Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Kakadu Bloodbath

(15-16 August 2010)

So we leave Darwin to do Kakadu. After all, why travel all this way and bypass one of the great national parks in Australia? First, though, we stop at the Window on the Wetlands Centre and through their interpretive display, the tribe learns about life in the wetlands. They were especially taken by the crocodile display amongst others. The view from the centre’s commanding hilltop location offers a vista over the Adelaide River floodplains, and was impressive in the scope of what you could see (though only later to be outdone at Ubirr).

The Merle campground (over 100km into Kakadu NP and off the Arnhem Highway) is our destination for the evening, located very near Ubirr which is our first port of call the next morning. After some consistently hot days in Darwin, we experience the first of the hotter spell we endure for the following week or so.

As we drove around the campground to choose our site for the night, we were impressed by the size of the lots, and the facilities (hot and cold showers!, a rare thing in national parks). Looking forward to our first night in Kakadu, we set up camp and ready for dinner, only to get a hint of the mozzies. I barbeque, while everyone stays indoors in our mobile sauna, formerly an average camper trailer.

In the end, dinner was cooked and eaten. I wash up outside while swatting mozzies with the soapy sponge or plate or cup or knife or whatever I had in hand, while dancing around to avoid the mozzies landing on me. Meanwhile I hear shouts of “there’s one” and “there’s another one” by the tribe as M swats the rampant mozzies baying for blood.

When we bunker down for the night, we are already discussing that we will be shortening our planned stay in Kakadu, as hoards of the mozzies create a buzzing din outside our fly screened windows, salivating at the prospect of getting a feast on six ripe red-blooded bodies.

M and I kill as many of the mozzies as possible before bedding the tribe, and do the same again in the middle of the night, a sleep occasionally interrupted by the BUZZ outside the windows. Many of the kills inside our camper show evidence of drunken mozzies – a bloodbath on our walls.

In the morning, there are still hoards buzzing outside the windows – just those unlucky ones that didn’t make their way inside, still salivating for blood! So, without pausing for breakfast, we pack quickly and grab some good coffee and average muffins en route to Ubirr – to see some beautiful and amazing Aboriginal Rock Art. This was a highlight and worth the hassle of the night before, however, it hadn’t changed our minds about staying anymore nights in the park. Especially, the story we heard from Emma and Simon whom we met at Litchfield. They, too, had ‘locked’ themselves in their camper by sunset due to the bloodsuckers.

However, like I said, Ubirr was a stupendous experience for all. The depictions of dreamtime, the animals and fish on the rock walls, and age of these works are mesmerizing. The stories they tell are wonderful – the original graffiti – messages left for generations to follow. Then the WOW factor hit as you climbed Ubirr Rock. The view from the top over the Nadab floodplain was breathtakingly beautiful as your eyes feast on some of the most luscious green lands you will ever see. And only then do you begin to see just how special the land is to the locals and how enmeshed life is with nature and her cycles.

Lunch at Jabiru by the lake, was a round of pies and quiches – the buffalo pie was too salty and peppery, the meat pies were just that, the mixed vegie quiche was good, while the spinach and feta quiche was better. This time though, the tribe weren’t so taken with the pies. The interesting thing about the lake park was there you are eating lunch under the shaded picnic benches just metres away from the croc warning sign – who’s having lunch eh?

Continuing our drive out the park, we stop briefly at Nourlangie as I take a brisk walk viewing more rock art in the Anbangbang Gallery, this time the theme is more spiritual with a fantastic ‘mural’ of a corroboree. The tribe stay in the car for a snooze – a good option as it’s damn hot and humid.

Further along the Kakadu Highway, we stop at the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre which has a well laid-out interpretative display of life and culture in the Kakadu region – about the animals, the art, the food and the cycle that is the six seasons.

Nearby is Yellow Water Wetlands (near Cooinda), part of the South Alligator River floodplain, where I have another brief Kodak stop along the boardwalk while the tribe enjoy the air-conditioned comfort in the car. Yellow Water is a large wetland filled with birdlife and crocs, of which I see some of the former and none of the latter – more likely to see crocs from one of the boat cruises.

After Yellow Water, and vague suggestion to stay at Cooinda or nearby . . . we continue with our plan to head out the park, eventually reaching Harriet Creek some 32km outside the park – a distance we think is safely away from the bloodsuckers of Kakadu.

And as we settle down for the evening, guess what?

No mozzies!

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