After dropping off the hire car - she didn't even look if there was any new damage - we met in town for a coffee. A quick trip to Casuarina to pick up supplies ended up with us getting a new GoPro under warranty, just for a broken housing mount. The guy even got our receipt from the Liverpool store to do it. We thought we'd have to buy it or they might exchange the broken bit at best. After all this time in Darwin we ticked Casuarina Beach off from our book before heading back to celebrate Simone's birthday with cake, sparklers and drinks around the fire.
The next day we had the company of Ruby and Daisy as Sandy and Simone packed up as their car was fixed. We were just hanging around the camper, Glen finally after 7 months got around to fixing the lights he didn't quite finish before we left, with a little help from Daisy after she and Ruby and Julie had done their diary writing. We read their diaries and were impressed with the things they'd done. You might think that this was some sort of imposition but they are such lovely girls they are an absolute pleasure to be around. Ruby is also our go-to source for information about birds, she is seven but is a wealth of knowledge… That afternoon we made a quick trip to Bunnings. As usual we came away with more than what we went in for BUT we did actually get the awning brackets we went there for. Best bargain was the $15 LED rechargeable work light. It only needed half an hour of modification before it actually worked as intended, now I know why they were in the clearance bay. Dad, you'll be pleased to know that it's now easier to work after sunset because I've got a great light.
August 1st was a day of goodbyes as we farewelled Sandy, Simone and the girls and met up with Kat, Gary and Asha for drinks at the Trailer Boat Club. There was still an issue with the brakes and, after consultation with Wayne Grey, it was decided that we take the car back to the mechanics. Needless to say they were shocked to see us. They gave us the loan car and had another go at fixing the rear brakes… Even with all the hassles I'd still take my car to Phil Kerr Service Centre if I was in Darwin. Movies that night - cheapskate Tuesday - to see Jason Bourne. Armed with his new work light Glen changed the D rubbers on the rear anti sway bar and sheared off the last bolt!
The following day after a visit to the doctor and an x-ray for Julie's foot Glen went to two Toyota dealers and got the last anti sway bar bolt in Darwin. Thank goodness for easy outs and the bolt was replaced and we are good to go to Kakadu. That night we met up with Iggy, and umpire from Sydney and his wife Lisa and friend Deb for dinner at La Beach. Next day we met up with Lyn our good friend from Sydney , her daughter Sharyn and were joined by Iggy and Deb for a pub lunch at Darwin's Waterfront area.
Good to go doesn't imply ready so we got away quite late after a frantic morning of packing up. On the way to Kakadu we stopped at the Window to the Wetland information Centre run by National Parks. We found it incredibly interesting and spent quite a bit of time there until it closed. We camped that night near the banks of the Mary River, apparently the river with the highest population of estuarine crocodiles in the world. We were a good 150m from the bank and had a French couple from Singapore between us and the water. Next morning we were surrounded… by agile wallabies and the calls of birds. Our trip to the river at night with our brightest torches and in the morning with our brightest eyes and bushy tails failed to turn up any crocs. More attempted repairs, this time to the trailer brakes which Glen adjusted but still couldn't get the electric brakes to do anything other than hum. Flicked the little lever that lets the piston slide in so we now have some braking on the trailer at least.
A visit to Bowali, the Kakadu Visitor Information Centre near Jabiru for a latte and parks pass - Kakadu is the only park in NT that charges an entry fee ($40 or free if you're a Territorian). We elected to stay at the caravan park in Jabiru as we needed the camper batteries charged, and did Ubir Rock art and sunset, Cahill's Crossing and the bakery. We then based ourselves at Sandy Billabong for four nights and that's where we were counted for the Census. From there we did Anbangbang Billabong, Nourlangie and the art there, Jim Jim and Twin Falls, Yellow Waters cruises for sunrise and sunset and Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre.
Julie slipped and smashed the front glass on her iPhone on top of Ubir Rock for sunset. Luckily we got all the photos off it even with the smashed screen. Also found the reason I couldn't get the new GoPro to charge was that there was no battery! Called the store and they are sending one in the post to Katherine for us.
Julie tells the following story to anyone she meets:
We got to Anbangbang Billabong and started the walk around the edge. Julie was worried that there might be crocs and Glen assured her they'd all be cleared from the tourist areas particularly so late in the season. Three quarters of the way around there were some plumed whistling ducks on a little island so Glen said he'd just walk the 10m to the edge take the picture and come right back. Julie said "What about the crocs? No way." Glen replied "There won't be any" Julie then spied a 2.5-3m croc and said "you're not going, what about THAT croc?" As we watched it came a bit closer and as we pointed it out to some fellow tourists it turned and came right towards us, stopping about 5m from the bank watching us.
The trip to Twin and Jim Jim Falls is 4wd with snorkel only, at least the last bit to Twin where you have to cross a 0.75m deep possible croc river. Up to the campground is corrugated badly and takes about an hour. Beyond that is 4wd track occasionally needing careful wheel placement. The trip to Twin requires a short boat ride and about 400m of clambering over rough ground and rocks to a floating walkway. Even without much water flowing it is a beautiful place and well worth the trip. Jim Jim is about a km of climbing over rocks to get to a couple of water holes to swim in. Not as attractive as Twin but still worth the effort.
The Yellow Waters cruises were very scenic and informative with lots of wildlife to see. 3 jabiru chicks in the one nest was a rare sight, a daddy red capped jacana with 8 little legs dangling under his wings as he carried his babies before putting them down so they could forage on the lily pads was special and the warradjan (pig nose) turtle we saw get taken by a croc, escape and then get taken again and the sound of the shell crack as it was being eaten is something few see and we won't forget in a hurry but perhaps the most special time was spent under the trees at the back of the Cultural Centre as Jessie and Violet, elders and traditional owners, taught Julie how to weave a bracelet out of dyed pandanus. Their stories inside the centre showed how life has changed for these people.
Another interesting thing is that the tribes that inhabited the Kakadu area had a marked area called sickness area. They limited travel and didn't eat the animals or drink the water there. Thousands of years later this is where the uranium deposits were found and mined.
Moving on from Sandy Billabong we stopped for a swim at Maguk, a spring fed waterfall where with a mask and snorkel we saw many large fish as people swam in the cool clear water. We camped at Gunlom for our last night in the park and swam in the pool at the bottom. That night we witnessed and were invited to join indigenous children from around Jabiru participating in a cultural camp as they danced with the elders. The children and adults were warm and inviting and all the time were thanking us for joining them when it was us who felt privileged to be able to share the culture they were learning. This was part of the Children's Ground www.childrensground.org.au
We walked to the top of Gunlom to swim and the sign at the top showed it was in sickness area! Oh well we weren't there long… Lunch and a shower and we hit the road bound for Edith Falls where we got the absolute last campsite thanks to the people before us taking pity on us and squeezing onto one site to allow us to have it. That evening we went to the bottom pool for sunset and watched the rocks turn (more) orange and reflect on the large pool (probably 200m x 100m) Glen went for a swim and Julie struck up a conversation with a couple, Max and Ros from Bute SA. They'd forgotten their camera so Julie sent them the sunset photos next time we had reception. Turns out we now have a place to park up the camper whenever we pass through there. People take to Julie so easily but it's still surprising how many offers of accommodation we get.
The next morning we packed up, moved to the day use car park and set up the solar panels while we went for a walk to the top pool. About a 2.5km loop and a lovely swimming spot at the top. A woman with her phone in the water soon had us wanting a Sony Xperia particularly as Julie's phone was still broken from the first day at Kakadu. After a bite of lunch at the car we headed into Katherine and the info centre before free camping across from the university 15km north of town. The place was a mess, particularly near the backpackers across from us so in the morning Glen made sure he was seen doing his usual clean up and the backpackers followed suit and cleaned up around them. Nice to have a win.
In Katherine the next day we checked out Low Level Bridge and the Katherine Hot Springs. They were clear and warm and we made our way to the top pool where the water comes out of an underground cave. Into town for a latte and lunch before heading south to Bitter Springs. Bitter Springs is a natural waterway fed by a hot spring. It's blue clear water is nutrient rich and therefore has an abundance of algae. It looks yuck in places from above but below the surface it was beautiful. We had our snorkels and noodles and explored a little way upstream looking at the rainbow fish and drifted downstream to where you get out, catching sight of a few turtles as we went.
That night, camped at WWII Stirling Mill, Glen took it upon himself to educate some backpackers - who happened to be French - about firewood needing to be collected before you get to the free camp sites and how you shouldn't cut down green trees because they don't burn anyway.
Drove back to Katherine and got Julie's phone fixed at UFARKIFIX and did a walk at Katherine Gorge. Still no parcel from JB-HIFI containing our GoPro battery. :(
Next day we were still waiting for the battery and finally chased it up at the Toll Office. At least we caught up on some washing and added to the latte total while we waited so were late heading off. Naturally we collected some wood before we got to camp and used the hand saw we bought instead of the chainsaw. After working up a sweat cutting the wood to length back at camp Glen needed a shower not a fire.
With the GoPro powered up again first stop was Bitter Springs to film the fish and turtles then to Mataranka thermal pools. They have a replica of the house from 'We of the Never Never' and some info about the author and the movie which they play every day at the caravan park bar. The pools have been concreted so they look quite artificial now compared to the postcards. Still that gets the oldies staying at the caravan park.
Taking the Roper Highway we began our drive along the Savannah Way. First camp was at Tomato Island, just in time for happy hour. A lot of the people there apparently stay for months to fish but with poor fishing this year not many of the long timers were still there. The campsite has space for 1000 people easily and has a nice new and large amenities block. Hot showers and flushing toilets all for $6.60/person/night.
At Butterfly Springs the next night we found a salamander in the water and enjoyed sharing our beer and some Pizza with Felix, a civil engineer who'd been working in Darwin and was now cycling unsupported on his mountain bike with no suspension from Darwin to Cairns and eventually he hopes, Melbourne. The next morning we took a 4WD track to the Western Lost City and drove to Lorella Springs Station that afternoon. Lorella Springs is pretty close to paradise. It's a 4WD mecca for amazing waterholes and fishing in the Gulf. It has over 1000km of track and we saw just a small amount but loved it and want to go back for longer than the 2 nights we spent there. The road in was a bit rough and it shook the screws holding the camper fridge out but that's all fixed better than new now :) One track we did late one afternoon was in to Scary Things Swamp. The track petered out to become just two tyre imprints and as we travelled along it carefully manoeuvring the Fun Truck between the trees which at times were only just wide enough to allow us through with millimetres more clearance than the width of our mirrors, our GPS was showing us travelling further away from the swamp into nothing. Eventually we called it and turned around. On making enquiries it turns out the trail we followed was blazed by 4WD Action a couple of months before and we were the first people to do it. The owner hadn't been through it or had it graded yet. You can see this track on the DVD with 4WD Action #257 out 22-9-16.
We continued along the Savannah Way stopping in at lagoons and campsites and pausing to photograph plants or animals that interested us. Top of the list would be a white weeping grevillea that was covered in jewel beetles.
Our next stop was two days above the Calvert River camped next to a spring fed creek which was crystal clear. We were visited daily by crimson finches and lorikeets and Julie made her first ever damper. As always she triumphed.
At Hells Gate (apparently you had police escort to a gap in the range (in Qld) and were on your own until Katherine about 400km away and most people were on foot. The country, crocs and inhabitants were generally all inhospitable so it would have been like walking into hell) we had the most expensive coffee. $5 for half a small cup of Nespresso!
Although we didn’t get any rain they did between us and Lawn Hill and the camper and car were covered in layers of mud!
Arrived at Lawn Hill without being able to find Sandy and Simone and patchy phone service hindered us further so, thanks to a friendly ranger we were able to stay in the overflow at Lawn Hill even though it was supposedly full according to the online booking system.