Leliyn

Once called Edith Falls, Leliyn has returned to the name given it by the original owners, the Jawoyn people. It is connected to Nitmiluk Gorge (Katherine Gorge) and you can do the walk from one to the other. We didn’t, however ( I think it is 62 km – Jatbula Trail).

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Arriving from Litchfield, there was a variety of walks but we took the loop walk which takes about two hours (2.6 km) and is uphill from the kiosk and downhill from the top plunge pool and falls. I would call it easy, having done it in thongs (rubber-soled footwear), while it was 38C, but it has been described as challenging, so maybe check out more informed trekking information. The tracks are well-marked with benches for rests along the way. The views are pretty special, even at the end of the dry season.

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The rocks at the top falls are slippery, so be careful, but refreshing on a hot day. The water from the falls was ‘harder’ than at Wangi Falls (Litchfield National Park) despite being a quarter of the drop. I saw many people jump in, but if you can’t see the bottom, that could result in a broken leg or hypothermia if the water is very cold. Don’t swim alone for this reason and check the conditions at the kiosk .

The main pool and falls at the bottom can be enjoyed by the whole family, but it does get deep so encourage poor swimmers to stay close to the edge. It was amazing to swim within steep sandstone gorge walls, with paperbark and pandanus at the fringes.

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There is a popular campsite, with regular facilities and in the peak season it is first in first served. Peak is after the wet – March to September, when the falls flow thick and fast but trekking could be discouraged. The park is under joint management between the government and the traditional owners. Make sure someone knows that you are on a trek, and the kiosk is a good place to record this.

Take a hat and plenty of water, first aid kit for walkers and suitable walking shoes.

 

Litchfield National Park

An easy hour by car, south of Darwin, in the Northern Territory, lies Litchfield National Park. Named after an early explorer, the region has been cared for by the Mak Mak Marranunggu, Werat and Waray Aboriginal people for thousands of years.

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The region was used for grazing and the mining of tin, copper and uranium. There are many falls to explore and some areas that have been developed to encourage tourists and visitors, with carparks, picnic areas, boardwalks and campgrounds. There are still natural trails and 4WD tracks for the adventure-seeking.

Berry Springs has 3 ‘pools’ that join if you want to ride downstream on a noodle. Not too deep and quite safe. The water is very clear near the edge – you can see fish. Wangi Falls is a surprise. You swim out to one of the waterfalls and get pounded by the downpour. The floor of the lagoon (?) begins as sandy and is dark in the centre, with twigs and debris. You would have to be able to tread water or swim maybe 60m unless you stay by the edge, and many do.

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Beautifully maintained, Wangi has unpowered sites but we chose not to stay here, as there was limited shade in the camping area. We stayed at Litchfield Tourist Park instead, on a grassed site amid beautiful flowers and unusual birdsong that defied description.

Rangers check daily to keep an eye on crocodiles and remove them from public swimming holes, but I would ask at the ranger station, too. I have read that you shouldn’t sit on bare ground in Litchfield, as scrub typhus is a possibility. So spread that towel on the ground and dry off in the heat!

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Take a hat, bathers/swimmers, water, first aid kit and shoes, but don’t miss it!

 

Darwin

The capital city of the Northern Territory, Australia, is Darwin. It is neat and small and tropical and a major port for trade and travel.

 

We stayed in the BIG 4 Howard Springs caravan park, about 30 km from Darwin, but there are several other options available and had we known what a quiet city it was, we may have gone for something in the heart of Darwin. Several of the park dwellers worked in the city and some were transient, while others thought they would be and were lured to stay in this warm site – 34-36C all year round.

Australia is so far from anywhere that during WWII we received very little attack, compared to other countries more central to the war. Darwin, however, at the top of the country was bombed 97 times between 1942 and 1943. There are ruins and memorials to commemorate this and most Australians are unaware of the loss of life due to raids and attacks, possibly as these were not pivotal to the war at large and inconsequential to writers of history.

 

The Darwin information centre is a good place to start and with the short time we had, we visited the Parap Markets and after unsuccessfully trying to find the War Museum, had lunch on Stoke’s Wharf. There was a lot of Balinese goods, being so close to the mainland, but not much local produce.

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We walked through the town and went to the lookout, over Darwin Harbour and the town beach. As with many northern cities in Australia, in the Summer months there are stingers, sharks can also venture close, and the waters can be swampy, so a “beach” was created with sand and nets to keep out the unwanted. It was pretty strange to see people having a swim on their lunch break in the middle of the city, but who wouldn’t?

 

The tunnels are reported to be very good to see – where ammunition was stored to hide it from the Japanese, if they should land – but we didn’t do the tour.

Make 2 or 3 days for Darwin. It is a good base from which to visit Litchfield and Katherine.

Hats, water and shoes will see you travel safely.

Kakadu National Park

 

In early October, with the temperature in the shade reaching 39.2C (approx 103F), we arrived in world heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, in the Northern Territory of Australia. The road in was unremarkable (and very long) due to being near the end of the dry season.

Taking advice from other travellers, we camped at Cooinda Camping Ground and Caravan Park.

The Yellow River Cruise is world-renowned and if you are a bird lover you will be spoilt. You would also get your lens-full of crocodile pictures and some worthy screen savers. Many people do the sunrise and sunset cruise to get the benefit or the varying wildlife and colours. I was surprised at the buffalo and other animals on the banks and watching the interplay of creatures on or near the water was captivating.

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We also completed a walk at Nourlangie Rock that has two tracks from which to choose and saw interesting sandstone rock formations and well-preserved rock art. Apparently it is a part of the Arnhem Land escarpment.  The track is good and well-marked.

Ubirr Rock is a site that has an easy walking track and many examples of Aboriginal rock painting. Tours in other languages are available. If you can climb the steep sides (about 30 degree slope) to the top you can see an amazing 360 degree view of that region of Kakadu. Sunset walks are possible. I won’t include pictures of art, as I haven’t checked if that is permitted. Most rock art is sacred and Aboriginal people do not like it shown on media, without consent.

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Near Cooinda, Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre is very informative and has artifacts and art you can buy. Bowali Visitor Centre was also impressive.

The facilities were very good, with a choice of pools and the visitor information centre had a great range of maps and options. There are good-sized campsites, outdoor BBQ areas, camp kitchens and restaurants. For those wanting more luxury, there are cabins and Cooinda Lodge. There is a wealth of information and they offer tours, transport and advice. There are many other motels and campsites in the National park. We spent 3 nights here.

Safe travels. Don’t swim alone and check with rangers before visiting water holes. Take water, your hat and good walking shoes.

How to decide where to go in Australia.

Australia is a big place. How much you see and where you go will depend on three things:

  1. the time you have,
  2. the time of the year and
  3. the things you enjoy seeing and doing.

 

The time you have

As Jane Austin says in Pride and Prejudice, near and far are relative terms. If you see my blog on the Northern Territory, you can cover a lot of ground in a short time. Fast travel isn’t for everyone, though. And if you start in a big city like Sydney, you will possibly not get so far, but have seen a great deal.

Western Australia is the largest State and has almost every climate type (see below), producing every kind of environment. Before I went, people warned that it was a long way to anywhere, but it really is about a day’s travel to many of the locations (8-10 hours drive at 100km/hr).  We did it in 39 days, but that included a long stop in Perth and other extended stops, as well as inland treks.

Every State has a lot to see and do. You would have to look at the time you have and marry it with the things you want or love to do.

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The time of the year

As a big island, we have an enormous range in climate. Our climate is temperamental. Check before you leave.

In everyday language, above the Tropic of Capricorn (see map in A good State to be in) you will be guaranteed warm to hot weather all year. Clothing – strictly shorts and light tops.

The vast desert region occupying most of the centre is cold at night in the dry season, loosely corresponding to Winter (June – August) and mild at other times. Do not underestimate how hot it gets in the desert – we have met travellers from Europe about to embark on the Tanami Desert , carrying no water. THAT IS CRAZY! You’ll need a hat, too.

It is hot to extremely hot in the Wet (October – April) and can be tremendously humid.

October to April (roughly) is the cyclone season, so floods and very high winds would deter most travellers from the ‘top end’.

There is no Spring or Autumn in this region, although wildflowers (famous in Western Australia) bloom in what would be called Spring south of the Tropic.

As you would expect, from the Tropic it gets cooler as you head south and warmer as you go north. Winter in the south is from June to August and you’ll get lots of rain and cold winds but our snow regions are sparse. Our minimum temperatures don’t commonly go below zero but in the open it’ll be cold.

Summer in the south is from December to February, but we can have 40C in March (not unexpected in South Australia).

Western Australia is windy.

 

 

In geographical terms, the following map could help:

 

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wikipedia

 

The things you enjoy seeing and doing.

We are a population that hugs the coast and once won most of the Olympic swimming competitions. We are a beach culture. However, in the north there are ‘stingers’  in Summer. These are jelly fish that sting and some can be fatal. While some beaches have vinegar or warm water for removing the tentacles or sting, not all do and it is common in these regions for people to do most of their swimming in chlorinated public or private pools.

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Climbing – we have plenty of hills and ranges to climb.

Walking – with so much space and distance there is a walk to suit all abilities and ages. Many have bike access or are wheelchair friendly.

Train rides – I’m not sure if we can compete with the speeds of Europe, but we have some delightful and some dramatic steam train journeys, including the 52 degree incline of the Blue Mountain rail journey. Then there are the epic journeys between states and across the dessert.

Underwater adventure – whether it’s the fast disappearing Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays or the Ningaloo Reef, we have underwater scenery to amaze you. Swim with sharks if that takes your fancy, but make sure you are in the cage!

Cycling – It is mandatory in many States, now, for all new roads to have bike lanes. We have the Tour Downunder for a reason, so there are tracks and roadways for everyone.

Scenery – what can I say? We have it all – the good, the great and the unusual.

Birdlife – a very large variety of birdlife can be found and you are better off checking the location you are thinking of or going to  http://www.birdlife.org.au/  before deciding where you’ll bird watch.

Wildlife – Our unique marsupials are world renowned. We have most of the deadliest snakes in the world, so research that and tread heavily where you go.

Fishing – yep! I’d recommend joining one of the Barra (Barramundi) safaris for adventure, but look out for the eyes floating on top of the water.

Food – we are a multicultural country so I defy you not to find your culture’s culinary delight. We offer food trails in most States and several in some. Free samples, too!

Wine – ah! Bacchus couldn’t ask for more. Light wines in rainy areas, heavier in the dry.  Don’t look for anything in Queensland or Northern Territory , as the humid climate and the grapes are not friends. Although they do import from the rest of us, so you’ll find something. Beer is the poison of those regions.

Botany – plants and flowers to satisfy Joseph Banks. We have such a wide range you’d need to check local areas.

Camping – of course. But we are a big place with lots of isolated areas. Be careful and sensible.

History – we don’t have the buildings of the rest of the world, that are centuries old. But we have a billion year old history that is evident in rock formations and landforms.  (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170509194434.htm)

Rocks – see the last item and be ready for red.

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Culture – we have the oldest surviving culture, in the Aboriginal people.  (http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/news/2011/09/dna-confirms-aboriginal-culture-one-of-earths-oldest)

SO much more. Research, research or just ask.

WATER WATER WATER and a hat. And your camera!

 

Mataranka Thermal Spring

Have you ever wondered whether there really are oases in the world? Wonder no longer.

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A short turn off the Stuart Highway, about an hour and a half south of Katherine in the Northern Territory, is Elsey National Park.  A popular place to stop, here, is Mataranka Thermal Springs and it is an oasis.

The water is ‘thick’, almost gelatinous. It has a greenish hue, while being crystal clear. I believe it comes from a natural spring at a constant temperature of 34C and is said to be medicinal. Perhaps it is Australia’s ‘Bath’. We arrived there on a 40C day and found the water refreshing and relaxing, gliding under the canopy of trees, sharing stories with other travellers.

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The area is quite clearly a great place for flying foxes, who hang languidly by day and might be a little rowdy at night. One of the things that deterred me from staying there overnight was the stench of flying fox waste product, but I DO have a rather pronounced olfaction. I would stay another time, as the delight of an oozy morning dip is very tempting.

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For a piece of history and literary link, the Elsey Station homestead has been reconstructed on the site and is very good for providing the background to pioneering tales such as We of the Never Never,  written by Jeannie Gunn, who lived there for a year with her husband in 1902 – 1903, until he died of malarial fever.

 

The waters are shallow and suitable for children, with rails and steps for those who need it. The path from the car park takes you past an information centre and pub and beyond the springs to the Roper River, full of fish and maybe crocs. There are two campsites in the National Park and fellow travellers reported they were good in facilities and price.

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I didn’t meet anyone, but have read blogs from people who say that Bitter Springs is much deeper and longer, with a variety of activities in the area to warrant staying a couple of days. So if that is to your liking, head further north in the park.

Travel Safe. Hat and water and bring the bathers/togs/swimmers.

Nitmiluk Gorge/Katherine

We both loved Katherine, in the NT. It is beautiful, interesting and has hot springs where, in the afternoon when we visited, workers in their high-viz gear strolled down to the water’s edge, stripped off and immersed themselves in the warm, soothing waters.

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Nitmiluk Gorge, once called Katherine Gorge, in Nitmiluk National Park is breathtaking. We went in the dry season, where the boat did not travel so deep into the Gorge, but it was amazing. The colours, stories and culture were worth it. The park is managed by the Jawoyn Aboriginal people and the Northern Territory Government and the tour was led by a Jawoyn man, who shared cultural tales and understandings. Nitmiluk means land of the cicada dreaming.

One of the stories he told was of how his people used to fish: they would pick a plant that grew on the side of the river and throw it in the water. It de-oxygenated the water, causing the fish to float to the surface, where the Jawoyn people scooped up what they needed and then sent the children in to jump and splash about, thus oxygenating the water once more, so the rest of the fish were revitalised and swam off. Now that’s sustainability!

Another story was of a very old film, one of the first in which Aboriginal actors were used and spoke in their own language. It was called Jedda, was from 1955, and was partly filmed in the Gorge. As we passed a particularly beautiful and high cliff face, the guide said that it was there the final scene was filmed. I don’t want to spoil it, even though being so old you would probably find it appalling, but apparently they really jumped! The story was based on some accurate beliefs about inter-marriage (being forbidden) and typical tribal punishment (spearing in the thigh).

This cruise is a must. We went at the end of the dry, which means it is cut short but it was beautiful, interesting and the swim in the middle is amazing – even if you are all looking over your shoulder for any signs of  floating ‘sticks with eyes’. The crocodiles, we were assured, were not present at that time of the year, but we’ve all read about those tourists who found one …

Katherine is a big town with everything you need. The river is massive and when you visit the empty bed, it is hard to imagine that it frequently fills and floods the town in the wet season. Well, hard for someone who never sees that amount of rain.

The caravan park where we stayed was perfect. Pretty, wide, grassy, a great restaurant and pool, clean and spacious facilities, helpful staff – I’d recommend BIG4 Katherine Holiday Park. Loads of kookaburras.

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Take water, your hat and a camera.

Safe travels.