The day broke to the sound of raucous sharp bird calls – but a much better night’s rest with the air conditioning on. We had breakfast in our Kea, making tea and toast and setting off the fire alarm each time, before hitting the road and backtracking the way we had come in from the Stuart Highway. Andrew has been doing the driving so far, wearing his hat, sunglasses and driving gloves. It’s a bit like driving a truck but it is a Mercedes diesel so it purrs rather than growls.
We re-joined the Stuart Highway and headed back north to the turn off for the Arnhem Highway and Kakadu. We saw signs for WW2 airfields beside the main road as we drove along– a reminder of the huge part the Northern Territory played in that war, both in being bombed and defending Australia from a potential Japanese invasion.
We reached the turnoff and drove through the wonderfully named town Humpty Doo. Passed lots of mango orchards and farms with Brahmin cattle, best adapted to this hot, tropical climate.
Our first stop was the Original Jumping Croc tour on the Adelaide river. We made good time and got onto the 11am trip. We were lucky to get Rod as our guide and boat driver – a genuine NT character with a fund of stories and good information.
Rod did the safety talk – he said I have to do this but it’s basically a waste of time, if anything happens he told us to grab a life jacket from down the back, throw the life jacket at the croc and swim like crazy for the shore, making sure you were ahead by one of anyone else, the slower ones get eaten first!
A tourist points to what she thinks is a croc – Rod says good try but actually it’s a “logodile’’.Rod used to work for the saltwater croc management program, dropped in by chopper to remove eggs from nests, he’d go in solo, he had 15 minutes to do his job. Incredibly dangerous. He said it was the scariest job he has ever had. There is video of him up a tree and a croc jumping in the air to get him – it’s completely off the ground!!Rod told us a story of a 4 metre croc jumping into the boat – it was definitely after him, Rod whacked the croc around the snout with the “fishing pole’’ – crocs have hollow bone structure in their skulls which resonates when hit – so that put him off.
Rod said the crocs might only have the brain the size of a golf ball – but they’re smart enough to recognise a voice, they know his voice and come in response for food – or to eat him!!
He told the story of a farmer (Vietnamese) who’d been fishing around the Jumping Croc wharf and the nearby bridge and been warned 50-100 times about the dangers of the crocs. The man had just given two thumbs up and continued. Until one day he stepped into the water to retrieve a 50 cent hook that was snagged. Big mistake. He stepped on a large male half albino croc which grabbed him and dragged him under – to the horror of his watching wife. Parts of him were later found in a nearby creek – and when they shot the croc – they found one of his arms in the stomach. According to Rod, there were frantic scrabbling marks in the mud where the man had tried to pull away – but crocs have the most powerful bite in the world – equivalent to two trucks hitting each other. He didn’t have a chance. The croc had to be shot as it had caught a human and discovered how easy it is to catch one for a feed – it will hunt for them from then on. Rod was actually more upset about the fact that what was once a major tourist attraction and rarity was now gone.To get the crocs to jump in the air – Rod teased with a pork chop tied to a pole, splashing the surface of the water repeatedly then yanking it high in the air and out of reach. There were several females which grow to three to three and a half metres long.
One big male came up – around 5.3 metres, he seemed to be eyeing up the chop – and the boat full of tasty tourists, but in the end the chop was the easier catch. Later Rod tempted him up onto the bank so we could see him out of the water. Massive! But he’s not the biggest. The top croc on the river is Agro, over 6 metres – he’s shown off or killed all the other males and has a croc harem of around 10-13 females
At the end of the your everyone clapped and he said that’s great because he knows now everyone came back with their fingers and hands.
We backtracked a few kms to visit the wetlands information centre -set high up on a hill. Another reminder of how critical wetlands are to the entire northern ecosystem – Human, fauna and flora. That night we stayed at Aurora camping ground about 60-70 kms short of Jabiru. We got ourselves a powered site, did some overdue washing and went and had a swim in the pool. Wonderfully cooling and refreshing after a long hot day. Talked to a German couple on a 4 week tour of Australia.
Rested and refreshed, we took a short walk from the back of the camping ground to the Gungarre billabong which was largely dried up, a pontoon rested on the ground and there were signs of wild pigs rooting up the mud on the edge. Not much wildlife to be seen – but warning signs of crocs – which we were to see repeatedly throughout Kakadu.
We hit the road and our next stop was the Mamukala wetlands – with a large viewing hide for bird enthusiasts. We could see a few magpie geese in the distance – a much more impressive billabong.
From there it was a few kms to the Bowali Visitor Centre – which was highly recommended and definitely worthwhile. First up we had a cup of coffee, look around the shop selling Aboriginal artefacts and wares – and bought ourselves two scarves – one for Andrew’s sore neck – really beautiful woollen scarf with Aboriginal design and a lighter one with “mermaid/insect” motifs for Kerrie. The display with information about Kakadu was very good – we took a good look around, got some information from the desk and took advantage of free wifi at the kiosk to check out emails, finances, etc. We also called Lords to confirm our booking for the Arnhemland trip the next day – Monday. Wound up chatting to another Kiwi who part owns the business
We set off for that nights’s campground – Merl up at Ubirr, about an hour’s drive. The camping site was classic bush style, basic with cleared sites amongst the trees – no power here! There was an ablutions block, basic but ok. We parked, brewed a cuppa (usually the first priority wherever we stopped) and then went for a walk down to Cahill’s crossing over the East Alligator river – entrance to Arnhem land. The landscape was bone dry, with interesting rock formations. We walked back – packed up and headed up to Ubirr around 4:30 – to view the rock art and climb the rocky escarpment and witness sunset over the wetland plains. A magical evening – some really beautiful rock art and even though there must have been 2-300 people up there – it was still a great experience. Calm, serenity, stunning rock formations lit up by the reddening sun as it slipped down and below the horizon.
We drove back to the campsite, made up the bed (more complicated than it sounds) ate and hit the hay. Once again the broken flyscreen was a menace – Merl is notorious for its mosquitoes and although we were later told by a ranger that it was nowhere near as bad as other times, it was bad enough. The whining and dining were not to our taste!