Kakadu & Singapore Too


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Oceania » Australia » Northern Territory » Darwin
August 19th 2009
Published: August 20th 2009
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Nourlangie Rock artNourlangie Rock artNourlangie Rock art

the story of Namarrgon in the Anbangbang Gallery
If you have the e-stamina to get to the end of my blogs you’ll notice the later photos of this month’s look decidedly un-Australian.

At happy hour one evening our friends mentioned cheap airfares as they were thinking of a trip to Thailand. Suddenly a map of SE Asia popped up in my head. Darwin is so close - only a 3 hour trip to Singapore instead of the discouraging 9 from NZ. And how cheap? Only $100 each way?? We’d kick ourselves if we didn’t go!

Rhys had work organised but didn’t start for 2 weeks, so after a couple of weeks of delicious lethargy lolling around enjoying the tropical sunshine, we sprang into organisation mode.

We wanted to “do Kakadu” first as our work would go till the end of September - the latest we wanted to stay in Darwin. Around October the “build up” starts - the humidity rises with the start of the wet season. The dry season now is humid enough for us, so we want to be gone before the weather that drives even locals ‘troppo’.

After a few sweaty hours hovering over Jetstar and Wotif websites, we had air tickets
Corroboree BillabongCorroboree BillabongCorroboree Billabong

our tour boat - at crocodile level!
and a very nice but also cheap hotel in central Singapore booked for four days. That should be enough to get a good look around one city surely??

Now Kakadu. It’s a National Park that evokes varying responses from visitors - Rough Guide even calls it Kaka-don’t. A little harsh, but for a large area of country, about 20,000 sq km, there’s quite a lot that’s difficult to get to see. Many tourists take scenic flights, particularly in the wet season when the waterfalls are spectacular and the roads are often closed because of seasonal flooding.

I’d wanted to take the van through the park on the way south from Darwin, stay at various camps and really experience the uniqueness and variety of the area, but the accumulation of excuses Rhys was generating led me to conclude he’d be happy with a quick trip in, see some crocodiles from a safe distance, then back to the relative civilization of Darwin where the midges are bad but at least the mozzies don’t carry dengue fever.

So we took a day trip into the Corroboree Billabong and Fogg Dam area for our wild life experience, then booked a cabin
Croc at 9 oclockCroc at 9 oclockCroc at 9 oclock

one of the 16 we saw in the hour trip. Big but not biggest - they can grow up to 8 meters!
at Jabiru so I could see the famed Aboriginal art sites. It seems many of the best art sites are only accessible by small tour groups and you need a permit to travel in Arnhemland, which forms the eastern border of Kakadu.

This is fair enough in my view - the World Heritage listed park was ‘returned’ to traditional owners late last century and is leased back by National Parks and jointly administered.
However, there’s also a huge uranium mine just next door to the only town - Jabiru, which wouldn’t exist at all but for it being the service centre for the mine.

A uranium mine in a national park?....wouldn’t happen in NZ aye.

We had been recommended the boat trip at Corroboree Billabong rather than the much hyped Yellow Water south of Jabiru. It’s definitely a more rustic affair, but cheaper and very good value if the hundreds of birds - including our first Jabiru - and 16 happily basking crocodiles we saw in the one hour cruise are anything to go by.

Fogg Dam was man-made for water storage in Darwin’s early development, but that hasn’t bothered the thousands of birds who
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and there were more lurking beneath
now make it home in the dry season. There’s a bird hide unlike any other bird hide we have made increasingly pessimistic walks in to see - from this one you can clearly see many many MANY birds of dozens of different species, eating, mating, flying in and out, squawking, screeching and generally getting on with their avian lives without any concern for the buses and carloads of tourists trailing past.

And also apparently unconcerned about the large estuarine crocodile which inhabits the area and has taken to sunning itself on the dam wall of an afternoon, so unfortunately that walk was closed. We didn’t argue.

Kakadu. Yes, the roads are pretty boring and yes, most of the scenery that’s easily accessible is pretty boring, BUT there are two excellent visitor/cultural centres, Bowali in Jabiru and Warradjan at Yellow Water which have brilliant interpretive displays of aboriginal history and culture. And there is the art - definitely the best in situ aboriginal art we have seen so far. Wonderful.

What is also brilliant is that the Park Rangers are very visible and active, with regular free ranger talks at various sites throughout the day. We timed our
JabiruJabiruJabiru

our first sighting of this elusive bird
walks to the Ubirr and Nourlangie rock sites and heard friendly and informative talks which made the visits more meaningful.

And the sunset at Ubirr lookout - not a place for secluded romance as you take your place on the west-facing escarpment overlooking the wetlands with about a thousand other camera-clicking tourists from all over the world - but definitely an experience not, as they say, to be missed.

Ubirr and Nourlangie Rock are my top two places to go in Kakadu in the dry season when waterfalls are probably not worth the effort. Both the art and scenery at these easily accessible spots are stunning.

Sufficiently sated with prehistoric culture and primordial wildlife, we were now in excited anticipation of a few days in one of the world’s most modern cities.

After a painless flight from Darwin, where the airport is conveniently right in the middle of the city (thanks Robyn for the drop-off!) we got our first taste of how Singapore operates. As we blithely attempted to exit the airport in search of a taxi we were stopped by an airport official whose outfit included white mickey mouse gloves. Touting for fares and overcharging
a sleepy corner of the billabonga sleepy corner of the billabonga sleepy corner of the billabong

with crocs, egrets and goodness knows what else
are not allowed, so we were firmly directed to wait while the next taxi in line was waved down by the second mickey mouse taxi marshal for our convenience.

OK, so it was abrupt and the taxi driver was not a great conversationalist, but we knew the fare would be fair and we were delivered with amazing speed from Changi airport along beautiful boulevards lined with huge trees and manicured gardens to our hotel for only $1 more than the shuttle bus. We weren’t even out of the taxi and we loved the place.

More impeccably uniformed staff waited to hover round us at the hotel. Tourists are always fussed over in Singapore as a main source of income, but we got the distinct impression the global financial crisis had hit the tourism industry hard - our very cheap 4 star room, almost empty restaurants, special deals on tours everywhere. Bonus!

China Town was walking distance, so we headed there for our first meal. And dear reader, those of you who are familiar with Rhys and his amazingly sensitive constitution will be, as I was, surprised and relieved that throughout four days and nights he ate Asian
lotus lillieslotus lillieslotus lillies

very big and beautiful
food without any detremental consequences!
He did give in at the last post and have Subway at the airport coming home, but I would happily survive on a diet of chicken-rice, as it appears most of Singapore does.

Four days was of course nowhere near enough to “see” Singapore - we didn’t get to Sentosa Island to ride the cable car, (sniff) or even get out of the central city, but as there was Chinatown, Little India, Kampung Glam (the Malay quarter), Bugis (everything), Joo Chiat (Perankan or Malay-Chinese district) and Arab quarter within walking distance, we felt we had been all over Asia in those four days. Our feet definitely felt like it!!

On the first day we got a two day pass for the Hippo bus - a hop-on, hop-off topless double decker which whips you around the central city at an alarming speed, accompanied by a commentary from a roster of hyper 20somethings with questionable knowledge and varying statistics about the social history of Singapore.

We liked Larry the gay Malay best, although his confident assertion that the Singapore Art Museum was open from 7am - 7pm every day had us turning up an
Corroboree BillabongCorroboree BillabongCorroboree Billabong

some billabongs are creepy, some are disgusting, this one is beautiful
hour before it did open at 10am. Nothing in Singapore opens before 10am, most shops not till 11 and some not till midday. Which again is great for tourists who want a leisurely morning hunting for something for breakfast which doesn’t include duck entrails.

The Hippo ticket also included a river tour, which although not very long, gave a beautiful view of the city’s architecture. We did it 3 times because I pestered Rhys to take the last trip at 9.30pm to see all the pretty lights from the water. Ahhh.

Singapore has obviously had its problems both in past and recent history. We arrived the day after National Day and there were flags flying from most apartment windows. There is tangible pride in the success of their young country - only 44 years on from independence from British rule. From the surface the subsequent authoritarian government has produced an amazing island city and model for modern living.

Lee Kwan Yew ordered a ten year plan to clean up the river from the stinking cesspit it had become, but it was decreed that heritage precincts be retained - the warehouses and shophouses were not bulldozed but restored
Fogg DamFogg DamFogg Dam

Egrets, magpie geese, swamp hens, jacaras, and thousands of assorted ducks
to become fascinating shopping, dining and entertainment venues.

Our hotel was close to Clarke Quay which has restaurants lining the river on both sides, picturesque bridges and a gorgeously garish mix of done-up historic wharf precinct buildings, new and trendy bars and fabulous “mall architecture” - sails, fountains, sculptures, light features etc.

And of course at night it was full of beautiful people - perfect, tiny Asian girls in microscopic mini skirts and perilous high heels. I’m used to having to look up to most people except those under 10 - in Singapore I felt large and clumsy.

Rhys coped with the astronomical price of alcohol, due to huge government taxes, by becoming very fond of the local Tiger beer - both thirst quenching in the humidity and affordable. No, we didn’t have a Singapore Sling - the ones we saw advertised didn’t have prices on the menu and a glass of wine costs more than what we’d pay for a bottle.

It may be a very regulated country, but when you experience the huge melting pot of cultures living and working together, it seems to work amazingly well for a 40x20 sq km island which
Bardedjilidji walk near UbirrBardedjilidji walk near UbirrBardedjilidji walk near Ubirr

through the remnants of the sandstone escarpment by East Alligator River - the border between Kakadu and Arnhemland
is home to 4.8 million people.

The cultures are still distinct - the Chinese shop and eat at Chinatown, the Indians shop and eat in little India, customs, costumes and cultures are preserved. But you can walk down any street in these enclaves and find a Hindu or Buddhist temple next to a Mosque with an Anglican church round the corner. Everyone shops at the Mustafa Centre in the Arab quarter - 6 floors of tightly packed merchandise open 24 hours a day with what seemed like one shop assistant per customer.

We came across a Hindu festival in Chinatown on our first night and there was always worship of some kind going on in one of the many well kept temples throughout the city. Even tourists of English extraction can worship at the temple of colonialism - Raffles Hotel - which was originally built by a couple of Armenian brothers.

It certainly is a cross roads of culture, but where cultures seem to live in mutual respect.

So yes - we loved Singapore, even though we didn’t get to see much of the island, the Botanic Gardens, zoos, cultural centres or art galleries. But we’re
Ubirr  Ubirr  Ubirr

one of the rock shelter art sites..
already planning our next trip.

I’ve not included any Darwin pics on this blog so I’ll have something to illustrate the next one - for the next four weeks I’ll be up in the dark to be at the Spotless Laundry for my 6am shift as a laundry lady. For how I survived, tune into the next instalment.



Additional photos below
Photos: 70, Displayed: 30


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Rainbow serpentRainbow serpent
Rainbow serpent

..the site of rainbow serpent dreaming
Ubirr main galleryUbirr main gallery
Ubirr main gallery

a thylacine (Tasmanian tiger - now extinct) painted high up on the rock wall gives some idea of the art's age
Dinner dreamingDinner dreaming
Dinner dreaming

barramundi - a favourite fish caught in the rivers of the Top End - features prominantly in Ubirr rock art
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drawings are done over the top of each other - layered by succesive settlements over tens of thousands of years
Ranger talksRanger talks
Ranger talks

Annie explains the art work to an attentive audience
Long necked turtleLong necked turtle
Long necked turtle

another delicacy - num nums!
Ubirr lookoutUbirr lookout
Ubirr lookout

looking north over the Magela wetlands
view from the topview from the top
view from the top

looking east to the Arnhemland escarpment
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from the top lookout


20th August 2009

Yet another spectacularly written and illustrated touring story
Hilary, you should be paid for writing this travel logs. I now know what and when to visit Kakadu and your descriptions of Singapore are clear and accurate. I read your Singapore tale with a sinking heart, wondering if you were there when we were? But I think we may have missed by a few days or a week. We arrived 30 July and left 3 August. The national flags were still hanging from everyones apartment windows. And like you I loved it. We will definitely go back to Singapore and stay longer because there is so much to do there. We visited Sentosa Island via the cable car and spent an afternoon in the Botanical gardens. Both worthwhile. Mark wouldn't let me go to the National Art Gallery or any museums because he had been saturated with them in Vietnam. The highlights for me were Buji St and Orchard Road, a shopping addicts paradise. Was enthralled by the laser light show on the Fountain of Fortune (the worlds largest fountain) which occurs nightly in the Sun City mall. Now I'm looking out for work opportunities in Singapore. And pray tell, what work are you starting soon? Much love xxx

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