Northern Territory (Darwin) (February 16 - 22 February, 2002)


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Northern Territory

We stayed in the town of Darwin for two nights. The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory has some excellent displays on Cyclone Tracy, which flattened Darwin in 1974, a collection of boats  (including a boat used by Vietnamese boat people), some pictures of the war (Darwin was bombed by the Japanese in WWII), as well as a good collection of stuffed animals and fish, and some preserved jellyfish. It was the 60th anniversary of the 1942 attack while we were in Darwin, and there were lots of memorial services and re-enactments of the bombing, with busloads of survivors being taken from one place to another. 

Next stop was Kakadu National Park, a world heritage site for both cultural and ecological reasons. Some of the aboriginal rock paintings date back 20,000 years, and the park itself is one of the world's premier wet lands.  We drove to Jabiru and stayed at the All Seasons Frontier Kakadu Village. The Arnhem Highway was closed due to flooding, so we had to drive the long way.  We ticked another few animals off our list in the park: we passed a few kangaroo's and dingoes (who howled at night just like wolves), as well as some dumb birds that were in no hurry to get out of our way. When the birds finally did move, they would typically fly towards the car or directly away from it... except of course we were traveling at highway speeds.  Mark, the teenager, has dubbed them "Stupid Birds", and luckily we only gave a glancing blow to one of them. The excellent Bowali Visitor Centre in the park introduced us to Aboriginal culture in the area, which we followed up with a visit to the equally good Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre. 


Nourlangie Rock

The aboriginal stories  in the Centre were interesting. They were mainly related to the changing seasons and the food sources in each season - very practical stories indeed. Another interesting thing we learned was that aborigines have used fire as a means of thinning underbrush for centuries. Having small, controlled fires at the beginning of the dry season is a very effective fire prevention method later on when everything is parched. Perhaps the 'whitepellas' in Sydney should learn this lesson, and prevent the wild fires that have caused so much trouble in that area. 

We took the Yellow Water Billabong boat cruise and saw lots of birds... and lots of water. While we had not seen much rain in our few days in Darwin, the water level was two or three metres (!) higher than the dry season levels - Monsoon rains had been hitting the Arnhemland escarpment that empties onto the Kakadu flood plain. The river had long since overflowed its banks and turned whole areas of forest into 'The Wet" - a normal annual occurrence. The cruise actually boated over some some areas that are walking trails in the dry season. Unfortunately this meant that we did not see crocs. Crocs live on the shoreline, and with the elevated water level they had moved inland  for nesting.

After the boat cruise, we went to Nourlangie Rock and looked at the aboriginal rock art. It was amazing to think how old some of this art was. 

We left the park and stayed overnight in Pine Creek at the Pine Creek Diggers Rest Motel, where the owner fed hundreds of lorikeets and galah's at 8 in the morning. Chloe and Mark happily woke up to watch. We drove to Litchfield Park and saw a frilled lizard sprint by on two legs (!). With intermittent rain, the weather was not the best but we did take a quick look at Wangi Falls and the Buley Rockholes (a series of natural swimming pools formed by rocks in a stream). 


We have seen quite a few termite mounds over the past few days - the biggest Cathedral Termite mounds are probably 2 metres high. In Litchfield, there are Magnetic Termites who build their tombstone shaped nests in a north south orientation so that they get warm with both the early morning and late afternoon sun. We stayed at the Litchfield Tourist and Van Park near Batchelor overnight. 

We still have not seen any wild crocodiles. There's signs on every stream, billabong, and river warning about the potential presence of crocs, but crocs are elusive at this time of the year. I suppose it was a little out of desperation that we drove along Arnhem Highway to the Adelaide River crossing in order to take a "Jumping Crocodile Cruise". At least we were guaranteed to see some crocs!


Well, it was actually kind of fun. We piled into a small pontoon boat and putted down the Adelaide River. A croc swam out to the boat, and then jumped up out of the water to grab a piece of meat that the staff had tied to a pole. It could actually jump quite high. We ended up seeing 4 crocs in all (including one baby less than a meter long) in our hour cruise. 

This croc has her mouth open to keep her head cool while her body warms in the sun. 

We also visited the nearby "Windows on the Wetlands" centre and the Fogg Dam conservation area. We were excited to see a wild emu as we drove. 

In retrospect, we have visited Darwin at the wrong time of the year. We knew we were coming here in the wet season, but we thought that would mean we would just be here in the rain - which as 'Vancouverites', is no big deal. As Chloe says, "wetter is better". However, we seemed to be one of the few tourists here. Many tourist activities don't happen during the wet season, and there really isn't a lot to do. 

We did see our first Road Train. These are regular trucks that pull up to three full size trailers behind them. They can weigh up to 180 tonnes, be 55 metres long, and have 58 wheels. Passing them requires planning and about a kilometre of empty road. 

We spent our last day in Australia quietly in our hotel in Darwin. Our flight to Bali is at 10:45 in the evening. The kids did some homework, I updated the web site and Sarah read. We went for a short visit to Aquascene at lunch time - all the stale bread in Darwin makes its way there to feed the mullet, catfish and milkfish at high tide.

I think we're all looking forward to Bali. We've been in Australia for about 7 weeks - its a long time to be a tourist in one country. Off to Bali.