Wednesday 11th The phone made a noise which awoke us both, assuming that it was the alarm. Upon investigation it turned out to be a message that had come through from Daniel, and it was 4am!! He had sent it at about 9pm Perth time – 10:30 for us, so where it had been hanging out in the mean-time is anyone’s guess. Probably because of the bad reception, we could only presume that the signal had not been strong enough until that point to find us. Now we were both wide awake an hour and a half early, so we did the shower/toast routine at a very relaxed pace and went downstairs for 2 cuppas before waiting for the coach.
We got talking to another younger couple while waiting and were quite making friends. Then the coach arrived, and for once we got excellent seats on the coach – directly behind the driver and next to our new friends, and off we went for more hotel pickups. At the next stop, along comes a guy with 2 walking sticks so David said “Come on” and we both scarpered up the back to allow the man the front seat. Bother! Then the next surprise, when we got to the coach office to pick up some folk from there we were told that everyone going to Katherine had to get off of this coach and on to another one because this one was going to Kakadu. Because we were at the back, we were the last off and ended up very close to the back of the next coach. Oh well. It did add a little frustration to the day really, because every time we stopped – having been warned well in advance that we were approaching a ‘get off’ – everyone in front idly got up and messed with everything on the luggage racks and stood around talking before getting off. One stop was only for 10 minutes so by the time we got to the front to get off we asked the driver if we should turn around and sit down again! He said no, it was 10 minutes after the last one got off. I don’t know why these coaches don’t have a back door as well like the city buses do.
Anyway, that’s beside the point and a small grumble on what was a lovely holiday. Of the 3 tours, if we were to do it all again, this is the one that we would not bother to do again. It’s not really a reflection on the tour so much as the fact that we had so little time in Darwin itself. We never once saw the main shops open, because our only ‘day off’ was the Sunday.
We travelled 750 kms that day, with only a few stops. We just drove and drove… and drove. Finally we reached a place called Adelaide River. This was the home of ‘Charlie’ the water buffalo out of Crocodile Dundee, so we said Hi to him and his mates and bought some junk food and drinks from the roadhouse. I loved the roadhouse. Inside, as well as the normal car what-nots and emergency food supplies for the locals was the ‘bottle shop’.
One end of the little store was allocated to the bottle shop; there were a few shelves with the spirits on and 2 fridges for the beer – ordinary enough. But we couldn’t get into it because it was sectioned off behind a lovely ornate, but dangerous looking, wrought iron fence and gate. It was not bottle shop opening hours! It was so cute. Behind the roadhouse was the local pub where some folk bought some real food for their breakfasts, and the staff loaded 2 huge eskies onto the coach which was our picnic lunches.
As we were going out of the town site [if I dare call it that. We did see a couple of houses up a side street], we went across a bridge over the Adelaide River. The driver stopped ½ way across and showed us the ‘wet season’ bridge on our right. Anyone not stopping at the town site, at any time of the year, would use it, but in the wet season everyone must. This was only built 1 or 2 years ago, so before that the town was always cut off in the wet. He showed us the watermark on the bridge pylons from last season. If there had been another coach parked on our roof and we were standing on its roof we would probably still have been knee deep in water. It’s more than I can imagine. Even with us being there at the end of the Dry, we were very surprised at how much water there was around. Far more than in Perth in Summer.
Onwards, and quite a lot more miles, and we entered the boundaries of the Nitmiluk National Park. Since a lot of the land has been given back to the Traditional Owners, the Aboriginal names have been restored to the places instead of the Western names. Soon, we stopped at a caravan park in the back of beyond for our lunch break. It was around 1 o’clock and we’d been travelling fairly well the whole time since about 7 am. Speed limits are all ‘open’ [do what you like] up there on the outback roads, but the coaches are limited to doing 100 kph.
This was Edith Falls. There was a bit of grass and some trees to sit in the shade of, although the best bit of grass/shade had a sprinkler going on it so we couldn’t sit there. We were hungry, so ate our picnic before going to look at the falls. This lunch had boiled egg and some sliced cold meat with coleslaw and green salad, followed by a box drink and some home made cake which was quite nice. Then we went down a short path to see the Falls. There was a pretty large water hole, probably 200m across, and roughly square. The Falls were at the other side and, although wide, were very short. Probably only 5m high for a guess. We watched some of the others swim, and then it was time to go back to the coach again.
On the way, we saw a bright orange Harley Davidson bike, complete with trailer and sidecar. David stopped to admire it and we noticed the number plate. It said ABOB. Underneath in tiny writing it said ‘A Bloody Orange Bike’.
More driving, but eventually we arrived at Katherine Gorge. Everybody off again, and a short wait for the cruise to be ready for us. We had a low, flat bottomed boat with ye olde orange or blue plastic chairs bolted to the floor, and a canopy overhead to keep the sun off. Our tour guide for the cruise was a part Aboriginal chap who was really gorgeous. Good looking, and a ready sense of humour, what more could you want?
He told us to watch out for crocodiles and bet a bottle of beer that no-one could see one before he did. He did not have to pay out. After a very few minutes, he stopped the boat and said that he’d found us one. Don’t ask me how – even after him pointing and describing the exact branch that was hanging into the water next to the crocodile, it still took me a few minutes to realise what I was looking at. David and I [sceptics] began to wonder if it was stuffed and he’d nailed it to the branch, but as the boat began to move on, I saw it slip silently into the water.
It’s funny that it seems to be the supplementary things that are more story-worthy than the main attractions. It is very hard to describe the gorge itself. As the ad on the telly says ‘You’ll never never know if you never never go’. The gorge walls were quite sheer and had some beautiful colours. There were some places that looked like caves and some places where you could see water running down. The bushes growing there had visible roots clinging to cracks in the rocks. Goodness knows what happens to them in the wet season. I took some photos, but they don’t do it justice. We were told that there were 7[?] gorges, but didn’t realise that these are all one; in our opinion. It’s just that it takes a sharp turn and has a layer of rocks across between each. To us this would be just a turn, but to them it’s another gorge. After a while, we came to the turn and had to get out of the boat because the rocks were too high in the water for the boat to cross. We then saw some Aboriginal rock art dating back about 30,000 years. Some of it was very high and the guide asked for ideas on how it got to be there. Some said that the river was higher then, some that the painter had climbed, and another that he’d bungy jumped – very droll. No, surprise surprise, it wasn’t David.
Then we walked on, across more rocks, for about 100m, and got into another boat for the 2nd gorge. Last Wet Season had been the wettest on record, and at one point of the gorge, the water had been 30m higher than it was the day we were there. It was all very picturesque and tranquil.
Now, I must say that the crocs in these waters were ‘only’ fresh water crocs and deemed safe. There had also been canoes for hire had one wanted – one did not! However, there were quite a few who were obviously happy to enjoy a gamble, and were not only in canoes, but out of them too. ie swimming around in the water! I am told that if you want to stop a freshie from biting, it is quite easy to hold its mouth shut, but if you want to stop a salty from biting, you put a stick in its mouth to hold it open. Their strengths lie in the opposite action. But wait… was it the other way around?
The boat slowed, did a Uey [a U turn] and we were on the way back again. I wonder what it’s like being a tour director??? Then we had to get out of that boat, back across the rocks, into the first boat, back to the dock, and back into the coach without time for a toilet trip. We tried to give them up actually! It would certainly make life easier. The coach drove 10 metres, no I am NOT joking, and we all got off again to look in the ‘tourists please buy this junk made in China’ shop. I went to the loo with the other 5,000 people instead, to find no toilet roll and I didn’t have a tissue. I wriggled frantically trying to ‘shake’ but it’s not so effective for a girl! I had asked David to see if there was anything good in the shop while I was gone, but he said no. I bought a cold drink and we got back on the coach.
We drove into a side street of Katherine Township to drop off a couple of passengers, and then we drove and drove… and drove. Back to Adelaide River to return the eskies and to have a buffet tea of Barramundi, chips and various salads. We were told that we had 40 mins and were not allowed to bring alcohol back on to the coach. The ‘barra’ was really beautiful and the salads nice enough, but when you eat as slowly as I do, and had been last off the coach, 40 mins ain’t enough. So, when we got back on the coach I still had some of my potato salad wrapped up in a serviette and a small bottle of cider in my hand. I am not a rule-breaker by nature, but I won’t be hurried with my food either! So we drove some more, a lot more, and eventually hit Darwin again.
We got back to our hotel at 10pm, so it had been a very long day, and we had to get up again at 5:30 the next day for our last coach tour, and our last day in Darwin.
Although we rather felt that our dinner venue had been forced on us, at least we had had some and could go straight to bed. Adelaide River had supplied 2 or 3 meals that day to the 50 people on board, so must do very nicely, thank you. Also, we’d hardly walked at all that day and so our legs felt like they used to when we were young – last week.
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