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Saturday, 27 May 2017

Kakadu - wet lands, rock art and water crossings!

03 - 06/05/2017
Kakadu (Northern Territory)
Distance Travelled:
236 km

ABORIGINAL cave art:

Heading out of Darwin, we took the Arnhem highway, leading south east from city. On our way to Kakadu, we passed through a little township named Humpty Doo; which led to the boys making up rhymes for the next hour or so, stringing together ‘oo’ words – needless to say, being two young lads, most of the rhymes included ‘poo’ (“We’re off to Kakadu, going through Humpty Doo, to see a moo do a poo”, you get the picture…).

With that hilarity behind us (Oh, please let it be behind us!!), we pulled into our first stop: the Window on the Wet Lands – visitors centre. The aboriginal name for this area is Ludawei, meaning turtle dreaming place, which features proudly in the dreamtime creation stories for the people of this area. This was a little gem of a place, particularly for those with an inquisitive mind. In addition to the helpful young lady sitting at the front desk, poised to answer any informational-type questions a passing visitor may have, there was also a massive display and education area replete with interesting facts about the flora and fauna of the Kakadu wetlands. There were even question and answer worksheets for the boys, which made us feel a little better for not keeping up as rigorously as we should have with their homework. So, with pencil and paper in hand, we spent the best part of two hours exploring the visitors centre, seeking answers to questions about this region.

 Window of the Wet Lands – Visitor’s Centre

But, soon it was time move on. A quick bite to eat in the car (out of the steaming heat and swarms of flies) and we were off. Trundling down the Arnhem highway, the landscape started to change. At first it just looked a little greener, but presently there was a flourish of colour and then increasingly dense vegetation closed in around us. Cabbage trees and Pandanus (flax like, squat shaped palms) began to appear; dominating the landscape out to the horizon. Pockets of water also started to emerge from the bush, with occasional billabongs (minus jolly swagmen, sadly) becoming rivers and swampland. Road signs also started to appear, announcing that we were travelling on a flood plain – with depth markers dotted here and there showing in the low points of the road, to warn travellers how deep the waters might be. This warning would be especially welcome during the wet season when the roads are largely flooded. Fortunately for us, the wet season ended several months ago, and most of the transient waterways that had burgeoned during the tropical monsoons had thankfully subsided. We knew there would be ample opportunities to cross water in our future, but we were hoping it would be once we had our trailer set up high and dry on solid ground.

Like most places at the top end of Australia, the waterways we were bumbling past were strictly for admiring only. Not, unfortunately, for swimming or cooling our tired feet in. The threat of crocs continued to loom large throughout Kakadu, and we wanted to avoid the embarrassment of social media shame by being shamefully gobbled by a hungry reptile (as described in my Darwin blog post).

And so, before long we entered into the great Kakadu national park…

Arriving at Kakadu National Park

However, our day’s journey wasn’t at an end just yet. We had the pleasure of meandering our way through throngs of lush plants, grassy meadows, and flowing waterways towards our new home-away-from-home for the next few days: Jabiru. This sparsely populated township wasn’t much to write home about (but, that’s never stopped me before!). There were a couple of caravan/camping sites, as well as  petrol station, and a supermarket. And that was about it. Unfortunately, the local pie shop – which we had heard good things about, and from which we had hoped to score some reportedly ‘world famous pies’ (aren’t they always world famous / award winners?!?) – was closed.

The name of the town, Jabiru, was taken from an enormous and stately bird that inhabits this region. Looking a little like a cross between a heron and a pelican, but wearing the black and white motley of a magpie, it sports a long curved horny beak for ferreting food out from under the reeds. This very debonair bird stands head and shoulders above the other feathery fowl of these wetlands, and it seems to strut around as if it knows it too!

The eponymous Jabiru

The caravan park itself was just as sparse as the town, but in its favour, each site had its own little toilet and shower cubicle and there was a pool to splash about it at the end of the day. What more does a little family need on the go need? Being in the middle of a national park, our little campsite was also teeming with wildlife. All manner of birds (Corellas, Black Cockatoos, and incalculable numbers of brightly coloured winged beasts) chirped and chittered in the trees, or swooped and flitted overhead. Of an evening, as the birds went home to roost, they were replaced by multitudes of hefty fruit bats, which darkened the skies as they headed to the abundant fruiting trees of the wet lands.

A smattering the birdlife around Kakadu – sadly, the bats were a little tricky to get a good snap of

Closer to the ground there was also plenty of scuttling and scurrying critters to see. In particular, this included swarms of green tree ants which were busily building leafy nests in the bushes next to our trailer. These nomadic arthropods seem to have an unquenchable desire to explore all places that lead up from the ground, in the hopes of finding the next perfect nest site. Unfortunately, that also included our caravan. But a quick trip to the supermarket for a tube of ‘ant sand’, which was then liberally sprinkled around our tyres, support braces, power cable, water hose and guy ropes, kept most of the marauding horde out of the trailer and back in nature where they belonged.

Busy green tree ants, building a new home next door to ours.

Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned heavy rains that had fallen upon the Northern Territory this year, several of the walks and trails within the park were still closed to the public (including Gunlom falls – complete with its plunge pool and swimming holes - which Nat was gagging to get to). Damn you Mother Nature, you’ve thwarted us again!

Still there was more than enough to keep us occupied. Most of our time was spent traipsing through long and windy trails; past stark and brightly coloured rocky mountains; fording creeks and streams; and hiking to view multitudes of ancient aboriginal rock art galleries in remote regions of the park.

Exploring the rocky trails of Kakadu

The rock art was truly spectacular, with walls of dozens of caves adorned with images were created over thousands of years. Interspersed amongst these ancient images, there were also more recent and indeed more intricate pictures, which were set down in the time frame of 100’s of years. All around the various sites, the old and new pictures were layered on top of each other – mingling stories and ideas from the distant past with those told by more contemporary teachers of aboriginal lore.

Amongst the sites visited were Ubirr and Nanguluwur art galleries, both of which emerged from the trail and opened into rocky amphitheatres. We all had enormous fun exploring the sandstone sites, imagining what life was like in times gone by, and searching through the images for both familiar animals and bizarre icons of dreamtime creatures and spirits. Surrounding each site, were well made walkways and helpful signs had been crafted to assist visitors navigate and make sense of what they are seeing. We also scratched our heads at some of the images, which were placed so high up the cave walls, or on the underside of an overhanging ledge, far out of reach without the aid of a very high ladder. Whoever the artist was of these cunningly placed gems, they were certainly determined that no one else would cover their work in times to come.

Rock art of Kakadu national park

Climbing to the top of a high mountain at the Ubirr site, we were treated to a breath-taking 360-degree view of this section of the park. On one side were wet lands stretching off into the distance. To the north were grasslands and forests, with puffs of smoke coming from fires that had been set to clear the scrub early in the dry season. To the west lay rocky-mountains, with towering stone columns and rough pebble slopes. But all around us was a brilliant blue sky, filled with eagles winging their way through the air on the thermal currents blasted upwards from the hot baked ground. Occasionally, these raptors would spot some critter fleeing from the burning grasses and swoop in to pick up their lunch. Probably slightly singed…

Amongst our wanderings around the rock art, we also took time to take to the waters of this vast wet land. The guides, however, almost seemed a little apologetic that we weren’t there during the massive migrations, which occur during the height of the season. Despite this, what we saw was certainly impressive enough! Flocks of birds, of all shapes, sizes and colours teamed amongst the half-submerged trees, or waded through floating islands of reeds.

Birds of the Kakadu wetlands

Our resident ‘Crocodile Spotter’, Nat, was also in fine form and was the first to spy many of the reptiles skulking in the water or warming their soft scaly hides on the muddy banks. As Nat announced each of her finds, the pilot of the water craft drew the boat in the direction she pointed. Thanks to her, we watched many a croc in it’s natural environment, including a particularly lazy brute lying in the shallows – who would occasionally throw his head back and chomp a handful of small fish that had wandering into the cool shade of his gaping maw. Sure, it wasn’t a big mouthful, but over the five minutes we watch him, he had at least half a dozen chomps. For a coldblooded creature, who doesn’t really need much food to survive, he looked like he was doing quite nicely for himself in that shady spot.

Many small mouthfuls make a dinner for this handsome chap

While we were out and about, we also took a spin out to a place we had heard about and wanted to see for ourselves. Cahill’s Crossing, a treacherous piece of road, which crosses the East Alligator River (strange name for a country without alligators…) from Kakadu to Arnhem land to the north. Arriving at the fast flowing river crossing, we had absolutely no intention of tackling the beast ourselves, but it was fun watching a handful of other vehicles pick their way across this patch of unforgiving water. Ruined cars lay strewn downstream, amongst the net casters and anglers chancing their luck at catching a barramundi. The boys could have stayed for hours watching in awe of these cars with their wheels nearly disappearing underwater as they went on their way across the river. But, we had our own, albeit smaller, rivers to cross to get home.

Cahill's Crossing: Nope. Not for me my friend...

Sure, it wasn’t as torrential as Cahill’s Crossing, but as this was my first – in my mind it almost could have been! I’m writing this a few weeks after we had our adventure in Kakadu, and looking back on it now (with a few more of these watery dips under my belt), it was probably pretty tame as far as water crossings go. But, as this was destined to be an adventure of learning and discovery from the start, I guess even a small water crossing was a large learning experience. As such, we dutifully recorded the event to mark this auspicious occasion (and took a few extra snaps, just for good measure).

Woo hoo!! (now that wasn't so bad, was it!?)

And so, with tyres wet and legs exhausted, we set our sights towards packing up and moving our digs to the bottom portion of the park; where we intended to stop for a night to see the last few spots that Kakadu had to offer…

…unfortunately, we never quite made it that far. But, I think I’ll leave that story for another day.

Bye ‘d bye,


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