It was hot. There were flies. All par for the course on this fair dinkum Aussie outback adventure to Kakadu!
I recently joined Wayoutback Australian Safaris for a 3 day tour through world famous Kakadu National Park in the tropical Northern Territory. I caught a flight to Darwin and joined 15 other backpackers on a tour to see some of the most spectacular scenery in Australia.
Kakadu covers a huge area, almost 20,000 kms (Australia’s largest national park) and has been home to Aboriginal people for 50,000 years. It has been recognised for its cultural and ecological significance with a UNESCO World Heritage listing.
I called shotgun as the big 4WD tour truck turned up, so I could sit up front with our Tour Guide Nathan (travel tip* better aircon, more room and great views through the huge windscreen up in the front seat!).
We barrelled down the highway out of town for a few hours then stopped to look at termite mounds standing tall and proud on an otherwise flat desert landscape. I learned there are two types of termite mounds, the ‘magnetic’ termites build thin mounds north-south, so that when the sun is at its hottest, the smallest part of the mound is exposed. They looked like grave stones! We also came across some HUGE ‘cathedral’ termite mounds. When you consider termites only build about 10cm a year you can appreciate how old these big piles of poo are, and only a third of the colony is above ground!
Next we visited Wangi Falls in Litchfield National Park, a deep, black pool replenished by a cascading waterfall you can swim under. I was surprised to discover how warm the water was, usually fresh water pools are a tad on the chilly side but not this one! After my refreshing swim I spied a sign, warning that a small crocodile had taken up residence at the falls, and while every effort was being made to catch and remove him, it was best to avoid the left hand side of the pool (his preferred territory) as he had been known to nip the odd swimmer!
We visited two more watering holes that afternoon – Florence Falls and Buley Rockhole (cooling down was a top priority over the coming days but luckily there were lots of ‘billabongs’ on our itinerary)
That night we camped at Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge, glamping style with real beds, and a fan to help keep us cool (I was expecting a swag in a small tent so this was a welcome luxury).
At dinner we tried some Magpie Goose, which had been specially caught and prepared for us. These big black and white birds are common in the area, and live in big flocks. Cooked on the BBQ it was quite tasty, with a hint of gamey-ness to the meat.
To finish off our action-packed day we sat around a campfire toasting marshmallows and listening to a throbbing digeridoo being masterfully played. How does it get any better than this?
There hasn’t been any rain for 8 months so everything is parched and dusty (wet season was due to start with a big downpour expected any day). At this tale end of the season some popular tourist sites were closed (like Jim Jim Falls), because, as Nathan so delicately put it, ‘after a season of butt cracks and sunscreen the water isn’t so good’. Apparently sunscreen is a real problem, because people lather up then go swimming. It forms a toxic, oily slick on top of the water that affects the animals and the water quality – so please remember not to do this.
One of the big highlights for me was the chance to watch a crocodile feeding frenzy at Cahills Crossing on the East Alligator River. Somehow the crocodiles know the exact time when the fish are making their way upstream (similar to the bears and the salmon in Canada). David Attenborough even covered the unusual phenomenon in one of his documentaries (Life in Cold Blood). We were lucky enough to be there at the perfect time and I got some great photos of a croc with a fish in its mouth!
Other highlights from the tour:
- A Mary River Wetlands Cruise through beautiful marshlands filled with giant pink lotus flowers. There were lots of birds, we spotted some wild pigs, and a crocodile who had just sorted his dinner (he had a wallaby in his mouth).
- Seeing 20,000 year old Aboriginal rock paintings and looking out over the breathtakingly beautiful view from the top of Ubirr
- Mastering the Aussie wave (those of us without fly nets on our heads were enviously eyeing up those who had them).
- Seeing wild horses grazing near the roadside.
- Swimming at Barramundi Gorge (also known as Maguk), a hot walk and a rock climb to get there but the reward was a magical lost world.
It felt so good to dust off my backpack and explore some of Australia’s heartland. The tour included travellers from Italy, France, Germany, England, the Netherlands, and me, the token Kiwi. The scenery was spectacular and now I’m mad keen to go and see Uluru. I take my (fly) hat off to those who live in such hot, remote areas, I sure couldn’t do it!
Have you been to Kakadu? What did you think of the flies?