some of the rock art* at places like Nourlangie dates back over 20.000 years. As some of that art depicts figures and events featured in the still practiced Rainbow Serpent religion, that makes it arguably the oldest religion in the world. The typical x-ray style depicts humans, mimis (good-natured spirits) and animals with bone structure visible.
With six seasons** of varying temperatures and downpour, and lots of elevation differences, the landscape changes vastly over the year, and that in turn contributes to the huge variety of wildlife.
An early morning river cruise is probably the best way of spotting the local fauna. Yellow Water Tours features one of the chattiest and most brutally honest, as well as most knowledgeable and entertaining guides ever. “You fall off the boat, a croc is gonna get ya, and you’ll doi. You lean too far out, a croc’ll jump outta the watah, and you’ll doi. Your husband jumps in after ya, he’ll doi.”
Yep. A vague disclaimer is nobody’s friend. For two straight hours he kept us edutained whilst the boat passed hundreds of birds, the occasional buffalo, and lots of crocodiles. The days were spent doing short excursions in stunning landscapes, and the nights at permanent camps.
Eventually, the focus turned more towards finding those beautiful waterfalls and natural pools in which to swim, and over the course of the days we dipped in several, each more refreshing and beautiful than the last.
By day three we had left Kakadu and entered Litchfield National Park, with even more swimming than before.
You fall off the boat, a croc is gonna get ya, and you’ll doi. You lean too far out, a croc’ll jump outta the watah, and you’ll doi. Your husband jumps in after ya, he’ll doi.
-Reuben (not exact quote)
Noises in the night
During the days and nights spent in the bush, the dry cough that I had caught towards the end of the Sri Lankan part started to act up real badly, and even more so during the night. The coughing caused sleeplessness, obviously for me and Caroline, but also within the close quarters of the camp, I’m afraid that the noise reduced the sleeping quality for other co-travellers as well.
We tried to get some medical attention, but that proved to be tricky in the outback. In fact, it even proved to be tricky in Darwin city, which we eventually circled back to. After one cancelled appointment and one failed visit to a clinic that really should do quality control on the information on their website, we eventually had to grab a cab to the 20 km off suburb of Palmerston in order to get consultation, prescription and a late-hour pharmacy***.
The Way Outback
The stop in Darwin was a quick one, as we early next morning set off for the Outback again, this time aiming way south, all the way down to Alice Springs, halfway down the country.
These days consisted of long hours of driving, on straight and desolate roads, through a landscape where trees gave way to bushes, where it got flatter by the kilometre, where the pockets of grass were increasingly lower and scarcer. The days went from hot and humid to hot and dry, but we still would get off the bus ever so often and go for a walk or a swim. While steep and performed under the scorching sun, the walk to the view of Nitmiluk (formerly known as Katherine) Gorge is a short and rewarding one. The river and its gorge is stunning.
It might have been different in 1998. Heavy rains had flooded the river, and had even drowned the town, even though it is located some 20 metres above average wet season level. But this time around, the river run still and low, far from town.
I remember noting my first trip down under, that Aussies seem to have a fondness for showcasing the world’s (or country’s, or state’s) biggest/smallest/oldest/adjectivest this-or-that. It could be inflatable santas, ball if yarn, guitars or anything conveniently specific. In NT, they need to boast something about their particular pub. That’s why we managed to, in one day, visit both the country’s longest-running pub (that’s in Daly Creek) and the second smallest one (that’s in Banka Banka). The former is filled with random memorabilia (thongs****, singlets, money, bras, hats, beer caps, registration plates, coasters, photos, knicknacks, id:s and so forth) from floor to ceiling and back, whereas the latter, naturally, has little room for such.
As we were by now deep in the outback, far from any stagnant water, most mozzies had gone, and there was no more need for tents. Add a spectacular starry sky, and the sleeping arrangement of choice would be a swag, a sort of canvas covered mattress, doubling as both a tent and a bed, simply rolled out on the ground beneath the stars. The long driving continued, with pit stops at, amongst others, Mataranka (hot springs in a bat infested jungle. Pretty pointless; who needs hot springs when the air is way warmer, and who needs the allergenes connected to the guano of a million bats?), Wycliffe Well (apparently Australia’s Roswell, with the highest number of reported UFO sightings), Devil’s Marbles (an astounding collection of granite rocks, eroded into round shapes over billions of years, and held in highest esteem by the original owners, as they represent the eggs of the Great Rainbow Serpent, their highest deity) and an old telegraph repeater station.
The red turned redder. The centre turned more central. We were now truly in the Red Centre, and made our way into Alice Springs.
The short trip around Kakadu and Litchfield had really vetted our vagabond appetites. Onwards to new adventures. But first we had to find a GP to get Martin some cough repressant.
Some of the experiences were marred by Martin’s horrible cough. Especially during the nights. How ironic that we had to sleep in tents in close proximity to others. Oh well, they very nice about it. But try to find somewhere open, and a doctor who won’t cancel in the last (im)possible moment due to illness…. Not easy. But we finally nailed it. And Martin could have a few hours of shut eye. (as well as everybody else).
Man, it is beautiful. I’m so going back one day. Rock paintings, stories, fantastic views. I was overwhelmed by the enormous generosity from the indigenous people who owns (well more than owners, they are the caretakers and a part of) their ancestral lands to welcome us and allowing us to experience all this. As a tourist some areas are forbidden for us to enter. Many places are sacred and can only be viewed by a few. Some other places can be visited but not photographed. And that is fine by me. I do not need to photodocument every moment of my life….(shudder, gasp. I know it is a foreign concept for many….) . All this under the cool and charming watchful eye of the lovely guide Candie. She managed to keep us safe, full with lovely food and educated all on time.
We got to meet the wonderful guide Reuben who told us about the land, the animals and what could kill us (everything). He managed to talk without one pause for two hours plus change. But the way he did it. Oh, he should be a lecturer for the subject ” making education fun and interesting”. What a guy! Apparently there is a youtube clip of him but alas, we haven’t found it yet.
We saw crocks in their natural habitat, cockatoos, egrets, birds of prey, wallabies and on and on. All with the ever running fantastic commentary by Reuben. Fantastic.
I’m definitely going back.
Road trip. Darwin to Alice Springs. One night in tents, one night in swags. In swags!! Weeeee. Australian outback sleep sack made from waterproofed cloth with a mattress and a pillow. The best camping gear ever. We looked up at the stars. And the milky way. Sorry Northern hemisphere. The stars on the South half is amazing.
This part of the trip was managed by a very sweet young man Jack. The guides we have met have all been so sweet, caring and competent. But all good thing must come to an end. Martin were overjoyed over the oldest and the 2nd smallest pubs but I think that the Reuben experience coupled with my cuddle time with a small donkey family might have been my highlights. But now we have arrived at the red centre.
*) Not to be confused with the much more contemporary art rock
**) and a movie
***) Pharmacies seems to be suffering from the same case of “updating info on our website is kinda, idk, optional, like” as clinics
****) or flip-flops, or jandals….