Sunday, June 14, 2009

Back into the Territory

We're currently in the Big 4 caravan park in Darwin awaiting the arrival of La Candice, who is joining us on tour for a week to find out what we get up to.

We've been a bit busy and out of coverage so have fallen a week behind with the blog, so it's just as well she booked a flight that doesn't get here until 1am which means I can use my lost sleep time to try and catch up with things.

We're not sure that Candi has stayed in a caravan park before, but I am pretty confident that she's going to not be getting a fantastic first impression so maybe it's a good thing she'll be arriving when it's dark. The Darwin Big 4 is unlike any park we've stayed in so far. It is on the scale of your typical UN Somalian refugee camp and being right on the busy Stuart Highway is probably as noisy.

To make matters worse, they've put us right next to the men's dunnies. I've been working here for most of the afternoon and evening to soundtrack of grunts and groans, flushes and lid closing coming from the semi open air stalls about 10m to my left. On the plus side, the park does have a jumping pillow which should be pretty available in the morning as it's not school holidays at the moment.

The good news about needing to revisit our route due to the unscheduled backtrack to Kununurra was that it turned out that Gregories National Park was pretty much closed.

Our revised itinerary took us firstly to Keep River National Park, just over the NT border, a beautiful quiet spot and probably the quietest campground we've had (other than ones we've had to ourselves).

We got to see our first cane toad trap (empty) and tackle a pretty decent hike during the heat of the day to see some rock art and get some good views of the Bungly type rocks.

We also got to have a beautiful campfire and some more of Ness's damper (this time accompanied with some snags).

I also managed to snap some boab sunrise shots. Our photo collection is now seriously out of control - 16,500 and counting. It's going to take years to go through them after we get back.

After Keep River, we stopped at about the only camp site that was open in Gregories National Park - essentially a road side rest area with easily the worst smelling dunnies of the trip. I spent a couple of hours trying to catch a barra in the mighty Victoria river while keeping an eye out for any passing salties. That scene of the wildebeast being taken by a croc was never too far from my mind.

We stopped at Timber Creek so Ness could find some local info on good places to spot a Freudian Grinch (aka Gouldian Finch). Alas it seems that the local population here has been decimated by Blue Winged Kookaburras, who apparently find them quite delicious.

After stocking up on supplies in Katherine we quickly moved on and set up camp in Nitmiluk National Park at Katherine Gorge.

In one of our tourist brochures Katherine is claimed, amongst other things, to be an ideal base for exploring the Kimberley. That is a bit like saying that London is a good base for exploring Paris but I let it go without a letter to the council.

It may have been the 13km walk in the heat of the day, but for me Katherine Gorge proved a gorge too far. We've just been through so many over the last couple of months that I really don't appreciate them as I should. Luckily we've managed to secure a permit to go well off the beaten track up to Cobourg Peninsula once we've dispatched Candice next weekend. This will provide us with a tropical beach paradise for a change of scenery, so we'll be refreshed and ready to take on Kakadu.

Once we'd recovered from the stiffness from our previous days exertion we headed back to Katherine for a fairly major restock and had the pleasure of bumping into Wally & Margaret, fellow Dangar Islanders, who are on an 8 week sortie with Margaret's sister and her three dogs. They'd been the only witnesses to a fairly bad accident further down the Stuart Highway which had seen a caravan turn over and roll several times. They'd administered first aid to the passenger and driver and had dropped in to Katherine nick to give a statement. They'd sensibly called in fairly early in the day as Katherine has all the right ingredients for a lively station.

This provided a good opportunity to catch up on Island gossip and it was great to hear how well the cooperative is going - Wally did a good recruitment job on Ness who it now seems will be volunteering her time to cook breakfast on Saturday mornings for hungry islanders heading down to the shop for a feed and read.

Our timing for Edith Falls / Leilyn could not have been better. After a brief bit of cardio vascular work courtesy of our new frisbee we headed off for a talk/slideshow with the local park ranger. Some of the traditional owners were also present and they provided the audience with some helpful insights including what to do if one happens to hit a kangaroo (put it in the back of the car and drop it off at the nearest community where they'll make sure it doesn't go to waste).

There was a bit of fracas following the presentation and there was clearly some conflict amongst the traditional owners about whether they should come along and support such talks.

I'm sorry to still be only to say that about the only strong understanding I have about the NT Intervention is that it's common name is completely inappropriate. Say 'intervention' to most Sydneysiders, and they'd think of maybe Joey, Monica and Ross taking Chandler to one side and suggesting he goes a bit easier on the prescription painkillers. Amongst other things that have caught the eye of the United Nations, the NT Intervention has suspended the application of the Racial Discrimination Action Act. The basic human rights of our indigenous brothers and sisters continue to be neglected to an appalling degree and it is to our shame that yet again we've applied a one-size fits all approach to trying to resolve the seemingly unsolvable.

The walk up to the top of Edith Falls was really worthwhile. Great views, and great bird-nerding opportunities for VJ.

Morning steam from the Douglas Hot Springs. A delightful campground, clearly a favourite with the locals, as well as our first night in a campground with a skilled Accordian player.

You had to choose your spot in the springs carefully as the water bubbles out at around 60C.

From Douglas, we rejoined the Daly River road before taking the Reynold River 4WD track into Litchfield National Park. Learning from our lucky escape with Gregories National Park, Ness had checked online and the road had recently reopened following the wet season. We'd passed signs indicating that the road was still closed, but the one at the gate said it was open so after letting some puff out of the tyres we were back off road.

We'd only gone a few kms before we had to get out our recovery gear. Luckily it was to help out some seppos who'd got bogged after taking a wrong turn on a river crossing. This was new territory for us - the route had been fairly obvious for all our previous water crossings. Not so here, and you're not supposed to wade across due to crocodiles, so it can be a bit hit or miss. Exciting stuff.

The ever changing landscape of the Reynold River area was amazing. Huge fields of 'magnetic' termite mounds up to 15 feet high, even more dramtic where backburning had cleared the heffalump grass which at times was as high as the car.

Inspecting leg 1 of the Reynold River Crossing. A three stage crossing involving a sharp right to climb onto an island in the middle of the river, followed by a deeper and softer second section.

We took risk with the crocs as there was no one around to pull us out of the water if we got stuck and after discussing strategy I jumped in and gave it my best effort.

A little bit further right here would have probably meant less water in the car.

Once you've completed a crossing it's pretty satisfying (if they're around) watching a few other people go through a crossing just to see how deep the water gets.

And so to Darwin, for tonight only and then we're taking Candice back to Litchfield for some more 4WD adventures. If she doesn't read this in the morning we might be able to convince her to check out some of the creek depths for us (just joking Steffen, she'll almost certainly come back to you in one piece ...).

PS we got a nice email from our Ossie (east German) friends Jan & Gerit who we met in Exmouth. They were seeking to explain why the central Europeans are always in such a rush to get their kit off and gave us a link to a Spiegel article. They also gave me a google translation but as I'm new to linking from the blog you'll have to work out what it all means for yourself!

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