… And first time being eaten alive by midges.
Yes! We have finally made it to Northern Australia. And the contrast with Asia is… Pretty striking.
First: the prices. WOW! $5 for a beer, $20 for a fish and chips… It’s a real shock for us after Asia, where a beer is usually 50cts.
Second: the weather. Here in Darwin, at the moment, it is wet season. That means it is bloody hot all day long and sometimes a shower fools everything down. It also means that out of nowhere there might be a massive lightening storm happening, or that it starts raining dramatically for hours on.
Third: the bugs. I thought I saw bugs in Asia. I was so wrong. I saw nothing compared to what’s here. I have never seen so many grasshoppers, such colourful ants and such big BIG spiders…
We arrived in Darwin on the 12th of January. We had contacted a few couch surfing host but found nowhere to stay so we decided to book an AirBnB as it was cheaper than even a normal backpacker place. Here in Darwin, a dorm bed is between $20 and $25… So we thought that a $57 AirBnB room with our own bathroom and a kitchen for us to use was a pretty good deal.
On the first day we were very tired and jet lagged so we slept until 2pm and then went to walk around town, inquiring for car rental prices. We also went to Woolsworth and shopped for the next few days in order to cook our own food and save some money.
The next day, we made banana porridge and drank the best coffee we had in weeks. Honestly, you cannot realise how important and tasty coffee becomes after three months in Asia. Coffee becomes a rare gem you seek, chocolate becomes a diamond difficult to find and yet a dish without added sugar doesn’t exist. Oh, Asia. I will miss you.
Anyway, we also took some time to plan where we could go in Litchfield and Kakadu; making sure we knew the places to see, what was open during wet season and to 2WD – that is, not a lot.
It started pouring down just after we left. It rained a lot and quite violently for a couple of hours. So armed with our jackets and my dry bag, we headed towards the Information Center. The rain was so heavy that we had to stop for five minutes to make sure all electronic devices were dry, safe and sound in the dry bag.
Once at the Information Center, we rented a car starting the next day, for 5 days, so we could explore Litchfield and Kakadu National Park. It was the best deal we found in Darwin – Hyundai i20, 5 doors, unlimited kilometers, all insurances included, for AUS$50 a day. A bargain, from the car rental compagny Bargain. Spot on.
Next thing, we headed to the Waterfront under the pouring rain.
We walked around a little bit and then headed to the library to get some free wifi, as we didn’t have wifi at our AirBnB. It was an occasion for us to check out e-mails and other Facebook; and also a good opprtunity to update the blog about our journey from Nong Khiaw, Laos to Darwin, Australia. I had a lot to write.
After spending a couple of hours in the library (and finishing up our data allowance), we walked around town a bit more – we bought sunglasses as we lost our during the kayak trip in Laos) and wanted to head to the free Museum and Art Gallery on the other side of town, as we had heard it was really good and worth going to. We thought that if we walked all the way – it was quite a way from where we were – we would make it on time before it closes. Mistake. We didn’t know we would stop so often… First we treated ourselves to a $5 Domino’s pizza…
Then we spotted some really cool things along the way…
We walked towards the museum but stopped again, this time to see the botanical gardens – really worth a wander if you are walking around Darwin and want to see something beautiful and interesting.
It was a really gorgeous walk amongst the rainforest and magnificent trees and plants.
And we finished our tour of the city by going to Mindill Beach.
We made butternut squash soup for dinner… Oh, the pleasure of using a kitchen again! Cooking! What is that again? It’s like I almost forgot…
The next day, Dennis went to pick up our car from Bargain on Mitchell St, Darwin. I was very happy with the car, it was small enough, wasn’t fuel greedy and was spacious enough for all our stuff!
We stopped at Woolsworth for gas and food. We bought everything we need for two or three days camping. Bread, tomatoes, cucumber (so we could make sandwiches) and peanut butter and Nutella to make toast in the morning. Bananas and apples were also on the list – and mushrooms and spinach! In a nutshell, because you never know when – and if – you’ll be able to cook anything while camping, you buy what you can also eat raw (that’s my advice anyway). Vegetables juices are also awesome, but Dennis hates them so that was out of the list for me!
Anyway, after all this, we drove for an other forty five minutes, through Batchelor, and finally entered Litchfield National Park (click link for map). It was already starting to rain, which wasn’t a very positive omen for us, but we kept on going.
There, we saw the Magnetic Termite Mounts… They are all positioned the same way, forming some sort of dent, pointing at the sky and each side being exactly north/south. It is a very impressive field to see. According to the informative boards that were on the sight, scientists know that termites are blind, but they believe they must have a special magnetic sense that tells them where north and south are; hence why the site is called Magnetic Termites Mounts. Take the time to stop there if you are going to Litchfield National Park, it’s beautiful to see and the displays are very interesting.
On the parking lot we decided to have our lunch before heading off: pasta with onions and butternut squash, we cooked the night before at our AirBnB, yummy!
Our next stop after food was the Tolmer Falls. The walk is very short (800 metres if I remember well) and the view point is simply breath-taking. I really recommend doing the short walk to the view point there. For us, in wet season, it was very impressive, but I believe that in dry season with a blue sky, it must just equally spectacular.
After that, we headed towards Wangi Falls and because it was all closed apart from the parking lot and the camping/picnic area, we decided to push further to Cascades and do the 3.4km walk before heading back to Wangi. The walk was really nice but the amount of bugs (especially flies) was very disturbing and annoying. We were glad when it was over!
We then went back to Wangi Falls where we cooked dinner (tasty dinner!). We had corn on the cob, spinach, red cabbage, carrots, tomatoes and cucumber salad, mashed aubergines on toast and the rest of butternut squash soup… A feast! You don’t really expect to eat that well when you are camping… But we were very well prepared, had cooked some food prior to our adventure, so we were really well organised.
We showered in the disable toilets, by using a plastic container that we filled with water and splashed on ourselves… That’s one thing Asia taught me (amongst many): how do you shower when there is no shower? I shall develop about this – and other things Asia taught me – in an other blog, soon(ish).
Anyway, we spent the night in the car, which was hell – truly. We were attacked by swarms of mosquitoes, the night was hot, it was raining outside…
When we woke up in the morning (6:30am), we were absolutely shattered… And we I started driving to good Kakadu National Park, we were confronted to a flooded floodway that was impassable for our small 2WD car (0.6m).
Considering there are crocodiles in these waters, we didn’t want to risk anything, so we just decided to wait (5 hours and Dennis was asleep at the back of the car), until a lovely couple with a 4WD told us to just follow them with our car and if we were to drift away because of the stream, they could pull us out (they had everything to save us). Needless to say, we decided to go for it, and it worked! Thanks guys, wherever you are now.
We then headed to Florence Falls for a short walk. It is really beautiful there, and worth taking 20 minutes to do the walk down to the pool.
But on the way out of Litchfield, we got confronted to a second floodway that seemed way too high for us, this time about 0.5m (or above). We met a couple of French people there – waiting before the floodway – who told us they were waiting because it was too dangerous to cross and they didn’t know if their car would make it. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, appeared a couple of Germans who said: we passed it this morning! 0.8m! Ranger told us we were crazy! Just put a plastic cover on the motor and it’s fine, we will do it now.
And they did it – it seemed crazy. So we decided to wait for a 4×4 to go and we would follow them. And we did it!
After that, we were on our to Kakadu National Park, more than 200km away from where we were… So it is a bit of a drive, but honestly, it’s really worth it! The landscape is very beautiful, and it is a nice drive.
Here’s the map of Kakadu National Park so you can follow our trip through it and spot the differences places we stopped at.
After entering the park, it was already late and we were tired from all that happened during the day. We found a campground to pitch our tent for the night. No running water – no showers, there were only dry toilets.
We set up camp, made a little fire to get rid of the flies (it didn’t really work), had food in the car and went to bed.
The next day, it was time for us to tackle Kakadu! We woke up, decided to go walks and discover the natural beauty of the park.
We made a first interesting encounter: a thrill lizard. You usually only see them during wet season because they come down from the trees they inhabit during the dry season. They open their thrill in order to scare their ennemy, but I’ll tell you, our Hyundai was not impressed.
After that we decided to stop at the Mirrai Lookout. We started the walk to the viewpoint and walked for a while until Dennis – who was at the front, waving a stick to get rid of the spider webs – caught the stick in a very tough golden spider web and a massive spider started crawling towards him. Honestly, we both got scared and just swore at Australia’s too diverse bug pool and decided to go back to the car. The car is a safe haven in these circumstances, believe me.
Slightly scared of big spiders, we drove on to the next right turn towards Nourlangie where there is a walk allowing you to see aboriginal rock art.
We armed ourselves of sticks again, and started the walk. I cannot stress how worth it was. The art is absolutely mind blowing, and I just felt like I couldn’t see enough of it! It was fantastic.
You can find a lot of information about the Nourlangie area here.
From there, we drove toward Jabiru, the only town in the National Park. We stopped at the visitor center where there was free internet and also a very interesting documentary about the park.
Considering it was just lunch time, we went shopping in the only supermarket of the town. We payed way too much for way too little, but all, it was kind of expected (if you go to Kakadu, make sure you have food for the whole time you are there, even if it means having 10 packs of noodles). Then we headed towards the lake where there is picnic area with electric BBQ (and that’s the best, we need then back home).
After having a look around the commercial campsites around, we decided it was way too expensive (AUS$20 or AUS$25 each for a night in our own tent on their ground!), so we decided to drive back towards the last campsite belonging to the National Park we saw. We stopped again at the Visitor Center took hole check if the campground was open, and sent some couch surfing requests for the following night, as we had decided we didn’t want to spend an other night in Kakadu.
At the campground, we were all alone – that is, us and the billion flies attacking us. For you, here is a video documenting the gravity of the situation.
We cooked corn on the cob and pasta with carrots and onions that we had cooked earlier thanks to the electric cooker.
It was a lovely dinner and a nice night in Kakadu. The spot was really cool, and we were ready for our last day on the park before heading back to Darwin.
The following day, we went back 20kms towards Litchfield National Park, still in Kakadu, in order to do an other walk to see more rock art. We decided to take the road to Nourlangie and do the Naguluwur walk: 3.4km return, it appeared quite easy for us, but don’t forget water and protect yourself from the flies. They are vicious little things. They love getting in your eyes and mouth, so lovely!
After walking for approximately 30 minutes (1.7km), we arrived at the gallery, we felt even more emotions than we did in the Nourlangie area. It was such a strange feeling to be facing ancient paintings that appeared so relevant and meaningful for the aboriginal at this time – and now, still – like this painting of a boat arriving on their shores.
Nearby, you can see this fantastic paintings of fish hanging upside down. I can only fathom what they looked like they had just been painted and were full of colours.
After the walk, we headed back towards Jabiru to go to the Information Center again. Indeed we needed internet (to check couch surfing requests and our e-mails) and a coffee break. We were so glad to find out that we had a Couch Surfing host for the night! We were going to surf with Jason and Marianna in Darwin, and we were pretty excited about that!
Whilst we were sipping our coffee, I saw a woman getting up with what I thought was a purse… But no it wasn’t a purse – or actually yes, maybe – it was a handbag with a wallaby inside! A cosy, fluffy, warm handbag with the cutest baby wallaby inside.
I decided to go to her and ask her if I could just take a picture, when the ranger she was talking to said: “Mine is doing well too!” and there she want to grab her wallaby. I was startled. Suddenly I had two amazingly cute baby wallabies in front of me and all I could do was pet them and make sure I had a good picture of both of them… No but really, look at them! Naw!
Just before leaving the park, we stopped at one last spot: Mamukala. We wanted to do the 4km walk and then go to the bird watching area. We were hopefully to spot birds and crocodiles… But we only saw birds… And the walk was closed due to a too-high risk of encounter with crocs… Too bad!
On the way to Darwin, the road to leave the National Park was absolutely gorgeous, we enjoyed the sunshine and the glorious scenery, and it finally hit us that we were soon leaving the area, and we wish we had more time to explore it… But we will be back, Northern Territory!
I nearly forgot to mention how Dennis believed he was a croc for a split second.When we arrived in Darwin, we went to our hosts and were welcome warmly. We had a shower and washed our clothes… It felt like being alive again after spending four days in a car! But it was so worth it. Our hosts were fantastic, we really got along with them and with Matteo, the other couch surfer from Italy. He made delicious zucchini and shrimp pasta on the night we arrived.
The next day, we took our time to have breakfast and sort out all our stuff because we felt the need to be organised before our flight to Brisbane at 1:15am the following morning.
Once all packed and done, Marianna took us to the organic shop where she shops, and we bought a butternut squash, some green beans and spinach for the pasta dish I would cook for dinner. It was nice to go in an organic shop, away from all the GMOs and MSG you find in South East Asia…
After that, we went to woolsworth to top up on the food we needed for lunch, dinner and breakfast on the plane and we went back to our hosts’ house. We quickly grabbed some lunch and hopped in the car to go see the previously-mentionned Museum and Art Gallery.
First, we went to their cafe place and grabbed a delicious coffee. It was a nice way to start the afternoon and the visit in the museum.
We then started by visiting the Rob Brown exhibition. honestly? It was one of the best and funniest exhibition I have ever seen. The mix between the sarcasm, the colours but also sometimes the nostalgia lingering in the paintings… I wish I could have seen more of Rob Brown! He is definitely an artist I will not forget. Here’s a snapshot of the paintings you could see in the exhibition.
The museum is quite big, and one area was dedicated to artifacts and craft from South East Asia, so we took a selfie, for the beautiful memories SEA offered us.
Finally, a whole aisle of the Museum and Art Gallery was dedicated to Aboriginal Art, and I felt transcended by the beauty and the meaning of the paintings and sculptures. Dennis and I both felt the need to start researching the artistic dimension of the Aboriginal culture.
I can honestly say that I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Northern Territory. Part of me is sad to go, I will miss the dangers of the wet season and the crocs, all the wallabies jumping around and the beauty of the landscape; but I am sure we will love every single part of Australia we go to, and New Zealand is awaiting us in a few days. I am excited about all the places we will go to, all the landscapes we will see and all the things we will experience. I feel ready to enjoy this trip even more as I feel that my deepest heart desires resonate with what I have, so far, experienced of Australia.
Bring it on, Queensland.