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Published: August 8th 2019
Somehow you think that 8 or 9 days off the grid is going to mean your phone just explodes with messages when you get back on line. Anticlimax then, as very little had changed in the previous week. Also, most people who would write to us, knew we were off the grid. So it didn't take so long to catch up on life as we eagering tapped at our phones in the car park of a Coles in Kununurra, on still-patchy coverage. It turns out the earthquake was a 6.8 off the coast of Broome, rare, but with no long term consequences..
We still had four nights of jeep camping to go before we needed to return the jeep to Britz in Darwin. Four days and the whole Northern Territory at our disposal. With so many wonderful National Parks up for grabs we had to make a decision. From Kununurra we headed west towards Timber Creek, eventually stopping at a basic roadhouse about an hour further along. The roadhouse had a store, a restaurant and a campground out the back that was basically a big dusty carpark where you were welcome to find the flattest part to park on. With
very little interest in cooking after a long day of driving, we decided to treat ourselves to a warm meal in the restaurant.
I guess the advantage of working in a roadhouse in the arse end of nowhere, with very limited competition for miles around, is that you can forgo any notion of customer service! After managing to remain polite while ordering food with a woman who clearly begrudged me making her work, heaven forbid I should actually provide some income(!) we holed up for the night in our 4x4 snail and hit the road early the next day, targeting lunch in a town called Katherine.
After making contact with the folks back home in Katherine, we drove onwards towards Nilmiluk National Park, for a relaxed afternoon of swimming in a quite nice campground there. As we continued our sundowner tradition that evening, we thought we were doing a bit of bird watching, until we realised that we were actually looking at massive BATS. They were huge. The size of eagles! Thankfully however we didn't encounter the other local resident wildlife, Esmerelda the non-venomous snake, or any of her kids...
Before leaving we decided to take in
a short trek to a lookout over Nitmiluk. The short trek somehow turned into a 2hour, 5km trek in the blistering heat, but once we had completed it we decided it was worth it to have stretched our legs and to have explored a bit of the park.
After Nitmiluk, we had plotted a course towards Cooinda Lodge so we could do a wetlands tour the next day. This meant another long day in the jeep, but we took some breaks. First in picturesque Pine Creek ('It's Thomas the Tank Engine, Mammy!!) to buy beer and give Senan his obligatory playground fix. Then we grabbed a picnic lunch in the sun by a dried up creek not long after entering Kakadu park. Despite being tight on time, given the extra long trek that morning, we decided to make the trip up a bumpy 30km side road to visit Gonlum waterfall. The time constraints combined with the large amount of Croc Warning signs (hard to know if they are just covering their backs) meant we resisted the urge to dive on in.. but it was very beautiful and well worth the visit..
Kakadu Park itself was notable for its
different vegetation. Having been used to the dried out ochre look, it was strange to be more tropical lush surroundings. We pulled up in Cooinda Lodge campground just before night fell, where after a quick swim, we got our first real encounter with some really annoying locals: damn mosquitoes! Cooinda is very commercial, but the mossies, combined with an earlier wake up call, meant that we were happy to cocoon ourselves in our tent away for an early night!
The next morning we were packed up and ready to hop on a tour bus by 8.30am. We had booked a Yellow Water Cruise to experience 'the big 5' of the Northern Territories. In all honesty, none of us are fervent ornitologists, however the prospect of seeing plenty of crocodiles in the wild was worth the other hour of bird talk, especially when it was delivered by Damo who was quite the comedian. ('See this life jacket, its pretty much the most redundant piece of equipment in the boat. If you fall in, we'll be rescuing bits of you...albeit floating in this nice red jacket..').
It was really cool to make our way around the wetlands and we spotted
so many crocs that you start to get a bit blase about it! After the first two, Senan fairly much lost interest. By the last 10minutes it was clear he was in desperate need of a nap and everything and everyone could just go and jump! We did spot a few wild buffalo in the distance and a great view of an eagle in full flight in front of our noses. It's easy to forget it, but nature really is magnificent when you take a few moments to appreciate it!
As we left Cooinda, we stopped into the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural centre to try to learn a bit. Senan very quickly let it be known that he was not amused, and we mixing a hangry toddler with exhibits that he can reach, is not a wise idea! We poured ourselves back into the jeep and put the foot down to grab lunch in Jabira, before picking our spot for our final night of jeep camping: Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge looked ideal to make our drive tomorrow doable. In fairness it was a lovely campground for the afternoon, complete with a swimming pool that may aswell have been our private
pool, and a friendly little pet kangaroo which Senan befriended. But as evening fell, the dreaded mosquitos made their presence very known - once again forcing a hurried retreat to the roof tent, but not before we'd paused to savour the night sky one last time!
The next morning, I nearly lost the will to live, trying to swat away mosquitoes while trying to make sense of our jeep that needed to be returned 7 hours later... In the end we decided to just squash it all back in and drive! (even at that we were still splatting mosquitos 2 hours later when we got out of the jeep in Darwin..)
This meant we got to Darwin ahead of schedule, so with our hotel room not ready yet, we used the jeep to explore a bit of the city. I'll say one thing for Australian towns- they do beach fronts and lagoons really really well! After lunch by the lagoon, Senan made a beeline for the playground and then for the water, assuring us that he was just dipping his hand in... Yeh, sure. Cue soaked kid to be carried back to the jeep!
Our room in
the mantra on the esplanade hotel was a gift from heaven. It was a large apartment, with a sitting room with a big tv and a utility room complete with washer/dryer. After dumping the contents of the jeep on a hotel luggage trolley we sifted through them at our leisure, while Senan got his first dose of screen time in over a week. I didn't envy the prospect of squishing everything back into airplane friendly bags, but at least we could do it without risking dengue fever!
Senan's parting with the jeep was unceremonious 'bye bye jeep'. I think he truly enjoyed the experience, but, like myself, was a bit done with it, after the best part of two weeks. For my part I won't miss the red dust, nor the constant search for 'what bag was that in again' that comes from living out of the jeep, but I will miss the sense of adventure that comes with navigating dirt roads, and I'll miss the freedom of being in the middle of nowhere with no ties to anyone but yourself!
(... and the two year old that is clawing at your leg going 'mammy, mammy, mammy' 😊
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