Barra fishing, the Savannah Way

Yet again we were saying goodbye to relative civilisation for more than a month. From Darwin we head south and then ever east along the little travelled Savannah Way.

But first a quick dip at Berry Springs. This nature reserve is just a short drive from Darwin, and is a large cool and lush springs, surrounded by a recreation reserve. It’s a pretty popular spot on Sunday afternoon. Nevertheless, we had a great time cooling off in the natural springs. The two pools are quite big, so the crowds weren’t too much of a worry.

Kids at Tjaynera Falls - Litchfield NPEveryone raves about Litchfield National Park. Last time we did a flying visit, as we couldn’t venture down the 4WD tracks. This time we visited all the sites, including the lovely (and totally quiet) Tjaynera Falls. It was a 3.5 km return walk, but with a swim at the halfway point, we all did it with ease. There was a little rock ledge at the entry point into the pool, and the kids thought it was fun having a picnic while sitting in the water. Until we were about to leave, we were the only people there.

We really enjoyed Litchfield. It is almost as good as the Kimberly on smaller scale, but easier to access.

A little bit further south to Mataranka, and we turned off the Stuart Highway onto the Savannah Way. This famous route actually stretches all the way from Broome to Cairns, but we missed the first half by travelling via the Gibb River Road. The eastern section we are travelling is mostly unsealed, but is also less travelled, and in much better condition. There are really only a few highlights along the 1000 km or so, but it is a dream road if you are a really keen fisherman, and love eating Barramundi. Mike was determined to hook one at some point, so thus was our mission.

We were forced to stop at Roper Bar for our first night. One of the mounts for the second battery tray sheared, and a repair requiring some welding. We had a bit of a go fishing from the boat ramp and the causeway, but no luck there.

Southern Lost City - Limmen NPAt Limmen National Park, we camped at the Lost City, an interesting rock formation of vertical structures that look like a city landscape. We also visited Butterfly Springs, which is probably great just after the wet, but this late in the season the pool is getting stagnant and low. We did see lots of butterflies though.

One thing we are really noticing now is the build up. The next few months are dreaded by all inhabitants of the top end, as the temperature and humidity slowly start to climb. I was getting use to the 30°C plus every day in dry heat, but now it occasionally reaches 40°C, with increasing moisture in the air. Shady is becoming my favourite adjective when looking at campsite descriptions.

Lorella Springs CampOur first detour off the main road was Lorella Springs. Within the million acre cattle station, there are around 37 natural springs and thermal pools. One of the best was right next to the campsite, so we could cool off at our leisure. During our day out exploring the property, we also visited Emerald Pool, Wildfire gorge, Nudie Springs (I’ll leave you guessing) and Eagles Nest, where the owners have a row boat for visitors to use for fishing. We had a go, had lots of fun, but the fish were not biting.

NT QLD BorderThe next big highlight was crossing into Queensland. We will be here for around four months. Unfortunately, the ‘Welcome to Queensland’ sign was absent, so our only souvenir of the border was a ‘speed limits in Queensland’ sign. I know some of our banana bending friends will find that amusing.

Our second detour off the main drag was to visit Lawn Hill National Park. It was nice, and we had a great time canoeing in the gorge, but it was a bit of an anticlimax compared to previous gorges.Lawn Hill Gorge

It was around this time we started having truck issues. Our rig was having difficulty maintaining a speed above 60km/hour, and Mike was racking his brain trying to find a solution. We managed to chug our way into Karumba for a few days of cleaning, truck diagnostic, fishing and relaxing.

Kris King of Savannah - NormantonFishing Karumba sunsetWhenever Mike opens the bonnet of the truck and spends any length of time peering into the confines, he manages to draw a crowd of interested parties to give their two cents worth. All the old boys had an opinion of what could be wrong and what to check teamed with sympathetic sighs. I love the fact that they are all so willing to help. The general consensus was we had picked up some bad fuel somewhere, so the fuel filter should be changed once we had emptied the tanks. This certainly improved the performance, but we are thinking there is more than one problem to tackle.

But Karumba was great. We saw some great sunsets. Mike caught a fish big enough for a meal, and the truck and van are currently dust and dirt free (kind of). From here on in, there is no more dirt road so I won’t have to ’embrace the dirt’ for the rest of the trip.

Coby holds Black Headed Python at Mt SurpriseHeading east, the sparse savannah woodlands are slowly thickening up with taller, wider and greener trees. We are finally hitting the east coast, a little earlier than expected to get the truck sorted before heading up to the Tip of Oz – Cape York.


Darwin Delights

Nine years ago, Darwin seemed like a big country town. Like a lot of places, in has undergone a massive boom, so we were really interested to see the changes.

First job when we got to Darwin though was to get the power steering on the truck repaired. Just outside of Jabiru, one of the belts had disintegrated. The truck was still drivable, but Mike needed nothing short of super-human strength to manoeuvre the rig around corners. We actually cut short our stay in Mary River, because we couldn’t contemplate driving down 4WD dirt tracks with no powered steering.

Howard Springs Caravan ParkThe staff at our new home Howard Springs BIG4 gave us a tip on a local guy who could help us out. A shopping trip later for a replacement belt, and everything was ready for the mechanic. He ended up replacing all four belts as they all had taken a beating and were looking like they had seen better days.

Our first Darwin delight was the Aquascene Fish Feeding at Doctors Gully. This little gem is a Darwin institution on every family’s itinerary. A local started feeding fish here at high tide years ago, and now every high tide, the place is inundated with a massive quantity and variety of fish, eager for a free feed. You can walk down the boat ramp and literally hand feed fish, some of them practically jumping out of the water in the frenzy.

Kids feeding fish at AquasceneHand feeding fish at AquasceneThis experience was a real hit with the kids. After hand feeding on the ramp, both Coby and Rhys were happy to sit back on the wharf and throw in titbits of bread to some of the bigger fish hanging back from the main crowd. It was a great opportunity to see some monsters in action just a meter or two away.

They also have a little pond containing a couple of mudcrabs, stingrays, barra and baitfish (ultimately food for everything else – but they chose to swim in). Entry in Doctors Gully includes bread for feeding. It is definitely popular, and something the family can enjoy doing together. You can visit their website to check tide and opening times here.

After several days at Howard Springs, we ventured a little closer into Darwin, and stayed at Saddle Court (Ph 08 8927 0894). There are only a few sites, but it is quiet and away from the flight path. They also do short term caravan storage at very reasonable prices, and the owners are the friendliest and most hospitable people you could meet.

One morning, we all woke up early so we could drop Mike off for a half day fishing with Fish Darwin, which you can read all about on Mikes Page. While he was enjoying his fun in the sun, the kids and I visited the Rossiter Street Playgroup Centre at Rapid Creek. Not only did we have a really fun morning playing, we also managed to rope in some very willing children and mums to help celebrate Coby’s fifth birthday. Yes, it was a day early, but you have to take advantage of a good situation. That night we went to the famous Mindil Markets, to admire the arts and crafts, and sample the extraordinary culinary delights available, all this while watching the sun set over the water.Mindil Beach sunset

Birthday Croc TimeBelairs lagoon MaleThe best activities we saved for Coby’s big day. We spent a fabulous morning at Darwin Crocodylus Park. We discovered the crocodiles were not the only highlight, as the park also contains a zoo with all sorts of interesting and exotic native and non-native species, including lions, primates, turtles and wallaroos. The croc show was fantastic, as we got to see them in action and participate in feeding them. To read more about our visit, click here.

We lunched at Leanyer Recreation Park, which is a gem of a place within Darwin. We loved this place so much; we actually visited it three times during our stay. It is a water park with an aqua park for the littlies, three big slides for the bigger kids and a huge pool with areas and depths for kids of all ages. Best thing about it, it all FREE. There is also BBQs, picnic tables, shade and a massive playground. If only every major city had a place like this to go.

Alas, our arrangements for Coby’s special birthday dinner did not go to plan. It’s not often I write anything negative about an experience we have had, but this one was so appalling, I just have to warn my fellow travelling families. We planned to go to Darwin Trailer Boat Club for dinner. As usual, we checked it all out in the internet before we finalised our plans. First thing, we found out their prices were greatly inflated from what was advertised online. It must have been a while since they have updated. Secondly, they refused to honour our ‘Kids Eat Free’ voucher we had picked up at the tourist info office. When Mike politely queried the manager, he simply asked if we were members (we weren’t) and suggested we could leave, turning on his heel without a backward glance or chance for further discussion. In all our travels and experiences, I have never witnessed such rudeness and lack of professionalism, especially from a manager in hospitality. You have been warned.

Cake TimeBy this stage it was too late to book anything else, so Coby’s special night was spent eating takeout pizza in the caravan. Our little princess didn’t seem to mind, as pizza is a favourite. But this soured what was almost the perfect day.

Putting that one bad experience behind us, we absolutely loved Darwin. It is almost a different place compared to nine years ago, so much bigger and with so much more. But we have been here long enough so it’s off to explore the remaining parts of the top end before heading across to Queensland.

Territory Dreaming

Mike and I were last in the Territory in 2002. It was all very rushed as we were running low on funds, and only got to do the major stuff. Now we are back, and very happy that we are finally able to see it at a relaxed pace.Into the Territory

First stop was Gregory National Park, one of the littler known NT treasures. It’s around 13,000 square km, and the Victoria River flows through it enroute to the Kimberly, and is supposedly one of the best places to catch Barramundi. We camped at Big Horse Creek camp, where Mike had a go at catching dinner. Alas, it was sausages again.

We also took the time to visit the Bullita Homestead. It was abandoned years ago after a massive flood destroyed almost everything, but the remains of the homestead, as well as a history from the owners makes for an interesting visit. We also did the Limestone walk, to look at the calcite flows, rock that looks like white water.

Bullita Homestead Boab Tree - Gregory NPOnward to Katherine Gorge or Nitmiluk (the traditional Aboriginal name). This place has really changed since the last time we visited.Katherine 2nd Gorge The campground has a fabulous pool area, and we all had fun swimming and relaxing before we did our afternoon gorge cruise. The water is still quite high this late in the season, and the views are just breathtaking.

One thing that hasn’t changed though is the number of bats in the area. Thousands of bats surrounded the campground and recreational areas, hanging from trees and making heaps of noise. They were a ‘great’ alarm clock the following morning.

We then made our way up to the big one, Kakadu. We missed so much of it last time, as we were travelling in a ford falcon station wagon and couldn’t go down most of the tracks. It was a different story this time in our 4WD, and all the roads were open. Our first night we camped at Gunlom, and visited the plunge pool and rock pools on the escarpment. The plunge pool was used for a scene in Crocodile Dundee, where Mick spears a barra for dinner.Gunlom Pool - Kakadu NP

Nourlangie Rock ArtJim Jim Billabong campground was our base for the rest of our stay in Kakadu. The campground had a boat ramp, where the resident 5 meter croc could regularly be seen swimming up and down the river. Mike cautiously had another go at fishing, but didn’t even get a nibble. Some fellow campers with a boat managed to snare a 60 cm barra after a few minutes trying, so at least the kids have seen what one looks like.

We got up early to visit Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls. The walk in to Jim Jim was only 900 metres, but took us just on 90 minutes, as we had to clamber over some pretty big rocks most of the way. The kids did exceptionally well, and managed the entire return journey without so much as a whimper of complaint, and again the view was worth it. We weren’t game enough to go swimming though as it was deep and cold.

Jim Jim FallsTo get to Twin Falls, you have to take a transfer by boat and then walk around 200 metres in the gorge. There is absolutely no swimming here, as they were trying to trap a 1.5 metre salty that had made its way into the river.Twin Falls Pool

One of the great things about Kakadu is the Aboriginal Culture. Many clans and communities here still live a traditional lifestyle. The cultural centres give great information about Kakadu, and the communities that live here, but the kids can’t read and so they don’t really get much out of it.

We wanted a more personal experience of the traditional aboriginal lifestyle here it Kakadu. Something that was interactive, so we could all learn and get what we wanted out of it. We decided to spend the day with Animal Tracks on their much recommended Safari. Our aboriginal guide, Patsy, and our guide/driver, Sean, took us into beautiful wetlands not accessible by any other means than participating in this tour. We spent the day gathering and tasting bush foods, learning about different trees and their uses, making rope from pandanus leaves, and cooking dinner in the traditional aboriginal way. It was an experience that excited all the senses. Coby especially really got into the spirit of things, trying all the bush foods offered to her, including green ants.

Everyone on the tour, including the kids, was captivated all day. By the end of the tour we felt we had learned more about aboriginal culture than we could from a museum or display. It was fantastic. To read more about our awesome day with Patsy and Sean, click here.

Male Jabiru - Corroboree BillabongSaltwater Croc - Corroboreee BillabongWe left Kakadu early and moved on to the Mary River area for a cruise on the Corroboree Billabong. Like most of the wetlands in the area, it is teaming with fish, birds and crocodiles. We saw our first Jabiru in the first 10 minutes, and he was happy to pose for photos. Our cruise included a trip up Lilly Alley, which was in full flower. Most importantly, we saw heaps of saltwater crocs. The last time we were in Kakadu, we only saw freshies, so were keen to see the salties up close in their natural habitat. We weren’t disappointed.

Onto Darwin, to catch up on some chores, pick up some mail and shop. I can’t wait to see the big changes in the city since we were last there.

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