Crocodile Dundee calls it the Kakadu; the place where he bewitched water buffaloes and baffled crocodiles.
That’s where herself and I spent a few days camping in a tent – once next to a billabong in which we saw three crocodiles.
Alright, they were only freshies, but they are not exactly toothless or harmless you know. One of our camp neighbours was over three metres long!
We were lucky enough to be invited to join friends doing a Grey Nomad trip through the Territory in their caravan. We sourced a tent and self inflating mattresses and hopped on a plane. Such spontaneity for 65+ year olds is invigorating!
The Kakadu National Park is part of the Northern Territory and very much on the caravan route which could be called the grey fringe of Australia because of the continuous flow of middle aged caravanners, campers and tourists which clog the camps and roads.
That is, in the dry, up North; in the wet monsoon and cyclone months most of the area is under water or subject to flooding at a moment’s notice.
In the summer months 75% of the area is burnt off. The result is a open savannah with burn scarred trees, rejuvenated grass, anthills and lots of cycads. Sadly, we saw almost more roadkill than live animals: a few feral pigs and wallaroos. Despite lush grasslands, there were not many water buffalo in parks and a few cattle in areas outside of parks. I was reminded of the rocky ridged cattle country near Nomahasha in Swaziland.
Waterways were busy with birdlife and crocodile seeking tourists. Every roadside, park entrance and river bank is posted with warning signs about the danger of salties: the ubiquitous and lethal estuarine crocodiles.
Paradoxically, the most popular tourist venues and camps were those adjacent to beautiful billabongs, pools and streams where swimming was deemed safe. Nevertheless these places were studded with signs advising that estuarine crocodiles were know to visit all waters, but were removed when observed; freshwater crocodiles were always present and harmful if provoked!
The waters were clear and refreshing with gushing waterfalls and darting fish. Everyone swam, including herself, who has a known aversion to chilly water.
There were quite a few birds, many of which were clearly kin to African counterparts:
Cockatoos, storks, coucals, cormorants, flycatchers, bee eaters, ducks, geese and
hawks and eagles. I think I saw a Rainbow Pitta, which I have not seen before; my dream birds, the bee eaters, followed me all over the North.
The best bird was the Jabiru, a black stork, with a powerful bill said to be strong enough to pierce a croc’s skull. Certainly they were ignored by large passing salties.
If you are brave enough to fish, the Barramundi, provides fine sport and is a very tasty fish dish. The only one I saw caught was a ten kilogram plus beauty, snapped up by a huge crocodile.
We had a really good trip with our good friends and tenting was quite fun; certainly no hardship. Beer and wine seemed to go down quite well despite the fact that it is more difficult to buy alcohol in the Territory than it was in Alabama during Prohibition.
There are huge social problems with Aboriginal communities as a result of generations of drink dependency which necessitate such measures.
I was left with a somewhat surreal impression of empty land with crowded roads and camps, lovely waterways and an economy greatly dependent on a population of crocodiles, once nearly exterminated by hunting, now nearing over abundance!
The Kakadu must be very interesting to see in the wet, but with temperatures in the 40’s and humidity consistently close to 100%, I will rather read about it.