Excursion: Pine Creek – Darwin

Two days ago in the morning we left the Kakadu NP after almost one week, after passing the Mary River, which was here much smaller than further north, when we crossed it at the first day. After less than two hours drive we arrived in Pine Creek. I visited in this old mining town the former railway station and post office, which houses now a small museum in order to explain the history of the railway to nowhere. There are also two locomotives in a shelter, a diesel one and an old steam locomotive from the US. The steam locomotive was even functioning the last time 19 years ago, but it seemed that the resources for continuing this operation are no longer available. Furthermore, the tracks around the railway museum were cut in several sections, so there’s a lack of distance where this locomotive could in the end even operated. It seems that the new standard gauge railway is mainly using the old narrow gauge railway tracks. Hence, the planned operation of a historic railway never commenced. After the railway museum we went to a lookout to an old pit of a gold mine. This pit contains now 6.8 Mio. m³ of water and it took 14 months to fill it up, by diverting the Pine Creek. After the stop in Pine Creek we got onto the Stuart Highway and drove north. The traffic was more than in the national park, but still far away from being crowded. During a coffee break in Adelaide River, a cargo train full of containers headed south to Alice Springs. In the afternoon we arrived back in Darwin.

The new standard gauge railway now bypasses Pine Creek
The old railway station at the old narrow gauge track…
…which is already interrupted a few hundred metres behind the railway station.
This old steam locomotive was operating the last time about 19 years ago…
…and has one old wodden carriage.
The idea of a rail link from Europe to Australia is pretty old.
There is old iron mining equipment on display next to the railway museum.
The former gold mining pit is now flooded with water.

Kakadu NP: Maguk – Gunlom

Sunday morning we continued our drive through the national park. First we stopped at Mirrai lookout, but the view was partly covered by trees and the morning haze still obstructed the view. The next stop was at Mardugal, where we went to the billabong. Beside a saltie in the distance, there was not much to see either. So we headed on to Maguk, where we finally arrived after a 10 km drive on a gravel road. Maguk has basically too pools. We first went to the lower pool by accident. This one was all right, and we had a swim to get some refreshment. Afterwards we finally found the way upstream, and arrived on the upper pools a few minutes later. This was definitely the best water pools for swimming in the whole national park. It consists basically of three pools, which are connected by small waterfalls. The water was pretty deep, so we had some high jumps off the cliffs, and tried also some deep water soloing. But the hardest part, was the move out of the water. So basically, I just did a nice crossing. The swimming in the rear part was really nice, as the gorge gradually narrowed down. We spent at least two hours at this lovely spot, and it was definitely worth the drive so far south. Afterwards we went to Gunlom, which was another 90 kilometres drive with a 40 km gravel road. We crossed the South Alligator River the third time, and surprisingly in this upstream section, the river was still flowing. We went to the upper pools of Gunlom falls. The water was also here still flowing, but only a very small creek remained. The pools were full of rocks underwater. So the swimming was really bad compared to Maguk, and only the first pool wss made for some splashing. Laying on the edge of this natural infinity pool, and just relaxing and enjoying the view is the best you can do there. Shortly before sunset we went down, and surprisingly there were even free showers in the toilets of the day use area. After utilising them, we headed off in the dusk to another campground, as the one in Gunlom is again pretty expensive. And as we had already our shower, we didn’t need the green grass around us. So we enjoyed our last night at the Kambolgie campground under the sky full of stars.

Except from one saltie there was not much to see in Mardugal billabong
The lower pool in Maguk, where the waterfall still has water flowing down
The small gorge after the pools
The upper pools of Maguk are just stunning…
…and the swim to the rear part is definitely one of the best things to do.
View from a lookout near the Gunlom waterfall…
…which can be also seen from the infinity pool on the top.

Kakadu NP: Injalak Art Centre – Sandy Billabong

Saturday morning we crossed the East Alligator River and entered Arnhem land. As it is Aboriginal land, you need a permit to enter, which we got one day earlier in Jabiru. The landscape is still beautiful. After about 20 minutes drive we arrived in Oenpelli. Contrary to our information the Art Centre was still closed, so we needed to wait another 20 minutes or so. Some indigenous people were around, and we had a short chat with them. But it turned out that they were working somehow for the art centre, but not operating it. So at 9 o’clock a young white woman turned up and opened it. To our surprise it was basically a shop were aboriginal art was sold. The prices for them are pretty high, and depending on the size of the picture, it can easily reach a 4 digit number. We had a short chat with the woman, and asked also, if we could visit the Injalak rock, which is supposed only about 15 minutes away. But she told us, that the families suspended the tours for the time being. She invited us also to have a look at the workshop in the rear part of the building. By chance there was just an organised tourist group arriving, and I listened to the explanation of one of the Aborigines. Surprisingly they got a guide to show them the Injalak rock art. Well that was a bit sad to hear, so we left that place, also as Jakub felt a bit unwell surrounded by all the black people.

We drove back to the Cahill’s crossing and then further on to the Mamukala wetlands about 40 kilometres west of Jabiru. We took a walk, but honestly expect of one dragonfly and a bird of prey there was not much interesting to see for me. OK, there were lots of other birds in wetlands doing their business, but as I’m for sure not a twitcher, this place was not worth to make a detour. We even drove 10 km further to the West to the South Alligator river, which is really massive here, compared to the dried section we crossed the second day. But as you could clearly see it was high tide, and this push backed all the brackish water the other way around. In the afternoon we went to Jabiru to get some groceries. By accident we just entered the supermarket a few minutes before it was closing at 15 o’clock.

In the late afternoon we drove south to Sandy Billabong with a short stop in Djarradjin. The campground in Sandy Billabong is just basic, but the day use area is pretty nice, directly located at the billabong. We went for a short walk along the billabong and Jakub discovered a brownish snake, but it suddenly disappeared before I could spot it. While we were looking for the snake, we heard a noise behind us…a small saltie was gliding into the water, probably just 10 metres behind us. So we stayed a bit apart from the waterline. The billabong is much larger than we anticipated. We parked our car at the day use area, to enjoy our dinner with an awesome view to the billabong. It was so quiet and peaceful, you just heard the sound of nature. While enjoying our meal, we saw again the saltie swimming in the billabong in a distance.

Billabong and Rock from Injalak Art Centre
Some printings of the women in the workshop
A billabong with water lilies in Arnhem land
The fruit of these small trees is similar to charcoal, so it keeps the fire but is not really burning by itself. It was used to carry the fire from one fire pit to the next by indigenous people.
A dragonfly…
…and a bird of prey, not sure if it was an Eagle or a Kite, was the most interesting thing for me…
…in Mamukala wetlands, which is just full of dirty birds.
Brackish water flowing upstream the south alligator river
Djarradjin billabong has clear and calm water, not sure if the water was flowing at all here, as it’s part of the Nourlangie Creek
The saltie just slide into the water…you still can see it’s lane in the grass
Sandy Billabong is so calm…
…and the scenery in the evening is absolutely stunning. Definitely enjoyed it here.

Kakadu NP: Ubirr

Friday we went to Ubirr in order to join another ranger talk at 9 o’clock. On the way we stopped at the Bowali Visitor Centre in order to ask for some permits, which opens unfortunately not before 8 o’clock. But for the first permit there’s a waiting time of three weeks at the moment, and for the second one we needed to go to Northern Land Council, which is directly situated in the town centre of Jabiru. In the end it wasn’t a problem to get the one, but after all we run already late in time again. After a quick drive north to Ubirr, we ended suddenly infront of the gate, which was still closed shortly before 9 o’clock. Well, if the gate is still closed at that time, there’s no ranger to open it, and eventually also no ranger to go for a talk. We waited additional 15 minutes, but then left the scene to get to the Cahill’s crossing of the East Alligator river. This crossing is well known for its salt water crocodiles. In the morning it was low tide, and most of the crocodiles were relaxing in the water or in the sun. After watching the scene for a while, we went on for the Bardedjilidji walk. In essence, it was much more to see than we first anticipated. After we left the river with additional salties, we passed a billabong and afterwards directly went into something like a sandstone castle. Also in the small caves of this rock formations there was evidence as of a living place for several millennia. After finishing the walk we went finally to the Ubirr rock art, which was finally opened. At five different galleries several art from different time areas can be observed. The highlight of the day was for sure the Nadab lookout. During the day you’re pretty much exposed to the sun, but you’ve the lookout more or less for yourself, and can just enjoy the awesome view. So we decided to come back for this view in the evening. In the afternoon the East Alligator river had high tide. That means even as the shore is about 95 kilometres away, the 7m high tide is pushing the salt water all the way back, even 5km upstream of Cahill’s crossing. During high tide fresh fish is pushed upstream, and the predators are happily awaiting them. In the late afternoon we checked out the campground, as we desired a shower after 4 days. Surprisingly nobody was there for check in, so we just had our dinner and then went again to Ubirr for the sunset. The view was still stunning, but now we had to share them with at least 100 other people, which was finally quite hectic on the top. So I enjoyed the view more during the day, even if the photos are nicer during dusk.

Walking to Cahill’s crossing through savanna land
Salties are just relaxing…
…around the crossing during low tide.
Another crocodile gets heated up on the river bank during our walk
Passing a small billabong…
…before we suddenly entered something like a sandstone castle.
These grinding holes were carved into the rock during several millennia
These simple running people are one of the oldest drawings of the site
This rock art is much more detailed, and hence not so old. It shows a man whose catch was stolen.
You see the white person…
…in the main gallery?
It is believed that the upper drawing of the Tasman tiger is at least 4,000 years old, and the animal itself is now extinct. Not only in mainland Australia, but since the 20th century finally also in Tasmania itself.
There are two stories here: the white figures here shows a deadly fight, as a girl ate Barramundi fish at the wrong time. Whereas the yellow twin Namarrkan sisters, are known to transform to salties and kill then people whenever they want.
The rainbow serpent is believed to be 20,000 years old, and hence one of the oldest art pictures at all.
During high tide the water turns around, and pushs brackish water, and fish back…
…while the predators already lined up for this. These salties look a bit similar than submarines for me. How many do you count 😏? Me five.
A wild cockatoo, a parrot, just above our heads in the campground.
Jakub enjoying the sunset at Nadab lookout…
…from where we have a stunning view over the forest…
…along the East Alligator River back to the Arnhem land.

Kakadu NP: Nourlangie

Thursday early morning we drove with the first sunlight the 4WD out and then the gravel road until the Kakadu highway. There are several ranger activities, which are for free and included in the NP pass. Or in the case of me, it’s free at all, as I’m officially now a local NT resident 😉 (as I told before, otherwise you can’t have a car registered at your own). Hence, spending 32$ for a one year driver licence was cheaper than 40$ entrance fee of the Kakadu NP. The talk started at 9 o’clock, and after the gravel road I needed to increase the tyre pressure, before heading back onto the highway. We almost made it, and were just 5 minutes late. Nevertheless, the group was already gone and we needed to hurry up to catch them. The ranger was quite skillful and told us about different topics from the Aborigines. There’s evidence that the people already lived in this specific area since 20,000 years. Their original way of living is highly integrated into the nature. They believe in the spirits on their ancestors and as their language isn’t able to write down, the only method of transferring information of 1,000 generations is by painting things onto the rock. The rocks we were walking along are about 1.6-1.8 billion years old (depending if there was quartz included in them or not). Compared to the age of the earth of 4.54 billion years, these rocks are definitely quite old. The rocks were a former ground of the sea, and got pushed up due to tectonical movements, but they don’t have any fossil on their surface. Just because at this time of the earth age, there haven’t even been any bacteria on the earth. So the whole earth was just sterile. We were also introduced to the kinship system, which is a very complicated system of how relationships got managed in order to preserve strong genetics. I didn’t got it completely, but at least I got that the terms mother and sister, and so on not depending on the biological relationship, but also depending on the skin colour which you inherited from your father (if I’m not wrong). In essence, your sisters would be all females of the same skin colour, and after you got an adult in a ceremony, you’re no longer allowed to talk to your sister (even if it’s not your biological sister).

After we finished the two hours ranger talk, we went to the nearby Anbangbang billabong. We walked around, which was OK, but quite long, and the scenery didn’t changed a lot. Along the way we saw a herd of Emus. I guess I never saw wild Emus before. In the afternoon we went for a two kilometres return walk to another rock art gallery. Even if it was mainly flat and we had almost no supplies with us, it was quite strengthenous to walk in the afternoon sun at 14 o’clock. The rock art is a bit boring, if you don’t get any explanation to it. Sometimes it is also repetitively. In the evening we went back to the Nawurlandja lookout, where another ranger activity should take place. But unfortunately, after we waited for 15 minutes, there was no ranger showing up, and 20 people were waiting for him. In the end we went this 15 minutes walk at our own to the top and enjoyed the sunset. On the way down we spotted two nice boulders, and just did some moves in the dusk, before we went to a nearby campground. That was our first real, but basic, campground. It just has had a pit toilet, but the light was not working. Three French girls camped also next to us. After dinner I joined them, and we played an easy French card game together for a while.

View from the Gunnwarrdehwarrdde lookout to the wetlands…
…and to a stone on a ledge, which represents a feather of an ancestors who was in incest with his sister (actually not his biological one). Eventually, he turned into the salt water crocodile.
On the other side of the plains at this three large pillars, there lives the spirit of lightning and thunder. And it’s better not to wake him up, while visiting him.
The spirit of lightning and thunder is drawn on the upper right side of this rock art.
There’s evidence that under this rocky roof, people continously lived in the last 20,000 years. And typically they just painted in their living room.
There was not too much water in the billabong…
…but still enough to attract a group of Emu
On our walk in the afternoon, crossing pretty dry and quite hot land
These old rocks itself are pretty impressive itself.
The bad spirits are typically painted with six fingers and toes.
This rock with the boulder on the ledge is seen throughout the wetlands, and almost remembers the people to follow the kinship.
Enjoying sunset and the quite cooler temperatures
Jakub did a 360° boulder in clockwise direction, whereas I repeated it in anti-clockwise direction. The crux is directly on the other side.