Ancient land of rocks and crocs

Panorama of Nourlangie badlands in Kakadu National Park. Photo: Getty Images
Panorama of Nourlangie badlands in Kakadu National Park. Photo: Getty Images

A road trip through the Kakadu? Don't mind if I do, says Pam Jones who, in the first of a two-part series, explores Australia's biggest national park with crocs and campervans in mind.

So I want to see a crocodile, but I wanna see him from somewhere safe, looking down from a bridge, perhaps, or behind a Perspex screen.

But I hadn’t counted on a 5m saltie ripping a barramundi to shreds just metres from my nose, chowing down on dinner while the husband hauls in his catch nearby.


This is fishing, Northern Territory style: husband catches fish, wife videos husband catching fish, croc appears on the scene, wife pans right . . .

Husband? One. Croc? One. Barramundi? Sorry guys. But croc trumps all in today’s fishing jaunt. You know the joke about where does a saltwater crocodile sleep?

Anywhere he wants.

So yep, it’s ‘‘adventure a minute’’ while fishing the South Alligator River and Yellow Water Billabong in Australia, where it pays to have a cool drink, your sunnies and a sturdy boat.

Lilies line the Yellow Water Billabong. Photo: Pam Jones
Lilies line the Yellow Water Billabong. Photo: Pam Jones

Thanks to Greg Patterson, of Yellow Water Fishing Charters, we’ve ticked all those off, husband catching his first ever barramundi in the sweaty, heady, sun, wife bird-watching — and croc watching — from a shaded seat up back.

We’re Kaka-du-ing it, feeling smug and adventurous as we listen to Greg’s tales of fishing the world, our own dignified Crocodile Dundee, gentleman/ adventurer as he takes us to the swampy wild.

There’s nothing Greg doesn’t know about the Northern Territory’s wildlife and he points out white-bellied sea eagles, kookaburra and jabiru as we eye up crocs slinking through the water. (We also see water buffalo, wallabies and wild horses).

Yellow Water Fishing Charters guide Greg Patterson (left) and Alexandra fisherman Nuno Vilela with his first barramundi. Photo: Pam Jones
Yellow Water Fishing Charters guide Greg Patterson (left) and Alexandra fisherman Nuno Vilela with his first barramundi. Photo: Pam Jones
Kakadu has more than one­third of all bird species in Australia, and it happens to be Bird Week when we’re here. Of course the birds don’t know that, but they’ve helpfully congregated at the end of the dry season, hence the timing of the week.

But the salties are the stars. Think they’re eyeballing you? You’re probably right.

‘‘If you’re going to go near the water, don’t go closer than 5m from the edge, don’t go to the same place every day and don’t clean your fish over the edge of the boat,’’ another guide tells us on a later sunset cruise on the same water. ‘‘The crocs will be watching you. They’re clever, and they will learn your habits.’’

But being crocwise is easy in the NT, if you follow the rules: when it’s hot, head to a pool, not a billabong (‘‘if it’s not tiled, it’ll have crocodiles’’, the saying goes).

And the sun is all part of the fun, in the wild NT.

Think it’s too hot, too hard? Nah, it’s easy, a nice level of adventure, plus a good excuse to slip into a bar for another cold one

Kakadu National Park welcomes visitors. Photo: Pam Jones
Kakadu National Park welcomes visitors. Photo: Pam Jones
And the Northern Territory does air-con right. Do your shopping, vehicle travel or art gallery trips during the steamy middle of the day, or take a long lunch, or a siesta, or have another cold one ...

There is lots to see in Kakadu (all 20,000sq km of it), and we high five our very obliging (airconditioned!) Apollo campervan for a comfy/ adventurous round of travel as we head into the World Heritage­listed sanctuary.

We head first for Jabiru, basking in the Bowali Visitor Centre en route then dining poolside that night at the Aurora Kakadu Lodge and Caravan Park.

But not before we spotted our first wild croc at Cahill’s Crossing, then headed to Ubirr for an outback rock art/sunset show.

A giant rock dwarfs visitors at Ubirr. Photo: Pam Jones
A giant rock dwarfs visitors at Ubirr. Photo: Pam Jones
It was a good mix, the Aboriginal spiritual place of reflection showcasing one of Australia’s most famous rock art galleries, then enticing with a quick rockhop to a cocktail­coloured sunset across the floodplains.

Kakadu Lodge Cooinda was our base when we went on the Yellow Water boat trips, the lodge’s structure a breath of Kakadu­fresh air. It’s indigenous-owned, pointing ambitiously to a more enlightened era, where Aboriginal rights and practices are afforded an increasing level of respect.

It also served up another great dinner, two nights of meals at the Barra Bistro including wallaby shank, grilled crocodile, a water buffalo and green papaya salad, and house dukkah with wattleseed.

Perfect fuel for another rock art adventure and a second cinema-screen sky. We do an early morning campervan amble to Nawurlandja Lookout, startled by the 

Rock art at Nourlangie, Kakadu. Photo: Pam Jones
Rock art at Nourlangie, Kakadu. Photo: Pam Jones
silence as the only ones watching the sunrise over Nourlangie Rock. A wispy pancake of smoke smudged over an orange tie­dyed sky, Nourlangie Rock steadfast as it greeted another day.

Soon after we were welcomed further into that place by one of the caretakers of that land.

Victor Cooper, of Ayal Aboriginal Cultural Tours, explains the stories of the Aboriginal dreamtime and tells of the elevation of Nourlangie’s rock art to world status 

through its discovery by Sir David Attenborough in 1961.

Termite mounds on the way to Ubirr. Photo: Pam Jones
Termite mounds on the way to Ubirr. Photo: Pam Jones

Victor’s father came from the nearby Arnhem land, his mother the lands of Kapalgago.

Now he speaks quietly of the lightning men and hunting, fishing and dancing images painted with ochre dust from rocks in outback colours.

The images are up to 50,000 years old, but we see other artists creating new canvases at the Warradjan Cultural Centre near Cooinda Lodge.

The young shop assistant at the centre’s shop gives me a free postcard because I spend more than $10.

Other Northern Territory galleries also gently encourage responsible purchases of Aboriginal art, asking buyers to respect the originality and validity of Aboriginal art and craft by being wise to plagiarism and large-scale commercial copies, and investing only in authenticated art.

Ayal Aboriginal Cultural Tours owner Victor Cooper shows off some of the ochre rock used in aboriginal rock painting. Photo: Pam Jones
Ayal Aboriginal Cultural Tours owner Victor Cooper shows off some of the ochre rock used in aboriginal rock painting. Photo: Pam Jones

- Pam Jones travelled with the assistance of Tourism NT and Apollo Motorhomes.

pam.jones@odt.co.nz 

 

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