Well, we almost came unstuck this time ... not in a big way, just with our approach to not booking anything in advance. We knew it was a long weekend in the Territory this weekend and so initially planned to get to Edith Falls campground on Thursday and stay for four nights, not having to worry about looking for sites elsewhere over the potentially busy period. Then we extended our stay at Mataranka by a day and so it became a Friday arrival. Still, get there early enough and we should be fine, right?
Edith falls is just north of Katherine - 40 km along the highway and then another 20 km after turning off. It's in the same national park (Leliyn) as Katherine Gorge. We'd had the campground recommended to us a number of times along our trip so far as an alternative to staying at the gorge caravan park itself. So we decided to go with that option, figuring if we spent a few days at the place we could drive to the gorge one day anyway.
As we were making our way towards Katherine, we saw the signs for the Cutta Cutta caves. Sal, who does most of our research, and was driving at the time, said yes we wanted to see those, so in we headed. We timed it pretty well for a tour and headed down into the amazing limestone caves. I know some people have grown up in parts of Australia where caving is a normal experience, but for us it was pretty novel. We were fascinated by the soaring walls and ceilings of the chambers, covered with stalactites, and the stalagmites stretching from the floor to try and reach them; as well as the amazing sparkle of some of the rock formations and their resemblance to the coral whose geology they share; not to mention the accounts and evidence of the way the caves fill with water during the wet season. All in all, a great experience, enjoyed by the whole family.
Back on the road, we made it into Katherine but needed to do a pretty big shop here as we were planning to be out of shopping range for a while. All this meant it was actually after two o'clock by the time we got to the campground and it was full. You actually can't book into this one, so all we could have done was get here earlier. We did a couple of laps of the ground, hoping a site might magically appear. When it didn't, we just parked near the entrance, not ready to admit defeat yet. We were quite okay with the idea of staying somewhere else for the night and coming back early in the morning, or even driving on and trying again on our way back down from Darwin, but we thought we'd just wait and see what the rangers said if they showed up again. They did, and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, they squeezed us into a space that isn't an actual site - yippee.
This place is great! Another beautifully peaceful (and cheap) national park campground, with the lower pool of the Edith Falls only 100 metres away. This is a vast, clear, cool waterhole, very deep for the main part but with a shallow sandbar conveniently washed up at one edge to make it a bit easier for the kids to enjoy. Pip and I did the 150 m swim over to the falls where the rock walls plunge vertically into the water but other than that it's been checking out the fish and rocks in the shallow parts. The story we keep hearing around these parts is that they check for saltwater crocodiles after the wet season (and almost never find any) and that the 'freshies', of which there are plenty, aren't interested in human interaction and only really come out in the evenings. It's still hard not to be slightly on edge!