We picked up our rental car, stopped at Aboriginal Bush Traders for takeout espresso and latte, then headed south on the Stuart and Arnhem Highways to Kakadu National Park, approximately 150 kms. We were booked to spend the first night at the indigenous-owned Mercure Kakadu Crocodile Hotel, built in the shape of a crocodile. The design reflects the crocodile’s cultural significance to the local Gagudju people.
Established in 1979, Kakadu National Park is UNESCO designated as a “living cultural landscape with exceptional natural and cultural values”. The park is large, at almost 20,000 sq kms, with an abundance of cultural and natural treasures. We were excited to view numerous examples of elaborate rock paintings, thousands of years old, depicting spirits and stories of creation, humans, fish, animals and plants. The rocky outcrops at Ubirr are especially rich in images. We listened to a talk about the rock images by a knowledgeable young park ranger. Watching the sun set over the Nadab Plain from atop these hills was very special. Around the area of Nourlangie Rock at the base of the Kakadu Escarpment we found more rock paintings with references to creation stories.
There were many birds sighted as well as a number of large Esturine Crocodiles on a lovely early morning cruise on the Yellow Water. We were warned to keep our arms inside the boat! The largest croc we came across was more than 4 metres long.
Again, we heard about the impact from feral or invasive species. Water buffalo were brought from Timor in the mid 1800’s to be raised for leather and horns, but were soon abandoned by British settlers when the venture proved unsuccessful. Overgrazing and trampling resulted in extensive damage to vegetation, river banks and flood plains before extensive culling took place, mainly to eradicate bovine tuberculosis.
The Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre, named after Warradjan, the pig nosed turtle, provided an interesting history of the area and an in-depth description of the life and experience of indigenous people before and after colonization. As with Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, title to the land on which Kakadu Park is situated was transferred to the original inhabitants, the Bininj in the north and Mungguy in the south, and leased back to the federal government. The resorts that we stayed in are owned and controlled by the indigenous owners. This is also true of the Nitmiluk National Park, where we went on a boat tour of Katherine Gorge. There, we saw the smaller and less agressive freshwater crocodiles.
On our drive through the dry parkland savanna, there was little wildlife seen, apart from one wallaby (viewed by Paul only), some feral horses, one feral pig and lots of roadkill. Paul’s list of Australian birds has reached 50!
We arrived back in Darwin in time to catch the (Northern) Territory Day festivities taking place on Mindel Beach. As this (July 1) was also Canada Day for us, we had a dual celebration! This year marks the 40th anniversary of self-government for the NT. We wandered through the extensive and very crowded Mindel Beach Sunset Market of craft stalls and food vendors offering a dizzying array of international cuisine. Choosing fish tacos and fresh juices, we joined many others on the beach listening to bands and as the sun set on the Timor sea. The official fireworks were long and spectacular – apparently 300 tonnes worth! – and unofficial fireworks continued to be lit late into the night. The purchase and use of fireworks in the Northern Territory is only permitted on July 1 and is the only jurisdiction in Australia where it is legal to buy fireworks!