We woke in the dark and piled into the car. The sunrise cruise at Katherine Gorge included a light brekkie and coffee/tea which was much welcomed. Copious amounts of melon and little peach pastries hit the spot. Charlie is a watermelon addict so this was right up his alley.
We started the cruise off on a high note, seeing a white bellied sea eagle hovering around the flying foxes, hoping to gobble one up for breakfast.
The sun was rising slowly behind the gorges and beautiful light was hitting one side of the cliffs. The tour guide was friendly and knowledgable. This was definitely the kids’ Science, Art, and Society and Environment studies for the day. We learnt about the Jawoyn people and how they looked after the land here, what they used the plants and animals for, the stories behind the parts of the canyon, and saw the rock art at the end of the first gorge. We walked about 700m to the second gorge to catch another boat to the canyon (the most photographed part). Fairy martins had set up shop in a big cave, having migrated from Asia, building their nests and flying in and out in a little show for us. The guide turned off the engines and we sat in the stillness listening to the birds and the gentle lapping of the water against the boat. In the distance, the Jedda cliffs, made famous in the 1955 movie Jedda, glowed red in the rising sun. It was the first Australian film to be made in colour, and the first to feature indigenous actors in leading roles. Australia's own Romeo and Juliet story if you will.
I’m so glad we went on the cruise. It was worth every penny as you don’t get to see the gorge otherwise because of the current restrictions. I will have to come back in the true dry season one day, hire a canoe and paddle down the gorges. Back at the camp, we packed up and then went back in the pool.
Just a note to any others doing this trip north, if you stop in at Mayse’s cafe in little Pine Creek, don’t come out the other side and get back on the road (it’s a side loop) if you want to actually head down Kakadu Highway. An extra half an hour added to our journey but oh well.
I had prepared myself for the expanse of Kakadu. I know many prefer Litchfield and I was trying to keep an open mind about that and try to just see Kakadu as ‘different’ rather than compare the two. It was a long way in to the first ‘visitor centre’ which was dusty and abandoned with old mine machinery in the courtyard and not a sign of anybody else. It was like we were in the Lost World and everyone had left in a hurry - did they know something we didn’t? Had the crocs turned into massive beasts that were taking over the park bit by bit? Barely any cars on the road, we headed out to Gunlom, as I had heard it was beautiful. I loved the drive out there. Memories of Meerenie came flooding back and I thoroughly enjoyed the rough corrugated road, the ‘river crossings’ (just a puddle now) and the dips and bends.
Charlie was in a funk by the time we got out there so we lay on the cool grass and viewed the ‘plunge pool’ beneath the waterfall. No way I was doing any plunging with ‘Swim at your own risk’ and ‘Croc safety’ signs everywhere. Toby hiked up to the lookout whilst I enviously looked on. He took a dip in the croc safe pool at the top of the waterfall. It was a steep track, harder coming down he said, and Charlie would have kicked up a right fuss in the stinking hot weather. There are just some things I won’t be able to do on this trip and I have to accept that. It would be easier to have a baby here, at least you could strap it to you and do these walks. Hard to force an eight year old into these adventures. I have to balance it all pretty carefully.
Toby's photos below of Katherine Gorge environs and Gunlom at the top of the waterfall...
I enjoyed the drive out even more - 37km back to the highway and sealed road. Toby had read about a campground near Yellow Water that he wanted to stay at because of the birdlife. Madugal campground was a managed site in the park, so it had flushing toilets and a well maintained shower block.The tent sites were split from the caravan/coach sites to ensure peace and tranquility with no generators. What a fantastic idea. We chose a site (spoilt for choice due to no one else being there) and had a whole bush camp to ourselves. We patted ourselves on the back. It was still $30 a night for all three of us as it was a managed site, but much cheaper than the commercial sites around Kakadu. There are also bush camping sites with just a long drop toilet that are cheaper still. I don’t mind paying for a site like this, or so I thought.
Cute possum photo above by Toby!
The manager came around and we optimistically said we would stay for two nights. He let us have two nights for the price of one which was very kind - the place wasn’t exactly in peak season yet - and he warned us to use repellent due to a strain of MVE (Encephalitis) found on the outskirts of Darwin. We had already noticed the mozzies increasing as the sun had sunk below the horizon. We ran for a shower (a cold relief) and immediately afterwards they were everywhere. Swarms of mozzies and midgies. The kids had already had dinner. I had only got through a mandarin and a coffee, but since I didn’t want to consume food with mosquitoes, we holed ourselves up in our tents. For a while we were content doing puzzles, writing journals and messaging friends. The noise got worse and worse and more bugs than I have ever seen in my life got trapped between the fly and inner of the tent, attracted by the warmth and light. The fly was open on both sides, as I wanted to let some fresh air through. It was still about 30 degrees, humid with no breeze. Frogs jumped up on the tent, trying to catch the insects, possums foraged nearby and at one point during the night, I’m pretty sure I heard something bigger. Feral pig? I tried to sleep but to no avail with all the noise and the itching on my skin. No matter that I had doused myself in DEET, they still found a way. A few had got trapped in the tent so I spent about an hour finding them and killing them all.
What sounded like a breeze coming through the trees ended up being a massive shower of rain and I hurriedly opened the mesh to cover up the fly on each side. Of course, that let more mozzies and others in. Toby by this stage decided to sleep in the car. At first, that seemed like a sensible decision, but after a while in the heat, the car became an oven and since he couldn’t open the windows because of a bug infestation, he couldn’t breathe. Back at his tent, tripping over a cane toad, he realised his tent had been infiltrated! He ended up at my tent and with careful precision and timing, we opened the mesh and he dived in. Type 3 fun. I know I will laugh about this one day….
We managed to kill a few more ‘tent mozzies’ and the three of us dozed on and off for a few more hours. I think I probably only got 2 hours of proper sleep. Our first bad night in the tents and I had already made the decision that I would no longer be camping in Kakadu. Another plan had to be hatched.