November 2009

November in Darwin is getting warm and there’s still not much rain. Daytime temperatures hover around 35˚C, then plummet to about 26˚ or 27˚C overnight. The humidity is also rising starting at between 85-95% in the morning before falling during the day to around 50-60% and again rising in the evening. We’re still running, walking and cycling in an attempt to retain at least some fitness, but clearly our calorie intact is far greater than our expenditure, mmmm.

Our daily schedule of exercise, breaky, coffee & papers, lunch, rest, afternoon swim, dinner is easy to take and is occasionally interrupted by dinner out with friends, talks at Darwin library or later in the month by a fantastic opportunity to visit the famous Kakadu National Park.

Our friends Jeff & Tricia kindly invited us to join them for a four day trip to the park. As it’s the very end of the dry season or more accurately the middle of what is known as “the build up” the park is quite warm, very dry and almost completed devoid of tourists. Jeff and Tricia picked us up in their four wheel drive towing their camper trailer early one morning. Greg and I have not been in many cars for a while so it was quite luxurious to be sitting in the rear of a beautifully air conditioned car driven through some of the Northern Territory's best scenery. With stops at Fogg Dam and Window on the Wetlands before morning tea, we were reminded of how quickly you can travel in a vehicle and how slowly we usually travel from one place to another by bicycle. The first night was spent at Ubirr in the Merl camping area, along with a substantial number of Australia’s fly population, just to the western side of the East Alligator river, which also forms the western boundary to the Aboriginal reserve Arnhem Land. We walked up Ubirr to overlook the Nadab floodplain, now quite dry and on fire. The fire and smoke was being whipped up by a stiff breeze which bought more threatening clouds, but no rain. Jeff and Tricia’s camper is very impressive, and as its name suggests, probably is the Ultimate way to accommodate yourself in outback Australia. Greg and I set up just the inner of the tent, and, for the first time in a few months spent the night on our sleeping mats on the ground. The following day, after a walk along the Manngarre track on the western banks of the East Alligator river we set off for a place called Nourlangie. Nourlangie features a circular walk that takes you past some Aboriginal art sites, or graffiti sites as Greg likes to call them, and then to the Gun-warddehwardde lookout (Try saying that when you’ve had a few wines.) with impressive views of the Kakadu escarpment. We caught up with a few tourists here, but most were of the white running shoe brigade and didn’t venture too far from the air conditioned coach. The previous day we had decided that, given the heat, it’s now at least 40˚C, we’d stay near either a swimming hole, hopefully without crocs, or a pool.  By unanimous vote the Gagudju Lodge and camping area, at a place called Cooinda, was our destination and camping spot for the next couple of days. Once there we set up in the shade, Jeff & Tricia in their luxurious soft bedded, electric fanned, refrigerator equipped camper, Greg and I on the ground in our tent. The pool beckoned and we spent most of the afternoon, some swimming, some wallowing (Greg) until later in the afternoon when we went for a walk to the Home Billabong.  We think we’ve been exceptionally lucky because whilst during the day the flies can be a bit annoying there are almost no mosquitoes whatsoever. In the evening the flies go to wherever flies go to sleep and so we’re free to enjoy a more moderate temperature and, of course, some cold beer and wine before dinner.

From the camping ground at Cooinda, the next day we headed to the Mary River region of Kakadu and more specifically to Gunlom or Waterfall Creek. As the name suggests, there’s a water fall, which at the bottom may provide a comfortable residence to a croc or two so we climbed to the top of the falls where not only was the view fantastic there was a beautiful water hole which provided a great place to have a swim. We were the only people there and the bird life and scenery was just magic. From Gunlom we hopped in the car and drove to another water hole called Maguk where we, and the flies, enjoyed a picnic lunch and another swim before returning to the camp ground for a wallow in the pool.

Our last day in Kakadu included a walk around Yellow Water which is a fantastic wetland teeming with birds before heading down Jim Jim Road back towards Darwin via the South Alligator River. Coming back to the relative civilisation of Darwin was a bit of a culture shock after the last fours days, however made a little easier by a very pleasant lunch at a garden centre of all places where Greg and I had what we reckon is one of the best Pad Thai’s we’ve had for a long time.

My birthday at the end of the month provided us with an opportunity to try one of Darwin’s best restaurants, Pee Wees. We invited Jeff and Tricia to help celebrate and whilst they had been to the restaurant before, they had not been for some time.  It did not disappoint, we had a lovely dinner with some nice wines and it was great way to celebrate any birthday, great company, with good food and wine.