Saturday, 6 January 2018

August 2009 - Katherine Gorge and Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

In August 2009, following the success of touring Kenya we decided to take it a little bit further, and this time taking a three week holiday in Australia.  Everyone believes that the time to visit Australia is in our winter time, but it is also a very good destination for a holiday during our summer, and probably a little more accomodating.  We did decide though to avoid the southern states and cities of Sydney and Melbourne, and concentrated on the Northern Territory in what is known locally as "The Dry", and then over to Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef.  It is dry, and the temperatures and humidity much more comfortable

On our flight from London to Singapore we were fortunate to be upgraded, and enjoyed business class, then the last leg from Singapore to Darwin was more a tourist flight.  We arrived in Darwin during the early hours local time, but in truth our bodies had no idea what time it was.  We spent the first day in Darwin which we found to be a very cosmopolitan, youthful and vibrant city, and not just some outpost at the top of Australia as it can appear to be portrayed.

Overlooking the Timor Sea there was a harbour, excellent restaurants on the waterfront, history in the form of Darwin's place in World War II, and plenty of artisan shops and outlets to browse while we attempted to acclimatise to to the time difference.

The following morning we picked up our four wheel drive truck, and set off on our own adventure into the outback, and Kakadu National Park.  We were heading for the town of Katherine, and the first interesting sight was crossing the Adelaide River where cruises take tourists on to the river and entice five metre Saltwater Crocodiles to jump out of the water for lumps of chicken and meat.  We didn't stop, but as you crossed the bridge you could see the boast, and alongside a dark pencil shape in the water.

As we had the day and the journey was not too long we decided to spend time visiting a park of huge termite mounds, mini tower blocks scattered through the bush.

Towering twice as high as myself, difficult to believe these constructions were built by a termite

After the termites we then stopped for a walk and swim in a waterhole at Florence Falls in Litchfield National Park, this eased us into the driving, and exploring we would be experiencing over the course of the next five days.

We arrived in Katherine during the late afternoon and checked into the All Seasons, which turned out to be a lodge with individual cabins, and decks where you could watch the stars at night, next door was a amp and caravan park, and you shared the restaurant facilities with them.  Rough and ready just as you would expect inthe outback

The following morning we were up before dawn and heading down to the Katherine River for a cruise through Nitmiluk, or Katherine Gorge, a series of thirteen deep sandstone gorges cut out by the river as it made its way from Arnheim Land to the Timor Sea.  We arrived just before sunrise, the water still the sky that pink colour that indicates a lovely day ahead.

One of the attractions here beside the cruise is the kayak the river, and there was a collection of yellow kayaks tied to the jetty waiting.

We cruised gently down the river as the sun slowly rose with stunning views on either side of the gorge, as the light picked out the colours in the sandstone.

And the still water reflected the rocks and plants.

The steep sides of the gorge kept parts of the gorge in shadow early on in the morning.  While the still water provided almost mirror like reflections

At the furthest point possible we were able to get out and walk alongside the water.

 As the sun rose the colours changed.

We were on the first cruise in the morning, probably the best time to enjoy the scenery, it also meant we had breakfast on board and had plenty of time left in the day.  We walked along the top of the gorge in places, encountering a tame Wallaby.

And these Fruit Bats hanging in the trees.

The views across the gorge were superb.

From the Katherine river dock we decided to set out and explore a little of the area on our own.  There were several waterholes in the area, but with these came risk, the risk of crocodiles, we had to find somewhere that was safe.  As a result we opted for Edith Falls, a series of three waterfalls that follow a small river.  The falls are accessed off the Stuart Highway, north of Katherine, and then along a sealed road to the campground.

The first water fall was in a pool where the water was very deep and cold, and as a result it also felt quite imposing.  

We walked on from here and found a series of pools and falls that were shallower, and the water was a more acceptable temperature.  

We spent some time swimming here, then decided to walk the trail to the upper pool.  Here there were views looking down the river.

Back at the car we followed the sealed road once again to the highway, and then back to hotel in Katherine.  We spent sometime walking around the grounds.  Magpie larks were picking up the left overs of the various picnics.

While in the surrounding trees there were flocks of Galah, a rose-pink Cockatoo, gathered.

The Galah is one of the most widespread and common Cockatoo in Australia, being found in open country in almost all parts of the mainland.  here you can see the rose-pink breast while the upper parts are a lovely silver grey.

The next day we were moving on to Cooinda, but planned to visit another water hole on the way.  This time we picked one just of the Kakadu Highway, the water hole was called Maguk, accessed again by only a four wheel drive vehicle.

From the car park there was a one and a half kilometre walk along paths and across streams and in places through quite thick vegetation, through the Barrmundi Gorge

The trail then opened out into a large water hole with another waterfall in the far corner

Here another waterfall feeds crystal clear water, and once again we swam, crossing the pool to the waterfall

The walk there, and back took us along a trail that at times had vegetation hanging high in the trees showing how high the water can get here in the wet season.

Alongside the path pools and small lakes of water.

Movement on the ground under the bushes revealed a Rainbow Pitta.  A secretive and shy bird it has a superb plumage, that stands out in its preferred gloomy habitat.  The Rainbow Pitta is endemic to the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

From the waterhole we carried on to Cooinda where we checked into the Gagudju Lodge.  Similar to the property in Katherine we were there for two nights. It was here where we learned of a four meter Saltwater Crocodile that had been paraded through Katherine after being caught in Edith Falls a couple of days ago.

The following morning we were up once again before sunrise, today we were taking the Yellow Water Cruise, and we had managed to get the first boat out, the best time to go.

On the dock at first light the skies were just beginning show some light.

Out on the water a shape appeared from out of the vegetation.

As it came closer it became clear this was a Saltwater Crocodile, apparently a 4.5 metre male.

The sun was still not up, but the light across the wetlands was improving.

And as the temperature rose a mist appeared over the water, and the birds started to come out of their roosts, a Great Egret in the foreground

With colour in the sky the still water provided more reflections

A Great Egret perched in the overhanging branches.

Finally the sun came up as we drifted slowly through the still waters.

Ahead of us a dark shape appeared from the water and as the sun caught the top it was clear it was that of another Saltwater Crocodile.

Along the banks of the water Whistling Ducks gathered as the sun started to stream through the surrounding trees

Gradually the light improved and conditions for photography became much better.  A White-bellied Sea Eagle perched in the distant tree

We approached slowly and we able to get some close shots.

Green Pygmy Geese would take up out of the vegetation as we approached but a pair were more confiding than others as we passed them.

As well as Crocodiles in the water, there were some also on the banks, this one the largest.

A pair of sea eagles then appeared in an overhanging branch above us, announcing their arrival by calling.

A flash of blue and an Azure Kingfisher perched in the bushes.

As well as the egrets there were Ibises, this a Glossy Ibis

And on more dead branches the only Bee-Eater to be found in Australia the Rainbow Bee-Eater

As we approached the dock at the end of the cruise we encountered the large Saltwater Crocodile approached the boat.  It was almost the length of the boat, huge and menacing as it hung still in the water.

Close in you can see a blood stained tooth.

Another early morning start meant that we still had plenty of the day left, so we decided to explore some more.  This time taking the adventure a little further and experiencing some off road driving.  We decided to visit Twin Falls and Jim Jim Falls which involved negotiating a 57km track that is only open in the dry season, in places we were driving though sand drifts, and tall grasses.

But the biggest challenge came when we reached JIm Jim Creek.  In the wet season this is impassable.  Markers indicate the depth in the middle of the creek, and everything appeared OK.

But as you approach  the creek you are met with the following sign.

We sat looking at the water but decided to go for it.

Fortunately all worked out well we crossed safely and made our way onwards to the Mardugal campsite where we purchased ticket for a ferry that took us up river through a forested gorge.  The ferry was installed due to the risk posed by crocodiles, but all we saw on the trip were a couple of small Freshwater Crocodiles

The gorge opened out and a small beach led to an impressive cliff face where there was a trickle of water falling.  You could see where the two falls would be, but the amount of water was a little disappointing after the challenge of the journey.

We returned to the campground, again on the ferry, and then headed on to the Jim Jim Falls, parking at the Jim Jim campsite.  We then had to scramble and climb over boulders and rocks for a kilometre to reach the swimming hole.

The falls were not flowing, and due to the sheer vertical height of the cliffs the water was very cold.  We were told it was croc free and there were others in the water, so we did swim (safety in numbers?), but it wasn't that enjoyable, as the depth and inky black water plays with your mind.

We had to scramble back across the boulders, and as the track came close to the creek we were reminded of the threat posed by the Saltwater Crocodile, as on the far shore was a trap, empty fortunately.

From the car park we undertook the drive back along the track, although like all return journeys it just didn't seem the same on the return leg.  We spent the evening and night in Cooinda.

In the morning we set off on our journey back to Darwin.  We were going to follow the highway to Jabiru, where would spend time in the visitor centre, then from there we took the Arnheim Highway, and stopped at the Mamukala Wetlands.  There was a viewpoint across the marshes, where from September to October huge flocks of Magpie Geese gather, but today all we could see was a Great Egret.

And a white-necked or Pacific Heron and lots of Swamphens.

A view across the marshes, imagine hordes of Magpie Geese and herons and Egrets

Back in the car we headed towards Darwin, as we approached the city we crossed once again the Adelaide River where another crocodile was following a boat on the water.  Back in Darwin we checked into the hotel we had left six days earlier, and the returned the truck.  Tomorrow we were being picked up and taken to the airport for the next satge of the adventure

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