It sounds like the sort of joke the girls love: “How many Overlanders does it take to kill a mosquito?”
The answer: “Three. One with the fly swat, one with the electrical mozzie zapper and one pointing them out while laughing manically and turning summersaults on the bed.”
Actually it wasn’t just one mozzie but a whole cloud of them. Here in the Top End of Australia where one mosquito goes so does thousands of its friends, there is no shortage of them here. All of them searching for blood from an innocent victim. Almost to the second as the sun set, they come out in droves. To add to the evening’s discomfort the temperature didn’t drop much below 30°C, even at night, and there was over 80% humidity. We’ve decided it’s the humidity that does it for us, we’ve happily coped in hotter climates but increase the humidity and tempers in the truck start fraying. The Top End might have the most amazing waterfalls; stunning wetlands; an Aboriginal culture dating back 20,000 years and a 500km long sandstone escarpment but you have to sweat for it.
We started the week in Darwin, the biggest town in the Northern Territory, we took the bus into town to check it out. The architecture is pretty modern as the town was almost completely destroyed by Cyclone Tracy just over 40 years ago. Just as the sightseeing started getting too much for the girls, we took them down to the harbour front pool. What a cool idea for such a hot town, a special wave pool just a few hundred metres from the centre. Especially when the real sea, just metres away, is filled with killer jelly fish and saltwater crocodiles. We spent the afternoon bobbing up and down on the waves in rubber rings and boogie boarding
Anything with air con starts to sound pretty attractive in this humidity so we headed to the Northern Territories museum before the sunset market at Mindil Beach. Actually the museum was really interesting and the air con – bliss! The market was lots of fun with assorted “crafty” jewellery sort of stalls and a whole variety of food stalls. We felt far closer to Asia, with the smell of spices and curries drifting from the woks, than the rest of Australia. Which I guess is technically true. We joined the throngs of people down on the sandy beach watching the sunset while slurping mango smoothies.
Leaving Darwin behind we headed south east for Kakadu, on Aboriginal land, it has been leased back to the National Parks board. “The Wet” has only just finished but we were hoping that most of the park would be open. The local Aboriginal people actually split the year into 6 seasons. Not just the insufficiently descriptive “Wet” and “Dry” that the European Australians have. My favourite one is Banggerreng, the “knock ’em down” storm season when the 2m high spear grass gets flattened. Thankfully, we have just missed that one.
Our first afternoon was a beauty. We first went right to the edge of the park to the East Alligator river where it borders Arnheim Land, Aboriginal land that we would require a permit to go to. There is a road causeway across the river that we read was a good place to see salties (saltwater crocodiles) – not alligators, there aren’t any in Australia but the first European explorers up here got a bit confused. Thankfully, considering who we saw there, there wasn’t any sign of the crocs. Just some Aboriginal families catching fish for their tea. Rather them than me I think, I was so cautious I wouldn’t even let the girls off the viewing platform away from the water on their own. I think salties have a well-deserved bad reputation.
From there we took in the rock art sights at Ubirr, some of the paintings are over 20,000 years old. I loved the X-ray style of the barramundi fish. We climbed up the sandstone rocky outcrops to a fabulously lush green view of the wetlands. The breeze was balmy, blowing away all the bugs, as we sat on sun warmed rock and watched the sun sink below the horizon. What a perfect end to the day or so I thought…… I was just tucking the girls in, next to the fans under wet sarongs is the only way to stop them overheating at night, when the mozzies attacked. Following Steve into the truck, the army of insects formed ranks and attacked. An hour later, no sleep had been had but the truck’s ceiling was splattered with exoskeletons and human blood. From that night on we took the cowards way out, eating earlier and going inside the truck as soon as the sun’s last rays fell. Sitting smugly inside, we watched the little buggers sense our presence and bash themselves silly against our excellent mosquito nets. Still a few got in and enjoyed feasting on our restless bodies throughout the night.
Despite the heat we really enjoyed Kakadu, there was further rock art sites to explore. The 3 big waterfalls: Jim Jim, Gunlom and Twin falls were all closed as they had a lot of rain the preceding week but we found a croc free waterfall to swim under at Maguk. The loveliest morning was when we went out onto Yellow Water Billabong at sunrise. We really got to see the wetlands up close, see lots of birds and some crocs at a safe distance.
The girls have been studying Aboriginal art and culture over the previous month, at the visitors centre we joined a local lady painting using the cross hatching and x-ray style. It would take a long time to develop her steady hand and technique but we spent over an hour having a go at it. A couple of days later in the south of the park a couple of delightful older ladies showed us how to weave bracelets out of pandanus leaves. The ladies explained which plants they used to dye the fibres and showed us how to strip the leaves, which they usually weave into baskets. Back at the campsite we tried our hand at the more familiar dot style paintings.
Just south of the park is Nitmiluk National Park which has the double level Edith Waterfalls, as it had a tar road in it was open despite the recent rain. A half an hour hike uphill in the baking afternoon sun took us to the wonderfully cool top pool. The water streamed off the red sandstone above us into two big pools. There was a fast current of water between them which the girls loved zooming through. It was pretty and gorgeously cold. Another hike back down the other side of the falls took us to the huge pool under the lower falls for another cool off.
It was another hot sweaty night in the park but Steve assures me that as we head south-west that the humidity should drop, let’s hope the mozzies disappear with it too.