Gagudju Lodge Cooinda to Pine Creek Northern Territory 20 April 2007
22 May 2007
Disappointed I had not been able to persuade Jeff to get up early for the dawn cruise, having seen so many sunsets here in Australia, I thought a sunrise would be nice. We were up and waiting for the bus to transport us the short distance from the lodge to the Yellow Water where the boat went from. The road had a barrier across it and we soon discovered why, the car park was under a foot of water and I thought we might have to wade out to the boat. However the driver managed to get the bus close enough to the boat ramp thus enabling us all to keep our feet dry. We had been told at the Aurora Kakadu Resort that the walks were closed due to the flooding but also till they checked there were no crocodiles in the area. It seems that when the rivers flood the crocs get a chance to go' walk about' and visit parts of the park they normally do not get to visit, rangers have to ensure they all are back in the rivers before re-opening trails. Wading out to a boat was perhaps looking for trouble. We made it safely and were soon under way.
The guide told us that on the 3 March 2007 the staff from the resort had had to be evacuated by helicopter from the area to Darwin due to the flooding. She asked who was staying at the motel as those rooms had been three quarters under water in the floods. It seems this was the worst flood in the area for thirty years. She told us on the return to the pier she would point out the water level at the time of their last the last boat trip before evacuation. On returning to the resort when the flood water subsided they found the tour boats over a third of a mile down river.
Yellow Water is part of the South Alligator River flood plain and is one of Kakadu's best known landmarks. It is home to crocodiles, wild horses, buffalo and other wildlife. In the wet season the billabong floods to join other waterways and lots of migratory birds are attracted there each year. We were hopeful we would see some of these on our trip this morning. The guide told us that the first explorer's on the river saw crocodiles but mistook them for alligators, hence the name of the river, Australia does not have any alligators. The South Alligator River is the only river in Australia to rise, flow through and discharge into the sea in a national park, so it is quite unique.
The first wild life we spotted was wild horses. It is unusual to have wild horses in a national park, but the Aboriginal people used horse for hunting and like horse and they requested these be allowed to stay. The wild buffalo are from the days before Kakadu became a National Park, they were introduced to the region to be grazed, but this was never really successful and with the outbreak of TB in the herd a mass culling was undertaken to eradicate the disease. We did not spot any wild buffalo today. We moved out onto the South Alligator River and cruised down a short distance to view a sea eagle's nest. We were rewarded with sightings of both the male and female eagle at the nest, the guide was not sure if there were any chicks there. She took the boat slowly passed the nest and then turned it around so everyone had a chance to see it. We then headed off down the river to where a Jabiru or black -necked stork had a nest and again got a really good sighting. Another little bird we were able to see was the jacana; this is a small bird with long legs and very big feet to enable him to walk across the lily pads or other floating vegetation. The female jacana is a paid up member of the Australian women's movement, after laying her eggs she leaves the male to hatch them and raise the chicks while she goes off in search of fun.
The river was busy with lots of fisher men and women trying to catch the elusive barramundi, there are restrictions on size and number of fish that can be caught on the river and judging by the number of boats sitting there one can presume they had not caught their quota yet. As we cruised down the river we passed lots of mangrove trees on one side and tall bull grass on the other. Our guide told us that the grass was floating grass with roots about 30 feet long and if the water level raised so did the grass. She told us a tale of two fishermen out in their boat one morning who managed to overturn it somehow. They decided to swim for the bull grass believing it to be 'normal' grass only to discover too late they were up to their waist in water with a crocodile swimming around their boat. Luckily for them a tour boat came passed and rescued them.
As we disembarked the boat at the end of the trip, the guide pointed out the water mark from the flood. It was amazing to see how high it had been and I wondered just what the tourists would have seen on the trip, presumably just the tops of the trees.
We returned to the camp site, collected our van and headed to the Warradjan Aboriginal Culture Centre which was close by. The building design is of the shape of a pig-nosed turtle although from the ground you do not really appreciate that. The building houses a large display developed by the Binini/Mungguy people and provides detailed information about Aboriginal culture and life in Kakadu. It was a really interesting place and we spent most of the remaining morning just immersed in it. One thing I liked about it was the human story's that people had written detailing their personal experience of life. The park is extremely important to the Aboriginal people and many communities still occupy the region.
We left the centre and started our journey on to our next destination which was to be Pine Creek back on the Stuart Highway. We stopped at the Mary River Road House for a break and a coffee to discover the manager came from Leeds and had been a keen supporter of Leeds United when Jeff used to go and watch them. That was in the good old days of Billy Bremner et al. so a lot of reminiscing took place. Whilst we were there an Aboriginal worker came in to say the road back to his home was now passable and he thanked the people for looking after him. He was closely followed by another traveller with mud up to his elbows looking for the loan of a spade to dig his car out of the mud. It seems that some roads have opened but others are still not passable.
We arrived in Pine Creek; a small gold-rush township that developed in the 1870's. At one point the Chinese population outnumbered the Europeans 15 to 1. We drove into the town and found the camp site which was attached to the local pub. The bar had looked interesting so after our dinner we walked across to see what a wild Friday night in Pine Creek would be like. We joined some of the regulars to watch the Anzac rugby league test between Australia and New Zealand. Jeff was quite brave as he sat and cheered for the New Zealand team, but as they were being well beaten I don't think anyone was bothered. We were joined by Gloria, the landlady's friend and two geologists who were in the area prospecting. Gloria took me on a tour of the bar and restaurant area. The building blocks were made from old termite mounds blended with straw and all the wood work was hand carved by her late husband. A good night was had by all and we returned, quite sober I might add, to our home.