Monday, June 25, 2007

Australia - Darwin and Kakadu

After the 4 hour flight from Perth up to Darwin, I was back into the tropical climate of the Northern Territory. The humidity was overpowering as I stepped out of the air conditioned terminal to board the bus into the city. I checked into Chilli's hostel on the main drag and went out for a drink with a few guys from the dorm. The nightlife in Darwin is good and there are a lot of backpackers. I head to bed relatively early though, tired from the travel.
The next morning was an early start as I got picked up at 6am to start a 3 day tour of Kakadu national park. The park spans a vast area about the size of Wales and we are going to cover 1400km on this trip. Apart from it's natural wilderness and beauty, Kakadu is famous for the outback film location of "Crocodile Dundee". We are a small group of 9 in the 4x4 jeep. Jamie is our tour guide, and there is Gabriele, Helen and Cathy all from Australia, Dan and myself from Ireland, Kees from Holland and Mike and Sue from England.
The first day we drive several hours to the park. The afternoon is spent hiking and swimming in billabongs (small freshwater lakes). There are freshwater and saltwater crocodiles in the park, but not normally in these billabongs. However, there are signs stating that swimming is at your own risk. We all jumped in anyway and the cold water was so refreshing as it was over 30 degrees. That evening we set up camp and cooked over the campfire. The sky was perfectly clear and the stars were incredible. We slept outside around the fire in our swags. It got fairly cold at night and the temperature dropped to about 6 degrees, so the thermals were on. I woke up around 6.30am when it got light. everything was covered in dew, so it was a chilly start getting out of the swag. After breakfast we headed off in the jeep again. The itinerary was fairly similar to the previous day with plenty of hiking and swimming. We also went to an Aboriginal area with old rock art, where we learnt about the history and symbolism. We also learned about bush food and some of the group even licked green ants, a source of vitamins for traditional Aboriginals. Later we collected firewood for the evening amid the acrid smoke of a controlled forest fire. Rangers do this to stop wildfires, but it was still quite worrying.
That evening we watched the sunset at yellow river which was stunning. Then we set up camp, had a barbeque and drank some of the now infamous goon. Again the sky was clear and we stayed outside in the swags. However the next morning I awoke with a slight cold due to the change in temperature. No worries though cause I was having a great time! The third and final day of the tour was spent at an Aboriginal cultural centre. This was a chance for us to learn about the Aboriginal way of life and how they survived out in the bush. It is incredible the uses they have for everything. What looks like a forest to us is an entire supermarket for them. We also got the chance to throw spears at targets and try a hand at weaving. After our cultural session we drove on for another few hours. We stopped by the river and went on a boat cruise to spot freshwater and saltwater crocodiles. As we went down the river we spotted about 10 crocs on the banks and watched as they moved swiftly into the water. Some of them were around 3m long. No one wanted to swim here ;) As the boat pulled up to the bank we were only a few metres away from these huge reptiles, which was quite scary. We were under strict instructions from the skipper to keep our limbs well inside the boat. This was a ruke that of course no one was going to dissobey.
It was my last full day in Australia and what a way to spend it. There was only one thing that was dissapointing...I had been in Australia for almost 8 weeks and had not even seen a kangaroo in the wild. As we drove back down the road at dusk, as if on cue, kangaroos jumped across the road. Perfect timing I thought. Then there were loads of them and we almost hit a few. Luckily Jamie's driving skills managed to avoid a collision. So now i could leave Australia happy. That evening we return to Darwin exhausted, but went out for a meal and a few drinks together.
The next morning I got up and packed my stuff to leave. Next stop Indonesia. However, I had to fly from Darwin to Singapore and then back to Bali Denpasar. This would take me around 7 hours for a journey of about 2, as I could not get a direct flight.