Day 2: Six of one and half a dozen of another

Published: June 25th 2017
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Geo: -12.6767, 132.828

That's been a big day of tourist adventures. The alarm went off at 5.30 because (agedMac) had missed the adjustment for the change in time zone but this did turn out to be a handy addition because we only just made it to the foyer in time for our 7.15 pickup by AATKings Tour.

It was a very large coach for just the 19 travellers in our group. After a false start ( we had to return to the depot to retrieve luggage that was forgotten) we were heading along the Stuart Highway (again) pointed due south towards Adelaide.

The tone of the trip was established early by Mac. He spotted a 60 km road sign and commented that they must have known he was coming! Talk about egocentric! Everything 60 is about the Birthday Boy to be. Road signs were also part of our tourist highlights as we saw our first 130 km speed limit sign today.

It was a leisurely bus ride (we are limited to 100 ), with personable and humorous commentary by coach driver Ray. In his previous life he was a driver of the cattle trains for 28 years (and has the scars to prove it.) Now,
he is a retiree in waiting with plans to settle in Indonesia in the shadow of an erupting volcano, after his grand daughter finishes her degree here in Australia. Go figure.

On the downside, the commentary does seem a little superficial and the references to the indigenous is all about "them and they." A little different from the proud references to "our First Nations People" of the Canadians. Not a biggie I guess...just different.

The Stuart Highway is the longest highway in the Southern Hemisphere and stretches some 2800 km from Darwin to Port Augusta. We were turning east and heading towards Palmerston and Kakadu via the Arnhem Highway and the roads are magnificent. The coach occasionally passes a few cars and vans as on coming traffic, but although we see many people at each of the venues, have to say that you hardly spot any vehicles on the road. And no police cars of any description so far.

First stopover, was a turn off from the Arnhem Highway for the Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Show. It was a real treat. After getting up close and personal with the snake with Joey, the handler, Mac and I headed to the lower deck open window so that we would have a bird's eye view of the crocs leaping out of the water.

This was an all girl crew. We chugged slowly along the Adelaide River on the lookout for crocodiles. When one was spotted, the boat would slow as the croc effortlessly swam out to the middle of the fast flowing tidal reaches of the river. With just the eyes visible above the water, the croc siddled up to the boat. It almost seemed primally calculating in its estimates on speed and distance to the dangling buffalo strips on offer. After raising its head slightly, with a sudden incredible surge of power it was out of the water, jaws open and then in a suspended instant, its jaws snapped and popped closed on the offering. And all that happened right next to our seat.

There were many sightings of crocs....way too many to count. And not that we were thinking of it....but this was the best ever deterrent to any notion of swimming in the Northern Territory!

It was back to the coach for a drink of cold water, an apple and some trail mix (thanks to our supplies from Coles) for the next bus ride. Have to admit that both seasoned travellers did nod off for a bit on this stretch, The early start, the sun, the endless straight highway, the quiet music, the roll of the coach all combined to make the shuteye irresistible. Not for long, just a little "freshenupperer."

This leg of the journey also included a foray into the on board toilet. It was a rocking and rolling experience in a cubicle half the size of the toilet on the airline. You had to back in! Think of it as like being on the roller coaster and the dodgem cars combined, with a little bit of hit the target with the fire hose game from side show alley at the Ekka (remember that one @Michael and @Anthony....just around the corner from Grandad Jack and the monkeys and "pull the string.)

The trip to Jabiru was broken by a quick stopover as an introduction to the National Park. Did giggle when we pulled up at the Bowali Visitor Centre and Ray said "everyone's here" - there must have been four cars and a coach in the car park!

The Visitor Centre was a series of beautiful low set buildings made from wood and glass inspired in
its design by an Aboriginal rock shelter. Bowali is a Gundjeihmi name for the local area and creek on land owned by the Mirarr clan. It featured a very clever display area that was an insightful introduction to the history of the local people and the incredible vastness and biodiversity of the wetlands of Kakadu. We loved the museum with its clever immersive displays, informative and interactive exhibits and the way you could get so close to all of the artefacts. And of course, we made time for a photoshoot on the iron bark love seat.

Back to the coach for a short drive to lunch!

Ray was a little "off" in the accuracy of his observations at the previous car park, because everyone was actually at the hotel. Home for tonight was the Mecure Crocodile Hotel (one of only three hotels in Kakadu) and it was an extremely clever idea, with the hotel created in the shape of a giant crocodile. There were three coach loads ahead of us and we were asked to wait (read "stall"😉 by wandering through the foyers and having a look at the art work. We had a chat to the local artists as they were engaged in creating the intricate cross hatching of the paintings they were working on. It was a painstaking creation using only four colours to depict two turkeys standing so still and straight on a black background. Amazing patience. The lines were drawn with a reed and were so straight and so close together. The conversation was halting but there was a genuine interest to share the stories of the art works and deepen our understanding of country and culture.

Ray had asked us to "fill in" time until tables became available for lunch. After 40 minutes, there was still no sign of Ray and the group was a little famished. Mac led the way on a reckie to the dining room only to find Ray had abandoned his guest and was piling up his plate at the buffet! That bit of info created an AATKings stampede and it was every man for himself. Don't think that Ray is going to be the sort of captain that goes down with the ship!

The original plan had been to relax for the afternoon before a sunset walk. But things change and thanks to the recommendation from @LindaKimber yesterday we added a scenic flight to
Tread gentlyTread gentlyTread gently

Warned on the way back not to pause on the walkway because there was a croc at the dock. Oops.
the itinerary. Was very brave of Mac to say "yes" because his last memory of this type of flight was from a very rough ride that left him green around the gills.

The Jabiru airport is attached to the Ranger Uranium Mine and we joined 9 others for a 30 minute Kakadu Scenic Flight. Anxiety levels were heightened pre-takeoff because there was bad weather. The sky was an ominous grey and clouds and sheets of rain blanketed the end of the runway. The co-pilot was reluctant but we waited it out and with a few squeaks in the headset, a squeeze of the hand and some grimaced smiles we were airborne.

And it was truly spectacular. We cruised along at a mere 800 to 1000 metres above the park and witnessed the glory that was Kakadu shrouded in the fog and mist, encircled by rainbows and had our breathe taken away by a vista that was splendidly bold and rich in its greens and browns. From the low lying plains of Kakadu to the sheer escarpments that border Arnhem Land it was amazing.

And as for turbulence. There was none. It was a super smooth majestic ride accompanied by informative, insightful and respectful
commentary that showcased the heritage and history of this land. This sweeping flight presented us with a little taste of the savanna woodlands, the monsoon forests, the hills and ridges, the stone country, the sandy flats, the flood plains, rivers and billabongs. My favourite view was the silver thread of the Alligator River as it lazily crossed the floodplains. And every now and then we were flying through a rain cloud and the landscape became shrouded in an ethereal mist that muted and distorted the views and created a whole new palette of colours. I want to be an artist!

We took lots of photos but our little "shoot and go" through the window of the plane does not begin to capture what we saw. In fact, it was one of those times that it was so beautiful to just "see and be" that you don't want to condense the vista to the view frame of the camera.

Thanks @LindaKimber, that recommendation was a real gift.

The return trip was so quick and there was no rest for the wicked as the bus just pulled in, picked up the rest of the passengers and then onto the road again chasing the sunset for a view from a rock platform at Ubirri. The walk-in section of the track features collections of rock art. Kakadu's rock art (gunbim) represents one of the longest historical records of any group of people in the world. More than 5000 art sites tell of the Creation Ancestors and the changes in the landscapes over thousands of years. We saw naturalistic paintings, including a huge "menu board" under a hanging rock, traditional X-ray art and paintings of the first European contact inscribed on the walls.

The walk into Ubirri was a 1 km circular track that included a 250 m steep climb up the three ledges of the rocky outcrop to reach the summit of Nardub. For the long legged fit one it was a breeze. To the alternate body type it was a struggle. But with the usual patience, Mac somehow, pushed, prodded, guided and hauled me up each of the ledges so we could sit perched on the rocks to watch the sun sink slowly to the horizon. Had to engage the imagination just a little because the heavy clouds shrouded the sunset. But no worries for us because there are many more days ahead to watch the spectacle of the golden sunset reflected on the outback.

Have I mentioned how HOT it is? Steaming. Wet, slippery-hands, clinging-clothes, drenched-hair hot. And this is not even summer. Cold water never tasted so good as we made our way slowly and gingerly down the rock face in the fading light. It was an adventure and carried with it the "we did it" feeling.

Dinner at the Crocodile Hotel after a quick shower included a cold beverage. Faced with so may choices we settled on barramundi for Mac and yes, you won't believe it, sausages and mash for me! A leisurely dinner, that included more conversations with the "itinerant workers" who make up the staff. Like @Mindy&Ian they have left their home for "adventure."

Have seen so much wildlife today - dingo, wallaby, buffalo, snakes, crocodiles, whistling kite, cockatoos (lots of them) and lots of flies! Bought myself a fly net today that you put over your hat. Not sure if I want to be seen dead (or alive) in it. But at $2 just had to have one.

And now, off to sleep in the belly of a crocodile!


I begged Mac to write a paragraph for the blog tonight. And his response was that I
really didn't understand. After reading his "effort" I think I now do. See what you think. Mac's version of our trek into Ubirri:

"We walked down a rock thing. I was hot and sweaty. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. I spoke with no one. There was no sunset. "

I think his writing career might be limited. Just lucky he has other uses.

PPS @Mindy&Ian, we keep talking to the young wait staff because they are from "all over." Wondering why they are "here." It is just an "adventure" - something to try and do! And they all know you are in Whistler and are envious! '

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