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The Northern Territory: The Real and Rugged Australia

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Everyone thought we were crazy for coming to the Northern Territory in the “wet season.” Naturally, being the rain attractors that we seem to have become, we weren’t really worried. What are we, made of soap? A little rain wouldn’t hurt us, right?

Right. In fact, the wet season wasn’t really anything to be concerned about! We hardly saw a drop of rain during our time in Darwin…it was actually pretty awesome. I’ll start from the beginning.

As I mentioned previously, we weren’t too excited for our camping trip to Kakadu…however, upon arriving to our hostel, I discovered I had made an error in our itinerary and we actually had a day of recovery between landing and our trip. We were very happy. We spent a lazy day exploring Darwin…a very small and somewhat non-interesting town. Upon inquiring if we were yet able to swim in the real ocean (we hadn’t been allowed to do so since Bundaberg), I was told a firm no: in addition to jellies, Darwin has crocodiles in the ocean. Again, like many of the other towns we have visited, the town had built a swimming wharf for us to enjoy. So, off we went in search of it.

The elevator to get down to the beach lagoon in Darwin

The elevator to get down to the beach

A few wrong turns led us to some interesting ocean scenery, the discovery of a “deck chair cinema” (like a drive in, without the cars), and an unyielding search for WW2 tunnels that were sign posted. We almost gave up on finding the wharf – the heat in Darwin is so intense that we were even sweating from our finger tips! We finally found it…bizarre little place that it was. You ended up having to take an elevator down from the town to get to the wharf. It was strange. We spent the afternoon there, trying to cool off in the un-refreshingly warm bath water.

That night, we decided we needed to eat some kangaroo before we left Oz. We hadn’t really come across it in our near six weeks in the country, and didn’t want to leave without sampling this bizarre cultural phenomenon. We found a decent restaurant and dug in. Sort of tasted like chicken (haha). Actually, more like bison…it was interesting. Didn’t love it, but glad we tried it.

That night, on top of Scott’s unrelenting cold, I ended up with some form of food poisoning. The experience led me to believe I should actually be a vegetarian and should not go around eating things like kangaroo. It felt like it God’s way of punishing me for eating such a cute critter. (Note: this episode has left me a vegetarian for now). Anyway, our trip was in danger at this point – I was left feeling like death on the public bathroom floor of our hostel, and Scott was hacking away in the bedroom, cursing my violently awakening him by my sprint to the bathroom. Fortunately, whatever was poisoning my body was short lived, and one it had violently exited, I was able to get some sleep.

Scott sitting on the edge of a cliff overlooking Kakadu

Scott sitting on the edge of a cliff overlooking Kakadu

We woke up the next morning, both in pretty rough shape, and now REALLY not wanting to go on our tour. However, the desire to not waste a very large sum of money we had paid for the trip won over, and we got it together and pushed on. We boarded our second uncomfortable 4×4 vehicle of the trip and started the journey.

Now, for some strange reason (fear? apprehension?), the Northern Territory is pretty deserted in wet season and our tour was tiny…only 4 others were on our tour for a total of 6…the normal count is 9. Our guide was adamant that the wet season is actually better to tour Kakadu…you actually get to see the stunning creeks and waterfalls that dry up in the dry season.

Our first stop was a ride on a boat to see “spectacular jumping crocs.” We boarded a very small boat (again very small due to the lack of peeps in the wet season), armed with bison to feed some of the 2,000 plus saltwater crocodiles that infest the Adelaide river. Saltwater crocodiles in a freshwater river you may ask? (or at least I did.) There are actually two types of crocs: salties and freshies (freshwaters crocs). Salties have the ability to live in saltwater (they have gills that will filter the salt water to make it drinkable) but they rarely live in it. They are also the deadly kind. Freshies only live in freshwater, but salties generally kill them off – they only inhabit non-salty inhabited areas. They are smaller and will only eat smaller prey such as fish and mice. Salties will eat anything smaller than them, including their own babies and adolescents. Our skipper was very knowledgable and told us heaps about the crocs. They are the number one predator on the planet due to their cunning skills over their prey. They will not attack unless they know 100% they will succeed in eating it, and they can go 12 to 18 months without food. They kill many of the cows in the area all the time, as the cows graze down by the river for water. Cows have a natural pecking order and will always go to the water in the same order. The croc knows this and watches them and their patterns. He will pick out the weakest or sickest one, memorize its order, and one day will attack it. Unbelievable.

A jumping croc!  Crikey!

A jumping croc! Crikey!

We were told many times not to lean too far over the rails or stick our head too far to get a good view – “the most dangerous croc is the one you don’t see”…and there could be one lurking under the boat waiting. The crocs are very familiar with the boat and many will often come over for a meat feeding…or stalk it for an unwitting arm or leg. There was a croc feeder person on the boat who would tie the meat to a stick and make the crocs jump for it. We saw quite a few that day…a pregnant looking female (we were there the only time of year they breed), a large male with a missing leg (likely an attack from another croc), and a really small young guy who could clear the whole water to jump for the meat. He was our favourite. We fully enjoyed the croc tour, and on our way out we fed some birds…I forget their name….but they are birds of prey. The feeder on the boat would throw small pieces of meat into the air and they’d catch it with their talons and eat the food while still flying. Apparently only three species of birds in the world can do this. It was amazing.

Our next stop for the day, after having a picnic lunch, was to Nourlangie rock to visit some old aboriginal art. We learned a bit about the culture and the story telling…and an interesting explanation of why you shouldn’t mess around with your sister. Apparently blood lines are very complex in the aboriginal culture, and someone who is your sister might not actually be your sister (apparently your cousin can be your sister?)…so you are only allowed to marry someone who the elders deem appropriate. You may get a choice of 3 or 1 or none depending on how things shake out…it was very complicated. After that, we did a very steep hike to a lookout over Kakadu, across from Nourlangie. In every direction that you could see was green, wetlands, and sandstone. It was pretty phenomenal.

Looking at ancient aboriginal wall drawings

Looking at ancient aboriginal wall drawings

Then, to our surprise, we got dropped off at a 5-star resort to use their pool and shower! This was not roughing it! However, we didn’t complain – we were so sticky and covered in flies (the flies were relentless. Barb and Ian – we finally witnessed the aussie salute in abundance!!). Afterwards, we went to camp – which in the wet season is actually pretty lush. You can’t just lay out under the stars due to the potential for a torrential downpour (which in the wet season is usually late afternoon or at night, which is why we hardly witnessed a drop of it), so they had constructed a very nice mesh abris complete with bunk beds inside! Before dinner (which was kangaroo stirfy…my stomach did not want much to do with that one), we played around with some bamboo spears….and after dinner, we played a didgeridoo! Our guide, Brad, was pretty good at it and played a bit for us. Poor guy…he had seemed kind of bummed from the beginning of the tour and later confessed to us that “me missus” (he actually said “me” all the time!!…”me car,” “me hat,” etc…) had left him for another bloke around Christmas and he was pretty busted up about it. He reminded me of an Australian mountain man….he wore the same dirty jeans and blue button up long sleeve shirt (yes, VERY warm clothes for the 35 degree temp and 120% humidity)…with a large straw hat which we would often find slung over his eyes as he took a nap. Very stereotypical.

That night yielded a somewhat troublesome sleep for me…I was pretty disturbed by the very large spiders hanging about me. I’m not normally concerned about these things, but here we were, in one of the dangerous places in the world, completely exposed to nature. The most poisonous snakes and spiders live in Northern Oz….not exactly reassuring. Not only that, but wild dingoes were lurking around at night and crocs lived right outside the back of the abris. Making my nightly pee run was a bit anxiety provoking, but I survived. We discovered the next morning, however, that a dingo had come into our tent and bit Brad’s leg! It was pretty crazy.

The Motorcar falls

The Motorcar falls

The first thing we did the second day was make a hike into a gorgeous swimming hole at Motorcar Falls. We were a bit concerned about crocs – our skipper on the croc tour had told us never to listen to a local about where to swim, as they were the ones who most often killed in rivers and swimming holes. However, Brad assured us we were too high on the esplanade for them to bother with swimming in the area. Most of us still had our reservations though…although the water was pretty clear, it was really deep and we couldn’t see the bottom. We all had quite a bit of anxiety about the crocs and didn’t spend too much time in the water at this place. We then made a short drive to have lunch, and ate right next to a wild bush fire. Even though it’s wet season, it’s still incredibly dry in some places…so that was pretty cool. Brad didn’t seem even worried in the slightest as we munched sandwiches right next to the flames!!

Our second hike of the day was to Boulder Creek – a very gorgeous stream and waterfall with crystal clear water. Thing is, unlike at home, the water is not glacially cold! This time, the water was shallow, so we could see the lack of crocs…and we spent lots of time swimming and enjoying our surroundings. It was gorgeous.

At last, it was time for us to go (and I was a bit grateful – I was tired of leaking 4 litres of sweat per day and being invaded by flies…). We got a ride back with the Operations Manager of the company, since only three of our group was leaving…the other three were staying another night. Ironically enough, another group had been leaving that day and this ops manager had wasted a whole day driving out to pick us up! It was pretty funny. Just us and a very nice Hong Kong lady, Thisbe, who now lives in Melbourne, were returning. Incidentally, we were all booked onto the same flight to Bali! Thisbe was a doll and took pictures with her camera for us when our waterproof camera suddenly decided it didn’t want to be waterproof anymore. Ugh.

Kenna and Thisbe in a swimming hole in Kakadu

Kenna and Thisbe in a swimming hole in Kakadu

Upon arriving back into Darwin, we learned that there had been a bombing at the shopping centre two blocks from our hostel. Apparently, a disgruntled WCB claimant who was refused payment…kind of like the hostage taking in Edmonton last summer. Not sure if it made international news, but it was being compared to the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005. Darwin was very familiar with them, as most of the victims were flown to Darwin for treatment, and as a result, now has one of the best burn treatment centres of the world. It reminded us that we need to be careful no matter where we go, and especially in Bali.

We spent our last day in Darwin dealing with incidental matters like securing Indonesian Rupiahs…which turned out to be a giant rip off, due to all the currency conversion fees. We finally boarded our flight this evening, after quite the drama. You apparently need an onward flight to get into Indonesia, and they won’t let you board your flight without solid proof of one. Our Lonely Planet guide did not include this gem of information (and we didn’t believe Thisbe when she told us of this fact earlier today…), so we ended up in a mad scramble to book a flight on a whim. We are now leaving Jakarta on February 20th to go to Singapore, which should be interesting….we have no idea how we will get to Jakarta, or if Feb 20th is a reasonable timeframe to visit the country. So much for flying by the seat of our pants. Perhaps we’ve been a little too relaxed and chill in our planning and researching…ah well.

So alas, we leave Australia, with sadness to see it go. We’ve had an amazing time here for the past 5 weeks or so. Both Scott and I are excited but somewhat nervous about spending the next 4 months of our lives in the chaos and craziness that is Asia. I’ll miss being able to walk down a street without being harassed every meter of the way…I’ll miss grocery stores….I’ll miss warm water showers, actual toilet apparatuses, and the ability to just flush your toilet paper down the plumbing. I’ll miss drinking water from the tap. I won’t miss spending loads of money, though, and I look forward to the delicious Asian food and different cultural experiences that await us. As I write this from the plane, listening to my new favourite artists and the soundtrack to our Aussie journey – MGMT and Gossip (are these popular in Canada??), I look forward to the adventures and excitements to come. We’ve been warned to hold onto our own luggage at the airport so that locals can’t try to get tips from us carrying it. We’ve been told to walk outside the airport to get a decently priced taxi that will carry to the madness that is Kuta. All the joys and wonders that come with a developing country. :)


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