Sept 10-14 Darwin to Litchfield National Park
Easy flight from Brisbane to Darwin – just under 4 hours with Qantas serving a good lunch and funny movie. Even topped off lunch by coming around an hour later with ice cream bars.
My son’s girlfriend, Fiona, has been travelling through the Northern Territory for the past six weeks with her New Zealander parents, Dave and Elspeth. They are ending their trip in Darwin just as we are starting ours so they met us at the airport and we spent the first few days at the “Top End,” as it is called, with them.
After picking up our campervan, first stop was a grocery store for some supplies. Prices seemed very reasonable. For example, good quality jam was $1.39 for a jar, 600 gms of peanut butter was $2.79, cold meats started at .79 per 100 gm and went up to 2.49 per 100 gm for the better quality, soap was 5 bars for $2.10, tuna was $2.28 for a tin that looks bigger than the one we have at home, etc.
From there, on to the Howard Springs Caravan Park, where we spent the rest of the afternoon getting the campervan organized. Took a bit of doing, but our experience with this in the past paid off.
We’d planned a group barbeque and the other clan came through with their contributions but we fell a bit short on ours. My salad was okay but when I pulled out the bag of crusty rolls I’d purchased just hours before it was already infested with ants – hundreds of them. Obviously, the food cupboards in the campervan came complete with their own colony of ants.
A “neighbour” gave us enough spray to see us through the night – killed off the buggers we could see and we put ant spray on the top of the list for purchase the next morning.
Start the day with a swim in the small, but pretty pool here at the Howard Springs Caravan Park. A group of colourful lorikeets gathers in the tree overhead to cheer me on. Great way to start the day.
Next job was to make breakfast. When we turfed the rolls last night I’d examined the bread and decided the ants hadn’t breached the bag. Closer examination this morning proved me wrong. But they are very small and not many so I take some time, and examining every slice, pinch off the offending ants. This is a bit of a chore actually as the bread is a “seedy” variety and I have to look closely. Tossing the tiny bits of bread behind me attracts the ibis ...who love to snack on human food. They are pretty mid-sized white birds with long, hooked black beaks. They prance around on long, skinny black legs and are great beggars.
Objective today is to try and get the van kitted out. First stop is the Red Cross second-hand shop where we find two large mugs (the cups in the van are tiny espresso things), a dark blue fitted sheet in new condition (sheets in the van are white, not fitted, and of a strange size) and a pair of new pillow cases (pillowcases in van are terrible – pilly things). All of this for only $4.
From there we went to the K Mart at the Casuarina Shopping Centre where we bought two folding comfy camp chairs for $8 each (the “chairs” in the van are just folding stools and unsuitable for reading or working), a large plastic container for putting our bread etc in so the ants don’t get it again ($7), a paring knife and bread knife ($10 for both), some “Chux” Clothes ..what we know of as “J cloths”, mat for the floor ($7). At the Big W we bought a small fan ($7) – which it later turned out was too small to be of any use so took it back and got something with more oomph for $18.
So it was a pretty good haul at some good prices. Our other addition, a few days later, was a tarp for the ground to put our chairs on. The ants in tropical Australia are numerous and aggressive. From tiny little things you can barely see to fat-ass big green buggers, they all have nasty bites. We were told by a local camper that if we put something like a mat or tarp on the ground, the ants would avoid it. And it works ...most of the time.
In the evening we head for Darwin’s famous Mindil Beach Market. I took a few pics but found that most vendors did not want their products photographed for fear of others “stealing” their ideas. Seems crazy to me ...but there you go. The crafts for sale: sarongs (bought a nice one for Brisbane at Christmas - $12.50 – since Lynne tells me everyone lives in their swim suits and sarongs), puppets, jewellery up the yin yang – shells, beads, mother of pearl, etc, t-shirts, photos and paintings, pottery products, wire “bugs” that hold a mosquito coil, soaps made to look like cakes and pie and cookies (why anyone would want this I cannot imagine and this is the woman who got incensed when I wanted to take a photo). Lots of other typical craft market type stuff, including psychics and masseurs ($10 for 10 minutes).
The reallly big deal about the Mindil Markets is apparently the food ...everything you can think of ...Japanese, Timorese, Chinese, Sri Lankan, Dutch pancakes, Thai, seafood, Vietnamese, lots of fruit drink and smoothies, a “Road Kill Grill” where you can get buffalo, kangaroo, crocodile steaks, etc. There are also the usual hamburgers, hot dogs, etc.
We settle on some Chinese food. $7.50 buys a small plastic container heaped full of whatever you like – sweet and sour pork, chop suey, lemon chicken, beef and broccoli in black bean sauce, chow mein, prawns, etc. When we first looked at the containers they didn’t seem like they’d hold much, but we each bought one and shared them for variety ...and had a hard time finishing them. Fruit smoothie drinks finished the meal off at $3 each. So it was all priced right ...food was nothing to write home about though.
Best part of the market though was the music. There was a group – the eMDee’s, consisting of an amazing didji player and percussionist - loved it. We stayed through two sets. In the first set two aboriginal women danced, entertaining the crowd ...it was great music, have to admit my own hips were swaying. Bought a CD.
Came back down towards the city along the Nightcliff beach area and enjoyed looking at city from that vantage. Beautiful views and oceans.
Went to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory – the official one. There is a part of the museum devoted to Cyclone Tracy that devastated Darwin on Christmas Day, 1974. Totalled the town. There is a small, dark room you can go into and the sound surrounds you. Very scary.
There are also the usual natural history sections with beautifully mounted displays of butterflies, birds, shells, fish, lizards and frogs, etc. Very nicely done. There is a section on “Sweetheart” a huge crocodile that was being too aggressive so they captured it ...but it died in the process. So it is stuffed now and somewhat immortalized.
There is also a big display of aboriginal artifiacts and another of aboriginal art.
For dinner we joined Fiona's family at Stokes Wharf for a lovely evening – cold white wine, fish and chips, finished off with an ice cream cone. Made a mistake and ordered the hake fish and chips. Better to jump up a few dollars in price and order the barramundi fish as Dave demonstrated by generously sharing his with me. BIG difference in quality. Barramundi is a local fish here ...lovely white flesh, very solid, light fresh flavour. Won’t miss out on that again.
Stokes Wharf is where the big ships used to come in. Now it houses little restaurants and has lots of table and chairs where you can sit and watch the world go by on the water. Very; nice atmosphere. By 9 pm it was packed with hundreds of people.
Dropped them off about 9:30 at the airport – Dave and Elspeth on their way to New Zealand, Fiona to Vancouver. We’ll catch up with them all again later in the trip.
Litchfield National Park
After all that socializing in Brisbane and Darwin it feels like today, as we hit the road, the trip really begins.
Our destination is Litchfield National Park where we are booked onto a river cruise at 9 am on Wednesday morning. Litchfield wasn’t even on the itinerary that we’d drafted out over the past months, but it’s been highly recommended so we’ll spend a few days diverting south and check it out.
First stop is the town of Batchelor, where we pull up near a tourist information booth and have a nice chat with some local seniors manning the table. They give us maps and some local insight ...great.
The Magnetic Termite Mounds are impressive. These particular termites build mounds that look like tall pieces of toast set on end. Very unusual. Apparently this design sources energy from the sun – they are all set with exactly the same orientation. How some scientist knows that this is why the termites do it this way, escapes me. It’s not like he talked to them. Perhaps it’s just their religion to face a certain direction.
It was VERY hot walking around these termite mounds. It’s very hot everywhere ...generally around 37 to 38 degrees plus and for reasons known only to them (and probably some smartass scientist), the heat brings out the flies. They love it.
Next stop was Florence Falls ...quite nice ...but again very hot and I was getting very flushed and starting to lose it. So while I made some sandwiches for lunch, Steve found us a nice place to have it – some cool and quiet little pools. Good thing, because when I was coming out of the van with lunch, a fly went into my mouth ...and I swallowed it. I was blubbering all over the carpark when he came back with his grand discovery of the pools.
We had our lunch then slipped into the pools to cool off. Marvellous. There was an interesting rock in the pool, looked just like a small crocodile As “freshies” are common in this area that wasn’t actually a far-flung idea.
So we cooled down and I regained my sanity.
From there we continued on to Wangi Falls. This was a wonderful experience ...beautiful falls to look at, crashing down over the rocks ...with the added bonus of a pristine, highly accessible pool at the base. We both went for a long swim ...just what the doctor ordered on such a hot day.
Now we are settled at the Wangi campground. This is a wilderness campground ...everything is “dark” no power. That’s fine. I am sitting here working on my laptop (battery power) ...which attracts bugs to the screen funny to be writing with the bugs crawling across.
Steve is reading with his headlamp. I turned mine off because it was attracting bugs to buzz my eyes.
Had a simple dinner of cheese on a bun and some canned apricots. Very good. It’s so hot we are not eating much and simple is best.
Tomorrow we are off on the cruise ...then back up the track towards Kakadu. There is something wrong with one of our wheels though – the brakes are making a terrible sound, so that is going to cause us to lose some time tomorrow getting it fixed. A bit of a bummer but what can you do.
Litchfield National Park
Had a good sleep and woke up ready for the Litchfield Cruise. We were so early at the pick-up point that nothing was open. Steve needed to see a man about a horse so he headed off into the bush. On his return out of the bush a man who was walking across the parking lot started yelling at him “This is where we live, it’s not a toilet ...this is our back yard ...use a toilet like a human being!!!!” He was REALLY incensed ....acting as if Steve had squatted and dumped a load in the middle of the parking lot. What a lot of fuss.
Cruise guy, “Dave” showed up nearly on time and we set off in a big van with about 12 other people. Dave is a former Zimbabwean ...where he worked in the safari business both in Zim and East Africa. He and his wife Kath and children emigrated out here about four years ago and have started this company where they take people for eco tours on the Reynolds River. This is accessed through a private cattle station so that was interesting too as we had to drive across it for about ½ hour to get to the river.
He drove us over all this scrubby looking leached-out land with lots of wallabies hopping around and some larger kangaroos as well. At first he stopped the van every time we saw a bunch but there were so many they eventually became commonplace, even to us.
This ranch, the Welltree, runs 10-15,000 cattle ...fattening them up on the land then shipping them out in Jan/Feb. They are shipped live to Indonesia where they may be further fattened on feedlots then butchered locally so that all the customs are followed accurately.
So we are travelling over this scrubby land when a suddenly the road opens onto the most incredible technicolour green paradise. It’s a river, with a lush, tangled mass of vegetation on the opposite shore. Just amazing. On one side of the river is paperbark marsh and floodplain, on the other a jungle.
So we get on this boat – quite comfortable and spend the next three hours travelling down the Reynold’s River. The tour was only supposed to be 1.5 hours but this guy is passionate about his birds. To the point of tediousness for me ...not being a “birder.” But most people on the boat did seem to be birders as they enthusiastically “spotted” birds and everyone else on the boat would ooh and aah and sometimes argue about the correct subspecies etc. But it was all incredibly beautiful and I have NEVER seen such prolific birdlife. NEVER. When we were in Costa Rica we were told this is what we’d see ...but never did. The birdlife there was very sparse compared to what we saw this morning.
Apparently our timing is the reason the river is so live. The dry season is coming to an end and the pools have dried up through much of the area, leaving only the “permanent” waterway – the Reynolds River. This means the birds and other wildlife all come there at this time of the year.
Saw some crocs ...not a lot, but maybe 5 or 6 small-to-mid sized. There was a dead one in the river. That was a large one alright – apparently had it’s tail bit off in a territorial fight.
So left there at 1:30 and decided we had better head to Batchelor and see about the brake problem. The sound is very crunchy – like metal on metal. It is hard to believe they would send us out in a van with no brakes ...but that is what it sounds like to us.
So we get to Batchelor and “Allan” crawls under the van and says it looks like the brake pad is gone. I call the campervan company and they tell the mechanic to get it fixed immediately.
Glad we did as there was NO brake pad left ...we were running metal on metal on the passenger side wheel. If we’d let it go on any longer we would have been facing a much bigger brake job and a lot more waiting around time.
Tomorrow we are off to Kakadu.