Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cobourg Peninsula - Where the Wild Things Are

After a few nights in relative civilisation at Corroboree Park Tavern we crossed into Kakadu NP last Monday. After 4 nights in various caravan parks we believed a bush camp was in order and made our way towards Red Lily Billabong, a bush camp marked on our Kakadu map. It wasn't too far inside the park and was ~25km down a good track.
On first appearances it was just what the doctor ordered although we were parked a little too close to the billabong for my liking. Payniac reluctantly conceded and moved the camp 20 metres back. We had a sticky afternoon of watching the birds on the edges of the billabongs, a duck sitting on the water here would be just that. It's funny to watch their nervous dabblings at the edge. We saw Jabiru, whistling ducks, sea eagles and kites. No crocodiles....yet.

*Bugs at Red Lily Billabong.
As the sun set and we were just about to sit down to dinner a cloud of bugs descended, and stayed. The mozzies in particular were the worst yet. Andy was coming down with the flu and was less tolerant than normal. We decided to eat our dinner in the tent. And that was where we stayed until daylight tormented by mosquitoes and all the other bugs that had got into the tent while we had our lights on. The nights are long at the moment, made longer by high humidity, the heat and zillions of bugs crawling over you and biting as you try to sleep. Andy by this stage was running a fever. Without a doubt the worst night of the trip so far. Early morning trips to the loo were made more interesting by the constant splashes coming from the billabong - probably just catfish but perhaps not.

After one poorly night in Kakadu we decided to head for the nearest caravan park to get ourselves rested and organised for our trip to the Cobourg Peninsula 320km NE of Jabiru. We had to acquire a permit to both camp in the national park and to allow us to drive through Arnhem Land. We really didn't know what to expect. After a decent nights sleep we were up for an early getaway in order to cross the East Alligator River which forms one of the borders of Arnhem Land. The crossing IS a causeway however the river is tidal (up to 7m tides) and is infested with very large saltwater crocodiles. Not a place to be indecisive! It was all fine of course and the troopy got us there no worries.

*Driving through the Arnhem Land escarpment country was a real treat in it's own right. Stunning scenery, sandstone formations and verdant wetlands teeming with birdlife. A condition of the permit is that you may only stop on the Arnhem Land leg in case of emergency. We had a long way to go to the coast in any case and didn't think photo taking constituted any kind of emergency so all snaps are taken from the car window at speed. The road itself was predominantly good with parts of it being graded as we passed. A few creek crossings, an early wrong turn into an Aboriginal community (which we didn't have a permit for) and five and a half hours later we arrived at Gurig Gunak Balu National Park on the Cobourg Peninsula.

*One of the scenic creek crossings on our way through Arnhem Land.

*Some kind of whistling ducks in flight over the Mamaluka wetlands.

*The beach near the camp ground at Cobourg. You might need to blow this one up to see who is right in centre frame. This little (2-3m!) guy gave me the fright of my life when I went for a bit of a walk along the beach on my own. One of the pieces of driftwood I was keeping my eye on took on the shape of a crocodile and slithered into the water. The first sighting of this croc had me bolting down the beach towards where Andy was fishing on the waters edge. We had been told that one had been seen on the beach over the previous few days, I thought yeah right. Any notions of swimming or wading were quickly put to rest after this croc disappeared from sight in what was relatively clear waters. Combined with the very large sharks fins and tails I saw hunting in the shallows the beach was quickly established as a look only body of water.

*Flock of red-tailed black cockatoos at Cobourg.
Our permit allowed us to stay for 7 nights and being unsure as to what we'd find when we got there we'd thought 4-5 nights would be enough. We stayed 6, and only really came back because the fridge battery was working really hard. The wildlife was incredible.
It was stinking hot and very humid most days. The sea breeze when present provided welcome relief. We were quite close to a creek and wetland system so the mozzies were pretty special too. After our night at Red Lily we splashed out on a new MDT known as the Kookaburra Screen House which made days of lolling in the heat bearable. It also kept out sandflies and other no-see-ums which is a step up from the last screen we had.

*Sandy Island #1. What did we do for 7 days in this paradise? Certainly no swimming however tempting it was. Lots and lots of reading, Andy did loads of fishing with pretty good results, beach combing and a few driving adventures. The driving adventures were somewhat limited as we had to carry all fuel we would need to get there and back but they gave a much needed boost to our auxiliary battery for the fridge.

This place was breathtakingly beautiful. Wild. Remote. The scenery more like something you'd expect in Asia. It felt very much like a derseted island at times. Reef sharks and crocodiles. Snakes and giant spiders (one hiding in the dunny roll dispenser that almost gave me my second coronory in 24 hours). Only 15 cars per day are allocated permits so the people are limited to die hard campers and fishing enthusiasts with the fishing considered by some to be the best in Australia.

*Payniac fishing while Mr. Croc keeps an eye on him. You'll likely need to blow it up to see the crocodile.

*No swimming. Paradise with a crule twist!

*These 2 photos are at Smith Point on the Cobourg Peninsula.

*Bird nerder.

*Another fishing shot. Amazing how much fishing a person can do!

*A secluded beach at Cobourg. The only people that live here now are the local Aboriginal people. The Macassans have been visiting since the 1600's coming to fish for trepang (sea cucumber) and providing a trade with the locals. An ill fated settlement was established up here in 1839 to claim northern Australia for the British. There were some concerns that the Dutch or French migt get here first. Cyclones, malaria, dysentry, failed crops and general despair saw this settlement all but abandoned by 1849. From then the remains were used by the wild buffalo and croc hunters of the north. We couldn't visit the ruins as you need a boat and while we have just about every other camping accessory known to man we've drawn the line at a tinny...for now.

*An elated Payniac - you'll see why in a tic. You might be able to spy the Kookaburra Screen House in the background.

*The National Park decal. I found lots of ransacked turtles nests in the dunes near the beach. I asked Mr.Ranger about this, he confirmed they were turtles eggs, most likely green turtles which are abundant and an important food source. The eggs likely to have been poached by one of; goanna, wild dogs, wild pigs, or the local mob!

*VJ at Garig.

*Stoked Andy with his gorgeous trevally. Unfortunately I missed the fight for this beauty.
This fish fed us for 2 big and very yummy meals.

*As neither of us are fish cleaning experts I let Andy do the butchering honours. He caught it after all! We got 4 big fillets from the fish - the first one of the trip that we kept to eat. Fresh fish straight from the ocean and into the frying pan, is there anything better?

*Enjoying the spoils of the sea with a coldy at lunch time. What a treat!

*Sunset at Smith Point.

We're now back in Jabiru, cleaning up after a week in the wilds. Cobourg was a very worthwhile side trip. It allowed us to drive through a small corner of Arnhem Land and see a part of Australia many wouldn't. We have lots of Kakadu to explore before beginning our journey across the gulf.

We've just heard that England is experiencing a heat wave with temps reaching 32C! Isn't it summer there? We've had consistently warm and realatively humid weather for the last few weeks with the temp last night as we went to bed 28.5C.

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