Kaaa-kaaa du-du-du

Trip Start Nov 08, 2003
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Trip End Oct 22, 2004


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Saturday, August 7, 2004

04/06/04

Our planned egg and bacon breakfast this morning was cancelled due to lack of gas reaching the cooker so it was back to Kea where a lovechild of Crocodile Dundee and Barry Manilow found a hidden isolation valve which hadn't been turned on.

Finally we could get cracking back south before turning off along the Arnhem Highway towards the Kakadu National Park and 8,000 square miles of plains, cliffs, rivers and waterfalls full of the animal kingdom's most dangerous and annoying creatures.

25km along the highway where the road crosses the Adelaide River was our chance to see one of the world's most terrifying sights wild in all it's hard green fleshy glory, a crocodile. But these weren't just your bulk standard hide-in-the-grass-and-creep-up-behind-you type, oh no, these prehistoric pets had added a new dimension to their repertoire of pounces in the shape of high jump out of the water from a lying position, not even birds were safe in these murky waters. The only way to get up close and personal was on board a boat with the 'Original Famous Jumping Crocodile Boat Ride' so we booked ourselves on the 11am tour.

It was a nice hot 90-odd degrees as we sat on the bank waiting for the off before taking our front row seats for the 90-minute trip. The boat had only been going 30 seconds before we spotted our first croc making its way over from the opposite bank which came as a bit of a shock as only a few minutes earlier we'd been sitting near the edge with our backs to the river!

The captain gave an informative commentary as his female accomplice held out a lump of pork from a fishing rod and began teasing the man-eater into performing a Fosbury flop in the same way you'd play with a kitten with a ball of wool. After a few frustrated snaps the croc lowered its tail into the water for leverage and shot skywards to rip the meat from the line. Its whole body had been visible above the water as the croc body-popped itself towards the food before crashing back into the water to swim off and devour its butcher-bought prey.

We drifted slowly downriver and each kilometre the big male croc that 'owned' that particular section of river would swim out towards the boat for a free lunch and our guide would inform us of their suitably scary names like Agro, Half-Jaw and WhiteHead. In quiet periods a feisty female half the size of a male would take the opportunity to drift towards us for a sneaky steak and the chance to show us that the female of the species could jump even higher and every now and again they'd get twitchy, feign a headache and slink off quietly as they sensed a male nearby.

The male croc's general grumpiness is one of nature's biggest conundrums as each male is generally surrounded by a harem of around forty flirtatious fillies. The reason? When croc eggs are laid, if the temperature they're kept at stays at 31.7 degrees centigrade the outcome is a baby boy, if it fluctuates one iota it's a girl. Useless fact number 46 and counting.

It had been a good mornings croc-spotting according to our commentator and as we headed back to base we were told a few horror stories involving hungry crocs and complacent humans, including a recent episode when three mates went quad-biking along the river not far from here and one of them fell into the river complete with helmet and leathers after the bank gave way under his feet. There just so happened to be a nice big specimen sunbathing around the corner who heard the splash of a slap-up meal falling into his murky backyard. The unfortunate bikers' mates could do nothing but scramble up the nearest tree as they saw their mate disappearing between a set of powerful jaws with a resigned look on his face. (Not too sure why they didn't scream off on their bikes?) It wasn't long before the croc was sat beneath the tree showing off their now expired friend between his pearly whites. The two boys sat stunned in the tree as the croc slithered off to finish his entree before returning to wait at the bottom of the tree for one of the others to fall asleep and drop from the boughs into his waiting jaws. For 30 hours the croc licked its lips and waited for a fleshy fruit to fall from the branches before a helicopter eventually spotted the trembling twosome and airlifted them to safety leaving an angry croc still waiting for its main course and dessert. Don't have nightmares kids.

After the yarns had been told and everyone was duly spooked one of the guides then dropped the remaining fat and gristle over the side of the boat for the congregating flock of Black Kites that were circling our heads to swoop down and pick up the scraps with their claws. These birds were also nicknamed 'Fire Birds' because of the clever way they circle bushfires in order to pick off scarpering insects for lunch, and after they'd had their fill of one area they'd pick up a smoldering twig, fly somewhere they knew had juicy morsels before dropping the twig and starting another insect-revealing fire. Clever stuff and useless fact number 47 to boot. It had been an intriguing hour and a half insight into the lives of performing crocs with an excellent sharp-witted running commentary from our skipper.

We said see ya later alligator and 100km east along the highway we were finally crossing into Kakadu National Park with an hours more driving to Jabiru, our campsite for the night. On arrival we did our tourist duty and headed straight for another award-winning tourist information centre called Bowali where we invested in a couple of mini boomerangs before checking into a top-notch caravan park with pool, bar and bistro once again. It was still warm as we sat outside being eaten alive by ultra-persistent flies then in the evening we cooked a barbie while mosquitoes gorged on our limbs but all this was still preferable than a nibble from a you-know-who.


5/6

Another scorching day awaited the brunette as she set off on her regular half hour jog while I slumbered in bed having nightmares about gangs of 200-foot long crocodiles and for breakfast we kept our English values thriving with boiled eggs and Earl Grey tea shunning the local morning delicacies of Vegemite and XXXX.

Today we'd take a look at some 20,000-year-old rock art and some stunning views across even older landscapes. First on the list was Ubirr, a whole Tate Gallery of ancient etchings depicting the day-to-day comings and goings of the Aborigine's first tribes with the added attraction of a clamber up a gradual rock face for a vast outlook across the national park. We then drove around the corner, through floodways warning of wandering crocs and onto the Kakadu Highway for an action-replay of rock art and views at Nourlangie Rock.

After another couple of hundred kilometres had ticked off the clock we arrived at Pine Creek where we rejoined the Stuart Highway for another hour behind the wheel back to Katherine. Still suffering from cattle paranoia, alien paranoia and now croc paranoia our driving tactics would be to slipstream a juggernaut with bull-bars up to its wing-mirrors in the hope that it would clear the road of any unwanted creatures like a battering ram. It was a tactic that could backfire but we were sticking to it.

We arrived back in Katherine by dusk and headed for our first choice campsite which turned out to be fully booked. We were pointed in the direction of a soap opera sound-alike of a site called Knotts Crossing and expecting the worst we landed the last space going complete with ensuite amenities at the knockdown price of $20.


6/6

We set off nice and early this morning with the prospect of 700km driving ahead of us south along a strangely familiar highway. It was familiar because it was the self-same road we'd travelled up on and as this was the only decent road in these parts it was the only way we were going to make our way across to Queensland.

We stopped on our way out of town in Woolies for petrol and grub before coming across a disturbing sign on the front of a first-floor window. It was even more terrifying than 'Beware wandering stock', 'Do not loiter, crocs around!' and 'Welcome to the New Den'.

It read 'Deloitte Chartered Accountants'. God help us.

We eventually began to make good progress as the mileage on the signs for Tennant Creek counted down. Once again the outside temperature hit the mid-nineties and once again we hit some wildlife as a small bird ricocheted off the top of the van and left a smidgeon of its insides behind.

We arrived back at the Outback Caravan Park for the second time in our travels by late afternoon and sat outside sunning ourselves in thankfully fly-free conditions and we rested our barbie-only tummies that evening for a plateful of Spag Bol.


7/6

Yet another 700km of straight roads and bleak saltbush scenery awaited us as we arrived 15 minutes north of Tennant Creek at the famous 'Three Ways' junction. Head north and it's 1,000km of nothing to Darwin, go south and it's a 1,000km dodge-the-cattle drive to Ayers Rock and point east and it's 500km of desolation to the Queensland border. Tough choice.

We headed east along Australia's very own Highway 66, otherwise known as the Barkly Highway. A 200km trance-like drive later and we arrived at the Barkly Homestead for fifty litres of BP's finest and as we entered the large main building to pay we were surprised to see that although we were now well and truly in the middle of nowhere, the Barkly Homestead was a really nice atmospheric establishment with tempting restaurant serving homemade pies and equally tempting pool room of the slate-bedded kind. We left with just a sticker and a full tank for the remaining 3-hour push for the state-line, and as we neared the border a procession of wallaby corpses lined the road with snacking eagles keeping guard over their road kill and in the distance a lone woman trudged along the side of the road being followed by a campervan and on local radio we were to find out she was in fact spending the year walking around Australia for charity.

We now passed signs welcoming us to Queensland and put our watches half an hour forward as we entered another time-zone then looked up to find a whole new world again. Each state had been like a different country and Queensland was no different as the scenery turned scruffier and the once cut back verges of the Northern Territory became overgrown. The NT had mown back the tall grass and bushes on the side of their roads by about 15 foot to stop pranksters of the furry kind from taking you by surprise and running into the middle of the road (although that didn't stop our mad cow). The Queensland government obviously had other ideas and let native shrubbery grow wild up to the tarmac which was unnerving to say the least.

We stopped just over the border in the dusty town of Camooweal for refreshments before heading onwards towards our stopover town of Mount Isa. Signs were dotted along the road for the next 200km warning us of continuously unfenced roads with the added challenge of a single-lane of highway to contend with for most of the journey. Boy, did we have fun, and right on cue we rounded a corner to the sight of a couple of courting cows having a stroll in the middle of the road but this time we had ample time to slow down and wait for them to cross. Roadtrains would steam by us in the middle of the road as we pulled over onto the verge to let them by and the blue skies we'd enjoyed in NT were gradually clouding over. Our first impressions of Queensland were not good.

We eventually arrived in the mining town of Mount Isa and were greeted by a massive billboard welcoming us to the 'Birthplace of Champions' with images of Greg Norman, Pat Rafter and a couple of semi-famous sports people. Somehow we found the optimistically titled 'Sunset Caravan Park' as the smog from the chimneys would put paid to seeing the sun setting and secured the last space in the park once more wedged between two families of permanent caravan dwellers to put it kindly.

Today had seemed like a very long drive and in the last four days we'd amassed another 2,000km under our belts. Still, not far now, only the whole east coast of Australia to go . . .


Crocodile Dundee I & II
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