Exploring the NT: Kakadu and Darwin

From Litchfield we drove to Kakadu. The park is huge, with the main town/center being ~120km inside the park. So much of the park is flood plain that it’s amazing to guess that the roads are open year round.

We decided to stay in a crocodile shaped hotel. Yep, that’s a thing that exists and you can stay in it too!

Our morning was booked up by a river cruise. Unlike a tacky “jungle boat” cruise, we saw wildlife everywhere. Of course the crocodiles were the main attractions. Getting to see them as up close as is safe, we got to see how they glide through the water. They make no noise or ripples, and they barely move anything besides their tail. It was an impressive and majestic sight. I also don’t want to get any where near one.

Besides the crocodiles, we saw birds. Lots of birds. Big ones. Small ones. Drab ones. Bright ones. We got some good views of the Jabiru, or Black Necked Stork; it’s the unofficial mascot of the park and a spectacular bird. We also saw multiple eagles, ducks, geese, and spoonbill. A few fish came around the boat but nothing large.

During the dry season, the flood plain is a verdant wetland. We saw evidence of wild horses, pigs, and water buffalo while we were out. On our second day in the park we got to watch a buffalo run across the flood plain. Having never seen one in real life, it was an amazing animal to watch move through the grass.

We would have more things to write about on our first day, but the car broke down. We spent a couple of hours stranded about 50k from our hotel, but luckily within cell phone range. The hotel was amazing and sent someone to pick up Ashley and our guests while the rental company sent a tow truck. We spent the rest of that day hanging around the hotel (and writing posts).

The next day we went north to a site known for its aboriginal art. The paintings are very different from the those at Ulruru and around Alice. The colors were more vibrant but still predominantly ochre, red, and yellow. The drawings were also more detailed. We ran into a ranger doing a tour.  He was one of the traditional owners of the area and could trace his ancestry to individuals who had painted the wall.  He explained the significance of many of the pieces and, oddly, how to cook a pig nose turtle.  From there, we hiked up to a look out that had a breathtaking view of the flood plan.  The greenness of the plain is shocking to someone who lives in the desert.

Once we had our fill of majestic views, we returned to Darwin. Along the way we stopped at billabong for a quick hike. It’s hard to estimate the size, but it was either a large pond or a small lake. Apparently billabong doesn’t imply size. The expanse was covered in lily pads. A few were flowering but most had died back for the winter.

Once in Darwin, we ambled through the evening air to Doctors Gully to feed the fishes. The former refuge of a salvage merchant, folks come to this fish sanctuary to get an up close experience with diamond mackerel, milk fish , and the occasional bat fish. We had a great time feeding and petting the fish. Yep, the fish come so close you can pet them. Some, like the bat fish, might even nibble on your fingers.

From there, a tasty dinner was had and then we bid our friends adieu and returned to Alice. It was a fantastic adventure. The parks highlight the amazing diversity that exists in the NT.  Pictures of Kakadu and Darwin, and we’ll see y’all again soon!

Exploring The NT: Litchfield

After Uluru, we flew to Darwin for the next part of our NT adventure. About an hour and a half outside of Darwin is the Litchfield National Park. It’s the ugly duckling of Top End parks. More people know about and go to Kakadu than Litchfield. This is both awesome and a shame. Awesome because it meant we had the park mostly to ourselves. A shame because the park is spectacular and deserves more recommendations than it gets.

Back left, cathedral termites. Center front, magnetic termites.

Litchfield is know for a variety of things but the most impressive are the rock pools and termite mounds. Yes, termite mounds. Magnetic termites build their mounds oriented north/south to minimize sun exposure., while cathedral termites build massive mounds, growing up to 3-5 meters in height.


The rock holes are wonderful for swimming in. It’s the dry season and technically winter but the water is pretty warm and flowing. We dipped our toes in and it was surprisingly comfortable. We moved on to another splash pool and looked at a couple of spectacular waterfalls. During the wet season, water levels can rise almost a meter. If you can imagine that much extra water flowing through the water, you’ll get a sense how dramatic these falls can be.

Another interesting feature of Litchfield is the cycads. These plants have been around since there were dinosaurs, and have changed little since then. This group looked like it had recently survived a fire, and they were a fabulous golden yellow.

Speaking of fire, on our way over to Kakadu, we ran into an unexpected surprise. Wildfires are a major problem in Australia and particularly in the NT. The state often uses controlled burns to reduce the impact. It’s unclear what we drove through, but the smoke and flames were right next to the road. Bush fires like this smoulder through the undergrowth, but usually don’t reach the canopy of the trees. There are several species of plants around that actually won’t germinate without the heat of a fire.


We also stopped in at the Territory Wildlife Park. It’s the Top End’s equivalent to Alice’s Desert Park. The park is well laid out and enjoyable. The highlight was watching a buzzard breaking open a (fake) emu egg. After that, we made the drive into Kakadu for a day of exploration and avoiding crocs.

More pics here and we’ll post more of our adventures soon.

Exploring the NT: Uluru & Kata Tjuta

Uluru at sunset

It’s winter in Australia, and as a result we’ve been busier than usual. May and June have flown by with lots of local activities such as repeats from last year (Finke and Beanie Festival), new arrivals, departures, a formal ball, and more. This week we have friends from the US visiting, and we’re exploring the Northern Territory with them. First up, Uluru!

Moonrise

Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is one of the most recognizable Australian landmarks. It’s a giant piece of exposed sandstone in the center of the Outback. We went on one of the short hikes and viewed it at sunrise and sunset. It is considered a sacred spot for the local Aboriginals, and there were several places that visitors were requested not to take photographs. To be honest, we found it to be an odd mix of commercialism and native culture. It felt a bit disjointed, and we didn’t really enjoy the way that the signs were set up. We ended the afternoon feeling rather disappointed, but fortunately the evening and the next day turned the trip around.

We signed up for the Sounds of Silence dinner. Although expensive, it was worth every penny. The night began with a glass of champagne while we watched the sun set over Uluru. It really is fascinating to watch the rock change colors throughout the day. After the sun was down, we made our way to the dinner area where we were seated with a couple from Melbourne and two sisters from Canada – the company was lovely. Before we ate, we were treated to a demonstration of several local dances. Dinner was a buffet with a range of Aussie food, including crocodile, kangaroo, barramundi, and lamb. After dinner, we heard the local legends about where the stars came from, identified several constellations, and had a chance to view the Moon and Saturn through a telescope.

Kata Tjuta

Before we made the long (and straight and boring) drive back to Alice, we stopped at Kata Tjuta and the Valley of the Winds. The valley is aptly named as we were buffeted once we hit the first viewpoint. While Uluru is very mound shaped, the Kata Tjuta is something out of the American South west. The rocks have a variety shapes and curves that aren’t present at Uluru. This makes them more interesting and more enjoyable to walk through. Time limited our ability to walk amongst the valleys but it’s something we’re definitely considering coming back for.

We’ve headed off to Darwin for a few more days of national parks. Our Uluru pictures of sunrise (and more!) are here and we’ll have more posts soon.