Sunday, June 20, 2010

Top End Stuff

The area around Darwin and Arnhemland is commonly called the ‘top end’. Fairly rough and relatively untamed. Fearsome hot in October – December, dripping wet from December to March or April, and liveable from May to August-ish. Right now is a good time to be here. The day time temps are in the low 30’s and night temps in the high teens, so no surprise there are heaps of Victorians here escaping the southern ‘winter’.

Darwin is renowned as a bit of a frontier town, with a massive beer drinking culture (you can see why – so hot). Article in the local newspaper while we were there last week reported that the Northern Territory has the third highest per capita beer consumption in the world (not sure which places were one and two, but I’m picking they are not in Australia). In Darwin, a 'stubbie' is 2.5 litres! (Or is it 1.5 litres - anyway, a lot) Darwin has been ‘up against it’ in a number of ways, since first founded in about mid 1860’s (I think). First of all, it was very remote from the rest of Australia (still is); the climate is pretty torrid in the wet season; malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases were a big problem until early 1900’s; then the city was bombed by the Japs in February 1942 (nearly 300 lives lost, many on ships in the harbour); then of course Cyclone Tracey flattened the place in December 1974 with winds > 200 miles per hour (more lives lost, officially around 70 I think). Now it is a comfortable, modern city, rebuilt after Tracey. All this means there’s quite a bit of history to see here, and the Museum and Art Gallery which is a good place to get across all this.

We discovered 2 must-do’s in Darwin while we were there:
- on Sunday evening, go to Mindil Beach Market, buy sea food, and watch the sun go down – half Darwin plus all tourists in the area were there last Sunday I reckon
- on the Queens Birthday Monday holiday, head to Litchfield NP for a swim and a frolic in the plunge pools and swimming holes that abound there. Parts of this Park are also still closed, notably the Reynolds River 4WD track which meant that the other half of Darwin and all the tourists in the area were all jammed into 3 or 4 main swimming spots and it was all pretty crowded.

After Darwin, we drove back into Kakadu for a night before setting off for Garig Ganuk Barlu (GGB) NP on the Cobourg peninsula, about 560 km NE of Darwin. En route to Kakadu, we did a 3 hour tour of Corroboree Billabong, part of the Mary River system, about 100 km from Darwin. This was FANTASTIC! If you come up this way, do it. The tour only started this dry season, and costs $55 per person – similar tours at Yellow Waters in Kakadu are > $100 pp, and way more crowded. With Vicky and Mark, we saw:
- about 20 species of birds, some with chicks like the little jacana babies walking with dad
- amazing lotus water lilies, all huge and floppy with purple flowers, very picturesque
- about 5 or 6 crocs, close-up, like about 3 m from the boat, just quietly going about their business except one which took a bit of a lunge in our direction causing everyone to rush to the other side of the boat and nearly toppling us into the water (nah, the last bit didn’t happen, but is was a bit exciting for a while).

The road into GGB NP is a good, easy run and the camp site at Smith Point is a beaut. Hardly a soul about – no caravans, yea! The highlight of our time at GGB NP was the boat trip across Port Essington to the ruins of Victoria settlement, established by the British in 1838 to ward off any attempts by France or Holland to claim northern Australia, and to open up trading between British interests and Asia. Well, the settlement survived for only 11 years though heaps of the original garrison and reinforcements sent from Britain did not – malaria being the main killer, but there were also a couple of cyclones that claimed lives. The largest population supported during those 11 years was just 80 people. Trading never took off – the settlement is 27 km into Port Essington from the heads, about 5-6 days return sailing for any passing ships. And the Dutch and the French weren’t interested in a fight anyway. Ruins of many of the ‘village’ buildings like the married quarters, hospital (the busiest place in town), and the magazine where gunpowder was stored, are still visible. As is the cemetery, and some of the grave sites. Kind of an eerie experience, walking around the place.

Otherwise, there are magnificent beach walks, and a sizeable freshwater lagoon where we startled a small-ish croc yesterday – luckily he/she chose to be startled in the opposite direction to us, cruising off into the reeds in the shallows of the lagoon, while we took some photos of brolgas (large, elegant birds of the crane family). No worries, we saw ‘Crocodile Dundee’ so we know exactly what to do, eh?

Heading south now. Apparently temperatures in Alice Springs have been hitting minus 4 degrees overnight, with daytime maximums of around 14oC. Now, where did we store those coats …


The Chappies

Running total of 9,500 km in 45 days

Freshly shucked oysters and other seafood goodies at Mindil Beach market, Darwin

Find some space if you can. Florence Falls pool, Litchfield NP, Queens B'day Monday. Crocodile heaven

Corroboree Billabong scene - lotus lilies galore

And crocs galore. This one had a bit of lunge at us. About 4 m long

Turtle tracks and nest (beside Jen) on beach, Garig Gunak Barlu NP

Remains of the married quarters at Victoria settlement, Port Essington, ca. 1840


  1. Hi Dave, i'm supposed to be doing some stuff for Ruth n Anne but thought I'd catch up on your blog...far more interesting! definitely making me wistful and jealous at the same time! take it easy (although i'd sure you're adept at that after 2 months on the road!). Callum

  2. Sprung Callum! Now I know why we didn't meet our deadline! :)

    Dave, Jen - have been enjoying these updates. Can't believe you are heading south already. Love the photos - but are you really sure that Jen was standing next to turtle tracks, and not croc tracks??? I wouldn't be taking any chances in that part of the world! :)

  3. Hi Guys - good to see you are as busy as ever!!

    There was some debate about turtle versus croc - but pretty sure it was the former, though there is a resident croc with it's own 'Caution: Crocodile Crossing' sign on the road near by!