MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “Northern Territory”

Wildlife of Australia

Scotland will always be my first home, and New Zealand my second, but being lucky enough to have it on my doorstep, I have visited Australia often and fondly consider it a third home. Whilst all three countries are visually stunning in their own right, in my opinion, Australia wins hands down with their wildlife. I can’t get enough of it. But whilst the country is most famous for its marsupials and its bragging rights as being home to the largest number of venomous creatures, there is so much more to Australia’s wildlife, thanks to a variety of climates and landscapes. Even out in the vast desert that fills the centre of the country, there are so many creatures to spot, and I have been very lucky to see so many of them.

MAMMALS – MARSUPIALS

Koala

Spotted: Great Ocean Road (VIC), Kangaroo Island (SA), Magnetic Island (QLD)

 

Red Kangaroo

Spotted: Side of the road (SA), Side of the road (QLD)

 

Forester (Eastern Grey) Kangaroo

Spotted: Mornington Peninsula (VIC), Narawntapu National Park (TAS)

 

Kangaroo Island (Sooty) Kangaroo

Spotted: Kangaroo Island (SA)

 

Red-Necked (Bennet’s) Wallaby

Spotted: Maria Island (TAS), Freycinet National Park (TAS), Cataract Gorge (TAS)

 

Swamp Wallaby

Spotted: Griffiths Island (VIC)

 

Tasmanian Pademelon

Spotted: Mount Field National Park (TAS), Maria Island (TAS), Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park (TAS)

 

Quokka

Spotted: Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Bare-nosed (Common) Wombat

Spotted: Mornington Peninsula (VIC), Maria Island (TAS), Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park (TAS), Narawntapu National Park (TAS)

 

Tasmanian Devil

Spotted: Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park (TAS)

 

Echidna

Spotted: Kangaroo Island (SA)

 

Bandicoot

Spotted: Perth (WA)

 

Antechinus

Spotted: Blue Mountains National Park (NSW)

 

 

MAMMALS – TERRESTRIAL

Camel

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Water Buffalo

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Wild Cattle

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Water Rat

Spotted: St Kilda (VIC)

 

 

MAMMALS – MARINE

Humpback Whale

Spotted off the coast of NSW, QLD and WA.

 

Humpback Dolphin

Spotted: Coastal QLD

 

Australian Sealion

Spotted: Great Ocean Road (VIC), Kangaroo Island (SA)

 

New Zealand Fur Seal

Spotted: Kangaroo Island (SA)

 

 

BIRDS

Emu

Spotted: Mornington Peninsula (VIC)

 

Black-necked Stork

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Pelican

Spotted: Triabunna (TAS), St. Helen’s (TAS), Adelaide (SA), Wollongong (NSW), Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT), Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park (NSW), Hervey Bay (QLD), Currumbin (QLD), Noosa (QLD), Cairns (QLD), Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Royal Spoonbill

Spotted: Noosa (QLD), Cairns (QLD)

 

Australian White Ibis

Spotted: Sydney (NSW), Brisbane (QLD), Adelaide (SA), Currumbin (QLD), Darwin (NT)

 

Feathered Ibis

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Black Swan

Spotted: St. Helen’s (TAS), Narawntapu National Park (TAS), Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT), St. Kilda (VIC)

 

Cape Barren Goose

Spotted: Phillip Island (VIC), Kangaroo Island (SA)

 

Magpie Goose

Spotted: Cairns (QLD)

 

Great Egret

Spotted: Port Fairy (VIC), Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT), Cairns (QLD), Perth (WA)

 

Little Egret

Spotted: Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT)

 

Cattle Egret

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Masked Lapwing

Spotted: Cairns (QLD)

 

Nankeen Night Heron

Spotted: Port Fairy (VIC)

 

Fairy Penguin

Spotted: St. Kilda (VIC)

 

Bar-Tailed Godwit

Spotted: Cairns (QLD)

 

Radjah Shellduck

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Australian Shelduck

Spotted: Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Pacific Black Duck

Spotted: Currumbin (QLD), Cairns (QLD)

 

Australian Wood Duck

Spotted: Currumbin (QLD)

 

Australasian Swamphen

Spotted: Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT), Melbourne (VIC)

 

Dusky Moorhen

Spotted: Adelaide (SA), Melbourne (VIC)

 

Australian Coot

Spotted: Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT), Currumbin (QLD)

 

Comb-crested Jacana

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Pied shag

Spotted: Hobart (TAS), St. Helen’s (TAS), Kangaroo Island (SA), Currumbin (QLD), Noosa (QLD), Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Australian Darter

Spotted: Noosa (QLD)

 

Osprey

Spotted: Noosa (QLD)

 

White-Bellied Sea Eagle

Spotted: Noosa National Park (QLD), K’Gari/Fraser Island (QLD)

 

Brahminy Kite

Spotted: Noosa (QLD)

 

Black Kite

Spotted: Darwin (NT), Adelaide River (NT)

 

Australian Kestrel

Spotted: Phillip Island (VIC)

 

Masked Booby

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Brown Booby

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Red-billed Gull

Spotted: Everywhere!

 

Crested Tern

Spotted: Kangaroo Island (SA), Noosa (QLD)

 

Caspian Tern

Spotted: Noosa National Park (QLD), Cairns (QLD)

 

Bush Turkey

Spotted: Sydney Harbour National Park (NSW), Brisbane (QLD), Currumbin (QLD)

 

Orange-Footed Scrub Fowl

Spotted: Cairns (QLD), Darwin (NT)

 

Sulphur Crested Cockatoo

Spotted (and heard!): Sydney (NSW), Blue Mountains National Park (NSW), Great Ocean Road (VIC), Tamborine Mountains (QLD), Mount Lofty (SA), St. Kilda (VIC), Hamilton Island (QLD)

 

Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo

Spotted: Blue Mountains National Park (NSW), Darwin (NT)

 

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Long-billed Corella

Spotted: Great Ocean Road (VIC), Corowa (NSW), Sydney (NSW)

 

Galah

Spotted: Sorrento (VIC), Hobart (TAS), Benalla (VIC), Perth (WA), Fremantle (WA), Yulara (NT)

 

Australian King Parrot

Spotted: Blue Mountains National Park (NSW)

 

Rainbow Lorikeet

Spotted: Sydney (NSW), Tamborine Mountains (QLD), Adelaide (SA), Melbourne (VIC), Hervey Bay (QLD), Magnetic Island (QLD), Perth (WA)

 

Yellow Rosella

Spotted: Taranna (TAS)

 

Crimson Rosella

Spotted: Kangaroo Island (SA), Jerrabomberra Wetlands (ACT)

 

Tawny Frogmouth

Spotted: Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park (TAS)

 

Kookaburra

Spotted: Mornington Peninsula (VIC), Sydney (NSW), Noosa National Park (QLD), Hamilton Island (QLD)

 

Black Currawong

Spotted: Cradle Mountain – Lake St. Clair National Park (TAS)

 

Australian Magpie

Spotted: Fremantle (WA)

 

Common Bronzewing

Spotted: Yulara (NT)

 

Bar-Shouldered Dove

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Crested Pigeon

Spotted: Yulara (NT), Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Magpie Lark

Spotted: Melbourne (VIC)

 

Common Myna

Spotted: Melbourne (VIC), Coogee (NSW)

 

Blue-faced Honeyeater

Spotted: Noosa National Park (QLD)

 

Helmeted Friarbird

Spotted: Townsville (QLD)

 

Forest Kingfisher

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Australasian (Green) Figbird

Spotted: Townsville (QLD)

 

Red Wattle Bird

Spotted: Perth (WA)

 

Black Butcherbird

Spotted: Kuranda (QLD)

 

The Unidentifiable Bird

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Brown Honeyeater

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Singing Honeyeater

Spotted: Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Black-faced Woodswallow

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Rainbow Bee-eater

Spotted: Darwin (NT), Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Welcome Swallow

Spotted: St. Kilda (VIC), Kuranda (QLD), Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Flame Robin

Spotted: Maria Island (TAS)

 

Pale Yellow Robin

Spotted: Kuranda (QLD)

 

Willie Wagtail

Spotted: Noosa Everglades (QLD), Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Superb Fairy Wren

Spotted: Tamar River Valley (TAS), Brisbane (QLD)

 

The Unidentifiable Bird

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Zebra Finch

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

 

REPTILES

Saltwater Crocodile

Spotted: Adelaide River (NT)

 

Freshwater Crocodile

Spotted: Kuranda (QLD)

 

Perentie

Spotted: Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (NT)

 

Goanna

Spotted: Noosa Everglades (QLD)

 

Marine Turtle

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Hog-nosed Turtle

Spotted: Darwin (NT)

 

Krefft’s Short-Necked Turtle

Spotted: Kuranda (QLD)

 

Water Dragon

Spotted: Sydney Harbour National Park (NSW), Brisbane (QLD), Currumbin (QLD)

 

King Skink

Spotted: Rottnest Island (WA)

 

Shingleback

Spotted: Perth (WA)

 

Spotted Skink

Spotted: Bay of Fires (TAS)

 

Eastern Water Skink

Spotted: Blue Mountains National Park (NSW)

 

Central Military Dragon

Spotted: Yulara (NT)

 

Gecko

Spotted: Brisbane (QLD), Hervey Bay (QLD)

 

 

OTHER – INSECTS, ARACHNIDS, FISH

Manta Ray

Spotted: Coastal QLD

 

Stingray

Spotted: Noosa (QLD), Whitsunday Island (QLD)

 

Wrasse

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Giant Clam

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Eel

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Parrotfish

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Coral

Spotted: Great Barrier Reef (QLD)

 

Golden Orb Spider

Spotted: K’Gari/Fraser Island (QLD)

 

St. Andrews Cross Spider

Spotted: Palm Beach (NSW), Litchfield National Park (NT)

 

Tent Spider

Spotted: Brisbane (QLD)

 

Soldier Crab

Spotted: Rainbow Beach (QLD)

 

Sand Crab

Spotted: K’Gari/Fraser Island (QLD)

 

Snail

Spotted: Freycinet National Park (TAS)

 

Chocolate Argus Butterfly

Spotted: Litchfield National Park (NT)

 

Bee

Spotted: Perth (WA)

 

Spiny Spider

Spotted: Cairns (QLD)

 

Green Ant

Spotted: Whitsunday Island (QLD), Litchfield National Park (NT)

 

Ant

Spotted: Yulara (NT)

 

Termite

Spotted: Litchfield National Park (NT)

Homeward Bound

In the darkness of another cold desert morning, I waited for my ride to a nearby farm where I had signed up for a different kind of Outback sunrise experience: a camel ride across the desert sands. Originally imported into Australia in the 19th century for transportation, many camels were released into the wild when they were no longer of use and now a massive feral population exists in the country, the largest in the World. Due to their potential for environmental damage, the Australian Government has taken steps to keep their numbers in check. In an ironic twist, Australian camels have been exported back to the Middle East for breeding stock and consumption. In Australia itself, some camels have been farmed, and the camels at the Uluru Camel Tours make up the largest working camel farm in Australia. This was to be the last sunrise that I would witness on my great Australian adventure, and it was the coldest I had been on my trip. It still amazed me the extent of contrast between the cold desert nights and the hot desert days.

In the darkness we were introduced to our camel train. Each camel could take two people, so each group were assigned their camel, with myself and a couple of others getting a camel to themselves. I’d never ridden a camel before, although in my past I’ve ridden horses, elephants and an ostrich. I had many layers of clothes on in an effort to keep myself warm, and was grateful that I had a pair of gloves with me. With the battered sun hat I’d purchased in Adelaide, I looked comical as my photo was taken while my camel took to his feet. Once the large group of people were mounted, we were off. It was an hour’s gentle wander through a well marked trail across the red sands to a series of lookout points where we could watch the sun rise above the horizon and light up the now familiar outline of Uluru. The shadows of the camels added to the experience and whilst there was a lot of waiting around whilst people got their photos taken, I actually didn’t mind because the camel behind me kept me entertained as he chewed religiously next to my foot. The second lookout point that we went to gave a view across to Kata Tjuta and both went through the same colour changes I’d seen before. Like each day previous, it was to be another gorgeously sunny day in the Outback.

Photography by Uluru Camel Tours

Photography by Uluru Camel Tours

Photography by Uluru Camel Tours

 

Back at the farm we got a homemade breakfast before we were driven back to the Ayers Rock Resort. I was checked out of the Outback Pioneer Lodge, and had a few hours left before my transfer to the airport. With a plethora of lookout spots to choose from, I’d already made use of several of them over my stay, but one I hadn’t been to was the Uluru lookout which was within walking distance of the lodge. Following a red sandy track across the desert landscape, it felt like I was leaving the resort behind and heading out in to the wilderness, although the occasional noise of traffic told me this wasn’t really the case. I came across a colony of ants bursting up from under the ground and there was so much interesting flora to look at.

 

When I reached the lookout I had it to myself, and proceeded to go snap happy taking all sorts of angles and selfies in a last ditch effort to record this amazing place. There were several points to choose from and I made use of them all. Only when some other people arrived did I leave. A little further along was a war memorial, and from there I cut back to the resort, taking my time admiring the plants, and the birds that accompanied me. I even managed to capture a photograph of a lizard, when normally they would just scurry under a bush before the opportunity arose. When it was time to board the bus to the airport I was sad to leave the place, but I was happy that I’d done it justice.

 

At the little airport, whilst waiting to check in, a trainee ground staff accidentally pressed the wrong button on the computer system and managed to shut down the whole flight whilst I was at the counter. There was a long wait to fix the problem whilst people in the queue became increasingly restless. I’m sure many of them thought I was the hold-up, but eventually the flight got reopened and things got moving again. I had a window seat on my flight to Sydney, and I looked down on both Kata Tjuta and Uluru as we took off, flying past the latter before banking to head east. Like the previous flights, there was a long expanse of desert below, occasionally broken up by large dried lakes. Finally we touched down in Sydney, my favourite city.

 

I always stay in the same place whenever I come to Sydney, the YHA hostel in the Rocks district. Aside from being the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in, not only is it in a prime location, but its rooftop terrace has an awesome view. It was dark when I finally got out to explore. I stuck to Circular Quay and wandered around the waterfront absorbing the view and the atmosphere. It is always a vibrant place to be. I was undecided about dinner, and in the end just ate dessert at the Guylian chocolate cafe.

 

Whenever I visit a place I’ve been before, aside from going to my favourite places, I always try and do something new. My best friend lives in Sydney so we met up for breakfast at one of my favourite cafes, then caught the ferry to Cockatoo Island in Sydney harbour. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has been used both as a dockyard and as a convict establishment, and now you can wander amongst the remains of both of these at your leisure. It was an interesting place to walk around, although mainly we were catching up on each other’s lives as we walked. Being in September, there were seagulls everywhere with plenty of chicks around, some of them in rather precarious positions. In the end we went from looking at the historical sites to chick spotting as the birds were everywhere. We sat with a cider in the sun at the little bar, and later before catching the boat back to Circular Quay, we sat at the little cafe near the pier with the Harbour Bridge visible behind us.

 

That night we headed out of town to go to a comedy show. One of the good things about exploring a city with a local is that you get to see places that you wouldn’t normally go to as a tourist. My friend lives south of the city centre, and in the darkness I quickly lost my bearings, and still have no idea where we ended up. It was a good show and a nice end to my last full day in Australia. My friend had plans the next day so I was on my own again for my final hours in the country. My flight wasn’t till the evening, so after checking out, I was quick to jump on a boat to Manly.

The ferry ride over is a great way to view the harbour, and being the weekend, it was busy. I was lucky to get a table at an Italian cafe on the main strip, and had a delicious sandwich and dessert with my coffee for brunch. On my first visit to Manly back in 2012, I did extensive exploration around the nearby national park, but I didn’t have the luxury of time on this occasion, and so stuck to the promenade that hugs Manly beach, and then around the popular coastal track to Shelly Beach. Out here it was sweltering and sunny, and eventually I retreated to the air-conditioned shops for a breather. I got sucked into a donut shop near the ferry terminal and found some shade by Manly Cove to enjoy it.

 

Despite the sun at Manly, the cloud was building up over the city and the wind brought up a bit of spray over the boat on the way back. There was a large market on in the Rocks district and I used the last of my time to walk through it. The market itself was packed but nearby one of the pubs was running Oktoberfest and aside from the crammed outdoor seats, there was an audience of tourists taking photos as the bar staff walked around in lederhosen, carrying large jugs of beer. Eventually though, I retreated to the rooftop terrace of the hostel to stare over the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge one last time. I adore Sydney, and hate to leave it as much as I love to visit it. But after 5.5 weeks, my Australian adventure was over, and now it was just time to head to the airport and head home.

Kata Tjuṯa

It was following a poor night’s sleep, from a hot and stuffy room and roommates coming in and out in the wee hours of the morning, that I was thrown awake by my alarm. It was still dark outside when I was picked up by Bruce who drove me and a band of other early risers to head back into the Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park. Previously known as the Olgas, Kata Tjuta is a conglomerate of 36 domes made of a mix of granite, basalt and sandstone. Located 25km (15.5miles) to the east of its more famous neighbour Uluru, Kata Tjuta proved itself to be just as worthy of exploring, and once more I was up before dawn to witness yet another staggering sunrise.

There were already colours blending into the sky as we parked up and walked to the lookout spot. It quickly became packed and there was a silent jostling match as people vied for prime position. Like Uluru the day before, the rock mounds of Kata Tjuta went through a colour change as the sun got closer to breaking the horizon, and in the distance, the hulk of Uluru became surrounded by a beautiful purple-peach glow. By the time I realised that the sun was actually broaching the horizon right next to Uluru, it was too late to get anywhere decent to see it and I, like many others, were forced to perch on the fence struts, balancing precariously just to see over the heads and shoulders of those in prime position.

 

Kata Tjuta itself came into its own once the sun was above the horizon, and it suddenly started to glow red. I really wanted to stay and watch the colours burn more, but we were under strict instructions to be back on the bus within 10mins of sunrise, so that we could get moving. It is always my bug bear of organised tours, being tied to the schedule and crowds that go with them, but without my own transport, I didn’t have much choice in the matter. Another 40mins or so would have been perfect, but we had a hike to do, and our guide wanted to get going so as to beat the crowds that would soon accumulate.

 

There are two hikes to do in the valleys of Kata Tjuta: the Walpa Gorge walk and the longer Valley of the Winds walk. I would have loved to have done both, but was only given the option of one on the tour, so I naturally went for the longer one. We all set off together, but gradually the group spread out. The Valley of the Winds forms a circuit, and our guide recommended we walk it anti-clockwise, so we all duly took his word. With a time limit to make it back to the bus, I duly became snap happy as I took in the desert flowers and creatures amongst the rocky landscape.

It was a rocky walk in to reach the loop track. There was shadowing in places which hid some of the detail, but those rocks that had sunlight spilling on to them, were clearly as scarred as Uluru was. The Karu lookout on this track is where the route can be closed in hot weather. The track is completely exposed to the elements with little shade the whole way round, so there is a 36oC temperature limit, above which, walking further is prohibited.

 

Once the loop track was reached after a descent, there were suddenly bushes and vegetation littering the route. Birds were flitting between the branches and flowers were blooming in pockets near the side of the track. The initial section was in sunshine, but after crossing a dried-up stream and gaining altitude, it was in shade all the way to the Karingana lookout, deep within the valley. The sides were steep in this shaded section, and as I got easily distracted by the flora, I was soon left behind by the rest of the group. As I dawdled my way up to the lookout, it soon became clear behind me that the tourists had arrived en masse, a steady stream of people behind me or overtaking me at regular intervals.

 

It was windy and cold at the lookout, the wind driving up through the channel created by the mounds, and it was easy to see how the walk got its name. I descended down the other side of the lookout, spotting a beetle among some flowers, and continuing to marvel at the fauna here in this harsh environment. In front of me now were more of Kata Tjuta’s mounds, and once on the relative flat, I was exposed to the full power of the rising sun.

 

Most people had overtaken me now, and I found myself alone for sections of the return leg. Not realising I wasn’t even halfway yet, I continued to dawdle, and spent a lot of time looking backwards, where the best view was. A few people walked the trail clockwise, but the vast majority, like us, had walked it the reverse. With the sun low creating great shadows in the valley, and my constant want to turn around and look behind me, I can’t help but feel it would have been better to walk it clockwise after all.

 

Behind me, many of the domes were still dark in colour, but the ones nearest me on the trail were bright orange. To my right, spanning a great distance was the flat desert landscape of the Outback: red sand speckled with low-lying vegetation. Away from these rock formations, there was not a landmark in sight, and it was easy to see how you could get lost away from here.

 

At a water station, I found a flock of zebra finches, a pretty little bird, and afforded them some time to watch them before pushing on. With the sun getting higher, and the temperature pushing up with it, the crowds of walkers had long since dissipated, and suddenly conscious of the time, I quickened my pace to complete the loop and head back out the track to the waiting bus. I made it back within the allotted time, but it was clear that I was the last to arrive and that they’d all been waiting a while for me. But I had paid a lot of attention to the flora and fauna, and was satisfied that I’d done the hike justice.

 

It was still morning when we returned to the Ayers Rock Resort, and I used my time to wander round the retail precinct, organising another couple of spur-of-the-moment tours, and buying the obligatory fridge magnets that I collect from anywhere I visit. The resort runs some free activities at various times of the day, and a little after noon, I joined the Bush Tucker talk, where one of the staff taught us about edible plants and flowers that were in the vicinity, and how they are used by the Indigenous people of the region. I got to eat some food that had been made out of the local vegetation, and afterwards, with my stomach wanting more, I had lunch at one of the cafes in the square.

 

From the Town Square, I cut behind the Emu Walk Apartments, one of the many accommodation options in the resort, to visit the Wintjiri Arts & Museum which was one of the free things to do there. I love Indigenous artwork and found many paintings that I loved and would have loved to have bought had I had a house to put them in and money to spare. Aside from the art gallery of local artist’s work, the compact museum gave a fascinating insight into the geology and natural history of the region, as well as a concise history of the local Indigenous groups. For such a small museum and gallery it was very interesting and kept my attention for some time.

 

Now well into the afternoon and under the blazing hot sun, I went up to the little mound at the back of the complex which offers yet another lookout over to Kata Tjuta. From this location, the view was across a giant field of solar panels that harness the sun’s energy to power the resort. From back at the Town Square, I then cut across the large expanse between the retail centre and the Outback Pioneer lodge where I was staying, via the Imalung lookout. This desert expanse between the sections of the resort was teeming with pretty little flowers, and at the top of the mound I was rewarded with the same view of Uluru that I had been grinning over for the last couple of days. As I walked back to the lodge, a little lizard skittered between the low vegetation.

 

As the sun started to lower again, I was collected from my accommodation for that evening’s sunset tour. This time I was headed back to Kata Tjuta, and our guide was immensely passionate about it, explaining that it is believed to be the place where Anangu’s creation ancestors first appeared on Earth. As with the day before at Uluru, I lapped up the information about the local people’s culture, this whole area being immensely sacred to the Indigenous people of Australia.

In a scene reminiscent of the sunset sail in Darwin, I was quietly excited to discover there would be unlimited glasses of bubbles and plenty of canapes to accompany the sunset. I made it through 3 glasses whilst watching the spectacular colour changes of Kata Tjuta’s rock. The guide who brought us there proclaimed the sunset here to be far superior to that at Uluru, and whilst there was clearly a bit of bias, I did find that the colours seemed a bit more stark and dramatic this close up. It was less crowded here than the sunrise spot had been and this meant I could move around at leisure as the sun dropped towards and then below the horizon. Nicely warmed by the alcohol, I shut away thoughts of my impending return home and just absorbed the scene in front of me, living in the moment, as I had done with every sunrise and sunset that I had witnessed thus far on my great Australian adventure.

 

It seemed only right to stop for ice cream at the supermarket on the way home, and now in pitch dark, I again walked back to the lodge across the central expanse of the resort. In the spot of light lit up by my torch, a little mouse ran into the bush in front of me, and above me the stars sparkled on my last night in the Red Centre. The next day I was to fly out from the place that had well and truly taken me under its spell, and that meant just one more sunrise to wake up for…

Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park

Growing up in Scotland, I feel I’ve lived a somewhat sheltered life. Into adulthood, immigration became a hot topic in the years before I emigrated myself, and whilst I always had an awareness of what has and is occurring in other countries around the world, it is only since moving to New Zealand, where not only am I not a native, but my race is not the indigenous one, that I have had my eyes opened a little more to the realities of race relations. Whilst it looks like progress is being made in both Australia and New Zealand with regards to Indigenous rights, there is still a long way to go it would seem, and a lot of dissidence, misunderstanding and prejudice still remain in both countries. I’ve had a side-ways interest in the Indigenous Peoples of Australia for some time, mainly sparked through movies and books over the years. I was interested to see what my experience would be upon visiting the Northern Territory. I’d already been made aware of the lack of recognition by many people within and outwith Australia of the return of naming Ayers Rock to Uluru, being met by blank faces multiple times when I chatted to people about my trip plans. Having visited Fraser Island, now renamed K’Gari, just a few weeks prior, this slow rate of progression was very evident.

So when I got off the Uluru Hop On-Hop Off bus at the Mara car park, excited to be next to this most famous of geological structures, it was with a divided heart that I watched the people climb up the rock face to the summit in front of me. I’d long since heard about the request of the Indigenous landowners not to climb Uluru, and right in front of the track up there is a sign stating this also. However it is not illegal, and so there was a steady pilgrimage of people hauling themselves up with the chain that is still steadfastly bolted into the sacred rock. I was divided because it looked so achievable, and I love summiting mountains, but I was brought up to respect other people’s beliefs, and understanding the significance of this rock, I knew it was not right to climb it. But as multiple tourists turned up to climb including a busload led up by their guide, I did wonder about why these tour companies were allowed to do this, and why they were not promoting the right message. I was waiting for the guided walk to start, and had a bit of time to kill at the base. It was already hot at 10am and there was little shade around. I watched and pondered for some time, distracted only by a large perentie, the largest monitor lizard in Australia.

 

I would highly recommend the guided walk, which follows a small section of the base walk around the bottom of Uluru. The Indigenous guide gave a fascinating insight into the spiritual significance of Uluru to the Indigenous landowners, the Pitjantjatjara Aṉangu, as well as covering flora, fauna and geology. I’d already been amazed in Queensland about how knowledgeable the Indigenous Australians are about living off the land and utilising it to its best potential. From understanding the seasons and what to harvest when and how, to navigation and survival in the harsh Outback. The stories can vary from one Indigenous group to another, and within them there are rules and traditions, which can mean some things can only be passed on by women, and some only by men. Others are sacred and cannot be translated. And others still, require trust and understanding to have the privilege of hearing them. To the local Aṉangu, only the chosen few should summit Uluru. As the guide pointed out, if you were asked to wear a head scarf or take off your shoes to visit a church or a mosque, you would do it. So why would you climb Uluru when you were asked not to? To them, it is akin to respecting someone else’s religious beliefs, and I totally agree.

 

I took few photos during the guided walk as I was absorbed in everything the guide told us, but after it was finished, I had a lot of ground to cover in the heat of the day. I planned on walking the base track that circumnavigates the base of Uluru, despite the insane heat. I was slathered in suncream, had the hat on I’d bought in Adelaide, and I had as much water as I could carry. There was no point rushing, and once on my own, because hardly anyone else was crazy enough to hike in the heat, I became snap happy as the shape and pattern of the rock next to me constantly changed. In places there are signs requesting no photographs are taken due to the significance of that part of the structure to the Aṉangu, but large portions can be photographed without disrespect, and I was as much fascinated by the flora and fauna that surrounded the track as I was by Uluru itself. I was just loving the oranges and reds of the rock and the desert.

 

As the track heads east along the northern face of Uluru, there were all sorts of gouges and crevices in the rock face, creating an effect of artwork, the largest of which looked to me like a brain and face. The vegetation surrounding the path was a mix of desert shrubs and flowers and occasionally there were insects and birds flitting amongst them. When I eventually reached a shelter after some time in the full exposure of the sun, I took the opportunity to hide out in the shade for awhile before pushing on.

 

As the track turned south around the eastern end, it passed a no-photo zone before reaching a car park. There were a few people around here, and from this point onwards, I had a bit of company on the track, after having the northern aspect pretty much to myself. Whereas the northern and western aspects had been more about steep verticals, the eastern and southern aspects were more rolling and rounded. It was still steep but the look and feel of this side was quite different and even the nearby vegetation seemed different too. It was possible to see fissures and cracks with rocks breaking apart, and streaks of black through the orange denoted where waterfalls streamed down after rain.

 

After some time, a track split off to cut up to a little pool and nearby was an overhang where some Indigenous rock painting could be seen close up. From here onwards, the track hugged the base of Uluru quite closely, giving a close-up view of the make up of the rock. When I made it back to Mara car park I was dismayed to see a coach load of tourists heading up the track to the summit. I retraced part of the track I’d done with the guide earlier that day in order to photograph a few of the spots we’d stopped at in the morning, before returning to the car park once more, 4hrs after starting the walk.

 

From the nearby toilet block, the Limu walk cut across the desert to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta cultural centre where I had planned on getting back on the bus. I’d originally planned on getting the last day bus back, but after chatting with the driver at the centre, there was space for me to go on the evening bus which included an additional stop on the way back. This meant I had a bit of time to spend at the centre and explore. Aside from the shop which sold me some much desired ice cream, and a few galleries of local artist’s work, there was an interpretation centre giving more insight into the local Indigenous culture and tradition. Ownership of Uluru was taken by the Northern Territories Reserve Board and it was renamed Ayers Rock before the Australian Government later returned it to the Aṉangu on the condition that they lease it back to the Government, resulting in it being co-managed. This lease lasts for 99 years, starting in 1985. The footage of the handover was an interesting video to watch, and it was clear there were mixed emotions about getting ownership back in theory, whilst still not getting it back fully.

 

I got picked up by the very last hop on-hop off bus to join a small band of people to head to a special lookout spot to watch the sunset over Uluru. In an uncomfortable and awkward moment, the bus driver accidentally killed a perentie that was sunbathing on the road. This immediately reminded me of one of the excursions I’d done in the Galapagos Islands when the bus that was taking me to see the endangered bird life, accidentally killed one of the endangered birds. It was yet another reminder of what implications tourism can have on local wildlife. The driver felt really guilty and kept apologising to us for the rest of the way.

There was only one other small coach there when we arrived, but we were warned it would get busy, and sure enough, coach load after coach load began to pull in and unload a crowd of sunset watchers who spread out across the viewing spot, jostling for the perfect place to watch the colours of Uluru change. As with the night before, the sky went through a range of blues and Uluru itself turned from orange to red as the light level faded. After a while, I crossed to the far side of the lookout to view the opposite direction, where the hint of Kata Tjuta just about peaked over the horizon close to where the sun sunk low. The colour palate was beautiful, and despite the crowd around me, it was a magical experience.

 

Back at the Outback Pioneer, I had some laundry to do before dinner, and now in darkness with only the low-level lights marking the pathways, I came out of my dorm room to head towards the main building when suddenly a creature shot out in front of me from near the kitchen disappearing into the darkness. The moment was over as soon as I acknowledged it but I was excited after the failed sightings on K’Gari to add wild dingo to the list of animals spotted on my trip. Taking the shuttle to the main square, I had a delicious dinner at one of the eateries in the resort, seemingly confusing the staff by being a lone diner. Perhaps they don’t get many there, but I personally don’t have a problem eating out on my own. Afterwards, there was a long wait for the shuttle bus back. I was tired and full and didn’t want to walk back, but I got antsy waiting, aware I still had to sort out my laundry before getting to bed. By the time I crawled into my bunk, I was eager for sleep but despite the coolness of the night outside, the dorm room was oppressively hot. I had my stuff all ready to make an early exit, as I had another early rise the next morning. As impressive as Uluru is, there is more to see within the National Park, and I was determined to see as much as I could.

The Red Centre

It’s interesting how different an experience people can have at a place. I recently heard someone say their friend described Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) as ‘just a big rock’ and as such they weren’t fussed about going themselves. To say my opinion of Uluru is the total opposite would be an understatement. From the moment I stepped off the airport transfer bus at the Ayers Rock Resort, there was the hint in the air of something special. I cannot put in words the emotions that I have attached to the next few days of my trip. I’m neither religious nor spiritual, but something about this place spoke to me in a manner that I cannot describe. Perhaps it was the immense heat fogging up my perception. Or the mesmerising idyll of the red sandy desert. Or the fact that I saw some things that I’d wanted to for a long time. Or perhaps it was all of it, combined together into a hot desert perfection. Whatever the reason, Australia’s Red Centre is a very special place for me.

A lot of people visiting Uluru do so from Alice Springs, nearly 6hrs away. Without your own transport this means being tied to the constraints of an organised tour. When I found out about the Ayers Rock Resort in Yulara, the nearest accommodation to Uluru, I knew that this was where I was going to stay. Offering a choice of accommodation types, a retail and eatery zone, and ready access to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, it was the perfect base to explore the area. I was on a budget and had booked into the backpacker wing of the Outback Pioneer Lodge. The complementary shuttle from the nearby airfield circled the upmarket resort accommodation first before dropping me off at the lodge. There was a bit of queue to check in, but getting this out the way, I was soon dumping my stuff and getting out to explore. The resort is set up in a large U-shape with a wide wild zone in the middle. The tourism and retail centre was at the far side of this central wilderness zone from my accommodation, but despite the heat and availability of a resort shuttle that regularly loops between the zones, I decided to walk under the blazing sun to the retail area to arrange some excursions, grab a drink at the cafe and visit the supermarket to stock up on food. Reliant on a twice weekly train delivery for supplies, there were quite a few empty sections where stock had run low. This was life in the Outback.

 

Taking the shuttle bus back to the lodge, I followed a trail leading out the back of the accommodation, up a small hill to a view point where I could see not only across the desert to Uluru but also Kata Tjuta (formerly known as The Olgas), the lesser known rock formations in the region. A crowd gathered as the sun lowered, and we watched the changing colours across the famous red rock. The resort is littered with walking trails, several of which lead to natural hillocks offering a sunset and sunrise viewing spot. Aside from the people, I was accompanied by some doves and as the sun lowered, a large colony of ants appeared out of the ground. Aside from a few wisps near the horizon, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and I watched in silence as the rocks turned from orange to various shades of red, and the sky went through a range of blues. Only once the colour changes faded into darkness did I leave to eat dinner before going on a night time excursion.

 

My trip to Yulara coincided with a temporary outdoor art exhibit called the Field of Lights. At the time of visiting, it was only due to be there for a few months, but it has since been extended until 2020. Made up of 50,000 lights spread across the equivalent of 7 football fields, the artist Bruce Munro has created a colour-changing light display to be enjoyed in the darkness of the desert night. It has proved very popular and was close to being booked out during my visit. I had had problems making a booking online in advance and as such thought I would have to miss out on it, but I was lucky to be able to grab a last minute ticket the day I arrived, and at the scheduled time on my ticket, I joined several coach loads of people to drive out to the field in the middle of nowhere to go see it. After a briefing from the staff about how best to enjoy it, and when to be back at the bus, I did my best to escape the crowd and take it all in.

Two paths lead through the exhibit – a long path and a short path. I opted for the longer one first and once the crowd of visitors thinned out a little, it was easy to get lost in my own thoughts. Early on into the experience I looked up to see not only an amazing array of stars but I was overwhelmed to see the Milky Way very distinctly sweeping across the sky above my head. I’d never seen the Milky Way before and I was awestruck at how clearly it appeared. I spent the rest of the night torn between the dazzling light display below eye level and the mesmerising astronomic display above me. Following first the long path and then looping back round through the short path, I was last to get back to the bus pick-up area, only to discover our bus was running late. I spent the time staring up at the Milky Way until it was time to board and return to our accommodation where I attempted to sleep in the hot and tiny dorm room.

 

The next morning I was awoken by my roommates stirring so it seemed like a good idea to get up and watch the sunrise. Donning my clothes and making the short distance to the lookout hillock, I huddled in the chill morning air watching the colour creep back into the sky and the landscape below it. It amazes me how cold the desert night is, considering how hot the desert day is. I’ve read stories of people lost in the desert succumbing to the cold nights despite putting up with the hot arid days. As time passed I was eventually joined by others although less than had ventured out the night before for the sunset.

The hulking outline of Uluru grew clearer and clearer as the sky turned from a deep blue, lightening through to peach and pink ahead of the sun bursting above the horizon. Then the form of Uluru changed once more from a deep red, lightening up to the characteristic orange. In the distance, Kata Tjuta went through the same changes and it was very evident it was going to be another cloudless day. Aside from those other early risers, there were a couple of courting doves strutting around the lookout, and unfamiliar birds flitting around the nearby foliage.

 

The sun rose quite quickly and there was plenty of light spilling across the landscape by the time I retraced my steps back to my room to get ready for the day. I had pre-purchased a ticket for the Uluru Hop-On, Hop-Off bus service and arranged to be collected for the first day trip into the park. Ready and waiting, I was excited to board and get going, ready to explore up close the behemoth that I’d come all this way to see. Just a short drive from Yulara, we reached the entrance to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, an exposed tourist mecca under the baking Outback sun. This was the day I had waited for for a very long time.

Darwin Delights

During the Top End’s dry season, the Mindil Beach markets run weekly, and having been recommended a visit, I was sure not to miss out. Returning to Darwin from Litchfield National Park, I asked to get dropped off there instead of my hostel and the place was buzzing. The sun was still up although lowering and there were crowds packed into the market itself as well as draped across the sand, which was now cool enough to walk on, many of them parked up with edible delights to watch the sunset. There was so much choice for food and the queues at many of them were long. Seeing as I was at the seaside, I opted for fish & chips, and was sadly disappointed with my choice. Nevertheless, I ate what I could stomach whilst the sky turned from orange through to red. Over three weeks into my Australian adventure, I’d been utterly spoilt with sunsets.

 

After the sun dipped below the horizon, I returned to the market which was amazing. Aside from the food stalls, there were some incredible craft stores, and I drooled over a lot of the stuff, wishing I had a big enough house and a lot of money to own it. I ate ice cream, and dutch pancakes, and drank iced tea as I meandered. I was told that Europeans are a great lover of Indigenous artworks, and true to my roots, I saw beautiful painting after beautiful painting. I was determined to find myself something made by an Indigenous artist that was transportable and affordable, and eventually gave in and bought an expensive satchel made by an Indigenous artist through a Co-op. It is so beautiful and was so expensive that I’m actually reluctant to use it, but it came with a photo and bio of the artist that made it. At the outskirts of the market there was entertainment in the form of fire juggling and whip cracking. Having gone round and round the stalls, darkness was now upon me, and being on a backpacker’s budget, I walked past the taxi rank and walked the streets of Darwin back to my hostel.

 

I had one final full day in Darwin and it was yet another scorcher. In fact the sun symbol displayed on my phone’s weather app for many days ahead on the forecast, and my whole time in Darwin had been a fairly steady 35-36oC. Despite the heat, it was going to be a day of walking. I headed to Cullen Bay marina, the picturesque and upmarket part of the city down the hill from where I was staying. There were some boaties eating and planning their race, and I people watched in the outdoor seating area of the cafe, against a background of boats. Nearby, a life-sized statue of a crocodile stands with its mouth agape, a friendly reminder that this is croc country. There are some boutique shops here and the Sea Link ferry to Mandorah on the far side of the immense harbour, and the Tiwi islands leaves from here.

 

I followed the path round the coast and back up the hill to a wasteland patch of grass that overlooks Mindil Beach. A black cockatoo strutted about near the top of a walkway through bush, down the hill to the beach. I walked as far as the bridge at the casino where more black cockatoos were causing a ruckus. Mindil Beach was deserted, partly because it was a weekday, and partly because the sand quickly gets too hot to walk on during the day. After admiring the view, I retraced my steps, happening upon some unusual birds as I returned to the bush.

 

I found myself back at Bicentennial Park, where I’d wandered on my arrival in the city a few nights prior. Overlooking the expansive Darwin Harbour, there are a myriad of viewpoints to look out from. I took my time, ending up at the war memorial and the lookout over Stokes Hill wharf. Round the corner from here is the Supreme Court, the Christ Church Cathedral, and the Smith Street Overbridge which crosses over Kitchener Drive a few stories below, and ends up at the Darwin Waterfront precinct where there is an incredible view and a lift that takes you down the drop in altitude.

 

On the hop-on, hop-off bus two days prior, I had spotted the WWII tunnels that dove into the cliffside, and had decided at that stage that I would go in them before leaving. However, now that I was here, I wasn’t overly fussed, my stomach demanding attention instead. Nearby, I took a table at Chow!, an asian restaurant. I regretted sitting outside as it was unbearably hot, but the food was incredible. I had seen laksa on menus everywhere in the city, and finally got hold of one to eat. I chose roast duck laksa washed down with a chilled cider, but between the hot weather and the spices in the soup, I was sweating buckets.

 

Winding my way to the end of the Stokes Hill wharf, I spotted a ray in the water below. I followed it for a while before it disappeared, and I pressed on to the recently opened joint venture of the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) and the Bombing of Darwin museum. I knew a little about the RFDS already thanks to an Australian soap called The Flying Doctors that aired in the UK when I was growing up, however like the cyclone that destroyed Darwin which I’d learned about at the Museum & Art Gallery of Northern Territory, I’d never heard about the bombing of Darwin that occurred in 1942 during the Second World War. On entering the museum, I was guided to a virtual reality headset experience which was incredible, and placed you right into the thick of the action via an animation. Although the exhibition was small, the videos and holograms meant it was easy to pass quite a bit of time here, and I was impressed with how well it had been done.

 

After indulging in some ice cream, I returned to the Waterfront Precinct and went to the Wave Lagoon. I’d made it here later than planned, and had somewhere to be in the evening, so I had only 40mins to enjoy the place. I couldn’t believe it when I saw someone in the pool who I’d seen regularly on my Queensland travels, and I managed to make an idiot of myself several times trying to get myself into the rubber tubes that are provided to ride the waves. I was only able to experience one cycle, and would have loved to stay there longer: the water was so refreshing. But I had booked myself on a sunset cruise and time was marching on.

 

I raced back to the wharf and boarded Sundancer, my sailboat for the evening. There had been a few options for cruises in the harbour, and I went for a mid-range price, which had included canapes and a glass of champagne in the price. However from the moment we left the wharf behind, not only was there a constant service of delicious nibbles, but the champagne was free flowing. After all the heat of the day, and the hours of walking, I found myself relaxing and frankly getting rather merry. I’m not a regular drinker, or a big drinker, but it felt great to let my hair down, and every time my glass ran dry, I was more than happy to accept a top-up. I did take photos of the passing scenery at the beginning, and then later as the sun was setting, but I spent quite a bit of time chatting with a fellow passenger, as well as sunbathing, and stuffing my face. I was positively pissed by the time we returned to the wharf which made for an interesting walk back to my hostel. Needless to say I woke up with a wicked thirst.

 

My flight out of Darwin wasn’t till the afternoon, so I had one last morning in the city. Long before I’d even booked my trip there, I’d heard about a place in the city where you could cage dive with crocodiles. Upon discovering of its existence, I told myself that if I ever made it to Darwin, I’d do it. Unfortunately, I had underestimated its popularity and didn’t bother to book ahead. When I was in Cairns, a few nights before leaving Queensland behind, I’d gone on the website to discover it was booked out for my entire stay. I was gutted. Nonetheless, I decided to spend the morning at Crocosaurus Cove, effectively a crocodile zoo, right in the heart of Darwin’s city centre.

I’m not a fan of zoos or aquariums, so didn’t have high hopes for the place, but it turned out to be bigger than I expected. I spent a good bit of time in the reptile house looking at the scaly creatures that inhabit the Northern Territory. The crocodiles outside were huge and included Burt, the crocodile star of Crocodile Dundee. I got to feed some juvenile crocodiles and watched as people took part in the cage-diving experience that I had wanted to do. Whilst I always leave these places a little sad at the enclosure sizes some creatures are kept in, it was still an interesting experience.

 

But finally it was time to collect my luggage, and jump on the shuttle to the airport. By the time I’d queued to check in my luggage, I didn’t have long to wait. At my gate, the flight was called and they requested row after row, but mine was never called. The gate emptied out and I sat there waiting and wondering. Suddenly, they announced the gate was about to close and I shot up and ran over. The ground staff crew gave me a curious look as I’d clearly sat there all along without boarding. I’m assuming I missed my row being called, but nonetheless, I was on my second domestic flight of my great Australian adventure, and another new region awaited.

Nature in the Northern Territory

Whilst it’s always interesting to wander round a new city, I’m really a lover of nature, wildlife and open spaces. So it was inevitable that my trip to Darwin would include a trip out of the city. Both Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks are within reach of Darwin, and I would have loved to have explored both, but alas, I really only had 1 day to spare, and that meant making the decision to do a day trip to Litchfield National Park, being as it was both smaller and that bit nearer to the city. Without my own transport, I looked around at the day tour options, made my choice and hoped for the best. My big bugbear with organised tours is being restricted to the itinerary that they set, meaning missing out on places, or not getting to stay for as long as I would like. I also hate being stuck with a group of strangers being ferried about the place, so if I have to use them, I’ll do my best to use a small group, locally run tour service, rather than a big group corporate tour company. Whilst this was an option for Litchfield, it meant an additional stop at the Adelaide river to go crocodile watching, something that I really wasn’t fussed about doing. It really came down to the choice between a big couch tour to Litchfield alone, or a small group tour to Litchfield and the crocs. In the end I chose the latter.

I waited outside my Darwin hostel in the early morning light, and was collected by my guide early. In fact everybody being picked up was ready early meaning we got out of the city ahead of schedule. There were only 7 of us which was great. As we were such a small group and had extra time, our guide decided to take us to the Window on the Wetlands visitor centre where we had time to peruse the display on the local flora and fauna, and have a look over the landscape from the upstairs viewing deck. Whilst the ground wasn’t as red here as I’d seen from the plane, there was definitely a frontier feel with forests bordering onto exposed arid ground. The access road to the Adelaide river crocodile cruise had a similar feel with a watering hole next to the road attracting wild cattle and a plethora of birds. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve visited Australia, but despite hiking out bush in every state I’d previously visited, I was yet to spot a snake in the wild. As we trundled along next to the watering hole though, a snake suddenly appeared on the road and rapidly shot across to the other side, disappearing out of view as quickly as it had come into it.

 

I’d seen pictures of these crocodile cruises where they entice crocodiles to jump out the water with bait, and I am uneasy at wildlife being manipulated for the sake of a tourist buck as much as I am about the association that these wild and deadly creatures will make between the food and the humans. I wasn’t really sure how I’d feel about this part of the tour, and I wouldn’t have done it in any other circumstance, but I duly boarded the little boat and listened to the skipper tell us about the local crocs. They’d been sailing this river for years and had named the crocodiles they saw. They knew their behaviour, their personality and had a reasonable idea of their age. Despite my reservations, I had to give them their dues: they really did have a keen interest in the crocodiles.

The Adelaide river is broad, and even this far upstream could have quite a tidal influence. The water itself was silty and brown and so there was no way of telling what was in there. It didn’t take long for us to find crocodiles. Unlike the freshwater crocs I’d seen at Kuranda in Queensland, these saltwater crocs, or salties as they are known, are huge. Stumpy who was missing part of a leg was the first to come over and investigate us. Like an iceberg, it is a mere fraction of the beast that is visible above the water, and that is why they try to make the crocodile jump, to show off its hunting style and sheer size. They explained to us that they were selective with who they tried to bait, making sure they didn’t pick the same crocs each time, and gauging their behaviour as they went. So although Stumpy came over voluntarily, they left him alone, moving further along the river.  Next we found Candy, a female and although smaller than the males, still a good sized croc. She eyeballed us, circling the boat, and when the bait was lowered, she demonstrated a shallow jump.

 

Despite the dirty-looking water, it was a lovely river to cruise down. Even in between croc sightings there was an ever changing bank to look at. Our third crocodile interaction was with Cassanova, the largest of the crocs that we had spotted. He was absolutely massive, and this was apparent even before he jumped out the water, but when he did leap upwards, the extent of his size became undeniable. These are definitely creatures not to be messed with. He demonstrated his jumping skills several times before we left him behind to cruise back along the river. As we did, the crew started throwing meat morsels up into the air and suddenly multiple birds of prey appeared, and these kites swooped in with great skill to catch the meat in mid air. They followed us for quite some time along the river until the meat ran out.

 

I had enjoyed the experience, and was glad to have seen some wild crocs up close, but I still wasn’t sure how I felt about the way they went about it. As we left, there was still plenty of activity at the watering hole. Now, there were water buffalo and a large black-necked stork amongst the crowd of fowl. After watching them briefly, we headed onwards towards Litchfield National Park. Our lunch stop was interesting to say the least, a random cafe in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere that was run by a nudist. The food was fantastic, and after filling up, it was time to get going.

 

100 kilometres (62 miles) south-west of Darwin, Litchfield National Park covers 1500 square kilometres (932 square miles) and is most known for its waterfalls and giant termite mounds. There was no way I was going to see everything in just one day, so this was always going to be a highlights tour, but it gave me plenty of desire to come back another time with my own transport. Our first stop was at the giant termite mounds. I’ve seen termite mounds in Australia before whilst out bush, but these were different. Within close proximity there were two types: magnetic mounds which were thin and on a north-south orientation to aid with temperature control, and cathedral mounds which were comparative giants. One of the largest cathedral mounds was surrounded by a boardwalk, allowing a 360o exam of it without being able to damage it. They might be built by tiny insects, but these structures were impressive.

 

With several waterfalls to choose from, I didn’t know which ones we were going to get to see. Our longest and first stop was at Wangi Falls, probably the more well-known and busiest of the waterfalls. It was exceptionally busy with groups of people in and out of the water. Whilst everyone else got straight in the water on such a hot tropical day, I took a quick wander along a short walkway leading round the pool edge, viewing the scene from a differing angle and coming across some rather large St Andrew’s Cross spiders. I’ve seen these in Australia before but none this big and their webs were laced across the gaps between the foliage.

 

The water temperature was perfect, but it was murky so judging the depth was completely by feel. After hanging around in the shallows, I started swimming across to the rock face, initially straight across the pool, then around the edge where I could hop between the shallower parts. I’m not ashamed to admit I have a fear of drowning. If I can see the bottom below me, even if it is out of my depth, I don’t have a problem, but like out in the open ocean, the murky waters made me uneasy as I didn’t know how deep it was. Once at the rocks, the side was exceedingly slippy and it was difficult to find something to hold on to without banging my legs against the rocks or slipping into the water. Myself and one of my companions for the day worked our way between the narrow ribbon waterfall and the wider waterfall, above which a group of guys in their twenties were unbelievably scaling the rock face quite high up and jumping into the water below. They had some balls climbing up the slippery rocks and as much balls jumping into the water when you couldn’t see where the rocks stopped or the deeper parts were.

 

Eventually we had to get out of the water, and we tucked into the tastiest watermelon I’ve ever eaten as we dried off, then we were off to the next stop. Florence Falls is a multi-tiered waterfall with a plunge pool at the bottom of the gully. We didn’t have time to go swimming here, instead we took the path to the lookout with a view down onto the falls from above. The guys who had been cliff diving at Wangi were already here doing the same thing and we watched again as they scaled the steep rocky sides, finding narrower and narrower ledges to jump from. I’m not sure how it came up in conversation, but I mentioned to the guide about my experience licking the butts of green ants in Queensland, and before I knew it, we were all letting green ants bite our skin in order to lick their abdomens. I remember thinking the first time around that it was a sentence I never thought I would say, and yet here I was, once again licking ants’ butts.

 

Our final stop in Litchfield National Park was the Buley Rock-pools. Here we had time to go swimming again, and I really didn’t need much persuasion to get back in the water. A series of small waterfalls cascading down a gradient created a myriad of little plunge pools, some of which were just deep enough to sit in, and a couple that were deep enough to swim in. I sat under one of the upper falls letting the thundering water massage my shoulders and back, before moving to the deeper pool at the bottom. Again the water was murky and the rocks were slippery resulting in me accidentally kicking the rock with my foot. The cool water helped to dull the throb a little bit, but unfortunately my toe nail had separated itself partly from my toe. It didn’t detract from the experience though, and lazing in the pools was a nice way to round off the afternoon.

 

I had hoped we would see Tolmer falls on the tour as well, but it was now time to leave the park behind and head back to the city. It didn’t take long for the head nodding to start as most of us slept our way back to Darwin. The light was getting lower as we drew into the city, but the day wasn’t over yet. I got dropped off at Mendil Beach, instead of back at my hostel, ready to experience a Darwin gem.

Terra Australis – Northern Territory

When faced with the choice between a cheaper indirect flight and a dearer direct flight, I would normally pay a little bit more for less airport time. Hanging around in airports, whilst good for people watching, is a bane of travelling that I would happily eliminate, with hours of my life having been wasted in these culture-less man-made boxes. However, on this occasion, the direct flight out of Cairns was first thing in the morning, and when I booked my flights many months earlier, I had naively thought I would want the extra time in the Great Barrier Reef‘s gateway city, and for that reason I’d chosen to book an unknown regional airline, Air North, which took off at a much more civil lunchtime slot. As it turned out, I really didn’t get Cairns, and found myself spending the morning before my flight at the hostel and the nearby mall, eager to get away from the rather drab city. But I didn’t regret my choice of airline, and although it meant more airport time than I’d needed, I was actually glad to experience the route it took.

Leaving Tropical North Queensland behind, we were soon to leave land behind, flying over the Gulf of Capricorn, a large expanse of water that separates the top of the state of Queensland with the top of the Northern Territory. When we next hit land, there was a lot of bush but also a lot of red desert. It was exciting to see the arid landscape I’d seen so many times on the television. Our indirect flight landed in a tiny settlement called Gove. The runway was surrounded by red desert and it looked like we were in the middle of nowhere in the Outback. The only annoying thing about it was that we all had to disembark, and go through security in the tiny Gove airport building before being allowed back on the plane. Despite having just come from Cairns, I was selected to be taken aside for explosives screening. I was surprised at how many people were getting off in Gove and how many people were getting on. It was clearly a transit hub for the local area. But finally we were on our way to a city that I had longed to go to for some time, the Territory’s capital, Darwin.

 

People in Queensland had told me to expect a massive culture shock when I got to Darwin. A comparatively small city, it has the largest percentage of Indigenous Australians compared with any other city in the country. The way people talked about the place, they made it sound like it was a poor and ‘backwards’ city, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to find when I landed. What I discovered though, was a city that I loved, and one that I would have loved to have had more time in. Over the course of 3.5 days, I packed as much of the local area in as I could, but with the benefit of a car on another occasion, I would love to go back and do more.

It was evening by the time I’d checked into my accommodation, and I was quick to dump my stuff and get out to the nearby Bicentenial Park where locals were out for an after work stroll. It was a well-maintained stretch of parkland with some views out over the wide expanse of Darwin Harbour. As the sun lowered, I wandered around passed packed bars, and up the main shopping street of Smith Street where I found a night market that the driver of the airport shuttle had told me about. There was a plethora of stalls selling mainly Asian-inspired food, and I tucked into a delicious meal of pad thai and sangria. The heat was worse than Queensland, and I struggled both outdoors and indoors. I escaped into the air conditioned space of a pop-up art gallery that was open late, hiding out there till I was guided towards the exit at closing time, sweating my way back to my hostel dorm, who’s air conditioning was wholly ineffective.

 

I prefer to do most of my city exploring on foot when I’m abroad, but in the tropical climate and with Darwin quite spread out, I acknowledged that this wasn’t going to be sensible here. With the rise of a hot sun the next day, I bought myself a ticket for the city’s hop on-hop off tour bus which gave me 24hrs use of their services. Up the length of Mitchell Street, packed with bars and youth hostels, the bus headed towards Cullen Bay, an upmarket part of the city with swanky apartment blocks overlooking a gorgeous marina. Round past the casino and Botanic Gardens, I got off in the suburb of Parap which has a Saturday market. The food options were almost the same as the previous night’s market and this was interspersed with fruit & veg and local crafts. After grabbing breakfast and having a wander around, I jumped back on the bus, completing its loop via Stokes Hill wharf and back around, getting off again at the Botanic Gardens.

 

I love visiting Botanic Gardens, some being better than others. There were some interesting patches within Darwin’s gardens, but exposed to the constant sunshine, I was going through water like crazy. Near the entrance was a beautiful fountain in a pond, and the vegetation was a mixture of colourful flowers and tropical canopies. Walkways wind through the various sections, revealing a waterfall and some trees I’d never seen before, including a chunky and nobbly boab tree.