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Published: September 3rd 2020
After another magnificent lunch we arrived into Alice Springs at 1pm. There are excursions included in the fare and we had opted for the Alice Explorer. There was another out to Simpson's Gap but Ken and Edna had taken us there last year. We were the second to last group off the train and had to wear masks for about 100 metres until we had given our border entry forms to the police on the platform. Then it was into the bus and off.
Our driver was very glad to see us as this was his first job for four months.We drove around the town and our first stop was at a Reptile Park. This turned out to be suprisingly good ad the presenter was an enthusiast who knew his stuff. Inside there were many, various snakes in their glass cases that we could gaze at and then he told us how to avoid snake bites etc. Very lively and informative. Then we ventured outside where there were several bearded dragons. We were introduced to one and he showed us how their beards fluff up when they feel in danger and then he put him on top of Lloyd's head!
I can't remember this dragon's name but a larger one called Bruce was brought out and the two had a standofff. The smaller one attacked Bruce who seemed more placid. They change colour when upset. further along we were shown a thorny devil. These are very small but rather attractive in a prickly sort of way. The final stop was at a pool where a saltwater crocodile named Terry lived. Our guide showed us that salties are aware of movement and vibration and demonstrated this by throwing a plastic ball into the pool which was savaged by the croc. We were warned that salties do not want to eat adults as we are too big they just want to kill us!! Very reassuring. All the outside enclosures had sailcloth coverings, not just for shade, but to keep the predator birds from eating the lizards. A falcon was actually hovering overhead.
Across the road, past a large statue of John McDouall Stuart was the headquarters of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. There we watched a 15 minute video detailing the history of the service and how,, after it was founded by John Flynn it has grown to cover vast areas
of Outback Australia. A gift shop and small museum was also at the site and we spent a little while there, looking at models of the various planes and historical documents related to this. Interesting but not very intriguing.
Our third stop was at the Overland Telegraph station next to the original Alice Spring. We had visited the spring with Ken but had not gone inside the buildings. Another very informative guide showed us around and explained how the station was set up and how important it was for communication in the late 1800s. He was also pleased to see us and aplogised if he was a bit rusty as this was his first group in over four months. We wandered through the various buildings which have been beautifully restored and heard about the different people who lived and worked here. I found this area captivating and was glad we had been able to see inside, which last year we had only seen from the outside.
Then it was drive through the centre of town and back to the train. It had been a four hour excursion, very enjoyable but rather tiring. I was glad to
be back on board and we headed for the lounge very soon for pre-dinner drinks. Again the dinner was delicious, starting with kangaroo fillet for entree, followed by barramundi and the scrumptious coconut and raspberry icecream. We stayed in the lounge after dinner for a couple of g&ts and a Bailey's, chatting to our fellow travellers. This time I slept very well, without really being aware too much of the train noise and movement.
After breakfast, we arrived in Katherine at 9am. Here we had signed up for the Katherine Gorge Cruise or rather Nitmiluk in the language of the local Jamoyn people. A fifteen minute bus trip brought us the entrance to the park. Again Jeff, our bus drive,r gave informative and amusing commentary along the way pointing out the old airstrip which had played a part in WW2 and indicating how high the water had risen during the flood of 1998. We were soon on board our boat and this time had a young woman to guide us. She was very good, with a deep knowledge and understanding of the Dreamtime stories surrounding this very sacred place. We moved slowly along the river, looking in awe at
the towering rock faces and the varied natural flora. We did see a freshwater crocodile sunning itself on the banks. Salties are mainly kept out of the gorge through tracking and removal, while Freshies are less dangerous as they are much smaller and are more wary of people. At the end of the first gorge we had a short walk across rocky ground to reach the second. All in all there are thirteen gorges here but the first two are the ones visited the most. On the way we stopped to admire some Aboriginal Rock Art high up on the sandstone walls.
Once into the second boat we continued upstream. The highlight of this section is the mighty Jedda rock used in filming the first Australian colour movie called "Jedda". I remember seeing it in the '50s. The gorges are caused when the sandstone fractures and this area has been evolving for well over a thousand million years.On the way back our guide talked to us about the way the local people use the various plants and trees in the vicinity. The Jamoyn were recognised as the legal custodians of this area, after an 11 year battle to get
native title, only in the '80s'. It was a beautiful day, with temperatures in the low '30s and we enjoyed the breeze as we cruised along the gorge. The drive back included a drive through the centre of town, which did not take long, and then back to the Ghan it was.
After our final lunch on board, we spent another couple of hours in the lounge where we chatted comfortably, but then it was back to pack up and prepare for our arrival into Darwin. It had been a memorable trip, not only for the sights we had seen, but also the people we have met .Coming into Darwin about 5-45pm it was hard to say goodbye to Shereena, who hadlooked after us splendidly, Lachie who was always there with a drink ready and Matthew, our Covid-Marshall who kept us all safe. The staff make the journey!!
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