We spent a few days in and around Darwin taking in the sights at East point and Fannie bay where there was a military installation from WWII to prevent Japanese invasion. After wandering round the installations we met up and had a nice chat with a husband and wife on a bike and side-car.
On Sunday we headed into town and ended up at Mindil market which was next to the beach, it had loads of food and craft stalls and was lit up after dark making a great atmosphere. There was also an awesome fire display, the performance was enhanced by a guest traveller from Canada who did a hoola hoop fire display that defied belief.
A few of the days were spent at the farm doing repairs and maintenance to the bike and our equipment, Australia has really racked up the miles. It is true a stitch in time really does save nine as Karen discovered when she had to sew a very large rip in our silk sleeping bag liner instead of the small tear it started as a few days ago.
I had a list for the bike including welding a nut to the handlebars that has been stripped since Kazakhstan, straightening one of the outrigger arms where it got bent in the Litchfield fall, making a lever for the operation of the oil cooler fan to swing it into place when riding, balancing the carbs, swapping the rear diff and changing the rear tyre. This turned into a mission itself involving Karen and I chasing around for a compressor on a Saturday. We did learn a new trick though thanks to the great guy who was just shutting up his workshop for the weekend when we arrived. The problem was getting the tyres beads (sealing edges) to pop out enough to seal, he got some rope and wound it around the centre like a tourniquet twisting a screwdriver in for torque before attaching the air gun, that did the trick.
I refitted the exhaust cookers with heat sinks to a new position below the engine directly on the exhaust, I hoped this would allow more airflow over the engine and give the cookers more heat. I also welded an extra exhaust bracket to try to stop it cracking the flange under the exhaust clamp which it has done a few times now and added a cross bar in the roof to stiffen it back up as the plastic side rails have lost some of their spring in the heat and it taps Karen on the head when the wind is in the wrong direction.
Karen meanwhile had been busy catching up with washing and backing up all our photos to a DVD as well as trying to write the next blog. We had an interlude where Marg and Alistair’s horse managed to slip the electric fencing and ended up walking round the living areas but Karen used his feed to entice him back out whilst I laid a plank over the fence.
Karen freaked out the morning after as the nearly finished blog saved as a draft seemed to have disappeared, it was more than three days work. Our blogging site had changed its layout overnight and although everything else was there the draft had vanished. Luckily there was a contact us button so we wrote a plea to the website to see if it could be recovered. About three hours later we got an email saying how to access it Phew!
We were headed out to the greyhound bus depot in town to post the old diff back to Kev in Cairns and were running a bit late, mysteriously the bike was handling really badly weaving all over the place. I struggled to keep her in a straight line and Karen was struggling to keep a grip on the heavy diff she had balanced on top of one pannier. We had to stop to try and work out what was wrong as it was getting too silly and we had pushed our luck a bit already trying to catch the depot open.
We were crawling under the bike trying to see what was wrong but nothing was obvious when a guy (John) stopped in his car and said he recognised the bike from a friends description and owns a Guzzi himself, he invited us back to his place nearby. This seemed like too good an offer to refuse as we could offload the bags and Karen could ride with John in his car making the bike a lot easier to ride. The bike was marginally better but was still snaking around on the back end.
We shared our room with Nudge a very friendly parrot who we formed a good bond with, John also had two dogs Harry a large but friendly Boxer and Duchess a descendent of a dingo.
He also had a very inviting pool we made good use of. John was great company it was a shame we didn’t meet his wife who had just left for England the reason he was using the car that day.
While he was at work we looked into sourcing another tyre but no one else in Darwin had one in stock so we organised another to be sent from Brisbane to Phil and Megan’s in Darwin. The estimated 4 days delivery time would give us chance to visit Kakadu national park first and come back into Darwin to collect it. I also found the rear wheel spindle hadn’t seated fully home so that could have been the cause of the weaving issue. As a precaution we arranged to leave all unnecessary stuff at Johns whilst we did Kakadu in case the cheap Chinese (King’s) tyre was a problem. It still felt squirmy and I didn’t fully trust it but the next few days would be a chance to test it. At least we would have a spare if it caused problems.
After an early start we said a temporary goodbye to John and of course Dutchess and Harry the Dogs, Salami the Donkey and Nudge the parrot.
We headed out via Humpty Doo ( I am not making this up) stopping at the post office to post the lost camera back to Iris who was ecstatic we found it. (We found it at the termite mounds in Litchfield where they stopped and took photos of us).
There was an information centre on the way to Kakadu so we stopped there for a look, they had some displays about the wetlands there and a talk about Crocodiles (mostly about how not to get eaten by one). Karen is holding up an old green tree ants nest, she was delighted to discover there are over 70 different types of mosquitoes in Australia that can bite her, nice to have a bit of variety. Back on the bike we rode until we got to the Corroberee Roadhouse and camp site where we had lunch and a swim in the pool afterwards. They also had their own fresh and salt water crocodiles so we made doubly sure we had the right swimming pool. We then had a chill out afternoon, I actually got chance to read a book for a few hours and Karen caught up with the diary. The tyre seemed better but still squirmy, the jury was still out.
Phil amongst others had recommended the Corroberee boat trip, it was half the price of the more touristy Yellow waters which is in the park. We had to pay $5 each for the bus to pick us up from the camp site to take us down to the billabong but it turned out to be money well spent as it was a long rough dirt road and we got back in the dark. The trip itself was great we saw Jabiru (big storks), a sea eagle, jesus birds,(they walk on water) kingfishers, and lots of crocs. It was good to do a bit of a croc tour as we didn’t get chance in Daintree and it might have been our last chance before we left the tropical top end. They really are evil scary looking reptiles and are relics of when dinosaurs roamed the earth, from the relative safety of our boat we were able to get really close to some. Here are some pictures.
Exceptionally large saltwater crocs can reach 7 metres and 4 or 5 metre ones are common here, Think about how big a 5 metre long croc looks when you are up close to it. Crocodiles have some amazing evolutionary adaptations (most of which are designed to kill things more efficiently). They have an extra clear eyelid which enables them to see clearly underwater (a bit like a scuba mask) so they can see you on the riverbank even when they are totally invisible. They can also slow down their heartbeat to a handful of beats a minute which enables them to stay underwater for an incredibly long time when they want to. The nodules on their backs are a bit like solar panels and absorb and store heat from the sun because of course they are cold blooded reptiles, hence they have to spend some of their day basking in the sun to warm themselves up. Sometimes when they were doing this they would gape their mouths open, I asked our guide why and it seems that this allows them to cool their brain down independently of the rest of their body allowing them to absorb more heat than would otherwise be possible. They are also very smart, many people warned us here not to fall into patterns of behaviour like always going for water at the same spot or where other animals drink. They notice this kind of behaviour and remember it and one day one might be waiting for you, it would not be a nice way to go either. Their main tactic is to grab you, drag you back into the water and roll you over until you drown when they will either eat you or pin you under a log underwater to save for later Nice huh !
They were once hunted and their numbers got seriously low but they are now a protected species in Australia. The Northern Territory alone is now thought to have over 100’000 crocodiles (there are only 250’000 people in the NT so its approaching 1:2 crocs to people).
From Corroberee we headed into Kakadu park itself, there was a $25 entry charge but some of that goes back into maintaining the park so we didn’t mind. We stopped for a look at Mamukala which is a wetland that is an important habitat for birds. There are some pictures below.
Back on the road again we reached Merl camp ground by about midday, we were in luck as they were having an Aboriginal painting demonstration and have a go session. Our two Aboriginal teachers showed us how to make paint brushes from the stem of a plant. We chewed the end of the stem until it turned into separate fibres which we then trimmed down with a knife to leave just 3 or 4 long ones left. It makes an incredibly fine organic paintbrush and we watched the two masters at work painting incredibly intricate patterns. Their paintings take days of work to complete, our efforts were not even in the same league but we had fun trying. The paint we used was just acrylic poster paint but the Aboriginals still use some traditional materials as well as modern ones, they explained that someone was “out bush” at the moment collecting the various clays and ochres needed to make paints with. These come from many different areas and are highly sought after.
Here are some pictures of our paltry efforts and some of the real thing, we gave our half finished ones to some of the kids who were there to finish off later. It was great fun though and we almost had to dragged away when it was time to leave.
In the afternoon we broke our sacred rule and rode the bike 2k on tarmac in shorts to Bardedjuliji. We both felt very vulnerable and only trickled along at 30kmh but by then the temperature was nudging the 40′s and we didn’t want to get all dressed up for 2 k. The walk was worth braving the heat, the rocks in this area were in pancake like stacks and were weathered into all sorts of interesting shapes. It was only a 2.5km circular walk but there was so much to see in a small area.
Here are some pictures so you can see what we mean.
On the way back we rode into Ubirr which is a sacred Aboriginal site and our reason for staying here. Ubirr is one of the best examples of Aboriginal rock art in the world and is a very special place. We wandered around the site looking and photographing some examples and then stopped to listen to another “Ranger Talk” about the main cave.
Most of the rock art depicts events or animals caught in the hunt, Barramundi (a big game fish) are much in evidence as are turtles and kangaroos two of their other favourite foods. All the paintings have a story associated with them and some a very very old. The ochres and natural stains used to paint them are very strong pigments and last a long time although some paintings are allowed to be repainted when they become too faint although only a person of the right standing and someone who understands the story would be allowed to do this. Some of the paintings depict people too and many contain stories from the dreamtime when all beings were created.
It was thought that Aboriginals had lived in this area for 20’000 years but recent evidence and new techniques has changed that estimate to up to 50’000 years. Some of the rock art depicts animals like the Thylacine that are are long since extinct, scientists have a fairly good idea of when events like this occurred which has helped date some of the art. Look closer at the centre of the picture to see what a thlosine looked like. They are thought to have died out when Dingo’s came to Australia as they were competing for the same food.
As the sun was starting to set we walked up to the highest point of Ubirr to watch the sun set over the Nadab flood plain. It was a beautiful spot and as we were climbing up here we very much felt like we were walking in the footsteps of people thousands of years ago. At the top the ranger pointed out some of the landmarks and talked a little about how this landscape changes over the seasons, the geography of this landscape is so varied with wetlands, savannah, and pockets of tropical rainforests all within view from this one spot. There is a marked wet and dry season here and in “the wet” the entire area we were looking over would be underwater. It was a spectacularly beautiful sunset which nicely rounded off a great day.
Next day we were up at 5am after a quick breakfast and coffee we got packed up and were on the road by 7.45 heading for Jabiru the biggest town in the park. We got there around 8.20 am and had to stop and ask directions for fuel and shops as it was very confusing. Everyone gets lost laughed the local lady they must have been drunk when they designed this town its all dead ends. After topping up with fuel, water and supplies we headed to Nourlangie (Also known as Anbangbang) which is another Aboriginal art site with a good walk and lookout point. We had lunch here also, which reminds me the flies here are a complete nuisance in the spring/summer. There seem to be about 20 gazillion of them and they are incredibly persistent so much so that you see some people walking around with head nets on during the day.
We do have some head nets but they trap the heat and make you even hotter so for now we just relied on that they call the Aussie wave and batted them off the little b#@**$#@^%
In the afternoon we stopped for a look around Warradjan Aboriginal centre which showed some of the history and artefacts of the different tribes here. We walked very slowly around as it was air conditioned and was a nice break from the afternoon heat outside. Our next stop was Yellow Waters Billabong, there was a boat cruise here also but it was expensive so we just went for a wander on foot and to watch the sunset as it was now late afternoon. There was a raised board-walk which went several hundred metres out over the water and gave us some great views and photos. I got some good shots and just as the sun was dropping the crocs all appeared. We had no idea they were around until Karen spotted the first nostrils and eyebrows appear, after that more started to surface and swim out into the billabong to hunt. We were only a couple of feet above the water and Karen got a bit jittery as some were quite close by but we were fairly safe as there were double metal rails along the bottom to stop them getting up. I would not have wanted to be on the team that built his walkway though. Some of the crocs were really big, when they are semi submerged swimming on the surface you can only see about half their length.
Waking early again to beat the heat we packed up and moved out to Barramundi falls (Aboriginal name Maguk), we were at the turnoff by 8am and then had to do battle with 14km of sandy dirt road. This was a 4wd recommended road and was approaching the limit of what we could manage loaded, Kakadu national park is huge and much of it is only accessible by 4wd only tracks. We are starting to understand why everyone owns a 4wd here, Australia would grind to a halt without them.
We were amongst the first people at the falls which is accessed via a windy path alongside the creek, there were shallow clear rock pools along the way which gave us chance to wet our hair and shirts to cool down. Kakadu is riddled with crocs and nowhere is officially safe to swim although a couple of French backpackers had a quick dip in the pool by the falls but we thought better of it.
It was a great walk though and worth the effort of getting there.
We were going to head into Gunlom before heading out of the park but it was another sandy 4wd track and by that time the heat of the day had really kicked in. We did have a go but very quickly the sand got silly deep and we decided to give it a miss, just as it to confirm our decision I dropped the bike trying to turn it around in the soft sand, no damage done though.
It was a fair trip back to Darwin anyway so we called it a day had some lunch and them headed back to John’s where we had left some excess stuff. We were back by 5pm and rounded off the evening with some very welcome cold beers and a dip in the pool.
Next morning we were up bright and early with John who was on his way to work, he liked a joke and Karen inadvertently got her own back on him by misreading the time and convincing him it was an hour later than it was thus making him think he was late for work. It got as far as him ringing up the school where he works who were delighted to have got one over on him (it doesn’t happen often apparently)
He was good value.
Next up: leaving Darwin heading for the wild west.