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Written by Peter Smith   
Thursday, 23 April 2009 12:39
Article Index
Northern Territory
Kakadu Nature Reserve
Catherine to Daly Waters
Daly Water to Alice Springs
Alice Springs to Kings Canyon
Kings Canyon to Uluru
Uluru
All Pages


Day 73: Monday 3rd December - Darwin to Kakadu Nature Reserve

 

Not so much a new day but the continuation of the night before. Made a perfect landing at Darwin at 1.30am fulfilling a forty year ambition. At last I was about to know whether my decission not to emmigrate in 1967 for the love of the UK folk scene was good or bad one. As I walked up the tunnel to customs a female airport worker coming down looked up at me and said 'g'day'. The perfect welcome to Oz.

We had heard so many bad stories about trying to get into Oz so even as we stood waiting to be processed we weren't sure of actually being allowed in. As the customs officer looked at both of our passports and the screen she leaned over to the officer next to her and said 'why does it keep saying this?' For a split second I was convinced that Visas4Oz had botched our ETAs. The other officer looked over and said 'it's ok'. We were in!

The Youth Shack Hostel was closed and in darkness when we arrived and as we stood waiting for someone to come and open up the humidity engulfed everything and within a few minutes my body had gone into meltdown. The temperature was a cool 30 degrees and I later found out it was the second hottest night in over thirty years. The humidity which is the real killer was a staggering 89%. Things only got worse when we entered the hostel and our room. I was sharing with three others and no one had thought to switch the air con on. The room must have been in the 100s. Lucky for me the others allocated me the top bunk just under the air con unit which blasted out cold air for the few remaining hours in Darwin.

Out the four of us one went and slept outside by the pool, one lay reading by the light of his torch and John and myself slept and missed breakfast which we were assured by Anne was one of the best ever. Before boarding the bus went with John to get new simcards for our phones and had my first experience of Oz sarcasm. While setting up the account Craig made polite conversation.

'Where ya from mate?'

'England'

'Pity about the cricket team'

I replied 'The gov'ts not much better'.

'Better than the one which sent convicts out here to the sand and sun'.

I should have replied pity about your rugby team or words to that effect and given him a run for his money but he caught me off guard, melting still and tired. A g'day and a dig at the English within a couple of hours of landing. I could get to like this place if it ever cools down to just boiling.

When we arrived back at the hostel our new bus with driver and guide Rick was waiting. Although he didn't start having a go at the English he had the same indifference and sense of humour as Craig. Within twenty minutes he'd given us the itinerary for the next couple of days and did it in a way that convinced everyone it would happen. No bullshit! His presentation ended to general applause and I think he was surprised by it.

Within an hour or so we were fulfilling the first event watching crocodiles jumping for food. No sooner had the boat left the river quay than the first croc made for it. As the lump of meat dangled over its head it carefully and slowly positioned itself and then lifted a good third of its body out of the water snapping at the bait. After a couple more attempts he was allowed to grab the meat and our attention was drawn to croc two on the other side of the boat.

Our attention was being drawn to each new croc by the none stop Ben Elton type talking captain.

'Who they're mean ladies and gentlemen.

Pure killing machine ladies and gentlemen'.

And they'll eat you ladies and gentlemen if you given em the chance.

'And when it's hot and sticky like today and your by a welcoming cool looking pool of water you'll given em the chance'.

'There everywhere ladies .... and so on and so on'.

Intermindled with all this showmanship blurb he also gave us the statistics how crocs were hunted to extinction, before being protected for the past 30 years. They will only eat something smaller than its' own body size and are only now again reaching the size of mankillers. Every year more people are being attacked and this will increase as the crocs getter bigger. They live a similar age to humans and grow at the same rate. Most of the specimens we encountered were, according to the voice, about 3 metres long and would kill given the chance when hungry. Much of his comments were intended as a serious warning to people not to swim if the sign says not to.

'Hoo and you will ladies ...' and so on etc. Why would anyone be stupid enough to swim with crocodiles?

After the hour feeding the crocs we were entertained by two beautiful three to four foot long water pythons who didn't seem to mind being wrapped round people's necks etc. We were told to go and wash our hands, arms etc if we had sun tan lotion on.


 

 Day 74: Tuesday 4th December - Kakadu Nature Reserve

 
Unfortunately this record has been lost and I will have to rewrite it when I have time to check out what we did

 
Day 75: Wednesday 5th December - Catherine to Daly Waters
 
We started out early and went canoeing up the Catherine Gorge for three hours with John as my partner. Had a very pleasant relaxing time just paddling up the river until we came to a point in the river where we would have to carry the canoe to continue the next gorge. After a very pleasant hour just swimming in the beautiful clear water we decided to just take our time and head back down at a leisurely pace. Later found out that the river does have freshwater crocodiles. At one point when we were swimming and fooling about Lauren got out of the water saying she had seen a long object swimming not too far away from us and it was obvious she was serious. I have no doubt we had been swimming with crocodiles, all be it, harmless freshwater ones.

Anne, Noreen and Viv went on a helicopter ride up the gorge but were very disssapointed by it. The pilot kept well away from the gorge and too high to see it or us and take any decent photos. A waist of money.

Lunch in Catherine at Subway

Carried on moving south and called in at a spring which was dugout by soldiers as a makeshift swimming pool and, of course, it was then commandeered by the officers for their own use. The pool offered us the first cool water and everyone, plus another group heading from Alice to Darwin, took the opportunity to swim even though there was a warning sign about crocs.

Arrived at 6.30pm at tonight’s stop the Daly Waters pub. The bus slowed down and came to a stop as it approached a set of traffic lights on red. It then turned onto the ground behind the pub and parked. I later found out the traffic lights are always on red, everyone has to stop at Daly Waters. We were camping using swagger bags. The camp area was right behind the pub and after spending a good 30 minutes trying to set our Mosquito net up between a tree and a makeshift pole we retreated to the pub for a meal. The air around here was filled with various flying insects some big enough to be picked up on a radar screen. A flying beetle the size of a piece of anthracite tried to go through my body and both of us finished up on the floor trying to work out what had hit us. It happily crawled off into the scrub while I beat a quick retreat back to the bar.

This was the first pub since leaving England that I would be happy to call my local. The barman was a young man from Bolton who’d been traveling around Australia for 3 months mainly in the west around Perth, which he loved. He did admit that he was missing his mates back home and the dozen or so inhabitants of Daly Waters, although great, hardly made the place a cosmopolitan town like Bol.. don’t be stupid. If the rest of the town’s folk were anything like the ones in the bar then this place could give any large town in the UK a good run for its money. A group playing pool and dressed like cowboys eventually left the bar, as they do every night according to the landlord, to fight. The landlord’s wife just took the opportunity to commandeer the pool table for a winner-takes-all competition which I just happened to win because everyone else who entered were pissed. We were also provided with fancy dress hats and gear to make the competition even more ridiculous and the pool table was by now covered in what I thought were lace flies: an insect with long lace wings which turned out to be termites. The air, the toilets, the showers, indeed everywhere in and around the pub was covered with these harmless but very annoying creatures.

The pub itself beggared belief consisting of a combination of corrugated sheds encircling a central main bar and garden area. The walls and ceilings were covered with various artifacts left by travellers. These consisted of women’s knickers, a thong tree (flip flops), foreign currency, photographs of individuals and groups all pulling faces. The place was a veritable museum of disused machinery and equipment such as saddles sitting astride a pole and boxes of old military communications equipment etc etc etc.

By the time it got to bedtime we decided against sleeping in swag bags, covered with mosquito nets or not. There was just too much animal life about and the kind barman from Bolton put us in one of their backpack rooms outside. I doubt whether I could have found my way the short distance back to the camp.



Day 76: Thursday 6th December - Daly Water to Alice Springs  

 

The air con in the backpacker room was a complete failure and I regained consciousness in a pool of my own juices. The heat and humidity were unbearable. Much more so than anywhere else we've been to.

The journey to Alice started at 7.30am and it was already causing me to meltdown. Also learned my first important lesson on survival. Went to the loo and as I turned and flushed it a two to three inch long jet black beetle crawled out and fell into the bowl. No problem but it could quite easily have been a Redback. From now on I always lift the toilet seat before sitting.

Within 30 minutes of driving south the scenery changed from tall trees and quite lush terraine to shrubby bushes and arid, semi desert. Hopefully the,however, the humidity levels will fall.

Had a picnic lunch at Mary Ann Dam on route. All went for a swim but the water smelled of earth like a

Alice was a surprise to me, I expected a cross road with a bar and general store, horses and big rough looking, always fighting, comic book residents. In reality it's a town of 22,000 with modern shops and bars etc. We were camping 20 minutes outside the centre of town on the Stuart Caravan Park, so named because of its' proximity to the Stuart Highway the single road stretching from Darwin to Adelaide some 3800 kilometres . Once again the choice was between swags or small tents. Anne decided to go for the tent and avoid insects round her face. I would have gone for the swag, if I snore half as loud as she says no selfrespecting fly would come near me. We arrived latish and got the tent up in no time, had a power shower (pushed me against the tiles) and set off to tonight’s eating place Bojangles. If it is half as good as Daly Waters we’re in for another treat.

When the bus pulled up outside the bar two monsters held the, saloon type, swing doors open and welcomed us in. The inside carried on with the western theme with long benches, beams and a big wood bar selling stock Oz booze: VB (Victoria Bitter), Carlton Bitter, Castlemmaine XXXX and a light premium beer for drivers. I know Australia is upside down but it really does turn things on its head. For instance a premium light is only just over 2% when a premium in the UK would be a strong beer and money gets smaller according to its value e.g. $2 is the smallest coin, $1 is twice as big and a 50 cents is a big clumsy looking coin something like our 50p. As we sat down a dark bold ugly looking bloke came over and explained the situation. He was going away for a few minutes and then coming back to take the order and all the dishes on the menu were $14. The menu was interesting including Kangaroo, Fish & Chips and Lamb Shank, which was my choice. True to his word he was back in a couple of minutes and asked us all to follow him to a counter where he took the orders, gave us a table buzzer which would sound when the order was ready and asked for the money. When Lucinda, usually one of the first in the queue, said we weren't paying he got really shirty and made his way round the counter to throw all 27 of us out single handedly. It was left to me to explain that our leader was paying. This seemed to infuriate him even more and he demanded we brought Leighton to the counter. The food which was ready and waiting, as the buzzer started to vibrate on the wooden table, was better than the night before. My lamb shank was served with well mashed and seasoned potatoes, rich gravy and a salad. Those that had the kangaroo were also impressed. As I started the meal I encountered my first run in with a real Sheila. Anne and myself decided, because the lamb was delicious, to have a glass of Oz Shiraz with it. and as I leaned over the bar to make my order the owner of the three full half pint barrel glasses in front of me and containing something resembling gin or at least clear alcoholic judging by her appearance said 'that's my place'. I should have just moved but instead I explained the situation. My accent immediately provoked a drunken 'where ya from'. My answer didn't help. 'Ya obviously not Australian or ya'd be a gentleman and help me find the green bean I've dropped by the bar'. I was now confronted by a major dilemma. I could play along with her game of taking the piss out of a pomme and letting my tasty lamb go cold or tell her to piss off and cause an ashes type confrontation which I couldn't win. I tried to explain about the food and received another insult about my nationality. I took my head torch from my pocket and shone it at the floor and drew her down 'saying whereabouts did it fall'? Just as she was about to take it one level further the ugly no nonsense barman said to her 'what ya doing?.’ When she explained he said 'piss off back to ya table'. As she walked away carrying the glasses of booz she gave him an I'll get you back for spoiling my fun look, turned to me and said 'thanks for fucking trying'. I rushed back to my lamb feeling I'd been let off lightly thanks to Mr No-nonsense man.

Later I went to the toilet. As I pushed the door handle to enter the doot opened from the otherside as some one came out. Once inside the tap in front of me turned the tap on in the next bowl and the hand dryer started the one next to it. I was beginning to see where Sheila was coming from if the ladies were the same. We decided to leave with the coach and finished the night off drinking wine and whiskey on the campsite with Anne and Noreen. All in all, a good day.
 




Day 77: Friday 7th December - Alice Springs to Kings Canyon

 

We were changing buses today for one which hopefully has air con that works. After unloading everything onto the grass we set of into Alice. Had to buy our seventh camera simcard and found a photography shop quite easily but gasped at the price, £20 for a 2gb Sandisk. This is £14 more than at 7dayshop.com. Oz is not cheap. Bought yet another hat putting me in brother-in-law John’s class. I now have my Arab headset/ scarf from Istanbul, Afghanistan hat from Bilal in Pakistan, Tibetan from the refuge in Darjeeling India, an Australian baseball and now a white, straw fedora.

To be continued.


 

Day 78: Saturday 8th December - Kings Canyon to Uluru
 
Once again original record lost and will have to be rewritten later.

 


Day 79: Sunday 9th December -  Uluru
 
Even though the night was hardly peaceful with the wind and the youngsters we made a very early start to see the sunrise over Uluru.

When we arrived at the visitors car park and made our way to what was considered to be one of the best spots to see the lump of rock change colour I was amazed to find hundreds of different tourists but mainly Japanese all waiting for the magic moment to happen. Unfortunately because of the weather conditions sunrise took place with little effect on the rock and we left a little disappointed but glad to have done it.

We did spend the next couple of hours following the 9.5 kilomotre walk round the base passing all the sacred sections (no photos or entry), watching the amazing birdlife especially near the waterholes. Many were disappointed because they were not allowed to climb to the top of the rock because of the weather conditions the night before which made the climb dangerous. I had already made the decision not climb irrespective of the conditions out of respect for the Aborigines. As we looked up at the path up on to the top I was quite glad it was closed. I have seen many documentaries about the rock but none have really conveyed the height and size of this beast stuck in the middle of the desert.

Went into town and spent most of an hour and bit being pissed about by the two guides who wanted us to go with them to a bar. Eventually went into a shop while we sat outside waiting. When I asked when we were going to the bar Dave said or we're not now it's too far. Thanks alot prat.

Next stop the Olgas which are higher and more extensive than Uluru. Two short walks up the Valley of Winds and a gorge.

Cultural centre typical, boring and very expensive. cultural centres in Oz are to the Aboriginies what casinos are to the American Red Indian

Back to Uluru for the sunset and champagne and nibbles along with hundreds of other tourists. The scene was very amusing with the Japanese all seated drinking from Champagne flutes while we drank champagne and stubbies from plastic mugs. Still it was good but the sunset no better than the sunrise. The atmosphere was great.

Had good fun back at camp with Ben and Das looking at their videos and talking to Das’s mum back in Berwick on Tweed.
 
Last Updated on Thursday, 23 April 2009 13:24