Enzo was otherwise detained, so the Sparrow and I took the opportunity to go to Kakadu National Park for three days. Kakadu is a huge 20,000 square km owned by the local Aboriginal communities. It is leased back to the government as a National Park. The local Indigenous business group manages accommodation and various eco-tourism activities. It has UNESCO World Heritage Listing both for its ‘outstanding natural features’ and as a ‘living cultural landscape’. The local indigenous population has lived here continuously for 65,000 years. The park houses ancient rock art, abundant and varied wildlife and spectacular landscapes. Like all National Parks you pay a daily entry fee. We checked the camper into the caravan park in the Cooinda Lodge complex and booked a couple of tours.
The Spirit of Kakadu is a 4WD tour, taking in some of the waterfalls and swimming holes in the southern part of the park, though at the end of dry season the falls were a bit low on water and nothing like the photos from the wet season. The 10-hour tour covered about 350km so you get to see a lot of landscape with informative banter from the driver. The lower pool at Gunlom Falls (our first stop) is famous in the modern world as a location for the Crocodile Dundee movie. It does contain freshwater crocodiles, but no ‘salties’, so considered safe for swimming. We climbed up to the higher pools for our swim (crocs can’t climb!) where brand-new steps made it easy going. We were rewarded by a series of pools including a stunning infinity pool with views out across the national park.
Our second stop was Maguk, a rocky scramble of a walk, but not steep. The pool was large and deep, surrounded by soaring cliffs and a waterfall at the rear. It was a very welcome refreshing break on a 37 degree day. Our tour finished with cheese and wine overlooking the billabong near the resort, with strict instructions not to go within 5 metres of the water’s edge as it is home to many saltwater crocodiles. We kept a good 20 metres back, just in case!
The next morning, we did the Dawn Cruise of the Yellow-water Billabong which extended into the South Alligator River. This was the better by far of the two tours. We had an indigenous guide (Reuben) with a vast knowledge of the local wildlife including how best to cook it! Starting at dawn in patchy mist the cruise lasted about two hours. The trip had amazing wildlife photography opportunities, all with magic morning light. We saw Saltwater Crocodiles, many bird species, water buffalo, wild pigs, wild horses, Kangaroos and wallabies. Several recipes were included in the banter. I’m not sure I’ll ever need to know this, but I now have a fair idea about hanging and skinning a wallaby and preparing wallaby stew with carrots onions and potatoes! There was a similarly wide range of tree and plant species. Water lilies and native bamboo were a surprise but interestingly led to a history of early indigenous interactions with Indonesia! We finished with a cooked, hotel-style, breakfast back at the lodge.
Dinner at Cooinda Lodge’s outside dining area was of high standard. The local Indigenous owners’ by-laws prohibit wine being sold by the bottle. The unexpected benefit of this is that all wines on the wine-list are available by the glass! The Caravan Park was generally of a good standard.
The Swimming Pool at Cooinda was fabulous, with massive shade trees including the rather unusual looking Cluster Figs [a species of Australian native fig].
On the third day we drove north to see the Rock Paintings at Ubirr. These are of varying ages. From the car park, it’s about a slow one hour walk to see all the main galleries. At the time, I was recovering from a fractured ankle and managed it with only a couple of stops. True to form, the Sparrow did the climb to see the higher galleries and the stunning view from the top, which is supposed to be the best place in Kakadu to sit and watch the sunset. Not a problem really as I always end up waiting for the Sparrow when we go to art galleries. She likes to study the works in much more detail than me! The paintings the anthropologists apparently get most excited about are faint little stick figures about 5000 years old. The more graphic animal paintings are generally thought to be only half that age.