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Published: October 13th 2013
We spent 5 days barely scratching the surface of Kakadu National Park, this vast reserve extends over 20,000 square km and encompasses huge dramatic landscapes from sandstone escarpments to vast wetlands. Kakadu is also known as a living cultural landscape, filled with fascinating rock art sites and dreaming places representing one of the longest historical records of any group of people in the world. Although managed by the government as a National Park, the land itself still belongs to the Bininj/Mungguy aboriginals who have adapted and used the land for food and general survival over tens of thousands of years, and thus access to the park is strictly limited to designated trails and camping grounds. Nevertheless, whether it was the time of the year (the hottest !) or the sheer size of the park, we rarely saw more than two or three other campervans at night and it was for us a peaceful, beautiful place to be for a week.
One of our favourite spots in the park was the rocky lookout at Ubirr in the north east corner of the Park, close to the border with Arnhem Land and overlooking a vast flood plain. We sat in the cool
breeze watching the rocks glow red as the sun set, and kangaroos and a dingo came out at dusk across the plain below. Here also we saw rock art depicting whole stories about the food resources of the wetlands, with incredibly detailed 'x-ray' paintings of fish and turtles. We bush camped here for two nights, would have loved to have stayed longer if the flies and mosquitoes hadn't driven us away.
Lindsey's favourite spot in Kakadu was the Yellow Water wetlands; hardly wetlands at this the driest time of the year but all the better for bird watching, since the few remaining patches of wetland were teeming with water birds, raptors and migrants from and of course the odd crocodile. On an early morning boat trip we were treated to one of Australia's stunning sunrises, plus distant views of the magnificent but shy Brolga Cranes in the mist.
Eve's highlight of Kakadu was the day that we spent with an aboriginal called Patsy on a farm just outside of Kakadu. Patsy volunteers for the company Animal Tracks, a part charity venture that organises aboriginal guided tours to fund the running of a working cooperative farm providing bush food
to the aboriginals of Kakadu. Patsy was born in Southern Kakadu and grew up as a nomad living on bush food and sheltering in rock caves. She had some incredible tales to tell about how she grew up in the bush, and some great dreamtime stories. She had us all digging for tubers and water chestnuts, stripping paper bark for a camp fire and even eating green ants to make sure we wouldn't catch a cold that night ! The day culminated in a traditional campfire meal of bushfoods, tea and damper, enjoyed at sunset on the edge of a vast floodplain teeming with geese and other water birds. My day with Patsy, by Eve
Patsy is an aboriginal who lives on a buffalo farm. We helped Patsy find food for dinner from the bush and cook it on a fire in the ground. We collected water chestnuts, berries and bark and twigs to make the campfire with. We learnt that the bush is like a supermarket for Patsy and that what she eats depends on the season. Sometimes she spends all day looking for food to eat in the bush. Patsy also showed us how to make
a cold better by eating squashed green ants - they smelled like a lemon honey drink. My favourite part of the day was helping to make the campfire: we dug a big hole in the ground, put twigs in the bottom, then put all of the food on top together wrapped up in bark. Patsy lit the fire by rubbing two sticks together; Daddy tried but he couldn't do it ! The fire was covered in ground and left for half an hour. Then we dug up the cooked food - it was yummy, my favourite was the sweet potato and also the damper bread but I couldn't bear to eat the poor magpie goose!
From Kakadu we travelled south to Katherine, spending a day canoeing through another dramatic landscape that is Nitmiluk Gorge. At 12 km long we only managed one of its 13 gorges in the oppressive heat, before plunging for a rather nervous swim; supposedly all of the saltwater crocodiles are rounded up from the gorge at the beginning of the dry season but how could we be sure ? In nearby Mataranka we swam in what must be one of the scenic natural swimming pools
ever, a tropical spring fed pool in the middle of palm forest, with crystal clean water, a balmy 30 degrees and surrounded by shady palm trees. The Bungle Bungles
An impulsive decision to 'pop over' to western Australia to visit the Bungle Bungles or Purnululu National Park, from Katherine turned out to be more of a gruelling 4 day expedition, involving over 1500 km of sealed road and 200 km of dirt track. Four days of seering heat (42 degrees at 9am), clouds of red red dust and sleeping in the boot of a jeep, but standing face to face with these enormous orange and black striped beehive-like domes we all agreed that it was all worth it. All hardships were quickly forgotten as we spent sunrise to sunset exploring the huge gorges creeks and caves. These rock formations of sandstone and conglomerate have been dated over millions of years, moulded by rainfall with the coloured stripes the result of oxidised iron compound and algae. Incredibly the range was only discovered by white people in the 1980s, but this is indeed hardly surprising given the remote location of the range, within a country of this size. Our
trip to the Bungle Bungles, by Eve
Our trip to the Bungle Bungles was amazing because we learnt so much, we learnt that the dome shaped rocks are named after little clumps of grass that look exactly like them and that the stripes are formed by erosion by the rain and wind on the minerals in the rock. One or two of the Bungles had holes in them. We saw lots of Bungles together making an elephant shape. I thought they looked a bit like squashed jaffa cakes because they were striped brown like chocolate, orange and a bit of white like sponge. My favourite part of the Bungles was the Echidna Chasm, we walked in a really deep gorge and could hear our voices like an echo. Litchfield - final stop in the Top End
At first sight Litchfield appears tame and uninteresting in comparison to other areas in the Top End. It lacks the dramatic natural features of Kakadu, is smaller and an easy day trip from Darwin. But for us on our last stop before Darwin it was relaxing to enjoy the natural swimming pools, free of dust and mosquitoes.
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