Sept 15-17 Kakadu to Katherine
Breakfast this morning was taken in the company of a little wallaby (small kangaroo) that distracted and enchanted us by hopping a little closer every few minutes. The managers of the caravan park set sprinklers on the grass near where we camp and this tender green grass attracts the kangaroos. There were also some unusual, all-black crested parrots roosting in the tree above us.
Drove to Kakadu ...took all day. Along the way we stopped at Mamukala Wetlands. This is a huge marshland, home to many migratory as well as permanent species. Right now there were thousands of Gurrang, white geese with black wings and some caramel-coloured feathers on their chests as well – unless that was just muddiness. They were basically wallowing in the muddy water.
It was bit like summer camp for these birds ...tens of thousands of them. Some were at the buffet ...ducking under the water at will for treats, others were tearing at the grasses after grubs or something I guess. Then there was a squawking from a leader and a bunch of them lined up, follow-the-leader style and took off for a swim-about. About the same time, the glee club started up, all singing in unison. There was a fight over in the corner over an old dead crab that an interloper species (elegant little black bird with a red beak) had dug up. No one seemed to have the heart to really go after it though, more like a football game with the blackbird carrying the “ball”. At one point she had a gang of twenty or so geese after her and she suddenly turned, ducked, and ran straight back through the line, crab in beak. Gutsy move but it worked.
Everyone seemed to lose interest in the game, then a few minutes later it was taken up again with everyone chasing the little black bird again.
Of course there was a fair bit of flirting and pairing up going on ...and older birds suddenly taking wing together to go check out nesting sites.
Interesting place that wetlands blind.
We’re headed up to the Ubirra region at the north-east end of Kakadu. We’ve been told that we must get off the highway to see the real Kakadu, that the highway is built through the driest, most stalbe land – the most boring part of Kakadu. So Ubirra is the destination, well off the main highway.
As we head north we see a difference right away, instead of the scrubby drylands bordering the highway, we realize that we are coming around the back end of the Mamukala Wetlands. Wetlands to the left while towering red rock escarpments are rising to our right. Beautiful.
At the end of the road we come on the Aboriginal Art Sites – these are the rock paintings done sometime in the past 2000 years. Steve climbs up to the top of an escarpement for a view of the surrounding countryside. I wait for him, amusing myself trying to photograph tiny little lizards darting in and out of the peeling parperbark trees. These are a graceful white tree very common in the “Top End” of Australia.
Fully de-barked, they are an elegant
white tree, graceful limbs arching and weaving high into the air. I love
trying to capture them and the lizards are a bonus.
Finally, came to our home for the night, the Merl Campground. This is
a government campsite. Good water, clean bathrooms and showers, large
private sites just like our campgrounds back home. Only downside is lack
of power which is fine on the lighting thing – but we sure could
use a fan tonight. It is so friggin’ hot in here and we are confined
to the van because it is swarming with mosquitoes out there. Just swarming.
Even with long pants and spray they were after me ...so we came inside
and think we have managed to kill them all off in here ...but it is very
hot and there is virtually no air movement.
Sept 16 Edith Falls
Today Steve had his first close encounter with a live croc. We were swimming in the plunge pool at Edith Falls. It's a huge lake-like body of water. At one end Edith Falls makes its final plunge, thus the term plunge pool. It's 150 metres straight across and we chose to circumnavigate it. Steve was exploring the shoreline, climbing up rocks and so on, while I swam about 30 feet offshore. I saw him heading straight for an overhanging stand of Pandana trees/shrubs and the thought went through my head that if I were a croc that is exactly where I would be sitting in wait.
But he never listens to my warnings, so I swam on. Suddenly I heard an explosion of profanity and turned to see a white-faced Steve paddling backward - a strange sort of stroke - arms churning behind him, legs flailing beneath him, head swiveling back and forth between "the croc" and the dock which was at least 100 metres away.
After a long couple of minutes it became obvious that the croc probably wasn't going to launch after us so we headed for the dock in a business-like (if not panicked) manner.
Speaking to a local later, he said there are actually 12 Freshies (freshwater crocs ) in that pool but that as long as we didn't bother them they didn't bother humans. "The only time they get really aggressive," the fellow continued, "is when they are nesting."
"When is that?"
"Oh, anytime between August and October."
So we survived that and seeing as how no ill came of the encounter it is easy to say the swim was well worth it.
Until we came to Australia this time, I had never experienced swimming in a natural waterholes like these. First Wangi Falls a few days ago and today, Edith Falls. It's just amazing to swim in pristine, natural environments like these. At Edith Falls today we were surrounded by fish of all sizes, from tiny little fry to curious adults a foot or so in length.
The natural beauty of the place is almost beyond description. Sheer rock faces, tumbling freshwater falls, lush Pandana drooping over into the water, colourful little parrots and lorikeets in overhanging trees. Just an amazing experience all around.
Woke up this morning in Katherine and booked ourselves seats on the two-hour Katherine Gorge tour. This involves getting on a large, flat-bottomed, tin shell with a very shallow draft that even so, scrapes the rocky bottom at times. There is quite a substantial walk over rocky terrain ...between the gorges ...but I managed just fine. Used my stick and Steve gave me a steadying shoulder to lean on.
The gorges are very spectacular to look at – over a billion years old. Between each gorge is a pile of rocks that you have to scramble over ...and if you are canoeing or kayaking, haul your craft over.
The gorges are over a billion years old – high escarpments of orange-red-brown shaded rocks. There are lots of caves and crevices, places where trees (usually a kind of fig) have found purchase and hang on for dear life. Despite it’s solid look the rocks are actually a kind of sponge for water and nutrients, so vegetation survives where it wouldn’t seem possible.
During the dry season tourists like us are able to view the gorges, once the rains come they use small, fast power boats for a while, then abandon the tours for the largest part of the wet season because of the quantities of water churning through the gorges. Must be something to see.
Had lunch at the Visitor centre – sandwiches were $3.20 ...a good deal for a good sandwich.
Tomorrow we are off to Kununurra, gateway to the Kimberley Mountains and the Bungles Bungles.