JABIRU TOWNSHIP IN KAKADU NATIONAL PARK
1-5 September 2014
Kakadu Lodge and Caravan Park has to be one of the loveliest caravan parks we’ve stayed in. As in some Aboriginal art, these sites are designed in circles, each site occupies a ‘dot’ and the circles represent corroborees. It makes it unique and spacious and very attractive to the traveller.
The sites are spacious and most are shady – we’ve got one of those and just across from us is the lovely swimming pool which is COLD, deep and with a pool-side restaurant. It might even be something from a James Bond movie!
Jabiru is about 3 hours drive east of Darwin and about 200 km into the Park itself. It almost on the border of Kakadu NP and Arnhem Land. We paid $25 each for a pass to get us into the park and have seen already that Kakadu is really spectacular with gorges, cliffs, ravines, and the East, South and West Alligator River systems; it is only about 40km as the crow flies from the Arafura Sea.
Our first day was full on as it usually turns out to be. We stocked up at the supermarket - there’s also a medical centre, an airstrip, a bank, shops and fuel - $1.77pL. It’s a thriving community here, mostly Aboriginal people living and working as the rest of them do. But there are strict alcohol free zones – for us as well! Our caravan is an alcohol enforced zone!!
Day one proper saw us join a boat on the East Alligator River – streuth, we never thought we’d do that one! It’s deep, looks muddy and there are many many (many!) crocodiles along its bank. One side is Kakadu NP and the other side is Arnhem Land. A magical trip for 2 hours with commentary from an Aboriginal guy who certainly knew his stuff – demonstrating spear making, fishing, making fire with sticks and the dreamtime stories which continue to fascinate us. We even went ashore at one point to look at spectacular views and a water hole. No crocs here thanks!
The naming of the river as East Alligator River – there’s a South and a West Alligator was (quite obviously) a mistake as there are no alligators anywhere in Australia. As someone said to us once (on the bayous in Louisiana near New Orleans), “we have the alligators, and you guys (Aussies) have the real ones!.” It’s not overstating it to say we are very well aware of the threat and ever-present danger of crocodiles up here. It was an early adventurer who named these rivers as such, being completely ignorant about crocodiles or alligators.
Since we’ve been up here at the Top End, one local (although he was Indonesian) chap was taken and chomped on the banks of the Adelaide River (south of here), while fishing and in the presence of his wife. His line was snagged near the water’s edge, he went in to the water to unsnag it, and guess what had ‘snagged’ it!!! That even made the ABC news. The second attack took place just 10 minutes after we left Wong-y Falls in Litchfield National Park, where a Russian tourist was bitten on the leg by a freshwater crocodile. These tend to be a bit smaller and not to be quite as dangerous as the “salties”, but hey – they are crocodiles! James made us promise early on that we would not cross any creeks – and we haven’t – well, more of that later …
The birdlife is both plentiful and stunning and we have seen spoonbills, geese, kites, eagles, and the one we came to see, the beautiful and rarely seen JABIRU – a beautiful bird who lives in the wetlands. I will attach a photo.
Our morning at The Wonder of the Wetlands was very interesting. High up on a hill, it overlooks stretches and stretches of both dry and wet Wetlands, with plenty of birdlife, lilies on the water – but no crocs here until the Wet which isn’t far behind us.
Aboriginal people consider there are six seasons of the year:
- Monsoon from Dec to March 24-34 deg
- “Knock ‘em down” in April 23-34 deg
- Yegge – cool/humid May-June 21-33 deg
- Wurrgeng cold June-mid Aug 17-32 deg
- Gurrong hot dry – Aug-Oct 23-37 deg
- Gunumeleng pre-mons Oct-Dec 24-37 deg
We’ve seen a lot of birdlife, even as close to us as the side of the caravan and been fascinated by the teeming groups of corellas, black cockatoos, brolgas and finches.
Yesterday we took a tour to Arnhem Land – a very large area stretching from the East Alligator River right up to the Arafura Sea and Borrooloola – almost the size of Switzerland.
Once more we reached the East Alligator, and drove across the shallow crossing – this rises about 15 metres in The Wet – but it was slow moving but still plenty of crocodiles on its banks.
Oenpelli was the little Aboriginal township we visited, only about an hour into Arnhem Land – a Hawke initiative back in the 80s enabled most of the dwellings here today to be built. Because of the enormous-ness of that project, the materials used, and the distances they had to be brought in – each house cost around $750,000 to BUILD! They are for the Aboriginal community, with power, water and a ‘garden’ – usually full of rubbish, toys, old cars and lots of dogs! Here in Oenpelli, you can buy fuel but it’s either very expensive or “Opal Petrol”. This petrol has no value to anyone who wants to sniff it … which is why it was developed. It works OK for cars!
We drove out past some spectacular rugged and ragged outcrops - one was high and was out of bounds to women as that’s where Men’s Business is conducted – this means initiation ceremonies – which is male circumcision in boys up to the age of 14. The other rugged and ragged hill, also quite high, was for women’s business.
This was where we stoped for a massive climb both in, over, through and under giant rock formations, saw lots and lots of fascinating Aboriginal rock art and heard more Dreamtime Stories from Manual, our guide. It was a tough climb but the view was worth it – looking out across Arnhem Land and the vastness of the Wetlands before reaching into more bushland. This spectacular escarpment has you gasping for breath at the scale of it.
These areas are pristine and have remained so in this condition (we are told) for over 200,000 years, and most importantly for about 60,000 years when the first Aboriginal people arrived from (probably) Indonesia.
The silence of this place is calming and quite silent – not many birds – the usual kite or two, tiny finches and the occasional eagle.
Planes do not fly over Arnhem Land, the road is red dirt and ridged, and the way out at the other end is by boat. That’s a very long way away … A sanctuary indeed …
Today it’s the day before we say our sad farewells to this land – a place we have learned much about and loved.
In this caravan park there are many tourists such as ourselves in caravans, campers, motor homes and the like. The Aboriginal people do not travel this way. They are social groups of people, who prefer to live in communities on their own. Once upon a time they lived in humpies, a semicircular shape of shelter which they left as they moved on. There are still such groups up here in Arnhem Land – but we are unlikely to see them.
This afternoon we expect to visit the Ranger Mine – still in operation, which is why so many Fly-In/Fly-out people are here – and why there’s an airstrip.
Because it is now September, we know the rain clouds and the build up for the Wet Season are not far away, so tomorrow we shall leave spectacular Kakadu National Park, and wend our way back to Katherine and then south to Tennant Creek, before turning east to Mt Isa and the coast.
We shall have to think about where we choose to live – and quite honestly at this time, here in one of the most beautiful World Heritage Sites – we find it hard to work out just where that might be …
But our old life will return – and we do look forward to seeing the Pacific Ocean once again and James and all of our very dear friends – we’ve missed you all.
PS Up here they prefer their lizards frilled not grilled
and the fire hazards are vast, and burning off is still being done …
PPS Apologies for the length of this blog. I’ve hardly scratched the surface with what we have seen and done.