Trip Report: Darwin, Litchfield and Kakadu

Old Jul 22nd, 2009, 03:57 AM
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Trip Report: Darwin, Litchfield and Kakadu

We arrived back in Sydney late Saturday night from our wonderful fortnight in East Timor and the Northern Territory. My trip report is going to be confined to NT, as East Timor would require a book-length one to do it justice - and I don't have time.

We left Sydney for Darwin on Friday afternoon, 3rd July. A four hour flight is just the right: time to read a book, enjoy the meal [for airline food it was quite good] and enjoy some music.

We stayed at the Airport Resort as we had an early flight to Dili next morning. We were pleasantly surprised by the lovely tropical ambiance there, and how peaceful it was. It was warm and sunny, which was lovely coming from a southern winter. Had a refreshing swim and a really delicious meal, with a glass of very nice shiraz.

We stayed in a cabin, which apparently is a budget option there. The bed was comfortable and the cabin spotlessly clean, but the airconditioner was rather noisy. The bedroom curtain was on the thin side and I woke several times thinking it was getting light, but it was only the security lights outside! We did have to get up in the dark and be at the airport at six. [It's only a few minutes away in the hotel shuttle.]

We had eight days and nights in East Timor. Our daughter was able to take a week's holiday; we hired a 4WD and she drove us over about half the country. It is very mountainous and the roads extremely bad, but she did a great job. We stayed in a variety of hotels and pousadas: beds were good, electricity and water supply were patchy, hot water available six out of the eight nights. Food was good, sometimes excellent. We did a great deal of walking, sometimes very strenuous walking, and had three swims at beautiful beaches. The scenery was outstanding, but the friendliness of the East Timorese was the highlight.

These eight days were action-packed, so we approached the second part of our holiday [or the last six days and nights to be exact] with the intention of having more relaxation and a little luxury, like hot water! In other words, we weren't trying to cram too much into this part of the trip.

We had another very early start to catch the plane back to Darwin. From the airport we caught a taxi into the city, and were able to leave our bags at Avis while we walked around for an hour and had a coffee and picked up some food for lunch. Just before noon we picked up our small 4WD and drove around a couple of corners and had a picnic in the park on the Esplanade - very pleasant.

Then we set out for Batchelor, and the Butterfly Farm. The Stuart Highway was superb after East Timorese roads! The landscape was also very flat!

We stopped at the Visitors' Centre for maps and the General Store for a few provisions. It was very hot, being mid-afternooon, but it was a dry, not unpleasant heat, and Batchelor was a tree-lined oasis.

Our cabin at the Butterfly farm was charming. I had a two hour siesta - the only one I had on the holiday. Then we had a drive out towards Litchfield, but it was gettiing towards sunset before we got there.

Returned to BF and had a very nice dinner.

Braekfast was a choice of buffet or a la carte, but the former wasn't exciting, so we both opted for fresh fruit crepes and weren't disappointed.

We set out for Litchfield quite quickly after breakfast, stopping again at the Batchelor General Store to buy picnic ingredients. Our first stop in the Park were the magnetic termite mounds, and we were surprised by the vast number there. [The other type of termite mounds are visible everywhere, but these ones are unique.] I suppose we spent 20-30 minutes there.

Being school holidays there were many tourists everywhere we went in Litchfield.

We continued on to Florence Falls, where we walked along to the lookout and part-way down into the monsoon forest, but the heat was a factor in our decision not to spend much time there - that and the state of my husband's knees!

We drove back to Buley Waterhole and had a paddle in the delightfully clear and refreshing water. There were plenty of people there having dips.

Then we went on to Tolmer Falls, where we walked to the lookout overlooking the Falls, and we did the 45 minute circle walk back to our car. It was a quintessentially NT sort of walk - not much shade but a bit of a breeze and very pleasant.

Then we went on to Wangi Falls. There were many many people there. We ate our picnic and then went to the pool below the Falls. It was such a large pool that there was plenty of room to swim, and I had a good swim over to the Falls and back. We then walked along the boardwalk and through the monsoon forest and up to the Treetop Platform. It was shady and very pleasant.

On the way back to Batchelor we stopped to take photos of bright green cycads sprouting up in the recently burnt bush. [There was a great deal of control burning going on throughout the Parks while we were there, prior to the hotter months to follow.]

We returned to the Butterfly Farm in time to enter the butterfly enclosure [recommended prior to 4pm]. We had fun trying to photograph elusive butterflies, and then went into the turtle enclosure where the challenge was a little easier!

Had another lovely meal on the verandah. The food was very good!

Next day we woke very early once more so we would have plenty of time to get to the Guluyambi Cruise by 1pm. We left Batchelor just before seven. It was very cool with thick mist in the shallow valleys along theStuart Highway. After turning on to the Arnhem Highway it wasn't long before we reached the wetlands. We stopped at the Bark Hut for a breakfast of bacon and egg sandwiches and nice coffee.

We arrived at Jabiru at 10.30, having picked up maps at Bowali Visitors' Centre. We left our bags at our hotel [Gagudju Crocodile Inn] and drove the 40kms to Ubirr. Picked up our tickets, and bought homemade pies and cartons of ice coffee for lunch. We arrived at the boat ramp early, and talked to a tour bus driver who was enthusiastic about Aboriginal culture and introduced us to Darryl, who turned out to be our tour leader [and skipper]. There were two boats going out. Darryl is the grandson of Bill Neidjie, a famous Aboriginal elder and the subject of a book, "Gagudju Man".

On the cruise we saw plenty of crocodiles and various birds. The scenery was pleasant rather than outstanding. Part of the trip involved disembarking on the other side of the river in Arnhemland, where Darryl and the other skipper demonstrated spearthrowing and answered questions.

After the cruise we drove to the art sites. DH and I walked to the easily accessible ones, while I climbed up to the Nadab Lookout [with many others] to view the wetlands. It was a stunning view. We were there a couple of hours before sunset.

We returned to our hotel and were very pleased with our room. Had a rather chilly swim in the pool [which was shaded by two large sails] and a nice buffet meal in the restaurant.

After dinner we visited the laundry to catch up on washing.

We didn't sleep very well. Despite this accommodation being our most expensive [in all but one case, by far] the bed was the worst we had anywhere. We reluctantly complained next morning and they swapped outr mattress. I found the second very comfortable but basically the same type of innerspring, and my husband found the second night difficult as well. This was our only complaint about the hotel - everything else was great.

Next morning after breakfast we set out for Cooinda and the Yellow Waters Cruise.
I had intended booking the 6.45 one but the man who took my booking talked me into the 9am one. Considering our hotel booking included breakfast that made sense, and it was nice, aftert so many early morning starts, not to have to get up at 5. As we arrived [after picking up our tickets at Gagudju Lodge] people were disembarking from the earlier cruise and everyone was rugged up against the cold.

When we set out the water was still glassy and the scenery was exquisite. Towards the end of the two hours a breeze came up. The woman sitting behind me felt very cold - she was from Darwin. We found it pleasant.

In two hours we saw 14 crocodiles and many many species of birds. Also brumbies [wild horses] in the distance. We both agreed it was a great experience.

We returned to Gagudju Lodge to buy some picnic food ,and then went on to Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre, which we found very interesting and probably spent an hour examining the exhibits.

We then went on towards Nourlangie Rock, having our picnic on the Rock-side of Anbangbang Billabong. There is a track that goes around the billabong, and the best views of Nourlangie Rock are from the other side.

Enjoyed Nourlangie Rock, the art and the amazing views of the escarpment from above the Anbangbang Shelter and the Gunwarddehwarde Lookout.

I would have liked to visit the other rock and art site there, but DH's knees were in a bad way by then!

We drove back and took the second side road to the other side of the Billabong. It is about 250m from the carpark to the Billabong and the famous views of Nourlangie. We were also closer to the waterbirds on this side.

That evening at the hotel we were invited to a talk by one of the Aboriginal artists whose work graces the walls of the gallery there. I'm afraid I didn't make a note of his name and can't remember it, but it was a fascinating talk. We both loved this cross-hatching style of painting found in the TopEnd.

We had a leisurely start next day. After checking out we drove to Bowali Visitor Centre agin, and spent time looking at the exhibits there, and bought some things at the shop, which has excellent products, many from the local area.

Our next stop was Mamakula, which was a lovely place with plenty of whistling ducks [ though in September I believe it will reach its peak season with thousands of magpie geese].

We eventually left Kakadu, and after filling up with petrol at the Bark Hut we went on to Windows on the Wetland. This is beautifully situated on top of one of the few hills in the wetlands, and there is some interesting historical information and interactive exhibits for families.

A few kms on we turned off the highway and drove the 10km to Fogg Dam. It was a beautiful oasis of monsoon forest and wetland araes. We ate our picnic there, but had to use plenty of Bushman's repellant as the mosquitoes there were the worst we met anywhere. The Lily Walk through the forest and along the boardwalk was very pleasant. [The walk along the dam wall was closed due to a crocodile.]

From there we went on to Darwin and our last hotel, Holiday Inn Esplanade. I'd forgotten but DH had booked a suite for the price of a room in the other big hotels [and significantly less than the room at the Crocodile Inn]. It aws a luxurious end to our holiday. Through the shutters we had a view of the wonderfully blue Arafura Sea. The hotel pool was large and just the right temperature and the restaurant was very good, with an inside-outside dining option.

We did swim the first afternoon, but didn't actually eat at the restaurant that night. Instead we went to the Mindil Sunset Markets. The hotel staff ahad advised taking a taxi or shuttle, but we drove, and were so-o lucky to get parked in a spot some people were just leaving. It was huge! We roamed around looking and stopped to buy fruit drinks and just happened to look up and sea the sun sink into the sea: orange-pink into bright blue, and a very novel sight for Sydneysiders! After we'd investigated all the food options we chose some very good Indonesian food, followed by fruit salad.

Next day, after a great breakfast, we went out to East Point Military Museum, which, as Australians, we found very interesting for its inight into Darwin's role in World War II.
then we went on to the Art Gallery and Museum, where we particularly enjoyed the Aboriginal art and the Cyclone Tracey exhibits.

We drove down to Stokes Hill Wharf and had a cheap meal in the Wharf Precinct.

We did a little shopping in the city and I then decided to walk back along the Esplanade, through the Park, examining all the memorials etc. The one I found most interesting was the Leichardt one - I'd forgotten just how much of Northern Australian this German Australian had explored.

From there I found some ramps that went down the cliffside to quite a nice beach that was probably the length of the Esplanade. And there was no crocodile warning sign there!

We both agreed that we wanted to see the sun set once again over the Arafura Sea, so we drove back up past Mindil Beach towards East Point and parked in a good spot, eventually walking over to the edge of the headland to enjoy the sunset.

We had one last delicious dinner, this one poolside at the hotel restaurant, with a bottle of Verdelho.

Next morning I dad a walk along the Esplanade to check out Lyons Cottage. After checking out we returned at ten, just as it was opening. The chief interest there were the old photos of Darwin and families.

From there we went to Fannie Bay again, to see Burnett House. It was smaller than I'd expected but delightfully light and breezy, with louvres even in its internal walls.

Our 4WD was due back at noon, and we had a little time to spare so we drove up further to Casuarina Beach Reserve, near the University, and counted no less than seven Brahminy kites [ie birds] riding the thermals on the shoreline.

Our flight back to Sydney wasn't until 3.45 so we had several hours to fill in at the Qantas Lounge, which was pleasant enough. Arrived back in Sydney at 8.30pm. It wasn't that cold and everyday since has been sunny and even warm - but it will get cold again very soon! It is winter after all!
Suelynne is offline  
Old Jul 22nd, 2009, 10:04 AM
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Thanks so much, Suelynne, for posting this very interesting report so promptly. As you know, I am planning a very similar visit to this area. I have already amended my notes to take into acount your experiences.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2009, 04:40 PM
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Thanks judilie. I had you in mind when I wrote it. Hope it is helpful. Have a great trip!
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Old Jul 22nd, 2009, 04:42 PM
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I should have added, judilie, that I owed it to you, as I learnt so much from your thread, thanks to your questions and the other generous contributors.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2009, 07:05 PM
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It sounds like you had a really nice time. So nice to get a bit of warm weather in the middle of winter! Thanks for th trip report.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2009, 02:47 AM
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Very informative trip report. We are hoping to visit Darwin and surrounging areas, as well as Port Douglas and down to Brisbane next July for a 5 week tour. Your trip report is extremly helpful in what to do and what to see. Thank you.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2009, 10:03 AM
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I also enjoyed your report, as we are also considering a trip to the top end, though at the "wrong" time of year, so it may be put off for another time.

Now I'm wishing I could figure out how to "bookmark" reports like this on Fodors.com so that I would get notifications of updates to threads I am watching. If this is possible to do, I sure haven't figured out how. Can anyone help? (I'm assuming the "Flag this topic" button is for posts of questionable propriety, not posts of interest.)
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Old Aug 2nd, 2009, 08:28 PM
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KimblyMT -

Fodor's doesn't send e-mail updates like TA does, but you can retrieve the thread by clicking on your name or profile and scrolling through 'Topics you've commented on'.
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Old Aug 2nd, 2009, 08:49 PM
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Thank you for kind comments. I was reminded yesterday that the place where you pick up your tickets for the Guluyambi Cruise is "Border Store", a short distance from the boat ramp. There's a French pastry chef there who cooks the pies. I had a broccoli and cauliflower one - a nice change from sandwiches, but not quite as nice as the one I had at Gembrook in the Dandenongs [Victoria] in January. But I may have been hungrier; I think we ate lunch after three.
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