A veritable nature trail over my handful of days here. On Thursday, Katie and Ben drove me to the nearby Fogg’s Dam reserve. It’s quite a small place, but very pretty and loaded with birds. There are a handful of crocs around here, too – one persistent salty in particular – but mainly it’s our avian friends who make it what it is.
Mein hosts, and my other co-tenant, Toni – are regular visitors down here so I had the common birds pointed out to me as we crawled ever so slowly towards the picnic point in the car. We didn’t see the croc, but we did have an enjoyable couple of hours watching the feathered world go by and eating sandwiches.
Katie was back at work, but Ben off on Friday. I dropped the van back off at Apollo where I found I’d only used $560 of my $750 fuel allowance, as well as making the journey in three of the five days allotted. I still think I could do it in two. Everything was ship-shape and I just have to wait for my deposit and fuel fees to be restored to my credit card. I’m hoping the exchange rate works in my favour for this! Either way, I defy anyone else to find a way of getting from Cairns to Carwin for less than $5.
As an aside, I recall mentioning the problems I had filling the van with fuel. It turns out this is an inherent problem with the modifications made by Toyota themselves to tutn the Hilux into a motorhome. The pipe to the fuel tank is severed, then joined to an extended section by a rubber hose link. This bodge job makes the thing a nightmare to put fuel into – the diesel keeps bubbling up so you have to drip feed it.
One way around it is to use the funnel and pipe doo-hicky that should be stored in one of the external “cupboards” on the van. It’s meant to be used when you’re filling up from the jerry cans, but there’s no reason you can’t jam it in place and then shove the fuel pump nozzle into the funnel. The tube bypasses the problem area in the filling area and the fuel flows directly into the tank a lot faster.
After the van was back in the hands of the hire company, Ben drove me down to Litchfield National Park. I’d last visited here in August 2006 towards the end of the dry season. Everything was – as you’d expect – barren and dusty. This time, however, it was a much greener Litchfield that awaited me. I also swear the termite mounds had grown a good metre of so!
We lolled in the Buley Rockhole for an hour or so, where a decent-sized monitor lizard put in an appearance. Afterwards we visited the Florence Falls for a further dip. I’d been here on my last trip, but hadn’t been able to swim with my camera. This time I got some nice underwater photos and a bit of video around the back of the very noisy waterfall. At some point, that’ll make its way to YouTube.
Saturday was an easy day. I checked my emails at Katie’s work then sorted out my Japanese Rail Pass (after a fashion) in town. Essentially, it was impossible to get one from Flight Centre as they would have to order it, get it couriered up and then couriered down to Cairns. I’d have been very lucky to get it in time. Instead, their Cairns branch pointed me in the direction of another company in Cairns itself which will sort me one out in about 30 minutes. I’ll be heading there on Wednesday if I eventually make my mind up that the pass is worth getting.
On Sunday, I had another email check followed by a dive with Coral Divers. Just the one due to the nature of the tides in the Darwin area. This was my umpteenth wreck dive but the first time I’ve seen an plane underwater. It’s an old Dakota which ditched during a training or test flight in 1947. It was discovered in 2006, and a bunch of the loose artifacts were stolen late in 2008 by some scavenging filthbag.
The visibility was akin to “English diving” according to the skipper. In other words, poor. However, you’re down there to look at an object in this case – and not a large one – so visibility’s not the issue it could be elsewhere. It’s certainly an interesting wreck. Approximately half of the plane is present, and it has an abundance of coral growing from it. Many, many small glass fish surround it with a handful of larger specimens swimming around or “sitting” on the wings not caring how close you get to them.
I managed around 45 minutes with my buddy Ulrika – a German with a strong Glaswegian accent! In fact, she became the first German who I have ever heard say “cheerio” as I departed after the dive. No pictures, sorry. I had my camera with me, but didn’t take it down when I heard the visibility was poor. A shame, as I would have got some great shots of the larger fish.
The end of the nature trail was on Monday as I joined a coach trip around Kakadu. This is an enormous national park (around 20000 kmÂ²) and quite a distance from Darwin itself. Katie very kindly dropped me off on the Stuart Highway where the bus could pick me up without me having to go all the way into Darwin.
Our driver/guide was Marcel from the Netherlands. He’s now resident in Oz and used to own a hostel. As the day went on, things started to sound vaguely familiar regarding the place he used to run. I checked the name – Gecko Lodge.
This is the first place I ever stayed in on my first visit to Oz back in August 2006. Marcel cooked my first ever Aussie meal for me (well, he made the breakfast pancakes). I saw my first ever possum digging through the bin in the back yard of the Lodge.
Talk about a small world. It turns out he got sick of running the place a year or so ago and sold up to a Vietnamese woman who’s apparently still trying to turn a profit from it. Pretty much full circle – from my very first day in Oz to what is likely to be my third from last for some time to come.
Kakadu, as I mentioned, is big. Really big. Vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big. In fact,you may think it’s a long walk down the road to the chemist’s, but that just peanuts compared to Kakadu (5 points if you can name the author I just ripped off). As such it is definitely better tackled as a two or three day visit with overnight camping. I had been told this before but these trips are expensive and I didn’t have three whole days. I would also recommend getting there about two weeks later in the year than I did to give the waters a chance to go down. This will bring more crocs out so you have a chance of seeing them.
However, it’s truly spectacular so close to the end of the wet season. The greenery is amazing. Marcel pointed out that a lot of this is already dying. Areas we passed that were green today would be brown within 48 hours. The natives would also deliberately burn some areas back to refertilise the soil.
I was on the lookout for rock wallabies, but didn’t see any. However, I think I’d be disappointed anyway. My first thought was of a small kangaroo-like creature with long hair, playing guitar and head-banging but apparently they’re just like other wallabies only a bit smaller. Ah, well.
Although we had a lot of driving and not so much stopping, Marcel was full of information relating to the history, geography, Aboriginal stories, wildlife and so forth of the area.
We stopped at three main areas (plus lunch): the Anbangbang rock art “gallery”, an indiginous culture museum and Yellow Waters where we had a 90-minute boat trip.
Anbangbang is not a huge area, but chock full of rock art. This is essentally hand-painting on the rock walls which is fine and dandy as it’s really old, but far more interesting when you have a guide explaining what it all means. As with virtually all Aboriginal places, we don’t have the full story and we never will. As non-Aboriginals we’re “children” so we can’t be told everything that an of-age man or woman of Aboriginal descent could be.
Their belief system is very much unique as far as I’m aware, but at least they’re closer to the actual age of the world (or “country” as they would put it) than the Christian church. The Creationists will have you believe it’s around 6000 years. These uncultured heathens from backwater Australia are fairly sure it’s 65,000 as that’s as far back as their history goes. I’m still gunning for a few billion, but 65,000 is closer!
Hearing Marcel explain a lot of the ways Aboriginals look at life it’s pretty easy to understand how they and we could never really see eye to eye on a lot of fundamental things. The whole concept of possession, of owning something, simply doesn’t exist to the Aboriginals. Everything that exists is somehow related to everything else. To own something is to own a part of a thing of which you yourself are a part. It’s pointless so therefore they just don’t think of ownership in the way we do.
I hope I explained that correctly, but it was a superb example of how wildly different their mindset is from ours.
The culture museum filled in a few gaps, but by the time we got there Marcel had told us an incredible amount. It really just showed us physical examples of any of the things he’d talked about.
After lunch we hit Yellow River for our boat trip. Our group was joined by quite a few third-party members of the public and a fully-laden boat headed off into the waters. It was slow-paced, but we did see just about everything the captain had hoped we would. Many of the birds I’d already seen at Fogg’s Dam but it was good to get more information about them. And of course, a crocodile put in an appearance right at the end. Around 3.50m long and completely unphased at being shadowed by a boat full of tourists.
Oh, and a young girl pee’d herself at the front of the boat. That was kind of funny as the little sod had tried to steal my cap earlier, then kicked me in the knee when I stopped her. I hope she gets a (mild, easily-treated but marginally uncomfortable in the short term) rash.
After this, it was a bus back to Darwin. Most of the guests slept while I talked to Marcel. Katie, bless her, drove out to the Stuart Highway to get me despite me saying I could walk back to hers.
This was a special day for her and Ben, too. They were handed the keys of their first ever house this morning. I remember that feeling… Along with little Scrappy (their cute puppy) I’m sure they’ll make it a home in no time.
So tomorrow I’m helping Ben pack and transport boxes from their rented place to the new house. My flight to Cairns is at 5am on Wednesday morning so I reckon I’ll be dropped at the airport late on Tuesday night. I’d hardly expect a lift there at 3am! And I suspect this blog post won’t make it online until I get to Cairns either.