Sunday, July 31, 2016

Australia 2016, Day 11 - Kakadu National Park, Scenic Flight, Yellow Water Billabong, Nourlangie Rock

I woke up on Day 11 (if that's what you can call it when I barely slept) actually feeling much better. I was still coughing some, but thankfully I had still had some eucalyptus cough drops left. My head was much clearer. And that's a good thing, because we caught a tour bus at 6am heading into the heat and wildness that is Kakadu National Park. Kakadu is the largest national park in Australia, covering nearly 20,000 square kilometers, and is part of the Northern Territory. It is World Heritage recognized for both its environment and the Aboriginal culture, and is considered part of the Outback.

After 3 hours on the bus, we arrived in Kakadu and made a quick pit-stop at the Bark Hut, where Stephanie and I signed up for the optional scenic flight over Kakadu. We decided that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Kakadu from the air, so we might as well take advantage of it. I'm so glad we did! 
After the quick break, we headed to the tiny airport - it had a red dirt runway! - where they dropped off the five of us who were flying. The bus headed out to a visitor's center while we went into the "terminal" where we were each weighed and then given our "seat assignments" based on our weight! The plane had 8 seats, for 6 passengers plus the pilot and copilot. We had to wear headsets in order to hear the pilot and also the tour information about the park. It was warm on the plane, but it was an incredible experience. Seeing Kakadu from the air really gave us a sense of the breadth of the park and the variety of landscapes and scenery we would soon be seeing up-close. We saw the sandstone escarpment that makes up the Arnhem Land Plateau, salt- and fresh-water rivers where we actually saw saltwater crocodiles swimming from the air (that means they were BIG!), billabongs and red dirt and lush forest. Amazing!
The sandstone escarpment
Accidental close-up selfie
fresh-water river
salt-water river
I seriously love the adventures I have with this girl!
After landing at another red-dirt airstrip, a small bus took the five of us over to the Yellow Water Billabong to meet the rest of our group for a boat-cruise on the wetlands, complete with crocodile-sighting and bird-watching. The guide warned us to keep our whole bodies inside the boat at all times - saltwater crocs can leap quite a ways out of the water, and stray limbs are enticing to them. The first croc we saw was actually a freshwater crocodile - they are smaller, lighter in color, and much less aggressive, with a long, thin snout - the guide said it was the first "freshie" sighting of the dry season. It didn't take long before we saw quite a few of the larger, scarier saltwater crocs - they are big, dark in color, with shorter fat snouts, and they will attack without provocation. The billabong was beautiful, with the bright blue sky and clouds reflecting on the surface of the smooth, clear water, and colorful lilies and plants growing up from the water. We saw quite a few different types of birds, including wood ducks, cranes, a kingfisher, and several jacanas. The jacana is also known as the "Jesus Bird" because it looks like it is walking on water when it moves among the reeds.  
Whew, it was HOT!
Fresh-water crocodile
Salt-water crocodile! Yikes!
These guys are the reason that most of the water in Kakadu is off-limits!
Big ol' boy!
That eye is creepy!
I thought we were about to see this croc have a birdie snack.
A posse of wood ducks
Not the best pic, but this is a kingfisher
A jacana - "Jesus Bird"

After lunch, we went to Nourlangie Rock and the Anbangbang Aboriginal rock art gallery. It's amazing that the indigenous people have been painting on this particular rock for nearly 20,000 years! Of course, the paintings we saw weren't that old, but they could have been 1000 years old or more. Each painting tells a story of some sort, whether it's simply a menu of the types of food found in the region or a moral lesson for youngsters. It was really cool to see!
Nourlangie Rock
This is Nabulwinjbulwinj - a dangerous spirit who eats females after hitting them in the head a yam!
Some sort of dance ceremony 
Finally the bus dropped us off at the Gagadju Crocodile Hotel in Jabiru, where we stayed for two nights. This hotel is quite unique, as it is shaped as a giant crocodile. The head is the lobby and restaurant, the guest rooms make up the outside of the body with the swimming pool in the middle of the body, the legs are stairwells to the second floor guest rooms, and the tail is the staff rooms. Very cool!
Borrowed this pic from online to show the whole of the croc hotel from the air
The "head" and eye of the croc hotel
One of the legs of the hotel

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Australia 2016, Day 10 - Darwin

Day 10 saw the start of our Darwin/Kakadu adventure. Stephanie and I left Sydney on an early flight to Darwin. Sydney was crisp and cool - we started the day in jeans and fleece jackets. At the end of the 4.5 hour flight, we landed in hot and steamy Darwin - we quickly lost the fleeces, and as soon as we made it to our hotel we changed into capris to explore the city. Unfortunately this was the worst day for me with my sinus issues. I couldn't stop coughing, my head felt like it was going to explode, and the plane ride caused my left ear to feel like my eardrum was about to burst. We landed around 1:00 and it was the next day before I could hear normally again. 

Regardless of how I felt, we still wanted to get out and about in the city. We knew we wanted to see Darwin's famed sunset, but we had quite a bit of time before that. So we grabbed a quick bite to eat at an outdoor restaurant with a tree in the middle of it! and then started walking toward the waterfront. We found a shopping area and wandered in some of the tourist shops before Stephanie found an art gallery with aboriginal artwork and we ended up spending over an hour and a good bit of money there. 

After shopping, we continued our trek to the waterfront. Now, I know it's tradition for me to put my feet in every body of water I can, but there was no way I was going to put my feet in the water around Darwin, even if I was SO HOT! The water in Darwin and around the Northern Territory is infested with saltwater crocodiles, which are mean and aggressive and will attack humans without provocation - so the only place in Darwin that it's safe to swim is the man-made lagoon just across the wall from the ocean. Stephanie and I walked down to the lagoon, and she sat in the shade while I walked around in the water trying to cool off a little. Darwin is very tropical, with palm trees everywhere. The church that we passed had no walls for natural air conditioning with the tropical breeze. The air is humid and the atmosphere is extremely laid-back and casual, just like being at the beach. 
The man-made swimming lagoon
After a while we walked down to the sea wall, then back up to the shops around the lagoon where we bought a tasty treat - mango and lemon gelato! Oh my, it was wonderful! By this point I was hot and miserable - I honestly felt like I could collapse, but I didn't want to miss out on the city. Thankfully the gelato revived me enough to go enjoy the sunset and make it back to our hotel. 
Not feeling very well :(
This was pure heaven - cool, fruity, and soothing to my throat!
Finally we walked through a park to watch the sunset over the water - don't worry, we were a safe distance from the shore, away from any crocs that might have been there. While the sun was setting we saw a parachuter soaring down to the Parliament House carrying the flag of the Northern Territory - very cool! And then there was the beautiful sunset - so amazing! We watched until the sun was almost completely gone, then asked a local for the best route back to our hotel, stopping to pick up some snacks to carry with us on our Kakadu trip the next day. 
After a nice long bath back at the hotel, I settled in for what I hoped would be a good night's sleep. Unfortunately, not so much. I coughed all night long - and I do mean all night - I had to sleep with a cough drop in my mouth to get any rest at all. Thankfully Stephanie said I didn't keep her awake, but I was pretty worn out when the alarm when off early the next morning. The good news is I actually felt better. Thank goodness, because we were ready to have some amazing adventures!