Kakadu Travel Diary – Blog Part 1

We’ve survived Kakadu National Park, 20,000 square kilometres of saturated blue skies, burnt gum trees, drenched wetlands. An area 28 times the size of my home country of Singapore. It’s  beautiful in its own starkness but just so mind numbingly vast, what they call the Top End of Australia.

In Victoria where we live, we’re spoilt by stunning, undulating, varied vistas. For example, on the 2.5 hour journey to Mount Buller from our house, you pass by the gorgeous beaches of the Mornington Peninsula, the buzzing hipsters in Melbourne, the golden tinged vineyards of the Yarra Valley, cute little country hillside towns like Yea and Mansfield, then the vertiginous snaking road up through towering snow gums to the top of the mountain.

In the 4 hour drive from Darwin to Kakadu, you just see monotonous blurry stretches of the gum trees on flat land for most of the journey with only the occasional termite mound or dishearteningly boring McMiners town to break up the scenery.

We decided to take things easy because after 3 hours on a bumpy dirt road, all the kids were car sick and the only thing we had seen was an army base and a small patch of swamp with magpie geese on it. Apparently it was another hour to the cultural centre, and then another 2 hours to a waterfall! My head (and bum) hurt just to think of it. I mean, if you drove that far from Singapore, you’d practically be halfway to China already! We gave the cultural centre a half-hearted exploration, had lunch at a truly tacky resort and beat a hasty retreat back to Wildman’s Wilderness Lodge where we were staying, an hour outside Kakadu.

Actually, as it turns out, we had a far better time exploring the area surrounding the lodge as it is part of the Mary River system and has its own billabong and wetlands. The highlight of our stay was definitely the airboat trip. An airboat is like being on a souped up V8 race car that hovers on a cushion of air over the water. It is dead fast, crazy noisy and a lot of fun. The kids screamed with crazy glee as the Macca, the airboat driver, deftly executed turns and chicanes on the swamp, scattering enormous flocks of birds in the air and alarming kangaroos, wallabies, wild buffalo, feral pigs and crocodiles.

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In fact, the airboat was so fast, I feared that we were practically going to crash into the wildlife half the time. In the photo on the below right, you can see the most bizarre stork called the Jabiru. This one was about 1.4 metres tall with a iridescent teal blue face and flamingo pink legs. He had just caught its fishy dinner in the billabong and calmly ate it in front of us as black kite birds circled over head screaming for him to leave some remnants for them.

Speaking of wild buffalo, we were lucky enough to come across two wild male buffalo who were sizing each other up, preparing for a territory dispute. As we watched with great interest, they charged towards each other, and when their horns locked, they both turned at the same time and ran, tangled up straight towards our airboat, no more than 15 metres away!

Luckily Macca had the good sense to whack on the reverse and get us out of their path in a hurry – nobody wants to be smacked by half a ton of wild buffalo! I can just see the headlines – Singaporean family turned into Buffalo Biltong at Kakadu…

Here’s the youtube video I shot of the entire alarming event. The kids thought it was splendid, educational fun though and spent the rest of the day practicing buffalo wrestling moves in the tent.

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The wild lotus flowers are magnificent, velvety petaled, geometric and unexpected, rising majestically out of the muddy swamp.

Oh and the crocs are everywhere. A few weeks before our trip, some unfortunate fellow as bailing water with a pail from a fishing boat when he leaned a little too far over the edge, and a huge 4.7 metre crocodile jumped up and dragged him down into the water as his horrified wife and daughter watched. It was so fast he didn’t even get a chance to scream, and he was never seen again. The police went out and shot 2 crocs and found his remains in both, according to the locals. “He got taken just at this spot here. Ah you know, these things happen.” our weatherbeaten Northern Territories cowboy guide shrugged, “we’ll be right.”

That’s the thing about Aussies. Half of the time they’re freaking out about applying SPF 50+ sunscreen, speed limits, making sure that swimming pools are fenced off like Alcatraz and such, but point out that they live in the most dangerous place in the entire world when it comes to wildlife and insects that will kill you and they’re all “No dramas! Throw another snag on the barbie will ya and mind that redback spider under your coaster!” Finn can recite a list of 20 things that will kill you in under a minute just on our local beach alone – coneshells, blue-ringed octopus, the list goes on…

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It’s a crazy, rugged, cowboy kind of place. Finn got to ride in the front seat of the jeep – seatbelt optional. We often didn’t see a single car for hours in the baking sun. There’s a town called Humpty Doo and its gas station is called Humpty Pump. There’s a place on the Adelaide river that trains crocs to jump 2 metres into the air to catch dead chickens suspended from rods on the side of the boat. I spoke to a teenage boy who pulled out his mobile phone to show me videos of him riding a rodeo bull, where he hung on for 2 seconds before he was flung off like a rag doll and stomped on. “Jeez, that was a bit hairy there!” he grinned.  It’s a mad place. And when I say we survived it, I mean that I’m on antivirals, antibiotics and antihistamines after being bitten by a swarm of insects which led to a dreaded staph infection.

Did I mention the kids had an awesome time though?  The things we do as parents. More to be continued in Part II of our Kakadu travel diary soon…
xxx,
Yours, feverishly,
C

Spring means…

Spring is:

Lying in the garden with Dylan in mismatched floral bathers, watching clouds in the sky

Jade green avocado halves lavished with goats cheese and sprinkled with jalapeño slices

Heavy sheaves of wisteria unfurling along the eaves like a languorous yawn

Getting excited about baby animals on the farm

Early evening strolls with the dog to sniff out scurrilous fox holes. Four were found around the chicken coop today- this means war!

Reading Roald Dahl classics to two avidly listening little faces at night by the fire while it’s still cold enough to light it

Dreaming about summer days and buying a boat

Putting the roof down on the car for the first time and feeling the eucalyptus wind on your face while you drive, happy as a doggy

Planning, planning and more planning of paddock and vegetable patch configurations

Spring cleaning the library books of cobwebs and getting endlessly distracted by reading random pages

Stopping at the driveway to see if you can spy breaking waves on the beach

Airing out the camping tents in anticipation

Rabbit hunting with Sean and the local butcher at dusk

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and last but not least…

Discovering Dylan in her bathers, fur vest and wellies because the weather outside changes every 5 minutes!

Look for the light and when it arrives, everything changes

I am probably more fascinated than most people by how much the light shifts from season to season, having spent most of my life in the tropics.

The sun is low in the sky during Autumn. The light gets under the trees, scattering into horizontal shafts, cleaving apart the landscape and illuminating select things, certains objets, so that you’re forced to contemplate details such as the texture of the peeling bark on a tree or a dazzling beadscape of morning dew.

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I have to be extra vigilant in the colder months to force myself to go outdoors, get some of those precious vitamin D infused rays, otherwise it’s easy for me to get slightly depressed and cranky. It is hard to pull myself away from the fireplace but once I’m outdoors I appreciate the vitality of that extra crisp country air, which is currently infused with the delicious burnt eucalyptus smoke coming from our bonfire.

I thought it’s really funny that the Irishman hasn’t bothered to take the tags off his new wellies. Or maybe he’s really proud of them as they’re the first pair of proper gumboots he’s owned. True story – the Irishman once purchased USED second hand gumboots from a car boot sale on a whim and quite happily wore them for 4 years until they disintegrated. Which may explain why I found 21 tubes of Lamisil in the bathroom the last time I spring cleaned.

And the beloved red tractor has been refurbished and is as good as ever. It’s such a beautiful thing really with its blocky cartoonish lines and apple red paint job.

On a random note, Dylan has been really getting into dancing and amusing us with her creative choreography.

She twirls and bounces until she gets so sweaty that she lies around the house panting and begging for us to turn down the heating while all of us are freezing! I suppose there’s a lesson in that as well.
Here’s a video of her totally improvised dance which I just happened to get on my iPhone.

x,
C

Sunset at Frankston

Mark and I had an hour to kill before our movie at Frankston (The Kings Speech, if you’re interested), so we decided to take a stroll along Frankston Pier. We don’t normally go to Frankston (our neighbours call it Frankghanistan – it’s a little rough around the edges), but it was sunset and the light was spectacular.

Luckily I happened to have my little Panasonic camera with a f1.7 pancake lens in the car, so I took a few quick shots of various interesting things. Like the abandoned chair in the tide. And the cheesy fairground rides complete with 12 foot tall fibreglass Sinister Kangaroo.

“Fun Slide”. Is that a bit of an philosophical oxymoron?

a sublime day at the coolart jazz fest

Last weekend we had the best time at the lovely, relaxed Coolart Jazz Fest, which advertises itself as “The Family Friendly festival on the Peninsula”.

The fest was held in the grounds of the historic Coolart Mansion where a multitude of little stalls had been set up offering face painting, strawberries & cream, wine, cinnamon-dusted beignets and other good things. And the best thing was that there was plenty of space and no long queues.

We were also pleasantly surprised to see a large contingent from the special needs community turn out. They seemed to be having the most fun of all. I watched, rapt, as a wheelchair-bound man twirled with a partner, smiling so hard it could break your heart.

And when Finn went to the ice-cream stall to get his treat, he started whooping “Ice-cream! Ice-cream!!” excitedly, and a middle-aged man with Downs Syndrome turned around and enthused “Yay! It’s so good isn’t it!”. I got misty-eyed when Mark told me that story.

The kids twirled about on the dancefloor, shimmying and shaking their nappies until it was time to go back. Mark declared it one of the best days ever. And now that it’s rainy and we’re in the middle of a freak weather system, it’s good to look back on the sunshine of just a few days ago and remember the good times.

xxx,
C

Free-range children….

At cocktails yesterday, my friend Lisa was telling my mom the lengths that Peninsula mothers go to to avoid having their kids hooked on computer games – we spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars on surfboards, surfing lessons, horses, horseriding instruction, saddle clubs, ski trips, season passes, sports camps, anything to avoid having glassy-eyed zombie kids.

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I don’t think my mom necessarily got it, but there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t feel thankful for living here and for being able to give my children the experience of living in the bucolic countryside as well as amidst the skyscrapers of Singapore.

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This was just another random day with our neighbours kids dropping in for a play while us adults drank pinot and swapped yarns…

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I love how Poppy always seems to have a beautiful flower in her hair or somewhere…

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Orlando breaks the Peninsula Apartheid of Boys vs Girls

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The only time we ever need to do some “parenting” is when some kid (in this case Gracie) decides to climb up to the dangerously dilapidated treehouse, which is of course a major draw to all kids within a 10 km radius….

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Stella with stars in her eyes. I can’t tell you how many times people ask if I’ve photoshopped that, but she just looks like that naturally.

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The weather has been heating up this week and tomorrow will be a toasty 40 degrees. Mark’s off sailing and I’m heading down to the beach for a brief respite before a round of New Year’s Eve parties. See you in 2011!

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xxx,
C