Monday 6 August to Monday 13 August
Ron and Dorothy flew in to Darwin on Monday afternoon. We picked them up and drove back out to Tumbling Waters at Berry Springs. Their chalet proved to be terrific, with two bedrooms, a good bathroom, a basic kitchen and barbecue. We stopped at Coolalinga along the way to stock up the larder. Christine and Dorothy had negotiated a division of labour when it comes to cooking and feed lots. Ron and I just bought what ever we felt like eating.
For the next week and a bit, we made day trips out of Tumbling Waters to the nearby attractions and as far a field as Jabiru, in Kakadu National Park.
Territory Wildlife Park
What an amazing place. Ron and Dorothy had been before but Christine and I had dismissed it as “just another zoo”. How wrong we were! The park covers a huge area and the displays are well spread out. Access around the park is via a circuit train that you can hop on an off at will. A highlight for all of us was the aquarium which displays fish and reptile life of the freshwater environments of the Northern Territory. The aquarium features a walkthrough tunnel that allows the viewing of 2 metre sawfish as they glide over head and huge barramundi lazing amongst the fallen timber. Another stand-out display was a 4 metre saltwater crocodile in a glass fronted display. When we were there, he was lying on the bottom of the water but would rise slowly to the surface every 10 minutes or so to get a breath, before sinking silently down again.
,p>We all marvelled at the enormous walk-in aviary, set in a section of monsoon rain-forest. The display is organised so that a raised walk way gradually climbs higher and higher until it is up at the level of the forest canopy and allows a close up inspection of birds at all levels of the forest. The birds seem quite at home with all the human visitors. Several times a day, a show is put on with a number of trained raptors. These free flying birds wheel around the amphitheatre in return for a few tiny morsels of meat. The wedgetail eagle was the definite crowd favourite.
We toured the Oil Tunnel display at Stokes Hill. After the bombing of Darwin in 1942 and the loss of a large amount of oil it was decided to dig 7 huge tunnels under Stokes Hill to use as oil reservoirs. Unfortunately, these were not complete until after the war and so were never used for their intended purpose. One has now been set up with a photographic display of war-time Darwin. The tunnel itself is of staggering proportions, at some 170 metres long and 10 metres in diameter. It would have held a huge quantity of oil. The display is rather moving and one gets the sense that the series of bombings that Darwin suffered have been all too easily forgotten. The loss of over 200 lives was not widely known in Australia at the time. It seems to me that Aussies making pilgrimages here each anniversary may have more relevance today that remembering the Gallipoli fiasco.
We hired a 4.3 metre boat and towed it East to fish the Finnis River in the fresh water. We had put out some traps the previous night in the hope of getting a few cherrabin for live bait but without success. Things weren’t looking up either when the temperature gauge on the sounder read 25 degrees in the river, somewhat colder than desirable to get barra active. After a bit of a cruise along the river (and sighting a couple of salties) we decided to pull out and launch in nearby Bynoe Harbour and try bait fishing. This proved little better with only a few small cod a javelin fish and one bream. Despite the meagre catch, we had a great day exploring the different water ways and observing the abundant birdlife.
No visit to Darwin is complete without at least one visit to the wharf for fish and chips or a Laksa. We made two trips and where never disappointed with the quality and price. On one trip, our curiosity was aroused by the sight of a naval "rubber-duck" coming alongside a dilapidated fishing boat and putting a 6 man boarding party aboard. The fishing boat crew appeared to be middle aged Aussie types more at home in Nimbin than the water. After 20 minutes or so and several parades past the wharf, the navy left the vessel alone. There was much speculation amongst the diners as to the story behind the event.
We spent a couple of days in Kakadu, staying overnight in a chalet in a caravan park in Jabiru. Jabiru is quite a substantial town these days with most facilities. Ron and Dorothy struggled with some of the walking required for the many sights in Kakadu but battled on bravely through several lengthy walks. We marvelled at the incredible rock art galleries at Ubirr and Nourlangie. So much of the scenery in Kakadu one feels familiar with because of the amount of media exposure the place receives. The views from Ubirr and Nourlangie are great examples of this with the escarpment views and wetland plains being very familiar. However, the real thing certainly beats the pictures.
We gazed upon the seemingly endless wetlands filled with an abundance of bird life. We spent ages learning more about the ecology and history of Arnhem Land in the Interpretive Centre. This display is the finest of its kind I have seen anywhere and quickly captivates visitors with the variety and creativity of the displays. By the time we had returned to Tumbling Waters, we were exhausted, with 600kms and many hours walking behind us. Kakadu remains over rated to my mind but we did agree that there was more to see and do than our previous fleeting visit had uncovered. Perhaps too, we bring a wealth of top-end experience with us so many of the things that Kakadu offers we take for granted. What is brought out by the Kakadu experience is the importance of the three great river systems the Park serves to preserve. These are rated as among the most pristine ecologies on Earth and I would not doubt it.
We had toured Litchfield National Park before so we decided to skip the main tour and just take a day trip down to Wangi Falls. We took the unsealed back road from Berri Springs, saving a lot of kilometres and time but costing a tyre. Wangi Falls were crowded with tourists, many of whom were swimming. Both falls were flowing well. Ron and Dorothy relaxed and read while Christine and I swam over to get a dunking under the main fall. Great scenery, great picnic, great day.
Mandorah is a small settlement of largely holiday shacks and rural retreats across the harbour from Darwin and serviced by a ferry from Cullen Bay or accessed via 120km road around the bottom of the harbour. The Darwin media is suggesting that Mandorah is about to become the Manly of the NT and that a real estate boom is fast approaching. Others suggest a bridge to rival Sydney’s is on the cards. We were drawn to Mandorah by the promise of fish and chips at the pub. We found a Mandorah that has a very long way to go to rival Manly and a pub that has clearly seen better days. Despite this, we enjoyed a pleasant meal overlooking Darwin Harbour with the Darwin skyline in the distance.
Tuesday 14 August to Wednesday 15 August
We put Ron and Dorothy aboard a plane on Tuesday, Ron well in the grips of a cold and Dorothy looking like succumbing. We had a busy but thoroughly enjoyable week and had managed to escape any family feuds (mainly because they did what they were told). Wednesday was spent organising our gear and preparing for life on the road once again. Work in Katherine was beckoning and time starting to run out. We figured we just had time to get over to Corroboree Billabong for a few days fishing before the move South.