Journey                 # 15

Time:                      20th May 2017

Alison had her heart set on us coming up to Darwin, to celebrate her birthday, so we set about packing for warm weather and left Sydney for the far north.
We arrived at Darwin airport about 1.30am and the kids picked us up to head for their unit at Frances Bay.

Looking out from the balcony of Alison and Chris' unit, over Frances Bay,Darwin.

We slept a little late and got up around 9am to head for the Botanical Gardens for brunch. Met a couple of their friends there as well and we all enjoyed some nice food.
It was a lovely morning and I had on a T shirt, shorts and thongs, which in hindsight wasn't the correct attire for the rest of the day.

Eva's Cafe is a nice place to eat, at Darwin Botanical Gardens

The family all decided to head out of Darwin, to Fogg Dam, as there was a lot of birdlife and a fat freshwater crocodile there on some days, so off we went. Had a great time there and the place was teeming with birdlife. Got some nice photos.

A solid Johnsons freshwater crocodile at Fogg Dam.

We kept heading out along the Arnhem Highway, towards Kakadu and arrived at a roadside swamp where the herons, egrets, terns and a multitude of other wading birds were feeding on fish. Unfortunately, an egret met its doom on Chris' UHF antenna, at 130kph. Took some photos and Chris took us to Leaning Tree Lagoon Nature Park, as the billabong was covered in water lilies. We couldn't really get too close to take photos, as the water was too high.
Chris decided to drive us around the boundary fence and come in from the back, to see if we could get in closer. It was all looking good, but we still couldn't get near, so he decided it would be faster to keep going around the fenceline and come back out on the highway.
Well, we got bogged and tried to winch out, all to no avail. After a while, Alison and Beryl walked out to the highway and managed to flag down a 4wd. They unhitched their boat and drove all the way around the fenceline to try and get us out with snatch straps and winch. No joy there either. The kind samaritans battery died and there were now two vehicles stuck. Alison went back out to where Beryl and the boat were and flagged down another 4wd. It was now dark but they managed to find us and got the guy started. There was no way the Prado was coming out that day, so after the other two vehicles left, Chris decided to lock up and leave it in the mud until the following day.
The heat, sandflies and mossies were driving me crazy, so I walked in the pitch black towards the highway, just being able to make out the fenceline in the dark. Shorts and thongs now come into play, and aside from the biting insects, frogs, green tree ants, cane toads and other things plopped onto my bare feet and legs. I must admit though, that the thoughts of Brown snakes, Taipans and Death Adders were higher on my list of concerns.
Found the girls and discussed our options, whilst waiting for Chris to join us. We had been on our feet for five hours at this stage and had finished our water, ages before. Chris arrived and we then attempted to get someone to drive all the way out and pick us up. There were no bus stops or cabs in the vicinity. After a number of calls, we were relieved to find a friend of Chris' was able to come, but we still had to stand in the dark for over an hour and at the mercy of the myriad biting insects, which seemed to love the aeroguard. We found that Chris also had 25 litres of water in the car, but no-one was going back in to get any.
It was a relief when Stuart finally pulled up and took us back home. He was also kind enough to go through Maccas so that we could all get a meal and something to drink. Flopped into bed around 11pm that night, fo an eventful first day of our holiday.

Oops, looks like a lengthy process coming up

This morning, Chris tried to organise someone to recover his vehicle and we eventually found a towing mob who could do that. It took them half a day and they laid out 300 metres of winch line and half a dozen max tracks with each metre gained. $800 later, it was freed.
Meanwhile, Alison, Beryl and I went to Crocosaurus Cove in Darwin city, to have a look at some pretty massive mud lizards. This is the place where you can hop into a perspex tube and be lowed into the crocodile enclosure with a monster. Lots of gouges and scrapes on the outside of the container, so you can swim with Bert the croc, if you so desire.
Spent a couple of hours there and saw the rest of this 'mini zoo'. It was quite good.

Feeding the big crocs at Crocosaurus Cove, Darwin city

Alison had to work today, so we drove her in and then went back to Darwin to have a walk along the waterfront.
Lots of backpackers in the parks and water areas and lots of eateries in the plaza.
There were a couple of Navy ships moored along the jetty, one being a massive French ship.
They had an enclosed wave pool in the park and lots of tourists were bobbing around in the washing machine chop, probably thinking that this was the way surf in Australia behaved. WRONG!.
It was quite humid, so we walked back to the unit to have a bit of relaxation before going out to pick up Ali from work, later that afternoon.

Walking along Darwin Waterfront

Today, we decided to head off to Kakadu for the week-end. Booked our accommodation and headed off. The girls didn't want to go back in to Leaning Tree Lagoon to see where we had been bogged, so kept on going to Jabiru. We booked in to the Abinik Resort for a 2 bedroom cabin. It was clean, but very dated and the price was very high for what you got. My bed had springs almost popping through and the ceiling fans were only one speed - ballistic. Anyway, it was better than sleeping in a tent.
Drove out to the Rangers station and had a look around. It has changed since 1975 but the original building is still there, although fenced off due to asbestos contamination and having been burnt in a bushfire.
We drove down to Cahills Crossing, on the East Alligator River and saw a 4wd had gone over the edge, apparently during the night. There were a couple of people fishing but we saw no crocodiles.
Next, we headed out to Ubirr to check out the rock art and catch the sunset over the floodplains. Beryl and I were amazed at the volume of people here and remembered back in 1975 that we didn't see anyone else at this spot. The rock art has faded dramatically and been damaged by wasps and perhaps people touching it. There are now walkways and railings to deter people from physical contact with the art.
We had an hour or so to wait for the sunset and the smoke from burnoffs would make it a nice one.
About 80 people were lined up on top of Ubirr and it wasn't pleasant. One lady made loud comments about how she sees better sunsets from her bathroom window back home, where ever that might be, and that this was a waste of film. I commented that she was still using film! She huffed and told me that I knew what she meant. Go home lady.
We walked back to the car in twilight and then stopped in at the Crocodile Resort for dinner, which was quite nice and reasonably priced.

Cahill's Crossing on the East Aligator River claims many vehicles due to stupidity of drivers

Whistling Kite nest at Cahill's Crossing

Leaving Jabiru, we dropped in to Mamukala wetlands bird hide to see if any birds were there and heard a lady complaining. Yep, it was the same one from the previous evening at Ubirr, so we left and continued on along the Arnhem Highway towards Darwin.
We did stop at the Gungarre Forest walk, near the Aurora Kakadu Resort and did the loop walk. Wow it was hot and humid but worth the stroll.

Kakadu sunset from Ubirr

A wasp nest. Stay clear or suffer agonising stings

Chris then took us in to Shady Camp, some 70klm from the highway, along gravel roads. There were a lot of people there and it is a well known location for barramundi fishing contests. We saw a massive saltwater croc in the freshwater side of the barrage wall and it appeared to have a deformed or damaged snout, with the bottom teeth protruding up like pigs tusks. About a dozen people were fishing off the barrage wall and I saw barramundi being landed frequently. They looked to be under legal size but they all went into the catchers bags, with no releases evident.
We had 'lunch' under a huge monsoon forest tree, loaded with Corellas. They were very noisy and animated, but entertaining. From there, it was a fairly uneventful trip back to Darwin.

A Jabiru Stork coming in for a landing at Shady Camp

Time for a visit to Crocodylus Park, in Berrimah. This mini zoo was quite well laid out and has a substantial number of crocodiles. It also sells crocodile meat. The museum was interesting and we enjoyed many hours there. A boat tour around the enclosed waterway was eye opening and there are some truly big specimens in there. Keep hands and head inside the confines of the boat, as the crocs do shoot out a metre or so high to get a bit of food. Worth the visit.

Beryl holding a baby salty at Crocodylus Park. Don't ask if she sqealed when it tried to get free

Dead coral and crab hole at Lee Point

Alison and Chris both had to go to work, so we just spent a couple of days walking around the Darwin waterfront and the city.
We had a drive out to Lee Point and took a walk along the beach. It was pretty hot and humid, so it didn't take long before we decided to head back. There was a lot of dead coral washed up on the beach and loads of hermit crabs scuttling along, dragging their home along behind themselves.
Back near the carpark, the birds were prolific, with lots of different species flitting around. We saw a young Koel cuckoo squawking for food as its foster parents, a pair of Grey Crowned Babblers, obliged. The cuckoo lays an egg into a host birds nest and kicks out a corresponding egg. The young cuckoo generally hatches first and kicks out the other young or eggs, so that the parents will look out for only one. The cuckoo in this case, was about a third bigger than the 'parents' so they were kept very busy.
We drove a little further to have a look at Buffalo Creek. Went for a loop walk through the forest but it was unusually devoid of birdlife. After that, we headed home to pick up Alison from work.
We went out onto the waterfront pier for dinner that night. The water at the pier was swarming with very big batfish and trevally, which thrashed onto scaps being thrown in from the diners. I reckon if I fished there, I would use a hot chip for bait. Couldn't go wrong.
The following day, Beryl and I walked along the East Point walking track and then diverted across to the forest loop track and mangrove walk. There were a lot of Agile wallabies around the grassy areas and some impressive bush hen nesting mounds along the walk. It was an interesting walk and there was a bit to see.

Agile wallabies at East Point reserve

Dinner at the waterfront wharf, Darwin

Beryl, Alison and I went for a drive to the Territory Wildlife Park, out near Berry Springs and spent a few hours there. They have some nice exhibits there and the park covers a large area.
Our first stop was at the open air bird feeding show. The owls and raptors fly around freely and are well trained. All the birds come out in turn when they are cued and display how they feed.
A buzzard showed how they pick up a rock and then smash it down to break large eggs (emu). Ospreys dive into water to catch fish and owls swoop on totally silent wings to catch prey. A great show.
We looked at various ecosystem displays, such as wetland, monsoon forest, dry forest etc. The nocturnal house had a lot of activity inside and it was interesting to see the night feeders doing their thing. The aquarium was alo quite good, but it was a shame to see the big saltwater croc kept inside. They need sunlight rather than artificial light.
The outside pond had some massive freshwater rays and big barramundi swimming around
We had a good few hours spent there and it was a place worth visiting.

You wouldn't get me swimming here at Fannie Bay. Crocs and marine stingers

A huge barramundi laying beside a log in less than a metre of water

Our time in Darwin went far too quickly, but we went there to celebrate Alison's birthday and catch up with Chris and her. Our last evening together was planned to catch the sunset over Cullen Beach and have fish and chips on the balcony overlooking the beach. Naturally, the restaurant was closed but we did catch the sunset. Went to the Fannie Bay trailerboat club and had a meal there instead. It is a nice club and we ate and chatted for a while before going back to the unit and picking up our bags. Ali and Chris dropped us at the airport around 9.30pm to catch the 2am flight back to Sydney. Alison had a uni exam the following day, so we insisted that she get some sleep beforehand and Chris also had an early start. The overnight flight from a balmy 28C in Darwin, to a bracing 8C in Sydney the following morning is not one that I want to do again. We both froze for the rest of the day, despite being rugged up and having the heater on all day.
Photo albums are now a thing of the past, but we can all relive and enrich our memories through avenues such as these web pages. Thanks kids.

As the sun sets, we bid farewell to Darwin and our children


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