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Published: December 2nd 2021
I’m woken at the crack of dawn by noise that would wake the dead - thousands of birds in chorus in the trees around the hotel. I wonder how Issy can possibly still be asleep. I check to make sure that she is actually still with us, but all good - the snoring was a bit of a giveaway. I decide to take the opportunity for an early morning trip out to the Mamukala Wetlands. On the off chance that Issy stirs before I get back I leave her a note to tell her where I've gone. At least now if I get taken by a croc, she’ll know where to tell the searchers to look. I arrive at the car park to find that I’m the only person here. I read a large crocodile warning sign, and then a few metres further on another one, put there presumably on the off chance that I might have missed the first one. I'm feeling a bit lonely. I wonder what I’ll do if I do come across a croc and it starts chasing me. I don’t think I could outrun it. I suppose I could climb a tree, but if what we
saw of the "Jumping Crocs" out on the Adelaide River a few days ago was anything to go by I don't think any of the trees here are high enough to be of much help. I'm starting to wish that there was at least one other person here, although I’m not sure what good that might do. I suppose they could at least help the coroner fill in his report.
First stop is a bird hide on a walkway over the edge of the main wetland, which is massive and looks spectacular in the early morning light. There’s no shortage of bird life and colourful water lilies on display. I hike along a track through the bush between this wetland and the next one. There must be thousands of birds here, as well as more than the odd wallaby.
I head back and take a quick tour of Jabiru Township. All the houses look the same, which seems consistent with its origins as a closed town for workers at the nearby Ranger Uranium Mine. Mining started here in 1980 and only stopped earlier this year. We saw some signs at a ranger station when we first crossed into
the Park yesterday warning us to keep well clear of any of the uranium mines. Environmental standards weren’t as high in the 1980s as they are now, and it’s a wonder the whole place doesn’t glow in the dark.
Issy’s stirred so we head back to Nourlangie Rock where I went last night. It doesn’t look quite as stunning in the midday sun, but the indigenous rock art is a bit easier to see. We stop briefly at the nearby Anbangbang Billabong, and then attempt to climb up to the Nawurlandja Lookout which overlooks it. The path leads onto a massive sloping rock face. Issy doesn't get too far before deciding to head back but I can never resist a challenge so I press on. This proves to be a poor decision. I twist my ankle. I limp on. At least the views across to Nourlangie Rock are spectacular, albeit somewhat hazy. I limp back and report my injury to my beloved. She looks a bit sheepish. She says she wasn’t going to tell me, but seeing as I’ve confessed she says that she will too. She says she fell over as well, and she has the scars to
prove it. Her hands are bleeding and her toe hurts. She can hardly walk. Hmmm. When will we learn….
As we drive back we can’t help but notice that they seem to go in for really long names out here. Gunwarrdehwarrde Lookout, Malabanjbanjdnu Camp and Ngurrungurrudjba Billabong, to name a few. I’m not sure you’d be all that happy if you got one of those in a spelling bee.
We head off to Cooinda where we’ve booked a sunset tour of the Yellow Water Billabong. It seems to be very popular - four large boatloads popular. The Billabong is a series of massive interconnected wetlands which form part of the floodplain of the South Alligator River. The bird life is spectacular, and we’re told that a high proportion of the country's avian species are represented here. ... and there's a herd of wild horses hidden in amongst the trees, and of course there are crocs; lots of crocs. As seems to be the case everywhere our guides have names for all of them. Van Gogh has had half of one of his ears chewed off by a rival. Humpy has a large hump on his back, thought to
be a birth defect, and looks like the croc equivalent of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. As was the case a few days ago we’re shown how to use our life jackets, but drowning quickly would probably be a good result if we fell overboard here. We’re told that for every croc we see there are another half dozen that we can’t see, but they can see us. Spooky. Your average croc can apparently stay under water for up to two hours and slow its heart rate to three beats per minute. We're told that the local indigenous women are tasked with catching edible snakes from the wetland shallows, and are experts at detecting crocs. Just as well. A few missteps in these shallows and no more women, and therefore presumably no more indigenous people full stop. The women kill the snakes by biting them in the backs of their necks. Gruesome.
We see a few graceful looking Jabiru; and some black and white ducks which we're told mate for life. They’re otherwise known as "thousand dollar ducks". It seems that if you shoot one the fine is five hundred dollars, but they always fine you a thousand dollars
because the dead one's partner inevitably dies of a broken heart shortly afterwards. So sad .... and so cute. The local indigenous folk manage the land out here at this time of the year by burning off the grass in so called "cold fires". They do this in a patchwork pattern so that the animals will always have somewhere else to go. The sun starts to set and wallabies and herds of water buffalo suddenly appear seemingly from nowhere. This place has got to be one of the most spectacular on the planet, and it feels almost spiritual to be here.
As we get off the boat Issy's struggling to walk, a legacy of this morning's injuries. I hope she hasn‘t done herself any serious damage.
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