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
Kangaroo
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

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