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.
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.
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…
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…