Posts Tagged With: Gunlom

ONCE A JOLLY SWAGMAN, NEVER BY A BILLABONG

You are the guitar man, jah?” said Marcus, implying that I mosey on over later with my six-string when the fire is lit.

“No worries,” I said.

I had camped next to Marcus and Vilma, a German couple, the previous night at Gunlom. The whole camp had heard me strum my guitar (I was surprised no one asked me to either burn it or stop playing) but I only bumped into them at the top of the Gunlom Waterfalls in the rock pools.

P1020867I had climbed the steep ascent after a breakfast of eggs and a salad. Rounding a boulder I almost fell back. My eyes had to be playing tricks on me.

Before me three separate rock pools with crystal-clear waters surrounded by red rock were laid out like a therapeutic spa. Sandy beaches lay at the foot of gum trees standing proud, watching over the visitors that came to swim.

Without hesitation I splashed between pools, clambered over rocks exploring one of the most astounding places I had ever set foot in. I conversed with the Germans about travels, the Middle East, Oktoberfest, life in general.

As we played about, Marcus suddenly noticed a Mertens Monitor (known as ‘Burrarr’ in the local indigenous language), a large black lizard about a meter in length, with small yellow dots all over its body, resembling a starry night sky. Its underbelly was a light, creamy colour. It lay on the edge of the rock pool basking in the sun.P1020879

Marcus and I climbed up to the higher rock pool where we we’re both taken aback by the gorge the water was carving its way through. A small, Jacuzzi-like pool just above the small waterfall beckoned me to sit in it.

I simply could not believe that I was here in this glorious part of the world, untouched (so it seemed) by the hand of destructive human. Clambering over a fallen tree trunk, I almost stepped on a dead black dung beetle, the size of a chicken’s egg.

As the sun climbed higher, I bid the German’s farewell. Kakadu was the size of a third of Tasmania, about 20,000 square kilometers. There was much too see and do. I drove up to Gungurul, a campsite and lookout point on the South Alligator River. I climbed the hill only to discover that the view was obscured by trees. I could just make out the green blanket of forest spread out over a red sheet of Outback earth. I walked the 250 meters to the South Alligator River, passing a bright yellow sign with large red letters that didn’t hold back in typical Aussie manner:

‘EXTREME DANGER VERY LARGE ESTUARINE (SALTWATER) CROCODILES INHABIT THESE WATERS’

Known as ‘Ginga’ in the local indigenous language, salty males can reach 5-7 meters (and sometimes more) while the females were slightly smaller at 3-4 meters.

I was the only person around which made everything more eerie and horror movie-esq. I walked as quietly as I could to the banks of the river – only to discover that it was all a dry sandy beach with tall gum trees standing at odd angles with huge chunks of debris collected at their base.

I was about to turn back when I noticed another embankment in the middle. I assumed that the other side would have water – and crocs. I threw off my sandals and crept up as stealthily as possible; feeling very vulnerable if there just happened to be a 5-meter dinosaur on the other side that might be catching some rays (I was also on the lookout for snakes and prehistoric-sized spiders).

I breathed slowly as I saw that the ankle-deep water was clear. I looked each way; staring at rocks for prolonged lengths of time until I was satisfied that it wasn’t one of nature’s highly tuned killing machines.

I headed back to the car and traveled onwards to Jim Jim Billabong, slowing down to watch a majestic chocolate-brown wild Brumby cross the road. Further on, a couple of wild donkeys crossed the highway.

Jim Jim Billabong is a $5 camp site with a compost toilet block, concrete picnic tables and fire pits. I parked at the furthest table from the watering hole, donned my fly net and began to collect firewood for the night. I lingered by the water, watching it with the intensity of a predator tracking its prey, only that I was the prey.

The billabong is surrounded by thick trees, the only opening being the boat ramp. I stood far enough from the edge of the water to feel just a little bit safe. I was getting a strange feeling that I was being watched so I backed off and went to pitch my tent.

A French family pulled up in a hired Landcruiser. We exchanged ‘bonjours’ and just as I finished cooking a tuna pasta dish surrounded by green tree ants, the Germans rolled up.

As the sun began to set . I began to feel the mosquitoes bite so I changed to jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and added socks to go with my sandals. My only exposed parts were my hands as I kept the fly net on. The Germans began to prep their own dinner as I brought over the wood I had collected and my guitar.

I lit the fire while a constant buzzing sound grew louder as the sun disappeared and I realised that camping by a billabong on a humid night was about as smart an idea as having Tony Abbott run for Prime Minister.

I was sweating due to the humidity (dry season my ass), trying to play guitar while slapping away at the mozzies that had the special ability to pierce through jeans and long-sleeved shirts.

“Jesus Christ!” I yelled out, trying to complete a whole song without stopping to slap at an insect.

The buzzing grew louder and pretty soon all we could hear was the roaring fire and the buzzing of  mini-Messerschmits.

The Germans shared their white wine while I tried desperately to provide some musical entertainment. I managed to suffer through two hours of bites before giving up.

“I’ll see you guys in the morning,” I said. “I’ll make coffee,” I promised and devised a strategy to leap into my tent without getting the mosquitoes to follow. I somehow managed to give them the slip and zipped up the netting in lightning speed.

I lay down to try and sleep but the constant buzzing drone of a jazillion mosquitoes kept me up. I may as well be sleeping under an engine of a jet plane going through the wind tunnel test. I seriously thought that the mozzies would pick up my tent and drop me in the middle of the billabong.

And if that wasn’t enough, weird animal noises were penetrating the night. Creatures kept crashing into my tent with high-pierced squawks, as though something were killing it and dragging it off to feed its family.

The howling of dingos nearby did not add to the nightmarish soundtrack. All I could do was hope that none of the mosquitoes would find a way in, like semen trying to fertilise an egg. The ones that did penetrate through were dealt with formidably.

That night I was not a jolly swagman camped by a billabong. Whoever wrote the words to ‘Waltzing Matilda’ forgot to mention that the mosquitoes will, like an investment bank, suck you dry.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Australia, Conservation, Northern Territory | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

KAKADU-KAKADON’T

P1020784I was strumming Led Zeppelin’s epos, Stairway to Heaven, on my guitar as I casually looked up at the moonless starry sky. It was just past 19:00 and the Milky Way was as clear as a red wine stain on a white rug. I knew it would be a good day which started out by waking up at 07:00, the sun not yet warm enough to scare off the morning chill. As I brewed my Turkish-Lebanese coffee blend in the communal kitchen, I looked over to the banks of the lagoon.

Grumpy was nowhere to be seen.

 

Chatted with an Australian fisherman over a breakfast of scrambled eggs and tomato sandwiches, he gave me the title to the piece.

“Kakadu, kakadon’t,” he said when I told him of my travel outline.

I left Springvale Homestead feeling springy, stopping at the now open Trash ‘n’ Treasure shop which stocked the machine head I needed for the guitar which I fixed at the counter and bought a new set of strings just in case.

On the road I pulled in at Edith Falls, about 46 K’s north of Katherine for a quick swim. No one else was in the water which made me paranoid as I was freaked out enough about the possibilities of crocodiles sharing the water. I’m all for sharing, just not with them.

P1020782After a quick dip (and I mean quick. I jumped in, submerged and jumped out), I continued on to Kakadu National Park, a World Heritage listed park, the only one in the world to have a protected tropical river running through it – the Alligator River (even though its home to crocodiles).

“You should be able to drive up to Gunlom in your 2-wheel drive,” advised the ranger when I bought my 14 day, $25 pass at Mary’s Roadhouse at the southern entrance to the park. He marked out the $5 (with pit toilets) and $10 (with hot showers) camp sites and where it was safe to swim. “Gunlom, by far, is the best place in the park,” he recommended.

I took the first left off the Kakadu Highway and hit the dusty red track that took me to Yurmikmik walking tracks. I grinned as my car was finally covered in a thin layer of red, Outback dust. I went for the 4-K Motorcar Falls trek. It was an extremely hot day so I packed 3 litres of water.

I came across a retired couple halfway up the track who informed me that, “Once you climb over the boulders, you’ll reach the plunge pool.”

I kept walking, diverting slightly to the Yurmikmik lookout that showed off the grandeur of the Kakadu National Park as far as a good eye could see. It was as green as a lush botanical garden.P1020789

I returned to the track, noticing its dullness. It was through dry bushland, covered with mighty-sized ants that I had to skip over so as not to physically trip over. I came across a young British couple who repeated what the retirees had said, “Brave the boulders and you’ll see it. It’s beautiful.”

After a further 35 minutes I found myself in a thick wooded area with small pools of clear water and planet-sized boulders. I clambered over them, scattering tiny black frogs (or were they grasshoppers?), weary of the huge webs orb spiders had booby-trapped everywhere as I stepped lightly. I came up to a moon-sized boulder which I scaled with the ease of a mountain goat (if I do say so myself – and I do say so myself). Upon reaching its peak I had to stop.

I started to laugh, almost maniacally although it was from pure joy. Before me was a crystal clear pool of water, about P1020796as big as an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Surrounding it were tall cliffs of red, yellow and black rock reaching up almost a hundred feet to scratch the blue sky. From the top of one wall, a waterfall cascaded down gently into the water.

It was as if I had fallen into one of Monet’s water-paintings. I was in complete awe as to how something as simple (and complex) as nature had created this slice of paradise. And after such a dull hike, to be rewarded with this…

P1020797Three weeks ago I was 3,500 K’s from this spot and now I was in heaven.

I tore off the shirt sticking to my back and, although I knew that there wouldn’t be (and shouldn’t be) any crocs around, I still checked vehemently until I was absolutely certain that it was safe to plunge in.

And plunge I did, swimming out to the centre of the pool, basking in the sun, an irremovable grin smeared across my face. I splashed about, the only human around (which would make me an easy – and bony – meal for any croc).

Sunning myself on the rock like a basking lizard, I looked around again, exploding in joyous laughter. “I can’t believe this is real,” I said aloud, the spiders and frogs (or were they grasshoppers?) my only audience.

I gathered my things and began to head off when something caught my eye. A flash of orange and black came into focus as an orb spider the size of my small hatchback hung in the middle of its house-sized web just off the rock I was standing on.

I had to force myself to pull away and get back on the track as I was in complete awe by the magnificent arachnid.P1020816

I hit the trail, head down to make sure I wasn’t about to step on a snake, tiny black frogs (or were they grasshoppers?) or disturb one of the many ant nests I had come across. When I did lift my head it was because I had reached a gate I didn’t pass on the way up.

Huh, I shrugged and continued on. Must lead back to the car park.

When I passed the sign that read, ‘Tour Vehicles Only’ I knew I had made a wrong turn. Hopes were dashed of reaching the car park when the track reached the red dirt road I had been driving on.

Shit.

The full force of the Outback sun hit me like a runaway train. My gut instinct told me to go left and for the first time in my life I decided to listen to it. After a few metres I heard the rumblings of a car and flagged down a campervan driven by a French couple.

They offered me a ride to the car park where I was headed. In return, I recommended the Springvale Homestead for camping as they were headed towards Katherine and gave them my map of the town.

I continued down the road a further 11 K’s to Gunlom where I pitched a tent at the $10 campsite. I hiked over to the rock pool which was bigger than the Motorcar Falls and had a taller water fall flowing down.

“This is incredible,” I said aloud, taken aback by the majestic beauty of nature’s handy work. I swam in knee-deep water (it was getting late and it is recommended not to swim after 19:00 even though it was only 16:00) before heading back to the campsite.

P1020857I collected wood for a fire, fixed a new G-string… to my guitar… paid the $10 fee to the ranger doing the rounds and cooked up a dinner of canned pumpkin and sweet potato soup, adding in chunks of real potato. While washing the dishes I bumped into the British couple from the Motorcar Falls track. “Come round later,” I invited them. “I’ve got marshmallows to roast and a guitar to play.”

They came by just as I lit the fire and strummed my first chords on Ol’ Red since leaving Melbourne some 3,500 kilometres ago. I shared my marshmallows and they shared their carton of red wine. Just after 21:00 they headed off to their tent. I watched the moon rise over the cliff-side, spreading an almost warm white light, the outline of the rocks creating a stairway to heaven.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Australia, Conservation, Northern Territory | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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