Wednesday morning after having a breakfast with chocolate couscous we pitched down our nightly camp and drove back along the 4WD track to the Jim Jim road. After a few kilometres the first river crossing was announced, but the South Alligator river ceased flowing, and only a billabong remained. Nevertheless, one saltie is still living there and we spotted him right next to the dry crossing. After less then one hour we reached the Kakadu highway and shortly after that Cooinda Lodge. The yellow water viewing platform is just next to that, but the expensive river cruise we skipped. Nevertheless, the wetland area is really beautiful. If there is still water available, then everything stays green. Beside one crocodile next to the wharf, we spotted several water buffaloes in the distance. Some bulls were fighting for their rights…or the woman, who knows. On the way out we stopped at Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre in order to get some insight into the local indigenous culture. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed, as the Aboriginal culture says, that you should not make a photo from deceased persons. After we had lunch in the shade under a tree we went to Jim Jim Falls along a 60 km gravel road. That one was in worse condition than the Jim Jim road. The last about 10 kilometres are again a pure 4WD. As the spot is pretty busy, there’s also some traffic on that track. Jim Jim Falls was dry, and no water was coming down. But the advantage of that is, that you can have a nice swim in one of the three pools. The approach is a bit rocky over some boulders. The small gorge is in shade most of the day. Hence, it has a nice cold micro climate. We went to the last pool directly underneath the waterfall. It is pretty deep and really cold. Hence, it was a good refreshing after two hot days. We spent there some hours until late afternoon. As we didn’t want to pay a high price for the campground, we just drove along the road to Twin Falls. The road is not open, but ends at a daily picnic area, where we stayed for the night.
One week ago my travel mate Jakub and me got up early to drive to the direction of the Kakadu NP. A few days ago I bought a Toyota Landcruiser 80, as I realised that I will end up nowhere, if you don’t have your own car. Public transport is absolutely limited in Australia and mainly restricted to town by town connections, and hitchhiking in the far north, a bit like impossible. Furthermore, any organised tours are really expensive, and actually not the way I really want to travel. So, in the end this shortens my options, and left me to buy a car. In order to do the registration I needed to prove with four independent documents that I’m a Northern Territory resident, which was in the beginning a bit hard, but with the help of a signed tennant agreement by Meg in the end not an issue. Now I also own a NT driver licence…just in case. The car came without any camping equipment, as it’s former owner is not a backpacker. So I needed to work a few days on it until everything was finally prepared, at least for this short excursion. We wanted to be at the “Wild Rice” boulder crag in the morning at 7 o’clock, to do some moves before it gets really hot during the day. As always in outdoor rock climbing to find the real boulder out of the hundreds around you, might be more challenging than the moves itself. Especially if you’re a bit in a timely pressure due to the daily heat. In the end I found two boulders and repeated an existing route, while the second started in sitting on a really large flake, which turned out to be moving, if you double that. And the risk that this flake will break completely and land on my chest, was too high for me, so I skipped that. Therefore I opened another route, along a large crack with a top out. I tried to find some other boulders in the middle area, but without success. And as time flew really fast, we stopped that after two hours and continued our journey.
After a few kilometres we reached Mary River. Jakub, my Czech travel mate – but living in New Zealand for 4 years, explored the area and even spotted a large salt water crocodile on a billabong. After we returned it disappeared, or at least, we couldn’t see it. I’m sure he still could see us. When we were walking around the billabong Jakub spotted two other, smaller, Salties. I wasn’t able to spot them from my viewing position, but it was still OK for me. After a while we left the Arnhem Highway and turned onto the old Jim Jim Road. After we passed a military camp, the road turned into a gravel road. I locked the front differential and lowered the tyre pressure. In the end the road was in a much better condition than I expected, and the best gravel road at all in the national park. At about midway we turned right and then along a real 4WD track for a few kilometres to a billabong. So I switched to Lower Gear and managed to make my way along this path, just in low speed without any problems. On the way we saw three water buffaloes. We decided to take a rest in the afternoon heat, before we went for a walk along the billabong, as we were tired and it was pretty hot. Finally, we decided to stay this night there, as we HD everything with us. Jakub pitched up the tent, and I used the new gas stove for the first time. After having dinner during dusk, we watched all the stars in the sky. As the light pollution is very low here, you can easily spot the milky-way.
Thursday one week ago I went again for a city tour in Darwin. I got a second hand camera in order to replace my old one, which was broken down about 6 weeks ago in Indonesia. First I discovered the old tracks from the narrow gauge railway. The track is used nowadays mostly as part of the intercity cycling path from Darwin to Palmerston. Nevertheless there are still some minor remainings of the train tracks visible. The area of the old railway station is until now unused and just flat, but I guess soon there will be some new developments in that area. Only a small construction remains of the original use. Whereas the oil storage tanks of the Navy next to the old railway station are still in use nowadays. Darwin has also a modern bus network with air-conditioned buses and free WiFi in them. For a bit longer distances to the suburbs, these are quite convenient. I visited the Charles Darwin national park, which was set up in an old military used area. During WWII the bombs for the airplanes were stored here, and then transported via the Bombing Road (which is still named like this until today) to the nearby airport. The area was still active till the end of the 1980’s and the shelter remain until today.
Tuesday afternoon one week ago I went to the Rock Climbing & Boulder gym. It’s the only boulder gym in Darwin, and there are rumours that the city council don’t want to extend the lease of the old oil storage, where the gym is located in. Due to the location, the climbing height is limited to about 6 metres and mostly toprope. There are only three lead climbing routes, but with nothing more than 4 quick draws each. The boulder section consists of three parts. In the lower part is a long traversing boulder with 100 moves, which circumnavigate the centre of the gym three times. In the end you’re doing always the same moves. Sure it’s exhausting with time, but it’s always a traverse from left to right, and you always need to look for the next number. This boulder stays for three months, so nothing really, if you go more often. The maintenance is pretty bad. There are a lot of loose holds, and even unused screws are just sticking in the wall. That’s a real safety issue. The whole gym looks pretty much used, and I’ve never been to such a bad maintained gym. Sure, I can understand their uncertainty about the future, but basic safety rules should be anyway applied. In the upper part there is a mainly overhanging boulder wall. The routes there are just hard, nothing really technically. I could send to of them, but that’s it. The rest was just above my training level. I would rate this as my worst boulder gym so far, and just recalled the good experiences I made in KL and JB in Malaysia.
Saturday morning three weeks ago I walked to Moby’s Hotel & Restaurant, opposite to the Maritime police, at Avenida Marginal to meet the crew of sailing vessel Colie again. The evening before there was a large gathering of all crews participating in the Darwin to Dili yacht rally, which started exactly one week earlier in Darwin. Either on their website or with a special yacht racing app, you can see a live tracking of all participating sailing vessels. In Dili there is no jetty. Hence, you need to know where the boats will be mooring, and where the crew might get ashore in order to get in contact with them. A good source of information for this is Noonsite. I tried already one week ago to talk to the crews of the mooring S/V, but without any success. I asked even at the maritime police with a local who translated for me, but the only answer I got was, that all the boats are leaving for Atauro island…which I don’t believe at all. But that was the answer. For the yacht race there is a special temporary office in two 20 foot containers, at the east wall of the maritime police station next to the departure of the local wodden boats to Atauro. There all necessary documents of the crews and the boats get processed by immigrations and customs. Therefore it’s a good spot to wait and get in contact with them. All crews I met were very friendly, and they happily will forward you to the skipper, which sometimes is also the owner of the boat. As they just finished a long race, they’re pretty tired but welcoming to exchange at least some contact details. First I spoke to Alan the skipper of the S/V Antipodes, the longest and fastest boat of this years rally. He is a very relaxed and friendly elderly man. He told me that he’s going back to Darwin, which is not obvious, and even would have space for me. He told me to contact him in 2-3 days. That were awesome news for me. But nevertheless, as nothing was perfectly certain, I headed the next day back to speak to the crew of S/V Forever Young. They were only three persons aboard, but they were heading to Oecussi and later on to Kupang to join the sail Indonesia rally. So in the end, that was the wrong direction. Shortly later the crew of S/V Colie arrived and I also talked to Doug the skipper and owner of the boat. He said that he’s going back to Darwin and that there’s also a free place, but for sure he didn’t want to decide immediately. So I gave him my contact details. Apart from that I also posted my trip request on two sites. Namely at Crewbay and at Findacrew. But this wasn’t successful at all. If one can’t or don’t want to pass the crews directly at their arrival, it’s always a good idea to go to Moby’s hotel during these days and probably ask for Kent, the Australian boss. He will probably point you to the right persons, as this is the usual gathering place of all crews. So I did Tuesday evening three weeks ago, and by chance I met again the whole crew from S/V Colie. I had some beers and some chat with them. In the end they offered me to join them the next day to clean up the boat. Which I did for sure. Some of the crew members flew directly back to Australia. That was the reason why there was some space left. After I helped them clean up the boat, Doug told me that I can come with them, if I pay some Darwin Dollars (that’s an international currency, and equivalent to a bunch of beers 😏). Which I happily did and brought them with me, Friday night three weeks ago that that gathering. There I also met Cindy. She’s the skipper of S/V Anastasia. She told me that she had a Belgium backpacker on the way from Darwin to Dili, and could have also take me to Darwin, if I didn’t got another lift. And also Alan approached me, and told me that I could have sailed with Antipodes. So in the end three boats were sailing back to Darwin for the then upcoming Darwin to Ambon race in Indonesia, and all offered me a lift. That were amazing news.
Apart from having so much luck to take a sailing vessel, there are no other options available to get from Timor-Leste to Australia without flying. The week before I visited the SDV Bollore office, which is the local representative of Swire Shipping in Dili. Swire Shipping operates the cargo ship Antung every three weeks from Singapore via Dili to Darwin and back along the same way. I talked to the responsible man in the office, and the simple answer was that the ship has no space for passengers. He recommended me to call ANL. In the end I didn’t gave them a call, as their cargo ships only stop in Dili on their northbound route. Hence, in order to get south, one first needs to travel back to Singapore and then directly to Darwin, which takes in the end 3 weeks. And honestly, I didn’t want to travel all the way back to Singapore, just to catch a boat from there. Then I could have done this already 3 months ago. Occasionally there are cruise ships stopping in Dili, but most of them heading north. And the few which are heading south are sailing either directly to the west coast or the east coast. I wasn’t able to find any boat, which was sailing directly to Darwin.
My plan B, if nothing would have worked out in Dili, was getting a new Indonesia Visa for at least two months. Then taking the Pelni ships from Kupang via Tual, Sorong to Jayapura in West Papua. Probably visiting Maluku Islands and Raja Ampat Islands in between. After getting a visa in Jayapura I would have crossed the land border to Papua New Guinea and then travelled onwards to Lae or Port Moresby. The latter is a popular spot for filling up supplies for sailing vessels, which are heading to the West through the Torres Strait. So probably I would have been able to get a lift from there either to Thursday Island, or directly to the East Coast to Townsville or Brisbane. But eventually this floating trip back to the north didn’t happen, and it is also not my preferred travel route in the moment.
Saturday three weeks ago we went into the maritime police premises were the dingy was ashore, and took that in order to get to the sailing vessel which was moored. My backpack was a bit large, so I just took my essentials off and stored the remainings in the bow section, next to the sails. The engine was started and the anchor was lifted in early morning sunshine. The boat was freely floating and now heading to Darwin as next destination. The predominant wind direction during dry season is south-east. Hence, during the main time the wind comes more or less opposite to us, but luckily during the actual time of sailing not as strong as the days before. The first day we were sailing east along the shoreline of Timor-Leste. Even if you’re just a few kilometres offshore and can always see the coast, the sea is already pretty deep and the waves are not to be underestimated. At about midnight we were off Jaco island, the easternmost part of Timor-Leste and turning now south into the Timor Sea, heading straight to Australia. At the waves at this location were the worst of the whole trip. They kept me awake and I got slightly sea sick. But nothing serious, so I didn’t need to throw up or take medicine or whatever. I had the early morning shift with Anton, and we both saw the sunrise on the open sea. He’s from the Philippines and is already working since a decade on several ships and boats. This sailing vessel has autopilot, for motoring and sailing operations. And as we did most of the time motorsailing, and the wind was pretty constant, there was not much to do. I was only the second person on deck, just in case something happened and the person in charge need a second hand. As there is not much to do during the sailing, I got quite bored with time,and somehow decided that this might be not a good hobby for me. Anyway during the shift we already passed the deepest point of the Timor sea with about 3,000 metres. Due to the modern touch screen navigation panels everything is pretty easy to see, and with the AIS you get detailed information about nearby ships. Looking at maps is the only thing you can do during the sailing. In the late morning an airplane was approaching us in about 300 ft AGL…from the Australian border controls. Doug already told me before that this will happen, even as they knew already everything upfront. After reaching the 200 NM economical zone of Australia we catched in total three large fish during the afternoon, just by putting two fishing threads into the water from the back. Anton cleaned and prepared them properly, so that we put the filets into the fridge to keep them fresh for dinner. In the evening I saw suddenly something swimming quite closely next to us, just when I chatted with Clancy. He also saw this, but didn’t react suddenly. Then a few minutes later, the same happened again…after that we realised that these were fish traps. Probably from an Australian fish trawler we saw about 10 NM away to the west with full lights on. Doug radioed them, and they somehow confirmed, that these fish traps came from them. So, we suddenly changed our heading to the East for some nautical miles, just to avoid any collision at the open sea. The next night was more calm, but as I did two night shifts in a row, I just went into bed in early morning. After I few hours sleep I got up again, and a good morning coffee. The water was now with less than 100 metres pretty shallow and absolutely calm. At about noon the first land of Australia was in sight. We past the shoreline of Bathurst Island, where the military and weather radar doms are more prominent than the light house. We passed the cape and then headed directly to Darwin. In the afternoon we had an awesome barbecue made by our skipper Doug and some cold beer. So that was already my first barbecue and beer in Australia, as the ship is registered in Australia 😉. In the evening we passed all the cargo boats which were mooring some NM off Darwin. There was a large LNG tanker from Japan, which was waiting for new order, and carries as dangerous tonnage, obviously, according to the AIS. The lights of Darwin could already be seen from quite a distance. When we entered the harbour during the night, that reminds me to the movie Das Boot, when also the submarine entered a harbour during the night. After 62 hours of continous sailing and exactly after 15 months of travelling within 110 active legs, I finally arrived three weeks ago in Australia after been almost 14 months in Asia. We weren’t allowed to go ashore, as we were still under quarantine. Hence, we moored near A-buoy in Fannie Bay for the last night on the boat, also as we didn’t want to run into a sand bank. The next morning we sailed the remaining distance to the jetty near Cullen Bay, and saw again the crew from Antipodes at the jetty, which already had the team from Australian border controls on board. After cleaning the boat, the customs and immigration procedures were done by them same team of the Australian border force out our sailing vessel. Then we waited for the woman from the quarantine to get the full clearance. The lock to Cullen Bay was in maintenance the whole day, so Doug just waited on the outside jetty until that got fixed. I said goodbye to the other crew members and was finally free to set a foot onto Australian grounds. Here we go, now new adventures can begin 😊.