Darwin to Kakadu National Park Northern Territories 18 April 2007.
22 May 2007
We left Darwin area and headed back down the Stuart Highway for about 6 miles then turned onto the Arnhem Highway and headed for Kakadu National Park. We had not gone far along this road when we arrived at Humpty Doo, what a great name for a place to live. A few days earlier we had met some people at a road house who had said there was not much there, so we were very surprised to pass through a substantial area, probably the size of a large village at home. We had not been travelling very long so did not require to stop for anything so drove through.
We were now travelling through the Mary River Wetlands which are reputed to be the most beautiful in the Top End. The area is made up of lagoons, canals and billabongs and are home to a vast variety of birdlife, some of the biggest barramundi and of course the large saltwater crocodiles. We called in at the Window on the Wetlands Centre which looked as if it was newly opened. It is perched on the top of Beatrice Hill overlooking the Adelaide River floodplains. Downstairs was a really good interactive display to help explain about the ecological process that occurs in Top End wetlands. In the display about mudfish you are encouraged to gain the experience of what life is like to be a mudfish. After climbing up the ladder and putting my head through a hole I discovered I was on the edge of a large pool, looking around I found a big Ibis waiting to gobble me up. Good job I am a human and not a mudfish as I would not have lived to retire. There was also information on local Aboriginal history but we would find better at Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre in the Yellow Water area of Kakadu. Upstairs was a video about the area and some magnificent views over the wetlands.
Our next stopping place was at the Adelaide River Bridge where the Original Jumping Crocodile cruise leaves from. The next cruise was at 1pm so we had some lunch first, well we need to make it worth the crocs while. When we booked the cruise we imagined sailing down the river on the large paddle steamer tied up on the jetty close by. Wrong; we were taken around the back to a smaller boat and as we were boarding the guide informed us that children had to sit on the isle seats. I had taken up position on an outside seat but then felt really guilty as Jeff would not get a good view, so on the pretext of it being better for him as he was taking photos I exchanged seats. Well that was my story and he fell for it.
As the boat pulled away from the landing platform a small crocodile appeared at the back of the boat. When I say appeared I really should say his eyes and nose appeared, you do not see anything else. Our guide explained they do not feed the crocs here as it is a boat ramp and a working area so they don't encourage the crocodile's. As well as notices at every river, creek and billabong warning you not to swim, they also tell fishermen not to clean fish in the area and campers not to go to the same place twice for water. The crocodile sits facing the shore submerged (they can stay under water for up to 4 hours before needing air) by the time you see it, it is too late.
We sped down the Adelaide River then entered a creek running off it and slowed the boat down. We drifted down the river for a short while then we got our first sighting. It was like a large tree branch moving effortlessly through the water. The guide affixed a pork chop to a long stick in the water and began to bang it up and down on the surface. The croc swam past very close to our side of the boat to have a look, turned around and returned, this time he positioned himself then jumped up out of the water to get the chop, the guide pulled the chop away and repeated the process twice more, on the third jump he was given the chop and swam away. All of this was happening at our side of the boat right where we were sitting. Now I am glad I moved. The guide explained that this is the way a crocodile would normally feed. He would go to the river's edge; wait until an unsuspecting animal came for a drink then using its large powerful tail would launch itself up and forward to get its prey.
We carried on a short distance down the river and another crocodile appeared, this time it was fed on the other side of the boat. The guide felt it was a bit quiet down the creek today so turned the boat around and headed back for the main river. We passed a sea eagle sitting on a tree and she fixed a piece of meat onto the stick, told us all to focus the camera on the meat and when she shouted 3 click the shutter. Sure enough on the count of three the eagle had swooped in and taken the meat. A little further along the river we met our next crocodile who dined at our side again, this time he did not swim away but hung around, he later nipped under the boat and grabbed the pork chop that was being dangled in front of the biggest crocodile we had seen so far. Thank goodness he was on the other side of the boat to us. Another piece of meat was found and it took a little while to coax the big croc to jump, it could have been that he was just too big to be bothered or that a pork chop was not his favourite meal, but in the end up he came, what a size. As the guide was turning the boat around there was 5 crocodile's swimming about around us. Now what did the guide say about the use of life jackets in the event we had to evacuate the boat? Through out the trip the guide had to remind one parent about the children being at the side of the boat, this was done in a pleasant but forceful way saying that the crocodile's prefer young children to the pork chop offered.
We returned safely to dry land and set off once more and it was not long before we reached the entrance gates to Kakadu National Park. Kakadu is one of the few World Heritage Areas that have been listed for both their cultural and natural heritage. It protects one of the finest and most extensive collections of rock art in the world, a tangible reminder of the Aboriginal people's long and continuing association with the park. Kakadu National Park covers almost 20,000 square kilometres and is a landscape of contrasts with savannah woodlands, monsoon forests, tidal flats and coast, floodplains and billabongs and sandstone escarpments and hills. It is the catchments area for five rivers, the South and East Alligator; Katherine; Roper and Daily and has lots of waterfalls, which are at there most spectacular in the wet season.
We arrived at the Aurora Kakadu Resort and booked in for the night to be ready for the morning when we thought we would attempt the 2 hour bush walk close by the camp taking us through the monsoon forest and woodlands and along the side of a billabong. Tomorrow is another day and we would soon find out that our plans would need changing.