A crocodile Christmas road trip - Litchfield and Kakadu National Park Northern Territory

Published: January 5th 2018
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As I stepped off the plane in Darwin, the instant gush of hot breeze hit my face and the sound of the crickets in the palm trees filled the air. I knew I had arrived in a tropical paradise! We picked up our SUV and headed out from Darwin passing suburbs called Coconut Grove and Humpty Doo on the way. I found this rather amusing - can you imagine writing either of those down as your address!We drove the 286km journey east along the Arnhem Highway, the straight road was lined either side with rust coloured rubble, the colour I had imagined would depict the northern territory! There were lush green mango trees as far as the eye could see, and after only passing a handful of cars in 3 hours we arrived at the Ubirr rock site. This sacred area hosts 5000 year old aborigines paintings. These symbolic drawings, painted with animal blood and plant dye, depict stories of aboriginal culture and their traditions such as: dancing, rituals and hunting.

We continued walking up to the Nadab lookout, which gives a
360 degree view of the vast Kakadu National Park, flood plains and escarpment stretching into the horizon. I felt a real sense of isolation sitting and looking out from the top of the rock, far from the bustling crowds, skyscrapers and the rush hour chaos in Sydney.

On the northeastern border of the northern territory is the Cahills crossing which leads into Arnhem land and is governed by the aborigines so a permit is required to enter. We originally planned to visit this area. However, due to the rainy season, the crossing was flooded and the road was submersed in fast flowing water. However, this didn't stop some people and to our astonishment we saw a few cars drive through the gushing water as we watched apprehensively to see if they made it! We spoke to a guy fishing who told us about an aborigine man who was sadly eaten by a crocodile seven months ago when crossing the water by foot. He said if we wait long enough, we should see a crocodile and that there was a dominant male five metres in length who regularly roams the area
looking for prey. Looking around with nervous anticipation we set-up camp amongst the trees and watched patiently like something from a David Attenborough documentary!

There are approximately 150,000 saltwater crocodiles and at least 100,000 freshwater crocodiles across northern Australia. Any area within the national park near water has a yellow sign warning of crocodiles. Our guide explained that in the wet season, the food for the crocodiles becomes diluted so they are forced to venture further to find their prey which can be up to 500 metres from the water! Knowing there are so many crocodiles, it's nerve-racking because you wouldn't want to encounter one but also exciting at the same time because you know they could be potentially close. For my Christmas present Will had organised a surprise helicopter ride over the Kakaku National Park. I lifted the headphones over my head and strapped in my seat belt. My excitement grew as the propellers started to turn and we gently lifted off from the runway. Taking off from Jabiru airport we flew a 20 minute route: over to the archway,
across the rocky terrain and circled back across the flood plains. My adrenaline was pumping as we glided over the tree tops at 100km an hour, the pilot swooping down and turning from left to right like a bird of prey. With the wind in our hair and the door wide open exposing us to the elements it was the most sensational experience!Having heard many great reviews we decided to book ourselves onto the yellow river sunset cruise. As we departed from the jetty into the murky green water, the tour guide kindly reminded us to keep our hands away from the side of the boat! We drifted past an area abundant with water lilies bursting through the tops of the water. Their large leaves repel moisture from it's surface, allowing the aborigines to use them to carry water.

Coming into the wet season, the water levels were still fairly low. However, our guide explained to us that in the wet season the water can rise more than two and a half metres from its current level. After 30 minutes without
a crocodile sighting I was beginning to feel a bit despondent, but then suddenly a guy behind us shouted that he could see one on the river bank in the distance. We glided over to the water's edge to see a two metre crocodile basking with its mouth wide open. The smaller crocodiles wait out on the bank if they fear danger from a larger crocodile in the water and they have their mouth's open to cool down in the 37 degree heat. Luckily, a tropical storm passed over the flood plain causing the temperature to drop and more crocodiles to appear on the surface of the water. They would glide along at the same speed as the boat in stealth mode often on a mission to deter other crocodiles from entering their patch of the river. We saw around 12 crocodiles and our guide said for every crocodile you see, there are another seven nearby which shows just how densely populated the waters are. Watching these prehistoric looking hunters up close in the wild is fascinating and I would highly recommend the yellow river cruise to anyone visiting Kakadu National Park.

A short drive from Jabiru, where we
were staying, was the Anbangbang aborigine rock art site. The trail led us through the trees and under an enormous overhanging rock. Some of the paintings are estimated to be over 5000 years old and it was fascinating to imagine the ancient aborigines sheltering from the tropical storms, chatting amongst themselves and painting whilst they waited for it to pass. Leaving Kakaku via the south of the park our stop for the night was 207km away at Pine Creek: a desolate town with only a small motel, a petrol station and a handful of houses. With not much to see in Pine Creek and expecting all the stores and restaurants to be closed for Christmas the following day, we decided to head down to Katherine stopping on the way at the Erina Falls. This beautiful waterfall cascades into a pool at the bottom that is normally open for swimming, however a crocodile had been spotted not too far away so as a safety precaution they had closed it off!

We stopped off at Coles to pick up our very untraditional Christmas
dinner of tinned tuna, avocado and cheese rolls with a mince pie for desert! There were no roast dinners to be found in the Australian bush outback! Katherine itself was just how I imagined a small outback town to have been like. Comprising only a few old rundown shops, a drive through bottle shop, one pub and a red rooster fast food joint. A large aboriginal population inhabits this area and it was interesting to watch, as a visitor, how the cultures are very different and still very much segregated. There were lots of people hanging around in groups on the streets, chatting in their native dialect and eating. Most of them are happy to walk around barefoot with old mismatch clothes on and no interest in fashion or appearance - a stark contrast to the image conscious people in the city.We woke up in 35 degree heat, the hottest Christmas I’d ever experienced and left the small one street town of Pine Creek to head north into the Litchfield National Park. Although it was the wet season, the tree trunks were stained halfway up from the ground caused by the bush fires in the dry season. The extreme weather in the northern territory goes from six months of the year with little to no rain to severe flooding and multiple road closures, making this a harsh environment for humans and animals to thrive in. Of course It wouldn’t be a true Australian road trip without running over a Wallaby en route as we entered Litchfield National Park!

At the Florence falls we had our very untraditional Christmas picnic by the waterfront with a drizzle of rain and mince pie for desert! This was followed by a refreshing dip in the plunge pool underneath the falling waterfall set deep inside the lush green rainforest flora and fauna. On the way home we stopped at a deserted roadside bar, run by a german guy, for a quick beverage and a game of chess accompanied by some bush mosquitos! It was definitely one of the most memorable Christmas’s I’ve had.

One of the unique natural sites in Litchfield are the termite mounds that rise up sporadically from the ground like coffins spread across the park, some reaching over two metres in height. These solid structures provide a secure habitat for the termites during the harsh seasons. Our last day of the trip was spent at the Wangi Falls on the west edge of Litchfield National Park. We took a two kilometre walk through the humid jungle, weaving in between the obstacle course of spider webs stretching across the paths, the home to dangerous looking spiders waiting to pounce on their next pray.

As we drove back to Darwin, the heavy rain crashed down on the windscreen. I reflected on the amazing scenery and animals I had experienced over the past few days. To me the Northern territory depicts the ‘real Australia’ with its aboriginal influences, rusty red coloured sand, dangerous animals and vast lands. For anyone who hasn’t been, Kakadu and Litchfield are a must for anyone looking for an adventure!



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