Just for a change… north!

 A late start today, only having to be up at 6:30. However, the tents were all transparent fly-netting so the sun woke us all at 5:30 instead. We’re definitely in the tropics now – the weather is very hot and humid. I’m remembering what Asia was like now! It’s surprising how quickly the change takes place as you travel up the Stuart Highway.

Today’s big destination was the Katherine Gorge within the Nitmiluk National Park, a huge system of canyons and crevices forged by the Katherine River over millions of years. Freshwater crocodiles inhabit the area and many of the sandy beaches within the Gorge are labelled as crocodile breeding grounds. I partnered with Janni, one of the Danish girls, to canoe for a couple of hours – an optional extra not part of the tour, but quite reasonable at $23. This is the all-day hire price, but we only had two hours. We made it to near the top of the first gorge (Katherine Gorge is one huge single gorge, but seems divided into 13 different ones during drier weather) where we got out along with most of the rest of the canoists and had a swim for half an hour or so. The water was lovely and the scenery idyllic. Palm trees, golden sand, lurking reptiles…

 Upon returning to the coach, Pia (the other Dane) and I forked out $70 each and took a ten-minute helicopter ride. Neither of us have been in a chopper before, and this was a superb place to experience it. Carl joined us for free, the lucky person, at the invitation of the pilot and he loved it as well.

Katherine Gorge is stunning both from close up and from 2000 feet in the air. They do offer longer tours, but $70 was about as much as I could justify and we also had a schedule to keep to. The pilot removed the rear doors which made it easier to take photos but hugely increased the wind and noise. If you’ve never been in a helicopter while it banks, either… wow. The bizarre thing is it’s almost a purely visual experience. You can’t actually feel it banking. It was a little too windy for too many aerobatics (I’m partly glad of that), and gusts did buffet our little copter as we made our way up the first three mini-gorges and back again. Definitely worth the money. As an aside, at the weigh-in before flying I found that I’m currently 73kg. That’s the lightest I’ve been in years, though it’s possibly down to dehydration!

 Our final lunch stop was at Edith Falls where we polished off the rest of the food before having a plunge and throwing a ball around in the water. The falls themselves aren’t that large or impressive, but the water’s lovely and clear. Just what we needed before being crammed into the bus again for the final northward stint.

Green Day and AC/DC blared on the stereo (thanks, Kiwi) as we sped up the Stuart Highway. We had a quick stop at Adelaide River (a town, not a waterway) at beer o’clock and met Charlie. He’s the buffalo from the Croc Dundee films. He died a few years ago and they had him stuffed. You can now have your photo taken with him or buy a little beer cooler with his name on.

And then on. To the final stop. Three days, 1500km and back to Darwin. My first stop in Oz, and most likely my last until I return – which I will do. I’ve still got the West to visit!

We met up for dinner later on at the Vic and we came third in the pub quiz. Two free jugs of beer! Whoop! Darwin’s definitely quieter than it was when I visited about 2 1/2 months ago. The Vic’s upper floor is shut and there are far fewer people around.

 Our group disappeared in little dribs and drabs as the majority were setting off for a 3-day Kakadu trip with a 6:20 pickup. Credit to the Bulgarian lad who lasted till almost 2am. I left Erin, the Canadian girl, at around 2:30 once the live music had finished and staggered back to the Cav. I found her on the stairs about 2 hours later munching crisps when I woke up to get some fresh air.

One final message – happy birthday to Sharna who I met in the Vic. Another nice Aussie I met who was great to chat to. Maybe I’ll see you again when I head back here! Posted by Picasa

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