We didn’t even bother with breakfast the next morning. I had to get out of the still-infested campsite. Toby went on the Billabong Walk he had wanted to do (the reason we stayed at Mardugal) and I packed up like I had never packed up before. I had warned Toby about NOT GOING NEAR ANY WATER whilst on the walk, being an overprotective mother worried about crocs, and he was taking ages to come back. I don’t know about you other parents out there, I’m sure we’re all the same, but the scenarios I was imagining were not helping in the slightest. ‘Oh god, I’m the worst mother ever, I’ve let my child go for a walk by himself (he is nearly 15!) near croc infested billabongs. What if he doesn’t come back? What if he is taken? And I’m not there to help him? What will I do? What an awful parent I am.. etc etc’
By this stage I had finished packing up and was just about to take off the bikes off the back and go looking for him, and he wanders in down the path. Not wanting to seem like an idiot, I casually remark, ‘Oh that took a while...’ ‘Yeah it took me ages to find the start of the walk,’ he replies. If only he knew the panic that had been going through my brain! ‘I was checking for crocs by throwing a stick in and seeing if anything came up to snap at it, that’s what you do. Salties come and check any splashes’. Facepalm. F**king excellent. Back to panic stations.
And without further ado, we got out of Madugal and headed towards Cooinda. Two things were going to happen today: book a sunset cruise and improve the accommodation situation. Cruise=booked at Cooinda Lodge. Check.
We drove north towards Jabiru. Toby had his heart set on staying at the Crocodile Hotel there and I said I would check it out and see about the cost. One night was manageable every now and then, I know I had budgeted for this. Coming down the East Coast in winter, there were going to be more and more times I would need to book alternate accommodation due to inclement weather. I didn’t predict I would have to find alternate accommodation because of mosquitoes. Such is life.
We stopped in at the Bowali Visitor Centre on the way and it was a real highlight (just don’t buy a muffin, I nearly fainted at the cost of three of them and a coffee). The display is excellent and as I said to Charlie, ‘This is your school for the day’. So we read the display info and looked at the exhibition and then headed into the cute little library they have there. Helps that it is air conditioned!
After about an hour here, we drove into Jabiru and the kids were spellbound by the Croc Hotel. Charlie’s jaw hit the floor when we walked in the lobby and I knew I was done for. The guy must have seen the dirt, the sweat and the smashed up bugs all over us and upgraded our room for free! We also got early check in. Bonus! The kids spent a couple of hours in the pool waiting for the room to open at noon. Apologies to the other hotel guests who were quietly lounging around the pool. I am sure they were asking themselves, 'Surely it's not school holidays yet?' as the kids let loose in the lovely cold water. I had a quick dip and then lounged around like I owned the place. Life was goooooood. How quickly things can change in a heartbeat. Don't get me wrong, I love camping. Hey, I'm happy not to have a shower for days on end if it means I can be in the middle of the wilderness in a tent, hiking the days away. But last night drew a line in the sand for me that's for sure.
After check in, it was tempting to just have a nap, curled up in the fresh linens and watch the 'luxury' of kids cartoons on telly. But determined to make the most of things, we set out to see Nourlangie and the Aboriginal Rock Art on the way down to Cooinda to go on our sunset cruise.
The sun was still beating down and I practically dragged a completely unenthusiastic eight year old on the 1.5 loop walk. There is an amazing 12km walk here (the Barrk Walk) which I will have to come back and do. It is supposed to be very special, taking in the escarpment around Nourlangie with wonderful views. There was no chance of that happening today, especially in the heat. I knew then I'd be back to Kakadu with unfinished business. I'd come in cooler weather to do all these hikes and cross Cahill's to go into Arnhem Land and explore sans-children. Well, at least the younger one. Toby looked quite keen when we found out about the 12km hike but it was not to be today.
Still, the short loop walk was excellent and even Charlie started to show a little positivity when he realised how old the rock art was. I would have liked to get up to Ubirr too, the location of more art, but that would have to wait as well. A short climb up to a rocky outcrop provided a lookout over the Nourlangie escarpment. God I love this country. It is truly amazing and has totally stolen my heart. The NT is such a special place. I hope they always leave it as wild as it is now.
We made it just in time to get on our bus for the sunset cruise and within minutes of walking towards the Billabong, our fantastic guide Don spotted a massive croc waiting in the depths beyond the boardwalk jetty and boat launch point. All our jaws hit the floor I think. This thing was amazing. Smaller children have to sit on the inside of the boat, it's that full on. Limbs and heads in the vehicle at all times peeps! By the time we started out from the jetty, the setting sun blazing in from the side, this croc had come right alongside the boat, happily (hungrily?) swimming parallel to us. Don said it was about 4m, quite a big fella, and it seemed in no hurry to leave our side. It was seriously one of the most amazing moments of my life. Also, I have never held on to my child quite so tightly. He was probably more likely to die from me cutting off his circulation than falling in to the jaws of that crocodile. For about fifteen minutes we stared down in awe at this prehistoric monster and of course, his kind will probably be alive long after us humans have destroyed ourselves and possibly a lot of the planet.
We saw birds galore and Toby was in birdwatcher's heaven. Seeing Jabiru and Jacanas - including a baby - so cute!!!, more crocodiles lining the shores, tree snakes. Oh it was just wildlife paradise, not to mention the fantastic landscapes as the sun set lower and lower in the sky. Don was fantastic, he was so experienced and knowledgable. He and Tobes were running pretty equal in who could call the names of birds quicker and point. Not a bad future job for Tobes I reckon, if he can cope with the mozzies here. These photos below before the next bit of text are all Toby's photos. So very proud of the photographer he is becoming and his keen eye. He just needs an $8000 600mm lens and he'd be set hahaha!!
As we came to the end of the cruise, Don let the boat sit quietly as we watched the ball of fire sink below the horizon. It was so perfect. How can one day go from hell to heaven from sunrise to sunset?
That night back in the hotel, I wanted to stay up all night and enjoy all the luxuries the hotel room had to offer, to watch TV all night, to build beautiful white linen forts, to have a relaxing bath, but of course none of that happened after only two hours of sleep the previous night. I fell asleep like someone had knocked me over the head, not to wake for ten blissful hours.