More in the Top End- Darwin and surrounds


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Oceania » Australia
October 29th 2019
Published: October 29th 2019
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We arrived at Tumbling waters (9th Oct) and were pleasantly surprised. Apart from the owners being so friendly, it is a lush park with so much vegetation and it wasnt very busy- which was even better. We set up and started exploring. Merlin found some amazing moutainbike tracks (& tracks that werent even 'proper' tracks that he was allowed to/encouraged by the owners to give them a go!!). Chris was excited already as there was so much wildlife- we were eagerly awaitng the next morning to hopefully see the Gouldian Finches. At 6am we headed over to 'finchland' and got into position- the next 30 minutes was an experience that was rare and so memorable. Flocks of 50 or more kept flying in, wheeling and darting, wingbeats a flurry, totalling more than 200 of these amazing colourful creatures. Gouldian Finches only occur in northern Australia and are spectacular little birds with purple, blue, yellow and green bodies. Some have black heads, others red and on occasion you see the very rare ones with orange faces. Seeing them in these numbers is extremely uncommon so it made this experience all the more special. Its likely the harsh dry conditions over most of the top end have pushed the birds to congregate finding the Tumbling Waters haven. Whilst observing the finches we noticed one special little pioneer finch, (who we lovingly called Walter), who would always forge new paths, was happy in his own place and cleverly travelled the park to where no other finch would venture. Over our time, we saw him (& his distinctive long tail) each day and enjoyed quite close and quiet moments watching his daily routine.

The next week or so was spent getting up early to enjoy the finches, then heading to 'Parrotland' where the vibrant lime green and red, Red-winged parrots were hanging out. Searching for Forest Kingfishers, Pittas, Spangled Drongos, Arafura Fantails and other wonderful birds in and around the park and billabong, in the mornings. We would then have a swim (in the pool!) and then either venture further afield or enjoy camp. After dinner we would often go out in search of nocturnal friends and sometimes enjoyed a cinematic treat at their outdoor cinema beforehand- so our days were jam packed!!

From a swimming perspective there was lots to experience. We enjoyed the Berry Springs natural waterhole which, even though the water level was low, was still refreshing and wonderful to be able to glide along in the water adjacent the creekbanks and know there werent salty's lurking around. Darwin is amazing as it is so laid back. We went to two water parks in Darwin which both had adventurous, but different, water slides. Apart from both parks being completely free (yes that's right- no cost!) the whole atmosphere was very relaxed- no 2mm height nit picking restrictions, no waterslide monitor control freaks- and everyone still behaved themselves and had a ball. I think the only thing Merlin and Chris might have liked regulated was my squeeling down the slides (particularly the racers!!). It was fantastic fun- as too the waterfront wave pool- although surprisingly i found out that i can become quite seasick as sitting on a tube on the waves i found my tummy churning and felt a little green so quickly hopped off and enjoyed timing the jumping up and down to keep above the whitecaps! We also wanted to experience some of the lap pools Darwin has on offer. We had a fabulous bike ride to Nightcliff swimming pool which overlooks the sea and on another occasion headed to Palmerston public pool- again very refreshing and low key!

Its an understatement to say the wildlife here is amazing. Apart from abundance, the diversity is phenomenal and we were lucky to have so many special wildlife moments. Apart from the Gouldians, our elegant Curlews and my lovely little Forest Kingfishers, there were a few others that were standouts. At the Territory Wildlife Park we had some unique encounters. Chris and Merlin were up close and personal holding a Masked Owl named Muppet. What a beautiful creature with their delicate feathers, sensitive heart shaped facial discs, obsidian eyes and slow sultry eyelids. Then Merlin and I fed the little furry Savannah Sugar Gliders (while they were crawling and jumping all over us)- how cute, inquisitive and hungry these flying fluff balls are!! We went to Fogg Dam one night and saw 6 water pythons, a bandicoot ( who was fossicking and struck gold finding an egg), and a water rat. The pythons were particulatly special as Merlin got to handle one and did a brilliant job holding him gently but firmly, even when it let him know it was time to finish up by giving him a snake kiss!!
We had another Mertens Water monitor, but this time a larger specimen who was happy sunning himself on the edge of Berry springs. There were green tree frogs, loads of skinks and geckoes and a fabulous up close (at a safe distance) with a 4.5 m salty on the Corroboree Billabong.

Around camp there was always lots happening. We spent time catching up with Darren &Jenny and Lee & Alan who (apart from being busy managing and looking after Tumbling waters) are resident birders and loved learning more about the birds, exploring and showing us new things. Jasmin (the culinary master) was always cooking up new mango delights for us to 'taste test' - lucky us- the boys were in food utopia!! Merlin kept working away on his 'official school work ' whilst also ensuring he spent time enjoying his own studies - wildlife texts, exploring new areas and completing his unofficial athletic training. This consisted of regular extreme terrain challenges on the bike, as well as managing to get the Age Grading record for Palmerston Parkrun. He has to be given a gold star for determination, persistence and hardiness on the bike. Two tracks we have affectionately named Billabong Stack track and Hill Track were ones that after only a few times trying, he had conquered ( as well as having 4 stacks under his belt by this time). However the biggest stack was to come and not on these but on Shortcut track. He was doing me a favour bringing my phone to me when coming down the hill (one handed) the wheel stuck in a small sand rut and he (& the phone) went flying metres through the air. He was battered, bruised and lost more bark, but all good and on the bike again looking for another challenge!! Merlin also conquered the tricky art of hand sewing- patiently learning to sew on buttons and patches!

Whilst in Darwin we caught up with our friends Luke and Sarah which was wonderful spending time with them and at their place. This gave Chris a chance to explore the mangroves ( a no go zone for Merlin and I- sandfly nightmares!!) and go birding with a good mate. We explored the town enjoying the wharf, pristine coastline (although tempting but no way we could enter with crocs and stingers!) and deckchair cinema on the waterfront.

An unforgettable experience was our day trip out to Bathurst Island which is one of the two islands (Melville being the other) which form the Tiwi Islands. After a 2.5 hr cruise we arrived on the island and then made our way to the camp. Apart from traditional culture, aussie rules football is the other ingrained passion of the people, as this is the home of the Tiwi Bombers. Chris and Merlin immediately fit in and were warmly welcomed as they had worn there Essendon bombers guernseys. At camp we met Graham, Bobbie and Steve as well as Lola, Frances and Kalumba who performed a smoking ceremony for us to bless us on our journey and cleanse us in case we brought any bad spirits with us. We then were taught about their kinship system and the 4 skin groups- rock, sun, pandaunus and fish. We learnt that from an early age children are 'promised' to those in skingroups they are allowed to marry once they come of age. However it was nowadays they are allowed choices and not just one whom they are betrothed to. There are approx 3500 people across both islands and about 1800 kids. There are good schools and the new Tiwi College has recently been operating.
From here, after enjoying damper and billy tea we went to the museum. It is beautifully illustrated and clearly set out showing information on the spearing, canoes, Murtankala, who was the ancestral creator, Yirrikipayi- the man who became crocodile and Pukumani- the ceremonies conducted after the death of a Tiwi. There are many rituals (lasting for various durations) observed by those left behind to respect and keep their spirit on its journey. Relatives of the deceased must not touch food and others must feed them until after the ritual of washing occurs; the house must not be entered until after the smoking ceremony; belongings of the deceased are destroyed in a ceremony held months after the passing. The persons name or words relating to them must not be spoken until over a year after their passing. The ceremonies involve singing mourning songs and dancing. Burial poles are commissioned to be made by expert carvers so that they can ensure safe passage of the soul to the land of the dead. At the final Pukumani ceremony there is dancing every day for a week and it then culminates with the burial poles being erected at the grave.

After learning so much from the interpretive signage we then had a quick drive around the town, saw the original little church built from missionary days (and made famous from the movie Top End Wedding), and then had a delicious lunch. It was during this time we got to chat with the ladies about their weaving and artwork. Also we talked to the men about various things incluing footy (& met Tipungwuti's brother and mum). Finally we had a short visit to one of the art centres on the island. Tiwi are famous for their art design, screenprinting and carvings. The gallery was filled with brilliant pieces and we didn't know which way to turn- just nowhere near enough time- especially as we had started chatting with one of the artists and came to learn that he was one of the characters in a book i had just finished reading (Marie Munkara's book Of Ashes and Rivers that run to the sea- this was her brother!!) Unbelievable!! Anyway we vowed to come back another time as we needed to experience more. The boat trip back was long and at times quite rough so we all tried to rest in the shade with the breeze giving some relief. Once on land we were fine, thoroughly exhausted but filled with so much joy at such a memorable day.

In our last weekend at Tumblers the skies opened up and first wet arrived- it was amazing. Not a little shower or just a few drops but for a solid 3 hours we had hard pelting rain. The result was instant and stunning- the fragrant earthy smell, water flowing in the dry creek beds, the green of the palms more vibrant than before and lets not forget the wildlife....The chorus of frogs, the laughter from the birds and after dark, the reptiles came to life- water pythons, slaty grey snakes, burtons snake lizard and many others..The campo survived the wet onslaught that lasted for a few hours each afternoon so we were dry. I headed on a whirlwind trip to Melb for my nephew's wedding and now back, we will tomorrow (28th) begin our long trek towards home, heading east initially.

Thankyou to all for your messages- they are great to receive and may everyone at home be safe and having fun. Til the next instalment xx


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