Coastal

Shark Bay

The next stop on our way down along the west coast is Shark Bay. It’s a huge marine park comprised of multiple national parks and World Heritage Areas. The first bay, Hamelin Pool, is home to some of Earth’s first creatures: stromatolites (cyanobacteria). While they’re not much to look at, walking amongst them is like walking back in time, to see the organisms responsible for making the oxygen in our atmosphere.

Paul and the stromatolites
Paul and the Stromatolites
Pied cormorants
Pied cormorants

A little farther up the peninsula is Shell Beach, a suitable name for a vast stretch of beach made entirely of little cockle shells that thrive in the super-salty water of the shallow bay, 25-30 feet deep in some areas. They used to make stone bricks out of them, too.

Endless cockle shells
Endless cockle shells

Farther still, is an amazing rugged cliff looking down on crystal blue ocean where the casual onlooker can sit back and leisurely watch all sorts of sea creatures wander into the bay. Within a few minutes we saw shovel-nosed sharks, several reef sharks, stingrays, a pod of dolphins, sea turtles and humpback whales in the distance. Not bad!

Eagle Bluff
Eagle Bluff

That night we celebrated with margaritas! Our tequila even came with its own sombrero.

Christina enjoying her margarita. Quesadillas with guacamole in the making.
Christina enjoying her margarita. Quesadillas with guacamole in the making.

The next morning we made friends with a shingleback skink who was happily sunning herself in the middle of the road, who, when provoked by a waving hand, showed-off her fabulous blue tongue 🙂

Skink!
Skink! AKA bobtail, stump-tailed skink, bogeye, pinecone lizard or sleepy lizard.

Monkey Mia

Our next stop was a very touristy spot called Monkey Mia (I still haven’t figured out why it had that name) where local humans have been hand-feeding wild dolphins for decades. In the ’60s they used to let people feed them as much as they pleased, and the dolphins loved it, coming back every day to get a free meal. However, after about 20 years they noticed a sharp decline in young dolphins. Turns out all the free meals meant the mother dolphins weren’t teaching their calves how to find wild fish, and so they couldn’t survive on their own. These days, they are limited to 3 feedings a day, starting at 8am. All the humans line up on the beach and listen to the rangers while awaiting the dolphins (they all have names, and we saw mother, daughter and granddaughter). Some special people get picked to hand-feed the dolphins, while trying the evade the hungry fish-stealing pelicans. We were not the chosen people.

Australian pelicans waiting for their share of fish
Australian pelicans waiting for their share of fish
Monkey Mia dolphins come in to grab a bite
Monkey Mia dolphins come in to grab a bite

The dolphin experience was a nice treat, but the real draw of Shark Bay for us was the dugongs. Relatives of the freshwater manatee (with a forked tail instead of a rounded tail), dugongs are the only true vegetarian marine mammal, eating seagrass all day long. They are actually negatively buoyant, with very heavy bones, so they don’t need to exert any energy while feeding on the bottom. But this means they only have time for one breath each time they surface. While they remain a threatened species, about 20% of the world population resides in Shark Bay. The best way to see them is to jump on a wildlife cruise, so we dutifully followed suit.

Dugong taking a breath
Dugong taking a breath
Dugong taking a dive
Dugong taking a dive. 

The cruise also stopped at a pearl farm, which is a huge industry all the way up to Broome and beyond (and has its own crazy history involving kidnapping aboriginal women and forcing them to dive down to collect pearls, and later a huge migration of asian labor, including the still-best Japanese). We got to see some of the new inventive techniques they use to create unique shapes under the shell (hearts, anchors, dolphins, etc) and imbedding gold and gem stones to be covered in nacre (the white, iridescent coating that makes a pearl a pearl).

Oyster shells with anchor shape (top) , gold & opal (bottom right)
Oyster shells with anchor shape (top) , gold & opal (bottom right)

 

Kalbarri National Park

This park has both red rock gorges and rocky ocean coast, making it one of my (Christina’s) very favorite places in Australia. We started inland with a lovely loop hike (imaginatively called The Loop) starting on the rim at Nature’s Window (a large wind-created hole) and followed the trail down into the red and white banded gorge along the Murchison river.

Christina looking out at the Murchison River
Christina looking out at the Murchison River
Nature's Window
Nature’s Window with squatters
Tree with flowers
Tree with flowers
Interesting patterns in the rock
Interesting patterns in the rock
Pretty cliffs
Pretty banded cliffs
Friendly lizard
Cute lizard

The second part of the park, and its most spectacular in my opinion, it the wild coastline. Even though we’re farther south, the water still has that tropical light blue color, paired with white limestone cliffs or iron-rich sandstone. What is truly stunning about this part of Western Australia is the mix of warm-tropical and cold-water marine life. The west coast of Australia has the only southward flowing current in the southern hemisphere (the currents along South America and Africa both flow north). The Leeuwin current brings down tropical marine species from Southeast Asia, while the cold waters from Antartica bring the nutrient rich water north. They meet here and form a wonderful seascape that mixes coral reefs and bright tropical fish with seaweeds and kelps of the rocky intertidal.

Rock Island
Rock Island

One of the best places to explore was Eagle Gorge Beach, which was a small beach, but had an amazing amount of marine life, from little snails in the tide pools, to a huge crab-eating gull, and the remnants of creatures washed up on the beach (endless shells, urchins, cuttlebones, etc). I could have stayed there for days exploring all the nooks and crannies!

Paul in the tide pools
Paul in the tide pools
Shells galore
Shells galore
Urchin shell with seaweed
Urchin shell with seaweed
Literally every color of the rainbow...in shells!
Literally every color of the rainbow…in shells!
Cuttlebones everywhere, every size. Cuttlefish mate all at once and then die (like salmon), so their internal bones drift onto beaches around the same time.
Cuttlebones everywhere, every size. Cuttlefish mate all at once and then die (like salmon), so their internal bones drift onto beaches around the same time.

We continued along the coast to other beaches, lookouts and bluffs, each one presenting new and beautiful treasures.

Christina on edge
Christina on edge
Crab!
Crabs!
Sandy path around the beach dunes
Paul on a sandy path 
Kangaroo on the trail
Kangaroo on the trail
Christina at Red Bluff
Christina at Red Bluff
Paul at Red Bluff :)
Paul at Red Bluff 🙂

Where ever we went, the whales weren’t far, and today we managed to get a photo!

Humpback whale breaching!
Humpback whale breaching!

 

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Ningaloo Blue

The Ningaloo Marine Sanctuary is a barrier and fringe reef that spans 260km on the north west coast of Western Australia. It also has long been high on our list of places we couldn’t wait to see in Australia. During our live-aboard trip at the Great Barrier Reef we talked to one of the crew who claimed that Ningaloo was better than the GBR, more pristine, what the GBR had been like 10-15 years ago. With that testimony, plus our own ideas of what Ningaloo would be like from our previous research, we developed some very high expectations. Simply said, our imagination did not even come close to the actual experience.

Turquoise Bay - voted #2 beach in Australia
Turquoise Bay – voted #2 beach in Australia

Cape Range

One of the great things about the Ningaloo reef is that a lot of it is accessible from shore and is in relatively shallow water. Meaning you don’t need a boat or scuba equipment to enjoy the natural wonders under the water. All it you need is snorkel gear. Some of the best snorkeling is off the shores of Cape Range National Park. So naturally we camped out there for a couple days. Little did we know, but Cape Range is a very popular National Park. Which means you have to queue up early in the morning just to get a camping spot. It was all worth it.

Gorgeous wildflowers. Sturt's Desert Pea
Gorgeous wildflowers. Sturt’s Desert Pea

Our first day of snorkeling was bittersweet. Sweet because we saw more fish on the first snorkel than our whole trip at the GBR. No, not really. But we did see a lot of fish, in large schools. And they were HUGE! On our second snorkel we saw blue spotted sting rays, an octopus (it changed colors right in-front of us!), and a couple of lionfish. The bitter part of the day was that some how, I got sea-sick while snorkeling and vomited up my lunch while on our second snorkel. It was extremely disgusting for me, but extra food for the fish. Ew. Gross. I know.

Snorkeling off the beach. The water was this color everywhere!
Snorkeling off the beach. The water was this color everywhere!

Our second day was equally cool with the addition of seeing a gigantic sting ray. It freaked us out since we swam almost right over where it had been hiding (and we were only in a meter of water). That day I took precautions and took some Dramamine before getting in the water so no seasickness. We also saw our first turtle during our second snorkel.

Exmouth

The next couple of days we laid low and enjoyed some beach time. This also gave me time to recover from the seasickness before our scuba trip. As we were sitting on the beach, I was staring out over the water and then all of the sudden I see the spouting of water, a whale’s back, and then a fluke. In shock and excitement, I called out to Christina, “WHALES! Christina, whales!!” The rest of that day we spent whale watching. They were migrating Humpback whales heading south for the summer and there were plenty of pods for us to watch. They put on quite a show too. We saw many breaches, tail and fin slaps. A truly unexpected treat.

View from the lighthouse, great whale watching stop. (Also some crazy antennas in the distance)
View from the lighthouse, great whale watching stop. (Also some crazy antennas in the distance)

There were also tons of emus all over the place, which was really fun.

Male emu with chicks!
Male emu with chicks!

Before our scuba trip we had to go out snorkeling one more time since we talked to a couple at our new caravan park who said that they saw sharks during their snorkeling adventures. On our next time out, what do you think we saw, a nurse shark! It was super cool, but also a little frightening. This was not small reef shark. It was at least two to three meters long. Christina assures me that nurse sharks are the puppy dogs of sharks. I trust her.

The next day we went on our scuba diving trip. First on our way to our dive site, we saw more whales. Some just swimming along peacefully, others breaching out of the water putting on a real show for us. Our two dives we very similar so here’s a run down of all the different sea life we saw: sea snakes, white tipped reef sharks, lion fish, nudibranchs (tiny flamboyant sea slugs–which are just incredibly beautiful), a frog fish, a wobbegong shark, beautiful soft and hard corals, a ton more fish, and an octopus. The shear diversity of aquatic life was just astounding. Best dive trip yet.

Coral Bay

First thing we did in Coral Bay was go to the daily free fish feeding on the beach. Everyone gets a few pellets of fish food (feeding them bread is very bad for their livers), and they come right up to your feet, and swim between your legs. Such a fun surprise!

Fish feeding in Coral Bay
Fish feeding in Coral Bay

After all that excitement you think things couldn’t get better, but they did. Ever since missing out on seeing Manta Rays in Japan, I’ve been looking forward to seeing and swimming with Mantas ever since. Luckily for us, Ningaloo is one of the best places to see Manta Rays in the world. Which means we used some of our scuba money for snorkel adventure with Manta Rays. The best place to see them is the southern part of Ningaloo Marine Park, off a town called Coral Bay.

Manta Ray!
Manta Ray!

The snorkel trip was equally stunning as the scuba diving trip. Not only did we get to swim with two Manta Rays, but we saw a bunch of white tipped reef sharks at a cleaning station (where little cleaner wrasse eat their parasites), some really gorgeous and abundant corals, a big tiger shark (we saw it from the boat), turtles, dolphins, and, again, a whole mess load of fish.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1012.

Snorkel Selfie
Snorkel Selfie

Overall, it was a truly awe inspiring week. I’m going to say it now: favorite part of the trip…so far. And to finish off, here is a video of our wonderful underwater adventures!

Pilbara Rocks!

Karijini

According to a Western Australian website, “The Pilbara region in Western Australia has some of the world’s most ancient natural landscapes, dating back two billion years and stretching over 400,000 square kilometers… and the Pilbara is also known as the engine room of Australia – home to a massive mining industry in crude oil, salt, natural gas and iron ore”. We didn’t spend a lot of time in this region, but we can definitely confirm that there are quite a few rocks and that there are numerous mines. I remember driving the highways and seeing a sign for a mine site every hundred or so kilometers. Fortunately, in the middle of this rugged and formidable terrain there is an oasis called Karijini National Park.

In Karijini there are a number of different gorges that lie within it’s borders. The gorge that is the most accessible and therefore the most visited is Dales Gorge. Dales Gorge campground is where we called home while we explored the different features of the gorge. Unlike other gorges where the campgrounds are situated on the floor of the gorge, this campground was on the terrain above the gorge, meaning all hikes would be downhill first and uphill second. Not our favorite way to hike, but the features of Dales Gorge made all exercise well worth it.

First day we visited Fern Pool.

Fern Pool
Fern Pool

Fern Pool sits at the most western part of the gorge and is a beautiful waterhole. It was a particularly warm day so we decided to test the waters. The water turned out to be pretty cold, around 22 degrees celsius, but refreshing for a short swim. While we swam some other tourists pointed out a colony of fruit bats perched in the trees along the waters edge. Very cool.

The next day we set out to walk the gorge. A cool feature of Dales Gorge is that you can walk along the northern rim, look down into the gorge from a number of look outs, and then descend into the gorge itself.

Christina at the top of Dales Gorge
Christina at the top of Dales Gorge

The gorge hike takes you from the surface, past a cascading waterfall, and into the floor of the gorge itself, traipsing along the banks of the river to where it ends at a feature called Circular Pool.

Fortescue Falls
Fortescue Falls
Christina with stunning geometric rocks overhead
Christina with stunning geometric rocks overhead
Christina overlooking the river
Christina overlooking the river

Clearly it was my turn to take pictures (expect for the animal shots).

Along our hike we found many butterfly chrysalises and one newly pupated butterfly!

Fresh butterfly
Fresh butterfly drying its wings

We also found a skink hiding in the bushes. We didn’t notice it at first but if you look closely it only has one arm!

One-armed skink
One-armed skink

Not only were there cool animals on this walk, but really interesting rock formations.

Round on square
Round on square

Once we reached the end of the gorge we decided that it would be a good idea to cool off in the crystal clear water of Circular Pool. Where Fern Pool was cold but refreshing, Circular Pool was just frigid. I can’t stand cold water for too long so I was in and then out with in only a few seconds. But it was very beautiful none the less.

Paul gathering strength for the plunge
Paul gathering strength for the plunge
Circular Pool from above
Circular Pool from above

Overall, Dales was an average campground and a spectacular gorge. But this was only a stop over for the area which we had been anticipating before we left on our trip: Ningaloo!

The Kimberley

One of the most well-known and awe-inspiring landscapes in Australia is the Kimberley. It’s in the North West, and takes us into a new territory—Western Australia (the largest, and most remote). But before we cross the border, we stop at one last park in the Northern Territory.

Judbarra National Park (Gregory)

We hadn’t heard of this park until we spotted it on the map, right along our route, and thought it would be a nice stopover. Indeed it was! We did two short hikes, one up a steep escarpment for a fantastic view of the whole valley, and the other went up to some stunning cliffs with rock art.

Christina wiggling through the rocks and roots
Christina wiggling through the rocks and roots
Lookout over the Victoria River
Lookout over the Victoria River

One noticeable feature that popped up in this region, was the funny-looking, shapely boab tree. It’s a distant cousin of the African baobab, there’s one species in Africa, and thirteen in Madagascar—all much larger than the stubby boab. Their haphazard appearance in the bush was a wonderful treat along the long stretches of highway shrub.

Christina under the boabs
Christina under the boabs

 

Lake Argyle

After crossing the border into Western Australia and disposing of all fruits and vegetables (strict quarantine), we arrived in Kununurra. It’s a larger town thanks to the rich agricultural fields surrounding it, which were created when the Ord River was dammed up in 1971. The dam also created Lake Argyle, a thriving tourist haven.

Ord River, the dam is just to the left
Ord River, the dam is just to the left
Lake Argyle. The caravan park where we stayed at is in the top right corner.
Lake Argyle. The caravan park where we stayed at is in the top right corner.
Paul enjoying the clear waters
Paul enjoying the clear waters
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo eating eucalypt nuts
Red-tailed Black Cockatoo eating eucalypt nuts

After the lake, we visited Mirima National Park, made of ancient Devonian reef, layers of red silt and black reef.

Mirima National Park's beautiful layered rock formations
Mirima National Park’s beautiful layered rock formations

That night, while staying at a particularly remote rest stop/campsite, we got a great view of the sky.

Our little spaceship tent floating in the galaxy
Our little spaceship tent floating in the galaxy

 

Geikie Gorge

While we couldn’t do the real Kimberley (the Gibb River road passes through rugged terrain and many gorges, but it’s 4WD only), we did manage to see one of our favorite gorges of the trip, Geike Gorge. This gorge was also formed by ancient reef, but the weathering and sediment types produced vastly different outcomes—stunning sharp jagged rocks and black and white faces along the Fitzroy River. The whole place had a very other-worldly feeling…

Pointy rocks in Geikie Gorge
Pointy rocks in Geikie Gorge
The gorge itself
Gorgeous
Paul walking across this strange planet
Paul walking across this strange planet

Most importantly, we finally saw freshwater crocodiles! One on the hike, and two at the edge of the sandbar where we went swimming 🙂 No worries, folks. ‘Freshies’, as they’re called, are fish-eaters, and much smaller. Still a bit exhilarating to be in the water with!

Can you spot the freshwater crocodile?
Can you spot the freshwater crocodile?
Christina lounging by the water
Christina lounging by the water

Derby

The ocean! The Kimberley region ends at the coast near the town of Derby. On the outskirts of town is a site home to the Prison Boab, which was a sacred aboriginal site until it was carved out and used to hold aboriginals during their forced relocation.

Prison Boab Tree
Prison Boab Tree

Derby has Australia’s highest tidal range (8th highest in the world) a whopping 12 meters (38 feet)! We got a before/after shot to show the difference between high and low tide, but the low tide photo is only halfway to actually low tide… so use your imagination!

Derby at high tide
Derby at high tide
Derby at (half) low tide
Derby at (half) low tide

At the jetty where we took the tide photos was a great sign reminding fishermen to clean up their line and hooks. Best part is the pidgin-australian in red.

Clean up your fishing gear!
Clean up your fishing gear!

The Top End

A Capital Time

No tour of Australia’s Top End would be complete without visiting the capital city of the Northern Territories, Darwin. Named after Charles Darwin, but ironically Darwin never set foot on that part of Australia. Yet, this hasn’t stopped Australians from naming a university and a national park after him. Admittedly, Darwin is a pretty important historical figure and did visit Australia on his trip around the world, so a little leeway should be given.

The city itself is nothing outstanding as cities go, but it did hold a few treats for us weary travelers. First and foremost, it provided us some much needed rest and reprieve from the swelter heat that typifies the weather of the Top End. Reprieve came in the form of a room in the house of a woman named Ursula, through Airbnb. She lives with her daughter, a roommate, and much to Christina’s and my delight, a female Australian Bulldog and her puppies!

Christina with Victoria and her puppies
Christina with Victoria and her puppies

 

Christina and Matilda
Christina and Matilda

Ripping Christina away from the puppies was difficult, but we did eventually get to explore the city. One of the major tourist attractions is the Mindil Beach Sunset Market. From time to time extremely touristy things live up to their hype. The sunset market was one of those times. The sunset market has the feel of an american county fair, but as you make your way down “food alley” you notice that instead of cotton candy and deep fried everything, you find samosas, chicken satay, fried spring rolls, and fruit smoothies. Obviously, Christina and I were happy has kids in a ball pit. The rest of the market is filled with booths selling the usual handmade jewelry, paintings, photos, boomerangs, assorted nic-nacs (or x if your Australian) all with an very aussie twist to it.

Mindil Beach Sunset Market, complete with fire juggler
Mindil Beach Sunset Market, complete with fire juggler

One of the truly stunning things about the sunset market was not just the awe inspiring sunset, but the shear number of people who populate the beach during this daily event.

Mindil Beach, complete with tourists
Mindil Beach, complete with tourists. Busiest beach we’ve been on!

Litchfield National Park

After resting, playing with puppies, and washing the car it was time to hit the road again and head south to complete the Savannah Way. As we headed south we made a few stops along the way. The first of our stops was at Berry Springs. Yet another warm water river that flows in the Norther Territory much like that of Bitter Springs previously mentioned. We enjoyed a refreshing swim and lunch, but in our relaxing we failed to take a photo. But Darwin and Berry Springs were just warm ups to the main event: Litchfield National Park.

As you might have noticed, water has played a central theme in almost all the places that we visit. Either wading in the ocean or playing a spring, but nowhere has water played a more central role in our day to day activities than at Litchfield. Water and the effects it has on the landscape is the main attraction for Litchfield and you’re extremely happy it’s there since the weather requires you to have access to cool refreshing pools of water.

Litchfield has about six major attractions and we did them all. On the first day we setup our tent at Wangi Falls, but drove up the road to Walker Creek. To get to the swimming area at Walker Creek you have to hike about a kilometer and a half up a small incline. The hike alone is worth it complete with a boardwalk and really cool looking palms.

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Christina on the way to Walker Creek
Christina on the way to Walker Creek

Our next stop that day was at Cascades. At Cascades you have the option of either going to the upper falls, a hike of about two kilometers return, or go to the lower falls, about one and a half kilometers return. We were feeling a little lazy at this point and decided to do the shorter of the two hikes. We were not disappointed.

Cascades, with Christina flailing
Cascades, with Christina flailing

The next day we lounged around at Buley Rockhole and splashed around at Florence Falls. Buley was by far my favorite part of Litchfield.

Buley Rockhole, crawling with peoples
Buley Rockhole, crawling with peoples

As you can see from the photo the river has cut away at the rock creating a staircase platform effect leaving small deep pools of water to swim in at different levels. This was by far one of the most popular places in the park with people all over the place, but not so crowded that you couldn’t find a spot jump in and cool off.

As the day started to warm up we decided to walk to the next swimming area at Florence Falls. But before we got to the falls and the plunge pool below Christina spotted, I don’t know how, these really cool harlequin beetles.

Harlequin beetle. Stunning!
Harlequin beetle. Stunning!

Florence Falls didn’t disappoint either.

Florence Falls
Florence Falls

Another very popular area and for good reason. The water’s a bit cold, I could only be in for short periods of time, but very refreshing after our hike out to the falls. One particularly interesting thing that happened while we were there was that a few people climbed to the top of the falls and jumped back down to the plunge pool. If I were to guess, I would say that the height of the falls was about 13-14 meters or about 40ft. This all wouldn’t have been that interesting except that the rangers came by and gave all who were involved a very stern lecture about how jumping from rocks was not permitted. Luckily the climb up to the top of the falls looked too difficult, so I avoided being one of those being reprimanded.

On our way back to the car we saw the dried up corpse of a Cane Toad.

Cane Toad, extra crispy
Cane Toad, extra crispy

We should mention here that cane toads are invasive and are considered a menace since they endanger local wildlife who try to eat them (they eat everything and they’re toxic). So don’t feel too bad about this dried up toad.

The next day we started making our way south once more, but not before we finally explored the falls around our campsite. Wangi Falls had a beautiful plunge pool where we swam around for a bit and had a surprise for us in the form of bats!

Fruit bats hanging around, sleeping. There were hundreds!
Fruit bats hanging around, sleeping. There were hundreds!

 

The next stop was at the termite mounds. Termite mounds usually don’t inspire a lot of awe, but these termite mounds are really quite cool. What makes them interesting is that the termites construct their mounds along the magnetic poles, north-south, so that one side of their mound is always in the shade helping to regulate the temperature within the mound itself. Cool, right!?

Magnetic Termite mounds
Magnetic termite mounds

There were also some giant mounds that stood about 4-5meters tall. So, we pulled over at a particularly large one and took photos in front of it. I’m not a fan of jumptography—but Christina insisted.

Paulie being abducted
Paulie being abducted

The last stop we made before continuing on the Savannah Way was at the Katherine Hot Springs.

Paul soaking in the last of the hot springs on our journey
Paul soaking in the last of the hot springs on our journey

You can’t tell, but I’m actually quite cold during this photo. Who else gets cold in 32 celsius water? No one? Just me?

And top it all off, a photo of me in our home.

Paul in our tent, our home.
Paul in our tent, our home.

Overall, the Top End was extremely beautiful and definitely a place I would visit again if given a chance, but maybe in a different season just to see what it’s like in the wet season.

Next, on to Broome!!!

Kakadu

Kakadu National Park is Australia’s largest park, covering more than 20,000 square km. It’s over 2 BILLION years old and has been continuously inhabited by more than 52,000 years – making it one of the few places World Heritage listed for both it’s cultural and natural values. The landscapes represented in it include savanna woodlands, monsoon vine forests, broken ridges, stone country, tidal flats, mangroves, coastline, floodplains, rivers and billabongs – with incredibly rich biodiversity filling in every nook and cranny. We spent 5 days here, and barely scratched the surface!

Gunlom

One of the most famously photographed locations in the park is Gunlom Waterfall, or rather the infinity pool at the very top with views of the South Alligator River (misnamed by some explorer who had spent time in the southern US and thought the immense reptiles lurking about were alligators—not crocodiles). As you’ll see most things were named quite haphazardly, even the name “Kakadu” was created when they in misheard the aboriginal word “Gagudju” (one of the languages spoken in the region… gotta love the lazy arrogance of colonizers… Anyway, the hike was straight up a rocky mountainside, and completely worth it!

Christina in the infinity pool at Gunlom Falls
Christina in the infinity pool at Gunlom Falls

 

Paul looking over the pools at the top of Gunlom
Paul looking over the pools at the top of Gunlom

The upper pool was actually more fun to play in, it had a narrow little canyon to swim up, with huge boulders and water-carved rock holes all along it. After scrambling around some rocks we got to another tiny waterfall, and a watery cave with a giant orb weaver spider (size of my hand) with a web spanning clear across the entrance! No pictures, since we were swimming the whole time, but quite memorable 🙂

Christina at the upper pools. The canyon we swam up is right in the middle.
Christina at the upper pools. The canyon we swam up is right in the middle.

Yellow Water

After being in crocodile territory for about a month, we still had not seen a single one. So we splurged on a sunset boat cruise to spot the elusive beasts. The South Alligator River is the only river in the world protected from source to mouth, and is the jewel of Kakadu with marvelous wetlands teeming with wildlife. We ended seeing at least a dozen crocs, which made me one very happy camper.

River cruise boat. You can see the smoke in the distance from controlled burns
River cruise boat. You can see the smoke in the distance from controlled burns

 

Croc!
Croc!

 

White-bellied sea eagle. He swooped down in front of us, grabbed a turtle, and flew of with it in its talons!
White-bellied sea eagle. He swooped down in front of us, grabbed a turtle, and flew of with it in its talons!

 

Gorgeous little Azure Kingfisher
Gorgeous little Azure Kingfisher

 

Female Jabiru (stork) landed right in front of the boat as the sun was setting
Female Jabiru (stork) landed right in front of the boat as the sun was setting

 

Lovely crocodile basking in the light
Lovely crocodile basking in the light

 

Perfect sunset over the water lilies
Perfect sunset over the water lilies

Ubirr & Nourlangie

One of the main attractions of Kakadu is the ancient rock art. We learned a lot about native culture from some free ranger-led walks at these sites. Aborigines have lived there so long that their oral histories and dreamtime creation stories literally recount geologic history. I’m talking about 52,000 years worth of changes in climate and ecology. As the oceans rose and fell, the vegetation and wildlife changed with it, and the local people had to adapt by switching methods for hunting and gathering, which was all recorded in their stories, with incredibly accurate detail. One of the major creator beings is the Rainbow Serpent, who passed through the landscape creating rivers and waterholes, split the rock faces and made hills and mountain ranges, helping form the habitat for all beings. There’s also Namarrgon, the Lightning Man, a very important being in this landscape created and managed by fire.

Lookout at Ubirr rock site
Lookout at Ubirr rock site

When the first archeologists and anthropologists came to study the rock art and shelter sites, they would find a piece of something 10,000 years old and instead of spending years trying to find out what it was, what it was used for, etc, the local aborigines would wander by and tell them exactly what it was. This living archeology is virtually unheard of anywhere else.

Ancient rock art by aborigines
Ancient rock art by aborigines. The Lightning Man is on the top right, in white.

Tragically, most of the tribes have been wiped out and driven off their land, something more heartbreaking than I can possibly imagine. Even worse, there is still plenty of racism, which we casually overhear on hikes and at campsites (often times not so casually). I hope most of it will die off with the previous generations, as all the school curriculums now emphasize cultural understanding and a less biased history, and all the young australians we meet are just as disgusted as we are at the antiquated attitude. The white rangers who gave the tours (there are aboriginal rangers, too, but many of them were at a funeral the day we went) were so incredibly passionate and respectful of Aboriginal culture and did a great job of telling their stories with utter humility and with the acknowledgment that they knew just a tiny fraction of aboriginal culture and could never do it justice. Out with the old, in with the new—the better.

Enjoy the dragonfly
Enjoy the dragonfly

Cape Trib

After regaining our land legs, we headed north towards the end of our East Coast excursion and Cape Tribulation in Daintree National Park. It’s about two hours north of Cairns and requires a river crossing by car ferry.

The Daintree River via the ferry
The Daintree River via the ferry

But before we arrived at Daintree we stopped at Mossman Gorge. And that’s about all we did there. As we arrived it started to sprinkle. We ate some lunch and the sprinkle turned into a light rain. We went inside to see about going into the gorge and the light rain turned into a down pour. This prompted an immediate departure of Mossman and urged us farther north to, hopefully, better weather.

Once we arrived at our caravan park and setup our tent Christina and I decided to take a walk along the tracks in the jungle behind our campsite. No more than 200 meters along and we heard a rustle in the bushes. We stood still and Christina spotted it, our first cassowary! It crossed the path in front of us about 5 meters ahead and foraged among the trees making its way closer to the spot we were reluctant to vacate. But eventually we did vacate since the cassowary was too hidden by the trees to get a good picture, so we moved on.

The next day was even more exciting! It started out with us attempting to make pancakes. But we were rudely interrupted by a very inquisitive young cassowary. His dad was not too far behind (male cassowaries raise the chicks), but was staying amongst the bushes and trees. The young cassowary had not yet learned to fear humans and came straight for me –or really my jam covered pancake. Cassowaries can only be found in this region of the world because their diet mainly consists of a particular fruit called the cassowary plum, a very clever name, so I could see how this young one was confused. I got up, leaving Christina to become his main interest and took a photo, and our neighbors got a good shot too.

Paul and Christina being stalked by a juvenile cassowary
Paul and Christina being stalked by a juvenile cassowary
Christina and her new cassowary friend/living dinosaur
Christina and her new cassowary friend/living dinosaur

The rest of the day blew by all too quickly. We headed even farther north to actual Cape Tribulation and took a short walk on the beach and in the mangrove trees.

Paul in the tangled roots
Paul in the tangled roots
The beach was covered in tiny balls of sand created by little bubbler crabs (center) who filter out food and leave these dazzling arrangements.
The beach was covered in tiny balls of sand created by little bubbler crabs (center) who filter out the food and leave these dazzling arrangements.

Next we went as far North as we could go without 4WD, stoping at Emmagen Creek. We were trying to find a beach but couldn’t, so we decided to go to a swimming hole not too far away. Our first attempt at finding the swimming hole turned out to be a wrong turn but luckily we did because we briefly saw a snake and a lace monitor.

Lace monitor climbing a tree
Lace monitor climbing a tree
We also witnessed a huge parasitoid wasp dragging a paralyzed spider. She will lay her egg in it so the larva can have fresh food when it hatches. Yum.
We also witnessed a huge parasitoid wasp dragging a paralyzed spider across the trail. She will lay her egg in it so the larva can have fresh food when it hatches. Yum.

We did finally find the swimming hole. There was a rope swing there and we took full advantage. Luckily there was a guy there to show us how it was done.

Paul having a grand ol' time
Paul having a grand ol’ time
Christina dancing into the swimming hole
Christina dancing into the swimming hole

The swimming holes are a real treat up here because you can’t swim on any of the beaches or rivers, despite their beauty and the sweltering heat–because crocodiles will kill and eat you:

Swim at your own risk
Swim at your own risk

Later that afternoon we drove back toward camp and stopped at a boardwalk to see another beach. On this walk we saw yet another cassowary! For those of you counting that makes four.

Gorgeous cassowary
Gorgeous cassowary

The rest of the walk was pretty uneventful and so we decided to retire for the day. Upon returning to our camp we saw yet another cassowary and the same young cassowary we saw earlier. We know that it was a different cassowary because the young one’s parent was close behind and the new cassowary chased the young one and its parent into the forest behind the campsite. T’was very exciting.

Day 2 was much less eventful. We drove South of our campsite to Alexandra Range Lookout.

Alexander Lookout in Daintree National Park
Alexander Lookout in Daintree National Park

Then made our way back toward camp to Jindalba boardwalk. Not knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we parked farther away than we needed. Did the short boardwalk, saw a cassowary (num six), and decided to walk the longer loop as well. All in all a pretty good walk. After working up a sweat we headed north again to another swimming hole. This one also had a rope swing but was not as deep as the previous one, so only one swing for me. I banged my toes pretty well on some rocks and didn’t want to repeat the experience.

The next morning we took the ferry back across the river and started heading southwest toward Darwin. Our Savannah Way adventures begin!