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Trip Report Kakadu - well worth a visit!

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I decided Kakadu deserved its own report as it is an amazing destination. We were there 22 - 24 July 2011, that is two and a half days. I was full of flu and living on Panadol 4- hourly, and therefore not able to do everything we had planned, a real disappointment but perhaps an opening for another visit!

We left Batchelor (see Litchfield National Park section of Darwin report for more info) and headed back 45km towards Darwin to the Kakadu turnoff, The Arnhem Highway. The distance to Jabiru from the Turnoff is 225km.

First stop was Humpty Doo. We drove into the Plaza. Of course, just about everything was closed because it was Darwin Show Day but we visited The Grumpy Baker (who wasn't) and bought something to eat - DH a pie, me a scone, both beautifully cooked. Surprisingly Humpty Doo has a largish shopping centre - bigger than Batchelor which seems to have just a General Store and Information Centre. I had planned to stop at the pub with the boxing kangaroo, on the Arnhem Highway, but I just didn't feel up to it. It's not clearly signposted so we would have had to turn around and go back as we zoomed past before seeing it.

Next stop was Fogg Dam. We were not able to walk along the Dam Wall because there was a croc lurking somewhere. Mind you, this didn’t seem to deter quite a few people who were strolling along there. We drove to the end of the road, and the Observation Platform. Unfortunately the birds were a fair distance away, but we were able to watch a family of what I think were Plumed Whistling Ducks move from a grassy area into some water. There were quite a lot of babies following Mum with Dad bringing up the rear. I was a little disappointed as I expected there to be more birds and closer to the road.

Window on the Wetlands is more of an education centre with no signs of birds around. It was interesting, and they provide 'treasure hunt' info leaflets for the children who come. There were quite a few children there at the same time who were rushing around looking at the displays for clues. Dave at the door reckoned there were 2 crocs in Lake Beatrice, and said I might be able to spot them using the binoculars on the top deck lookout. I saw a log - wonder if that was one of the crocs, and if so is it permanently moored there?!
We carried along the Kakadu Highway bypassing Leaning Tree Lagoon, Bird Billabong, Mamukala Wetlands and the Bowali Visitor Centre. I could not face the walks needed to see the interesting points. Again, another reason I need to return!

As we were travelling along the Highway DH noticed the petrol gauge was showing nearly empty! Bit of a little panic while we tried to work out where we were exactly, and where the next petrol station was. Fortunately for us the map showed there was a petrol station at Aurora Lodge so all eyes were peeled for the turnoff. A few minutes later, with a sigh of relief, we pulled into Aurora Lodge for petrol, an ice cream and our passes for the Kakadu National Park. Somehow the passes made it seem real – we really were at Kakadu.

The Gagudju Crocodile Holiday Inn was easy to locate, but we drove past to have a look around the shopping centre for a pharmacy. We couldn’t see anything open so drove back to the hotel. Our room was of a similar size and style to the room at Ayers Rock but brighter and better maintained. The bed was the most comfortable we encountered in the first two weeks, and the shower was also great. A useful fixture was the over-the-bath pull-out clothesline, not something I have always found in hotels and apartments. Crowne Plaza in Alice Springs also has a pullout line. But I digress.

The “Crocodile” has a small gift shop that sells all sorts of interesting souvenirs and mementoes of Kakadu and the area, and of course The Escarpment restaurant. We had dinner there both nights and thoroughly enjoyed the buffet selection. The first night I had barramundi cooked with lime and coconut (Yum yum), kangaroo in native peppers (also yummy), roasted veges and steamed veges. The second night the barra and kangaroo were cooked differently and although enjoyable they were not as yummy as the night before.

Our first morning at Kakadu was the day the news broke about the terrible Oslo bombing, and somehow we felt we shouldn’t be enjoying ourselves. However, the need for nourishment took us out to the shopping centre and a cafe, and then to the Bowali Visitors Centre. This is an interesting building with a very informative display about the land, people, fauna and flora of Kakadu. There is a rangers’ station at the start, with brochures about different walks, etc around Kakadu. We found the ranger helpful, and he helped us make the decision to begin our exploration at Ubirr.

Ubirr is some 40km from the Centre, along a very interesting road. Well, we found it so! The 40 kms to the art site seemed to go fairly quickly. In several places just in from the edge of the road there were amazing rock formations which we stopped to photograph. They were as if a designer had been given a set of building blocks and told to be creative and see how well they could balance the blocks together leaving interesting nooks, crannies, and angles of precariousness.

No more shady car parks were avaliableso DH parked the car as close to the entrance as possible. The regular dosing of panadol seemed to be working reasonably well - not too many aches and the coughing kept to a minimum, with just the weariness to contend with. However, onward and upward was the order of the day!

Park passes were checked by a young ranger in a nice shady spot under a tree (but I don't think it was a coolibah tree!) and we were off to places hitherto unexplored - by us, anyway! This walk is labelled wheelchair accessible around the main loop although the lookout and smaller tracks are not. It certainly was easy and comfortable to walk around, and even the smaller rocky paths to the art sites were not too tough. We began our walk at 1405 hours, right in the heat of the day!

At the first site a sign told us the paintings were created about 5 000 years ago. The small human-like figures are described as Mountford or Northern Running Figures by archaeologists. Aboriginal writing by Jacob Nayinggul, Manilagarr clan, Aboriginal Traditional Owner, says they were painted by Mimi a long time ago using red ochre and animal's blood. We could make out a few of the figures but in places, as with the other sites, you are not sure if it is the painting or water stains. We followed the short rocky path back to the main loop for a short stroll to the main art gallery.

At this gallery there were more defined figures visible as well as blurred paintings. The accompanying noticeboards explained that "the most recent residents of shelters painted over older art to illustrate modern events in their lives", which would explain the clarity of some figures and not others. There is a painting below the overhang that it is claimed was painted by the Mimi - very tall spirits who could just lift down the rocks, paint them, and then put them back! At the end of this group, and again fairly high up, is a painting of a Thylacine aka Tasmanian Devil. Once you find it, and it took me quite a while, it is a very clear painting.

Next stop was the climb to the lookout. I sat while DH made the climb. I would have coughed and spluttered and been an absolute burden. It was interesting watching people going up and coming down, and their responses. A tour guide took a group up the rock but explained the art at the start. I missed the first story but the second one was about a couple of Aboriginal girls who liked to play tricks on the little children playing around the billabongs. They would grab their legs, scaring the little ones into thinking the crocodiles were attacking. The girls were told to stop but wouldn't, so finally the elders told them if they didn't stop they would be turned into crocodiles. They didn't, and they were. I can't quite make out the two crocs in the photo though.

The last site was about the Rainbow Serpent. I found it quite hard to identify the serpent. There were quite a lot of figures around though, including one of a person whose bones may have been swollen by Miyamiya, a sickness contracted if you disturb a sacred site on the East Alligator River.

It was a very pleasant stroll, especially when under the trees, or in the shade of rocks! We took nearly two hours which was a good pace for the heat (30 degrees). It is recommended to allow at least 90 minutes to complete the circuit.

Our second day started very early - up at 4:30 to be at Gagudju Lodge Cooinda by 6:15a.m. for the Yellow Water Sunrise cruise. The drive of approximately 100 km was completed in the dark, with us being very aware we were contravening our rental car contract! Thankfully no mishaps occurred, and we arrived in plenty of time to join our cruise. A bus shuttles the cruise passengers to the jetty from where the boats leave. Our guide was Margaret, and she was very knowledgeable. I know it seems like stating the obvious, but I have been on tours where the guides really bluff their way through in the hopes no one will notice their inadequacies.

Cruising at sunrise is just so special. It is hard to describe the feeling of exhilaration and wonder. Just being on the water, watching the sunrise was awesome, but when the birds and animals were mixed in, well it was just fantastic. We saw many different birds, some of which you can see in the photo link, feral cows and pigs, the odd crocodile or two, and a variety of flora species. We saw 3 different species of kingfishers – the sacred, forest and azure, hundreds of Whistlling Plumed ducks and a jabiru, as well as a jacana which I had never heard of before let alone seen. I was surprised how gracefully the crocodiles glide through the water, having never seen them in water before. Next time I would like to go on the sunrise cruise, then the sunset cruise on the same day. It was probably the highlight of our trip through Kakadu.

Following a delicious breakfast at the Lodge we retraced the road back to Jabiru and the Crocodile hotel to check out. DH wanted to look at the Ranger Uranium Mine so we followed the road that lead to both the airport and the mine. Tours to the mine leave from the airport but unfortunately there were no tours through the mine while we were there so we had to make do with looking through the wirenetting fence. It is quite a large opencast mine, and is the second-largest uranium mine in the world. (As at a couple of years ago!) The airport is not your large international type, but reminded me of a couple of club bases I have been to. However, they seem to be very professional, and have quite a few daily flights in and out.

From Jabiru we drove to Nourlangie and the second art site. This site is quite different. I felt the artworks were much clearer and more recognisable as art as opposed to wondering whether they were art or water stains. Nourlangie is the home of Anbangbang Gallery and Namarrgon the Lightning Man. Again most of this site is reasonably easy to walk with few steep places, and parts of it being wheelchair accessible. I found the signposting a little difficult to follow, which lead to me struggling up a pathway thinking I was going back to the carpark but which actually took me to the top and the Gun-warrdehwarrde Lookout! I had not planned to do this as I was still not 100% but was pleased I did. We looked out to the Arnhem Land escarpment , and other interesting points such as Lightning Dreaming and Namanjolg’s feather - Daberrg. The latter is a solitary very small boulder on a promontory above the Anbangbang Gallery that was the feather of Namanjolg’s head-dress which his sister removed after they had broken the incest law. She placed it there to show others what they had done! There are several spellings of his name – Namanjolg; Namarnjolg; Namarndjolg – which became a little confusing.
Lightning Dreaming – Namarrgon Djadjam is the home of Lightning Man. They are three pillar-like cliffs on the Arnhem Land Escarpment that can be seen clearly from the Gun-warrdehwarrde Lookout, and which are dangerous, sacred places.

I did like the information signboards at both Ubirr and Nourlangie that explained the symbols, and told the brief story of some of the better-known characters in the rock art. They were written simply with enough information needed to understand what you were looking at.
It took us about 90 minutes to walk leisurely through the Anbangbang Gallery, including stopping to look at the art, up to the lookout and back to the carpark. The art at Nourlangie is in one place, the Gallery, unlike at Ubirr where there are pockets of art spread around a bigger area.

Our last stop in Kakadu was for a night at Goymarr Tourist Park, just inside the southern entrance to the Park. Our rationale for this move was because the next day we were driving to Katherine via Pine Creek and wanted as much time as possible to explore PineCreek. We had a motel unit which was basic but comfortable and quiet. In the morning the dawn chorus was sung by parrots and friarbirds, not something we NZers are used to!

Because I was unwell we did not make it to the Anbangbang Billabong and the walk or Nawurlandja to find the rock wallabies. As I wrote earlier, I can see we need to return. It is an absorbing place – the art, the rocks, the cruise, even the coyote and then the wild piglet we saw on the side of the road all helped to evoke our interest in Kakadu.

Link to photos:

http://www.worldisround.com/articles/370018/index.html

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