We had a couple of days to kill in Katherine since Monday was a bank holiday and Lea’s new front tire wouldn’t arrive at the postie till Wednesday. So we holed up in a free camping spot 25km outside of town. I rode in to spend the day in the corner of a cafe, slurping one coffee after another writing posts on their free wifi. At closing time the blog was almost up to date so when they finally kicked me out, I sat on the pavement outside, still within reach of their wireless, adding the last finishing touches. This must be the first time the blog isn’t lagging months behind!
When I got back Aidan and Skunk had worked up a thirst collecting fire wood and we baked some pittas on a stone in the fire to go with our yummy curry.
Apart from the tire, Lea also needed a new speedo cable as the old one tore all that time ago and I was using a bicycle speedometer to tell me how fast I was going and how far. Over 99.9km/h the speedo stops measuring. I guess it doesn’t expect anyone to cycle that fast.
And Aidan got a metal workshop to make him a new voltage rectifier holder. The one the Georgians had made for us all that time ago had snapped due to the vibrations from the corrugated roads. So with all this work to do, we moved to a caravan site in town where we’d have access to a shower to wash off all the grease and dust. They had a pool, too 🙂 And frogs in the bathroom.
With all the new parts fitted we were good to go. It isn’t far to Darwin from here, but we decided to make a detour through Kakadu National Park, famous for its giant termite mounds.
A water buffalo evaded the camera having stopped and stared just long enough to let us spy him before bolting off into the tall grass. We saw a couple of little herds of wild donkeys too. This sure is a strange wilderness.
It is easy to just drive through the park without seeing much so Aidan convinced me to follow a corrugated dirt track to Maguk Gorge. Like the MacDonnells and most of the Red Centre this had that detested sight seeing feeling about it again, but there wasn’t much we could do about it. After 10km of rattling over the sandy ripples at a snail’s pace we reached a car park. From here it was a 2km walk to the waterfall a sign announced.
It was super hot at 38 degrees and I was not keen to wander about in my heavy bike boots. But now we were here, I might as well. And I was glad I did! The path followed the river into the gorge and was a little tropical paradise.
Signs everywhere warn to stay away from the water’s edge lest you become a hungry crocodile’s dinner. Later a sign announces a plunge pool and states that the park’s authorities try to keep the dangerous salt water crocodiles out but cannot guarantee that none have found their way in. It also warns that the usually peaceful freshies might take bite out of you, if you piss them off. So swim at your own risk.
We followed the river past a few older ladies sitting in the shallow waters. There are lots of little fishes in the clear pools and red dragon flies zoom past to rest on this palm tree or that.
When we reach the plunge pool a few tourists are swimming close to the edge. I figured that any hungry croc would have helped itself by now and jumped in too. I hadn’t anticipated the swimming opportunity and hadn’t brought my bikini. But the refreshing cool was too tempting. So I emptied my pockets and jumped in clothes and all.
In the mood for an early stop and a bonfire we spontaneously decided to stay at the adjacent camp site. We would free camp but we weren’t sure if that was allowed in this national park. No phone reception meant no chance to ask Google. And anyways, this place has a safe fire pit so it’s perfect. Aidan baked some potatoes in the fie which we hungrily munched with some tuna mayo and sweetcorn and then we settled in for a couple of games of Spite & Malice.
The next day we had to take the corrugated sand road back out of there. And I had to re-learn everything the previous dirt track rides had taught me. Now, with a brand new front tire and an already alarmingly squared off rear it was suddenly the back of the bike that was fishtailing all over the place and there was no need to wrestle the front about anymore to make the bike go where I wanted it to. Suffice to say I was all over the shop till I sort of got the hang of it just as we reached tarmac again.
We’d forgotten why we had marked Ubirr at the end of the road as a place we had to see. So when we found some exquisite rock art and stunning views over Kakadu we were pleasantly surprised.
Up here in the wetlands the aboriginal rock paintings depict less kangaroos and more fish and fish hunting spears. The lines on the fish are not just pretty patterns but accurate drawings of the fishes bone structure, intestines and insides. These paintings were educational and instructive. Another one shows how a fish must be decapitated so it wouldn’t flap itself back into the water after being caught.
The story of the crocodile sisters is another lesson in life in the local wetlands.
Another painting warns of the dangers of disrespecting a sacred site.
A drawing high up on the underside of an overhanging rock in a place that seems impossible to reach was apparently made by the dreamtime spirit that taught aborigines how to paint.
These are apparently some of the best preserved rock paintings in the wold and some are said to be 5000 years old. But for me the stunning views over the park were the best. We’d arrived in the midday heat and the short and easy climb up some rocks seemed a lot of effort. But it was well worth it.
We had lunch in the picnic area and watched some ants clear something off the table. Aidan was fascinated: “You see it too, right?” It seemed like we were looking at the creatures in a strobe light, only able to see parts of their movement in a fast staccato. But it was full day light and they just move in that start-stop way.
We popped into Jabiru for a cold beer. We needed reception to sort a few things out online. Buy the time we were done it was about an hour till sunset and we decided against the picturesque yet mozzie infested campsite we’d had in mind. Instead we would just pull in at a car park.
But a sweltering forest fire was spreading. The entire park had lots of charred parts. Most of it is from controlled burn offs that get rid of dry leaves, grass and anything else that represents perfect fire starting tinder. It isn’t ideal for the plants and animals but it helps prevent raging, all consuming, forest fires
Big purple smoke clouds spread ahead and behind us. We weren’t in any danger but I was still not too keen to have the licking flames creep up to the tent at night so I wanted to camp far away from any sweltering hot spots. As the sun sank blood red behind the smoke we found a dirt track and ended up wild camping after all.
While Aidan cooked dinner I prepped Lea ready to flee in case the fires found us after all. But luckily it proved unnecessary. In the morning we woke to birds chirping and cockatoos screeching, the sky was blue and there wasn’t a smoke cloud in sight. Before we knew it we’d left the national park.
We’d reach Darwin a day early at this rate so we pulled over at a roadhouse and called the hostel in Darwin, see if we could stay there a night early. They promised to call back so we settled in for and iced coffee (me) and an ice cold beer (Aidan and Skunk) making use of the free wifi and watching the world go by. When the call came it was good news and we headed off to finish the last stretch on our quest to cross the Australian continent south to north. This called for some celebrations!