Kakadu National Park – Part 1

Besides it’s interesting history, the city of Darwin held little interest to me. It has now become one of the top winter getaways for Australians, featuring warm weather and bad Australian beer. Nothing too special. But there is a lot to see outside of Darwin, and Kakadu National Park has to be considered the primary focal point for that interest.

Kakadu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site, not only for it’s natural beauty but also cultural significance. So it was a bright and early morning that a bunch of us packed onto a 4WD tour bus and headed off into the fog of the morning. We had quite a bit of driving to do, Kakadu is about 2 hours of driving away. But even then, Kakadu is *massive*, some 200km North-South and 100km East-West. BIG. And a lot of it is hard to get to, requiring the use of 4WD. I was thankful not to be driving once I saw some of the roads!

We were shockingly early leaving Darwin – at least according to our guide Nick, who pointed out we were all ready and on time, so we detoured to an estuary for a little look around while the morning fog burnt off. Here we got to sample some of the local cuisine. By licking them.

That is a very peppery ant to lick. Our next stop was still outside Kakadu, but gave a good idea of what we were getting ourselves into. This overlooked the Mary River Wetlands area. In the wet season, all of this would be under water.

We then headed down to part of the Mary River area called the Corroboree Billabong, which during the middle of the dry season is a much more tranquil and relaxed looking spot. We were going to go on a little boat ride.

To go in search of birds and other wildlife! The Mary River hosts numerous different species of birdlife. This bird, some variety of Cormorant (called ‘Shags’ here in Australia), dives to catch lunch, but lacks waterproof feathers featured in other aquatic birds. So after a while the bird becomes waterlogged and must dry itself out, which it is doing here.

One of the many varieties of Kingfisher that can be seen throughout Australia.

The very long legged Jabiru Bird, also known as the Black-Necked Stork…even though it’s neck isn’t actually black but blue.

A pair of massive White Bellied Sea Eagles. These are remarkably large birds and will sport wingspans of up to 2.2 meters in length. Yup, they are big, big birds.

But there were more than just birds to be found here. The Corroboree Billabong has the highest concentration of these guys in the world.

Saltwater crocodiles (aka ‘Salties’). These are the beasts of the wildlife in the area. They can grow to huge sizes here due to the plethora of food available, with over 6 meters in length not being unheard of. And while many will bask in the sun during the day, the water is NEVER a safe place here.

But lots of birds and animals didn’t seem to mind. This odd looking guy is a nocturnal bird, and was content to stare at the water the entire time we were there.

Then I spotted this little one, hanging out on a tree. He isn’t a salt-water crocodile, but a freshwater crocodile (a ‘Freshie’). The main difference between the Salties and Freshies, habitat wise, is that a Salty can live in both salt water and fresh water, though it will usually stay in fresh water. Some of these crocodiles that are so far inland (we are many kilometers from the ocean) never see salt water, despite being called Salties. Salt-water crocs are much larger and the far more dangerous of the two.

After our enjoyable boat tour, we reboarded our bus and headed to Kakadu. I should give special mention to the bus. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill tour bus we were on. It was built for offroading, which we would  be needing in Kakadu.

Our first stop in Kakadu was the Ubirr Rock area. Here was a collection of some of the more famous Aboriginal Art of the area. It’s been a popular site for the Aboriginal people, with evidence of paintings going back at least 40,000 years. This one is of a turtle.

One of the massive rocks that the Aboriginals usually would paint under. The huge overhang creates a natural shelter and waterproof area. That being said, this area could still see extensive flooding.

For a good panorama of the area, we climbed to the top of Ubirr Rock.

The plain below would usually be a massive lake during the rainy season. These would be small islands. For some strange reason a bit of the scenery here reminded me of Mayan Ruins in Mexico. Looking out across fairly flat land you had sudden outcroppings of rock that shot straight up. It looked so random and manmade (though entirely natural).

Looking up the side of Ubirr Rock.

And finally a wide panoramic shot of the area. This area has also featured in a few movies, most notably being Crocodile Dundee, apparently.

After climbing down from Ubirr Rock we hiked our way back to the bus, stopping for some more interesting cultural talks and to spot a few rock wallabies (now passe to me, though cute). The daylight was starting to fade so we made our way to our campground for the night, stopping only once more at the Yellow water billabong for a quick photo opportunity.

We arrived at our permanent campsite, set up our stuff and had a tasty dinner (pasta, like usual). It would be another early morning tomorrow so we all got an early night’s sleep.

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