August 2017
  • Day1

    Northern travels

    August 19, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    19 August 2017

    T and I are off on our next adventure. This time we are staying within Oz and heading to the wilds of Darwin and the Northern Territory.

    We left Sydney at 9.40am on a Virgin Australia Boeing 737-400. The plane was about three quarters full and it was a good flight. Flying over the Northern Territory you really appreciate how big Australia is and just how empty it is.

    We arrived in Darwin 30 mins ahead of schedule which was a nice change. First thing I noticed as we were coming in to land was that there wasn't the usual suburban sprawl, we seemed to come in over bush and then there was the airport. Darwin has a population of about 150,000 so it is quite a small city.

    We made our way off the plane, collected our bags, and grabbed a cab to the hotel. The cabbie was a tad confused and dropped us in the wrong place but we soon worked out where we should be. The Dawin City Edge Hotel is more of a budget accommodation venue but our tour leaves from here so we are staying here for 2 nights. After booking in and dumping our bags we went for a walk around the city.

    Darwin has a feel of a country town along the lines of Wagga. We dropped into the local Irish Pub (as you do) and grabbed a refreshing drink. And then wandered around town admiring the sites.

    It is also a very new town. With the bombings and Cyclone Tracy in 1974 most of the old buildings in town were destroyed. There are only 4 original fibro buildings left and many old stone buildings in the centre of town were destroyed in the war. There are a few high-rise buildings that might be up to 20 stories but most are low-rise buildings. It is also a very young persons' town with a lot of people up here working in mining or backpackers just passing through - there are a lot of camper vans around.

    The city is only a couple of blocks square so looking around doesn't take very long. We headed over towards the water and down towards the wharf area. There has been a lot of development in this area with new flats, restaurants, and a water park opening recently. Of course you casn't swim in the open water as there are either jelly fish that will kill you or crocodiles that will eat you so this new water park is a good idea. By a quirk of geography Darwin doesn't get any waves so the wave pool at the water park is particularly popular.

    T and I grabbed a feed and then wandered back to the hotel for an early night.

    Tomorrow we explore some more!
    Read more

  • Explore, what other travelers do in:
  • Day2

    Hanging out in Darwin City

    August 20, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 25 °C

    20 August 2017
    Darwin - history and exploring

    Today we had a quick breakfast at the hotel before heading up to the Tourist Information Centre to organise a few tours while we are in town. We dropped by the Paspalley Pearl shop and had a chat with the lady who explained all the different types and colours of pearls, very interesting but also very expensive.

    We scored some tickets on the obligatory Big Red Bus and organised some activities for when we get back from Mary River - but more on that later. We hopped aboard the bus and went for a drive. The P&O Pacific Eden arrived this morning so there are a huge number of tourists around, luckily the ship leaves at 11pm so it should all go back to normal.

    Darwin has been destroyed 4 times over the years, three times by cyclones and once by the Japanese. Of course cyclone Tracy in 1974 was the most destructive and our first stop at the Museum and Art Gallery had a whole gallery devoted to the cyclone and its impact. In short around 70 people died, 71% of all dwellings were destroyed, and it was complete devastation. They use steel poles for power lines out here because of the termites they had one in the museum that was completely bent over. The Navy patrol boat HMAS Arrow was destroyed when it hit the wharf. They don't know what the maximum wind speed was because the instruments were blown away but they estimate it was over 200 kph.

    Of course the Navy were the first help on the scene and this was recognised in the museum. It significantly changed Darwin and continues to impact today in the way the City has evolved since and in the future. All buildings are of course now built to withstand cyclones and the Harbour now has safe anchorages for ships and boats of various sizes.

    Anyway the museum was interesting, as well as the Cyclone exhibit they had lots of info about the animals, bugs, and sea life around the top end - and there are a LOT of bugs.

    We then hopped back on the bus and went up to East Point which is the old military base for Darwin. They had a couple of big 5 inch guns in large concrete emplacements as well as lots of interesting stuff from the various wars, The Navy was well represented. Around 10% of the population is employed by the military so it is a big part of the economy up here. The Patrol Boat base is just on the edge of town and there is a big US Marine presence here as well.

    The bus the wound its way back to the waterfront area we explored yesterday so we had a beer on the wharf before going into the Royal Flying Doctors Museum. Very well done with a hologram of John Flynn talking about how the service came to be and what it means to people up here.

    After that we caught the last bus into town and walked back to the Hotel. Just down from the Hotel is Mindil Beach and every Sunday during the dry season they have the Minddil Beach markets which was quite big for Darwin. Everyone grabbed some dinner and then walked up and sat on the beach to eat and watch the spectacular sunset - they have really good sunsets up here.

    We wandered around for a bit and then headed back to the Hotel.

    Tomorrow our tour begins!
    Read more

  • Day3

    Darwin to Mary River

    August 21, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 32 °C

    21 August 2017
    Darwin to Mary River

    Today we started our 4 day tour of the top end and joined the bus at our Hotel. There are 32 people on the tour and suffice to say we would be in the younger section of the group, some people look like they would remember the Dreamtime. Our driver is Sharon and our guide is Meaghan.

    The bus trip out of Darwin was ... quick. Remember Darwin is very small so getting out of town was easy. The first stop was a place called Howard Springs.

    Howard Springs is a small lake with a weir to make it reasonably deep. You can't swim in it now due to pollution but during the war and afterwards it was an R&R stop for troops who built some of the amenities. Even though you can't swim in it it did have something of interest - big Barramundi! Meaghan dropped some pilchards in the water and some huge Barra came up for a feed. These fish were easily 1 metre long and very aggressive. No one fishes here because you can't eat the fish so they are a bit of an attraction. As well as the Barra there were other fish and a few tortoises that came in for a feed.

    The next stop was Fogg Dam. This is a dam that was built back in the 50's (I think) as part of a planned rice industry so it is very large but also very shallow, the dam wall would be less than a metre or two high. The rice industry didn't work out because of the masses of birds that flew in for a feed so it is now a wetland area that is home to millions of birds and an unknown number of saltwater crocs.

    A note about crocs. The Northern Territorians are very croc-aware. There are signs everywhere and our tour guides are constantly reminding us to keep 5m away from the water and to always be aware. Interestingly there are parts of Kakadu where they remove the crocs after the wet season so people can swim - places like Jim Jim Falls - I'm not sure how they can guarantee they have cleared all the crocs and Meaghan swears she won't swim there. Anyway we get more than our share of croc encounters in the next few days.

    Fogg Dam also showed evidence of another Territory issue - feral animals. Wild pigs and water buffaloes had obviously been doing a lot of digging in the mud around the dam. The other pest is the cane toad but we'll come to that in a bit.

    They do a good job of educating people about the wetlands and environment. The next stop was at a Windows to the Wetlands centre that explained for the wetlands work and the issues they face. It also had spectacular views across the Adelaide River flood plain to the river itself - all of which is under water in the wet season.

    Lunch was at the Corroboree Billabong followed by a cruise on the billabong itself. Billabong means permanent water and of course crocs. We were loaded onto 3 pontoons with outboards and set of for a couple of hours. It wasn't long till we saw our first croc which was a small fresh water one and then a few more bigger saltwater ones. The Corroboree Billabong is off the Mary River which has the highest concentration of crocs of any river in the north. As well as the crocs there was an amazing collection of bird life with Jabirous, Kites, White Crested Sea Eagles, and many others all making an appearance.

    On the way back to our launch place one croc actually came out and circled the boat. They have a habit of attacking the outboard engines and the thought is this particular croc has been one that a tourist boat somewhere has fed and so he associates boats with food. He will probably have to be reported as a problem croc and moved to a wildlife park somewhere.

    After lunch it was on to the Mary River Wilderness Retreat, our home for the next 3 days. We are in a neat little cabin and it is all pretty comfortable. After dinner in the dining room we walked out on the deck (the only place where you get intermittent phone reception) and found at least a dozen cane toads hopping around - they are a major issue up here and you can see why, there were loads of them. They slowly hop out of your way but we might play kick-a-toad at some stage.

    Tomorrow we check out Kakadu!
    Read more

  • Day4


    August 22, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    22 August 2017

    After breakfast we boarded the bus and headed for Kakadu. This park is massive and is Australia's largest terrestrial national park. Being so big and popular means it takes a lot of careful planning to manage it properly so it is jointly managed by the Federal Government, NT Government, and the traditional owners.

    Out first stop was at the signpost for the entrance to the park, there is a photo below. In the photo you can also see a road train, these are quite common and are usually as long as 4 semi traillers and will have over 70 tyres on them. After a few photos we went on a bit further and stopped to view the escarpment that runs through the park, really spectacular. Sharon told us some of the aboriginal stories associated with how it all came about.

    Next stop was Nourlangie Rock. This is a large sandstone outcrop that has some spectacular cave art dating back hundreds of years as well as some more recent work from the last hundred years. It is difficult to date aboriginal rock art so they have to do it from what is painted, if there are white men then it is recent, if there are extinct animals (like the thylacine) then it is older, and if there are giant kangaroos then it is really old. The aborigines also paint over old paintings so some areas have been painted for centuries. We climbed up to the top of the rock and had a magnificant view over the East Alligator River flood plain and across the escarpment.

    Next was a short trip up the road to Cahills Crossing. Named after a pastoralist from the early 1800s this is the entry into Arnhem Land and you can only access this area by permission or if you are one of the traditional owners. The causeway across the river is a favourite for 4 wheel drivers who seem to just go across and then come back. The causeway is great for fishing as well which means it is a fantastic spot for crocs. Indeed a few people have lost their lives to croc attack here and by my quick count there were 21 big crocs (some were a good 4 metres long) in about 200m of the causeway - and that was just the ones I could see. The river here is tidal so the crocs hang out catching the mullet that swim up stream. Crocs can stay under water for over an hour and the water was the colour of milk coffee so there would have been many more than the ones I could see. There were a couple of guys fishing here despite the signs and the bunch of flowers in memory of one of the victims.

    Suffice to say we kept well away from the water.

    Next was more rock art and stunning scenery from Ubirr Rock. This is a different tribe to Nourlangie Rock so the stories are a bit different. The geology of the rocks are also different with lumps of quartz through the sandstone. The art was just as interesting and Sharon told us some of the stories about the art. We are close to the uranium mine and the aborigines knew the area where the mine is located as a 'sickness area' so they avoided going there, in their paintings they showed some people who were sick from being in that area. Sharon also explained some of the aborginal culture and how their society functioned - who is your brother/sister (not just immediate siblings, all cousins are counted as well), who you are allowed to marry (that one is confusing but suffice to say they had it well worked out to avoid in-breeding), and once you are married you can't talk directly to your previous family (though there are ways around that). All very interesting.

    Last stop for the day was Bowali Visitors Centre for an ice cream and then back to the Mary River resort.

    Tomorrow is a day of rest!
    Read more

  • Day5

    Mary River Wilderness Retreat

    August 23, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    23 August 2017
    Mary River

    Today was spent hanging out at the Mary River Retreat. It is well set up with about 26 cabins plus caravan and camping sites located on the banks of the Mary River, we are about 120kms south east from Darwin. There are a mob of wallabies that help mow the lawn, a number of nasty crocs down by the river, and a multitude of bird life that all live here.

    Our tour group has filled all the cabins but there are a few caravans and tents down closer to the river - I wouldn't be keen on being in a tent when there are crocs about but they reckon it is safe.

    After breakfast T and I went for a walk around the grounds. The grounds are quite big and during the wet season they have been cut off because of the flood waters. We said hello to a few local wallabies and head up for a culture walk.

    A local aboriginal bloke called Travis and his Mum (not birth mother, probably one of his aunties) came past to explain some things to us and to talk about how they use some of the local plants, Travis had just come back from 6 months in Melbourne and would be about 20. They gave us a proper 'Welcome to Country' greeting which involved sprinkling some water over our heads, very important as it shows respect to the spirits of their ancestors. He took us for a walk around the grounds explaining what some of the trees are and how they use them, some are for spears, some are for making dilly bags, some are for soothing teething children, and much more. He was really interesting and had a great sense of humour.

    We had a quiet day around the retreat.

    In the afternoon Meaghan took us for a cruise on the Mary River. The Mary River has the highest number of crocs per kilometre of any river in the NT and we saw quite a few. On a sad note Meaghan did say 4 years ago 2 blokes from Katherine dared each other to swim across the river and they both made it fine but then they decided to swim back and one of them was taken. These crocs are very aggressive and very big, you cannot afford to be complacent around them.

    It was really nice spending time on the river.

    On returning to our cabin we found we had a visitor. A little gecko was up on the wall keeping the bugs under control!

    Tomorrow it is on to Litchfield!
    Read more

  • Day6

    Litchfield National Park

    August 24, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 31 °C

    24 August 2017

    Our last day of the tour was spent in Litchfield National Park.

    Litchfield is an old pastoral lease that was found to not be viable so it was made a national park. It doesn't have the World Heritage listing Kakadu has but is is still well looked after and has a lot of great spots to visit.

    One thing T and I have noticed as we travel around is that there are loads of tourists and backpackers. Many are from Europe we have come across Italians, Germans, Dutch (we think), and of course the ubiquitous Irish. The Mary River Retreat has a number of transient workers some stay a week, some many months but they are a valuable work force for the NT.

    First stop was the termite mounds, these insects are everywhere through the NT. They are actually not an ant but are more closely related to the cockroach. There are a number of different types of termite but of the 2 we saw today one builds the giant cathedral nests and the other builds the magnetic mounds.

    The termites expand their nests during the wet season picking up the wet soil and moving it to the top of the mounds without ever going outside. They say that 70% of the trees in the NT are termite affected and I would believe it, their mounds are everywhere and there are very few big trees up here. The magnetic termites are interesting, they have in-built compasses so they always build their nest in a fan shape running north/south. Scientists have set up false magnetic fields around the nest and sure enough the termites started aligning their nest to the new north/south.

    We then moved on to Florence Falls for a swim. These are spring-fed falls so they run right through the dry season. The pool was very deep, I couldn't stand, and it was very invigorating hanging off the wall under the falls. We then moved on to our next swimming spot Wangi Falls. These falls were bigger than Florence Falls but not as much water was going over them. Still it was a great swim on a very hot day.

    A note about the weather. It is the dry season of course so no rain and the temperatures have been over 34 degrees each day with high but not outrageous humidity. Around December the monsoons will arrive and flood everything.

    On the way back to Darwin we dropped by a mango farm for some mango ice cream and then headed back to Darwin

    The Mary River Retreat was excellent and is highly recommended. I have learned a lot in the last few days and have a greater respect for this country and the people who manage it.

    Tomorrow we head to the Tiwi Islands.
    Read more

  • Day7


    August 25, 2017 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 26 °C

    25 August 2017
    Bathurst Island in the Tiwi Island group

    We had an early start this morning as we had to catch the ferry at 8am. The lady in the Tourist Info Centre suggested we do a day trip to Bathurst Island which along with Melville Island forms part of the Tiwi Island Group.

    These Islands were settled by Catholic Missionaries in the late 1800s and now they have a blend of Catholic Christianity and their own customs and beliefs. They go to Church as you would expect but then their marriage and funeral ceremonies are very much along traditional lines. They have a claim to fame in WW2 in that they saw all the Japanese planes flying over towards Darwin and the missionaries radioed Darwin to warn them but they didn't pay attention to them as they thought it was a flight of US planes. Needless to say it wasn't. By radioing Darwin the Japanese intercepted the message and so strafed Bathurst Island settlement on their return journey.

    Bathurst Island was also the place where the first Japanese POW was taken as one of their planes crashed landed and the pilot was captured. He later died in the attempted breakout of Cowra POW camp.

    Our trip today included the ferry out there and back as well as a welcome to country ceremony, walking tour of the settlement, and some screen printing.

    The ferry trip was excellent. We were on a very new Incat catamaran the Tommy Lyons that was very comfortable and could really move, the engineer said we were running at close to 24 knots which is pretty good. It was a little windy which made some waves but but nothing you could call rough and no worse than what you get in Botany Bay. Like I said before a quirk in geography means Darwin doesn't get waves as it is sheltered from the open sea so our trip across the Arafura Sea was very good. All up it took about 2 hours to get there.

    Once we arrived we had to be ferried ashore by a small landing craft as they don't have a wharf. This craft usually ferries people and vehicles between Bathurst and Melville Islands. We arrived at close to high tide and the current in the Aspley Straight which is the channel between Bathurst and Melville was extremely strong. Tides around Darwin can change water levels by up to 8 metres so they couldn't bring the ferry too close to shore and that is probably the main reason why they don't have a wharf.

    Of course there were crocs and stingers so you didn't go in the water.

    The Tiwi Islands welcome to country ceremony involved smoke. They lit a small fire and added green leaves from the Iron Wood Tree which made a bit of smoke that we all walked through and were cleansed of any bad spirits we brought across from the mainland. This was followed by some traditional dancing.

    There are 8 tribes in the Tiwi Island (4 on Melville and 4 on Bathurst) and one of the biggest events on the Tiwi Islands is AFL and of course there are 8 teams. We walked past the primary school and all the kids were playing AFL barefoot in the playground, it is a huge thing for the islands.

    After the ceremony we walked around town. They have a good museum that explains some of their traditional stories and a beautiful old wooden church. The 2017 Senior Australian of the Year was Sister Ann from the Tiwi Islands. She did a lot of work with the locals and is much loved.

    The old wooden church was actually used in the movie Australia. It was built in 1941 and was an interesting mix of traditional christian icons as well as the Tiwi people's traditional painting and decorating.

    The islands were lucky in 1974 in that Cyclone Tracy came close and did dump a lot of rain but the worst of it actually missed the islands so they have a number of old houses around town.

    After the walk and a quick lunch we were given a try at screen printing. The Tiwi Islands are a well known art area. They make and sell many traditional implements and carvings as well as screen print fabrics and clothes for sale. The art area has been running since the late 60s and is a good source of income for the area. Anyway we could print on the tea towel, t-shirt, or piece of cloth and the results were actually very good for a bunch of amateurs.

    After our art efforts we had to get back out to the ferry and head back to Darwin. By this time the tide had dropped a heap. The really big landing barge they use for building supplies and any other heavy stuff was well and truly beached (see the photos).

    The trip back was even better than the trip out as the wind had dropped so the sea was very calm.

    After a laksa dinner at the Deck Bar we called it a day.

    Tomorrow we are back to Sydney.
    Read more

  • Day8

    Darwin City

    August 26, 2017 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    26 August 2017
    Last day in Darwin

    Today was our last day hanging around Darwin.

    We headed up into the City and looked around some of the shops. The NT Parliament House is quite big and impressive, see the photos. Like I said before there are few old buildings around that survived the cyclones and war but we did find a couple around the City Centre.

    My impressions of Darwin and the Northern Territory: really great place. We have had a fantastic holiday and would love to come back again in the future.

    So until our next trip, thanks for reading and see you around!
    Read more