Each day carried us further and further north on the Stuart Highway. After a tasty prawn salad at Daly Waters and a few more hours driving, we arrived at our accommodation in Katherine. These were 4 bed bunk rooms with a shared bathroom. The humidity was building now and the mosquitoes were becoming a real nuisance. Lathered up in Jungle Formula spray, we had a great night out by the pool in our bikinis and shorts nonetheless. We had ordered pizza in from a local takeaway; this felt like an authentic American ‘college party’ complete with big plastic red cups and violent games of ‘stack cup’ and ‘beer pong’. It’s sometimes the nights that you expect to be quieter that are some of the most fun on these kind of tours; this was an evening I particularly enjoyed. The Northern Territory group is about half the size of the Beaches & Reefs tour that began in Sydney, and this means that it’s a manageable number of people – everyone can get to know everyone else. In comparison, there were people on the Sydney to Cairns stretch that I don’t think I ever spoke to. Of course, there’s pros and cons to both, but do not be put off by the Northern Territory! Don’t assume it’s less sociable; there are plenty of beers and plenty of laughs to be had on both sections of the route.
The next morning we were up bright and early to pack our cases onto the coach and head out to the start point of our cruise through the Nitmiluk gorge on the Katherine river. This activity was approximately two hours in duration and was with a company called Nitmiluk Tours. The tour consisted of an hour long boat ride through the gorge, in which we admired the vast expanses of rock rising from the water on each side, as well as some of the waterfalls cascading over the top.
We were then able to dock the boat and get out onto a flatter area for a small walk and photo opportunity. We then enjoyed a quiet return journey to the start point minus the commentary. This gave us all the chance to get some good shots on our cameras without the fear of missing the information. Our guide also thought it would be amusing to steer the boat underneath the waterfall to soak those of us at the back of the boat. Aussie humour, it would appear, is eerily similar to the old favourite: Dad Humour.
Soon after we returned to the coach, we entered Kakadu National Park. As we had a few hours drive, our guide put on a DVD for us to watch. Initially sceptical, we sat back to watch the entertainment, but I honestly found the documentary so interesting. I think I speak for all of us when I say it built the excitement for our next day or so inside Kakadu National Park. You can find clips of this series (which I think may have been shown on the BBC at one point) here.
Whilst inside Kakadu, we stayed two nights in eco-lodges. This may make them sound like they were small, but they were actually pretty roomy, high-ceilinged affairs with ensuite bathrooms. The only unwelcome part of the eco-lodge, aside from the almost unbearable humidity, was the fact that its doorstep was also home to the first snake I had seen on the trip. Admittedly, it was tiny, and most likely harmless, but in no way did this stop us barricading every single crack under the door and window shut to keep the little bastard out.
As I said, the heat in this part of the country was getting pretty noticeable. We would take our morning showers, head to breakfast a few hundred metres away and arrive sweating. If you can’t be separated from your make-up, this part of the tour really isn’t for you. I don’t think I wore any for almost the entire fortnight.
Our last day in Kakadu offered us another cruise on the yellow river, seeking out crocodiles (to no avail). We were informed that this activity would have proved a lot more fruitful or at least croc-full had it been the wetter season. As the areas become more flooded, the saltwater crocs are more likely to lurk in the shallow swampy water. In all honesty, I came away with mixed feelings about not having seen any – they terrify me. There were plenty of different options if you had your heart set on crocs. For example, some of the group went on a boat trip where they actively tempt out the ‘salties’ by brandishing massive slabs of meat over the side. This was just not really something I was willing to spend my money on. Moreover, if you are actually legitimately crazy, you could also do a crocodile cage dive in Darwin. I was quite happy to drive past yellow signs indicating crocs could be nearby, rather than actually encountering any. It’s a strange feeling to be driving down a road, and see yellow signs with crocodiles on them urging you not to get out of your vehicle in that particular area. Pretty sure those don’t feature on your UK driving theory test.
Another highlight of Kakadu included a scenic walk to some ancient aboriginal rock art.
However, the stand-out highlight of the two days for me was the optional scenic flight in a TINY (and TERRIFYING) plane over Kakadu. If you get the opportunity, this is an extra that is well worth it. Less enjoyable is the unavoidable reunion with the scales prior to the flight, so that the pilot can distribute the weight evenly in the plane. All carrying a little extra ‘travel padding’ and thoroughly in denial over the subject, we were not exactly enthusiastic. The views from the plane made up for it, though.