Published: October 6th 2007September 10th 2007
After crossing over the border into the Northern Territories from Western Australia we headed straight up towards the Top End stopping briefly in Katherine to grab a sandwich. Our first stop was Lichfield National Park, a hundred or so Km south of Darwin famed for its waterfalls and crystal clear swimming holes.
We entered the park and headed towards the first water hole, Buley Rockhole. We expected to come across a ranger station to pay the necessary park fees but it turned out the entire park was free, which was a bit of bonus. Buley Rockhole turned out to be a series of small waterfalls, each cascading into its own pool, some of which were quite shallow, but some were very deep, maybe 4m or more. Each was perfect for swimming in, due to the beautifully clear water which was surprisingly, not that cold. While we were in one of the lower pools I noticed something quite large slide off the bank into the water and start slowly swimming across the unoccupied pool below us. The deadly Saltwater Crocodiles that inhabit most of the waterways up here aren’t present in any of the swimming areas so I wasn’t too worried,
but it looked like a small one from a distance, so I had to investigate. It turned out to be a very large Monitor Lizard which decided it was going to cool off and join in the fun, not dangerous at all but pretty cool sight nonetheless.
We spent a couple of hours enjoying the swimming before heading off towards
Florence Falls, a few Km further down the road. Florence Falls is further down the same waterway that forms Buley Rockhole, only instead of a series of small falls, the creek splits into 2 and goes over a large fall (10-15m) into a large pool below. Not only were the falls spectacular but the pool at the bottom was a beautiful place to swim, it was also possible to climb partway up the falls and throw yourself off into the pool, and although there are plenty of signs outlining the danger in doing so, I couldn’t resist, making sure Faye was ready with the camera. We spent a bit of time at the falls before deciding to spend the night at the campsite at Buley Rockhole, the first time we’ve had to pay for a campsite on the entire
trip, thankfully due to it being in a national park it wasn’t expensive at all.
As we spent the night in the park with very few other people we woke and went immediately to the swimming holes, enjoying having them all to ourselves before anyone else turned up. Afterwards we drove a lot further into the park to Wangi Falls, the parks most popular attraction. It consists of a year round waterfall with a large swimming pool below it, due to its accessibility it was quite crowded, but we still had a short swim and explored the falls. After drying ourselves off we started making our way out of the park to head up to Darwin, stopping briefly at a field of unimpressive magnetic termite mounds, which are slightly different to the other termite mounds that we’d seen thousands of on our long drive as these build thin blade like mounds in a north south orientation to make the most of the sun. They weren’t that exciting and we were happier to get our photo taken with the huge (about 3-4m) cathedral termite mound in the car park.
We weren’t quite sure what to expect in Darwin as
it was the largest city we’d been in since leaving Perth and also as it’s the state capital. After a short browse round the small city centre which Faye deemed was smaller than our home town we found somewhere quiet to sleep for the night and after some research we discovered that Darwin is indeed smaller than our home town as Bedford has a larger population. We used Darwin to gain some information for our visit to Kakadu and also to gain the necessary permit to enter Arnhem Land, where we hoped to buy some authentic Aboriginal art. We also managed to squeeze in a visit to the excellent Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territories which had an Aboriginal art exhibition, a superb local natural history display, a 5m stuffed croc and a section dedicated to Cyclone Tracy which swept through Darwin on Christmas day 1974 pretty much decimating the entire city. While we were in a large enough city to have one, we also visited the Qantas office to change some dates and reroute our flight tickets. We now have a date when we fly home from India, so although we’re sad to admit it, an accurate
countdown has begun, we also fly out of Sydney to Indonesia instead of Darwin so at least we won’t have to try and make our way back here, the changes were really inexpensive too which always helps.
We were lucky enough to be in the city on a Thursday, as during the dry season there is a night market held at Mindil Beach, which hosted loads of art and craft stalls, live music and an amazing variety of food stalls representing pretty much every cuisine from Asia and around the world. It had a really cool atmosphere and not surprisingly most of Darwin must have turned up as it was packed. After some difficult decisions on what to have to eat we stuffed ourselves with cheap food, and headed out of the city, east towards the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park.
We stayed the night in a small information bay just outside, so we could be in the park first thing in the morning. Kakadu is a huge park covering thousands of square kilometres accessed by two highways that run through it to the town of Jabiru, situated in the west of the park. We drove straight
towards the town as there is a visitor information centre just outside and we wanted to get all the necessary maps and info, and after passing the signs saying we’d entered the park we kept a look out for some kind of ranger station where we could pay the park fees. It turns out that like Lichfield, Kakadu is also free as they scrapped all the visitor fees a few years ago, which put a smile on our faces.
After getting every leaflet and brochure we could lay our hands on we set off towards Oenpelli, an Aboriginal community just outside the park in Arnhem Land as it’s the location of the Injalak Arts and Crafts centre, and our permit only allowed us the one day to visit. Once we arrived at the centre we found out that due to a death in the community it was closed for the day but we managed to catch someone (non-aboriginal) who worked there and they allowed us to have a look around quickly and buy some of the authentic artwork, the proceeds of which would directly benefit the community and artist. We also had a very interesting talk on how Aboriginals
are treated by the Australian government and left realising many of them lead a ‘third world’ existence within a ‘first world’ country.
After heading back into Kakadu we stopped at Ubirr which is famous for its incredible examples of preserved Aboriginal rock art painted over a period of 20, 000 years up to the last century. There were many sites scattered along the path, some of them a little faded and hard to decipher as paintings were often done over previous work, but many were perfect and easily recognisable as wallabies, turtles and fish. It was a really interesting walk taking it all in, and the pathway led up to a lookout offering beautiful views all around the park and of Arnhem Land beyond.
After spending the night in one of the parks many free camps we were up early and headed to Nourlangie, an area within the park dominated by an isolated outlier of the escarpment that separates the park from Arnhem Land beyond. There was quire a bit to do in the area so we planned to spend the day, first we spent some time exploring a nearby billabong which was covered with many different bird
species as well as hundreds of pesky flies… There was a very interesting walk around the escarpment and scattered around the cliffs there was some particularly impressive rock art, depicting several figures from aboriginal spiritual beliefs. We also took a lengthy walk to Gubara, an area of swimming holes nestled within a monsoon forest, where we hoped to cool off for a bit. Sadly the pools were almost all dried up so we only got to paddle around cooling off our feet but we did manage to walk through a cloud of butterflies (literally thousands) when entering the forest which was quite a magical experience.
The following day we were booked on a dawn cruise of Yellow Water wetlands so we had to be up super bright and early to be at the departure point by 6.45am. It was totally worth it though as we got to watch the sun rise over the water, covered in wisps of morning mist. It was a very interesting boat ride as we got to find out all about the bird species we saw (way to numerous to mention) as well as getting up close to several salt water crocodiles, which we hadn’t
managed to see any of yet. We were even lucky enough to see their resident big 3.5m croc (they get much bigger) which lazily swam past the boat getting us close to a real man eater, I can see why there are so many warnings on every creek and waterway in the area, as there is no way I’d like to come face to face with one of these in the water.
After the cruise we drove south along the highway leaving the park and kept heading onwards, starting our incredibly long drive to Queensland and the east coast. This would be our longest driving stretch since we started, hoping to cover the 2000 (ish) kilometres to Townsville in only a few days, lets hope Priscilla’s up to it, it would be a seriously long walk otherwise. Although the humidity was oppressive (it’s not even at its worse yet) it was totally worth coming all the way up to the top end, the national parks were at times simply breathtaking, and if you’re into wildlife, especially birds, Kakadu will simply blow you away.
There are more photos below