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Posts Tagged ‘Northern Territory’

Our last day in Darwin was a quiet, relaxed one.  James had the day off and we spent it lazing in the cool of the air-conditioned unit, experimenting with the Gellan Gum and preparing for a seafood feast to beat all feasts that night!

Now this Gellan Gum is something else – you heat the liquid that you want to set, add the Gellan and cook for ten minutes to activate it and then take it off the heat and pour it into a tray or mould to set.  It sets at room temperature and sets quickly – like in minutes! 

James’ first attempt was to juice a pineapple and set that – and we all know how difficult it is to set pineapple juice.  It did not set hard, but still firmish and held when put on a spoon.  It was also a little grainy in texture – and it was then that James found out that you needed to cook the Gellan!  The next attempt was to make some chocolate sauce and when he was finished he gleefully carried a 1 cm x 4 cm strip hanging between his fingers across the room to me.  Much, much better – no grain, no altered taste and definitely set!  No fear, it melts in your mouth.  Very interesting – I can already think of a number of applications and am planning a few surprises for Christmas!  James generously (it is $100 a kg) packs me 200g into a takeaway container to bring home.  Now, how do I handle this?  I pack it in to our suitcase and fully suspect that we will be asked all sorts of questions when we go to collect our bags at Brisbane Airport on the way home!

We make a trip out to Cullen Bay to get some sunset photos while James finishes dinner preparations.  It was superb – bugs, scampi, prawns and octopus with lots of lemon grass, ginger, garlic and eschallots.  A caprese salad and banana and mango salsa!   James’ mate Nick comes over and joins us and we eat on the patio.  Or maybe I should say that we feasted like kings until we were less-than-elegantly stuffed!

Dessert followed – Italian gelati and sorbets from Trampoline – a kiosk set amidst the restaurants on the concourse below us – yu-um.

Monday dawns with the announcement of the official end of  ‘the dry’ and the start of the build-up to ‘the wet’. I have woken with a headache and put it down to the noticeable change in the air pressure.  It is going to be a busy morning with packing, linen washing and car washing.  We use James’ phone GPS capability to get us to a car wash and join the queues of people trying to clean the red dust and bugs from vehicles.  Takes a bit of elbow grease.  Before we know it, we are needing to make fast tracks to return the car to the airport prior to our flight back east.

We make it on time, only to discover that our 1:35 pm flight (which incidently I though departed at 1:00 pm) has been delayed and is now expected to depart at 2:05 pm.  Nothing much to do, but sit it out.  At least the airport terminal is air-conditioned!  There are hundreds of people here and the booking agent tells us the flight is full.  Time passes slowly, but before we know it, it’s time to say goodbye to James.  It was so wonderful seeing him in his home environment – he loves Darwin and has no intention of ever leaving.  Me, its too hot and humid for me – even in the dry.  Visits will need to be restricted to July and early August I fear!!  In this photo, James’ apartment is at the edge of the peninsula to the right of the photo.

And so back across the big open land we travel.  There is more cloud today and so our views are npt as clear.  Once we clear the clouds, there is an amazing level of smoke haze that is visible as a distinct line below us as we travel the clear skies above it.  We move from the greener channel country with all its snaking rivers and tributaties into the drier western Queensland where there is the occasional convergence of watercourse and human-courses – all very vivid from high above.

And as we move east, the day deepens all too quickly into the inkiness of night.  No longer do we have late sunsets.

Thankfully Anne collects us at the Airport.  We have landed late and it is 6:30 pm by the time we have collected our luggage (without incident incidently – what about that white powder?) and get t the pick up zone – us and the thousands of other commuters.  Ugh – now I remember why I hate the city!!

Brendan has cooked hand made ravioli for dinner tonight – we are really being spoiled and this is followed by an amazing raspberry and Pernod gelato that Anne has made – Oh. My. God.,  it is amazing!  We sit up chatting and it is 11 pm when Anne and I crawl off to bed, happily snuggling deep under the doona.  Michael sits up and tries to calm down Brendan and Beth’s amazingingly energetic second (cat) son George.  Anne has both sons back at home with her at the moment.  Brendan and Beth are extending their Queenslander in Ipswich and at the moment it is without water or power while it is raised.  Michael has returned home while he finished the last six months of University (Journalism).  It is good company, what with Mick off in England again visiting his family.  I love visiting them – they the gloves of comfortable old friends – you feel snug and safe in their care and company.

All too soon, morning is nigh and I drop the uni students off and Anne to the bus stop en-route to a meeting with the Fundraising Manager at the Wesley Hospital.  That done, Michael and I head for the wholesalers for our quarterly stock up of all things providorial that we can’t get in provincial Maryborough.  Cheeses and coffees, meats and pastas, biscuits and fruits.  We had planned to continue on to Ikea, but when we realise that we have spent much more than we anticipated AND the car is full, opt instead to come straight home.

This is when the WHAT THE? moment hits.  WHO TURNED OFF SPRING?  While I am enjoying the lower temperatures and humidity, the cold strong winds and the plunging thermometer are not called for.  In the space of a week we have gone from 37 degrees to 17 degrees.  Not fair.  Not fair at all!

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While we have been exploring this magical land, we have been lucky  enough to visit the first five of the seven regions of Kakadu. An excellent description of each can be downloaded from the ABC radio podcasts at http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2010/03/16/2847217.htm.  We are continually reminded of the role of the original owners and custodians of this land in managing and safe-guarding it for future generations – that is us.

We are in for a bigger day today!  This morning we were up super early – although we haven’t been able to book in for it, late last night we decided to try to get on the dawn cruise at Yellow Water.  This is the time of day when the birds are stretching and the crocodiles getting ready to retire after a night’s hunting.  We depart the Kakadu Lodge before 6 am and are soon screaming along the highway to try to make the 6:45am cruise.  The needle occasionally even creeps over the 130 kph limit!  We make the head of the walkway out to the boat right on 6:45 but have passed a sign that says tickets can only be purchased at the resort – bugger.  Michael dashes down to the boat to plead our case, but it falls on deaf ears.  Bigger bugger.  I am really really disappointed as this means we are going to lose two hours out of our day and will have to rush other areas. 

 Anyway, there is nothing for it, we have missed the boat in the very true sense of the word!  We drive around to the resort and catch a few more zzzz’s in the car, albeit rather uncomfortably. 
The next cruise starts at 9 am and we are determined to be on that one!

Tickets firmly in hand, we make the decision to leave the car at the resort and catch the courtesy shuttle to the boat.  Although it is only 8:30 in the morning, the sun is rising quickly and the heat already has considerable sting.  Again, there are only 12 people waiting – a mix of young traveller and more mature wanderers. 

As we arrive at the jetty for the second time in the morning, we are greeted with hordes of people streaming off the boat that has just pulled in again.  Wait a minute – there is another boat pulling in as well. Wow, about 100 people have crammed in the two boats for the cruise.  Hmm, maybe it wasn’t so bad missing that one after all, as the 12 of us and our guide push off into the morning.  The light is amazing for photos – still low enough in the sky to minimise harshness in photos, but bright enough to highlight everything that we are drinking in with our eyes.  This is truly a most beautiful spot.

No sooner than we had moved away from the jetty, we spied the first of many crocodiles – sneaking in close to where two men are launching a boat.  Pays to be on the lookout up here – something that I suspect you learn very young!  And crocodiles were not the only wildlife on display.
We could see the waters beneath the boat teeming with fishes – mullet and barramundi where two James named, while the billabong and river banks and rushes were supporting thousands of countless birds. 

And what an array there were – from ducks to cranes to the magnificent Jabiru (or black-legged crane as it is now more accurately called) sunning its huge wings, to the tiny Blue Kingfisher (Australia’s smallest at 5- 7 cm, and second smallest in the world) to our second largest bird of prey – the Sea Eagle.  Our guide was busy snapping away here telling us that in all the years he had been guiding, he had never before seen one walking around on the ground.

And to top it all off, a herd of water buffalo fresh from mud-wallowing paused to take a gander at us before they quickly darted into the protection of the bamboo thickets.  Yellow Water Cruising 

The vegetation is varied and lush and within months, will be fully under water once the wet season fills this watercourse with another 12 – 20 metres of water height!  All too soon we are back at the car park to rejoin the bus back to the car.

From here it is off to Nourlangie to have a look at the first of the local Rock Art galleries.  There is something special about the primordial recordings of thew traditional land owners as they leave their stories and laws for those yet to come.  Just as we were wowed by the primitive cave art in Europe, these too conjure up images of pre-historic beings intrinsically in touch with their world.  And not for the first time, I wonder at the enormity and the insignificance of man in his place.  The figures are simple, but the messages are strong and unmistakable.  We need to give greater credit to those who went before us for their ingenuity in finding ways to leave their mark.

Michael takes a walk up to one of the lookouts to get a view of the rock wall that houses the artistic works.  Nourlangie is well-known for the amazing display of colours that are displayed with the setting of the sun.  Too bad we don’t have the time to wait to see it this visit – but the camera battery died and we are resorting to the camera in his phone!

And then our next stop is Jabiru to get some bread from the local baker so we can enjoy our deli purchases.  Given that it is now Saturday after 2pm, we can only hope that they are still open – yes, they were and had a nice vienna loaf which they happily sliced for us.  If we want to make Ubirr we will have to hurry now.

Ubirr Rock Art Site lies just to the west of Jabiru, about 40 kms off the Kakadu Highway.  It is nearing 3:30 pm when we get to the car park where I gleefully discover that the closest lot of the artworks is a mere 300 m walk. Here we find the important Rainbow Serpent painting and I am waiting for Michael and James to return from a climb to the top of Ubirr Rock when a ranger appears to give a talk on how the aboriginals used their artwork to tell their laws.  There are too many photos to insert, so tak a look at this PowerPoint of some of them  Ubirr Art Site.

The sun is heading for the horizon by the time we finish listening to the Ranger.  It is now after 5 pm and although the sunset from atop of Ubirr Rock is supposed to be one of the best sights from within Kakadu, we don’t have time to wait.  We have a long drive back to Darwin ahead of us.

So we head back to the car and the Kakadu Highway and watch the sun finally slip beneath the earth’s influence as a huge red ball of fire amongst the trees just after 6:30 pm.

It is almost 8:30 pm when we pull in to the car park under the building in Darwin and am truly tired, but oh-so-glad that we made the effort to see this fantastic part of Australia.  You know, during our two days out there, I couldn’t help but feel as though dinosaurs would run out at us at any turn!

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So when James got his days off, we headed to the east and Kakadu.  Now this is one serious trip.  All the literature tells you to make sure that you keep your vehicle fuelled all the time – I wasn’t sure whether to be alarmed or not.

We headed out about 8 am and made a stop first at Parap Fine Foods to take a gander and get a few nice things to take with us.  One of the problems James has is that working sometimes every day, he doesn’t get much of an opportunity to scour the local food providores.  I can tell you (as most of you would know) that I was happy to oblige!  Local Buffalo Mozzarella, Spanish Manchego and some French Camembert were joined with Cinnamon Dried Figs, Chilli crusted turkey breast and some Pastrami along with a lovely Pumpkin Bread and Coriander Salsa.  Yu-um.

Next stop was at the local TNT office to collect some Gellan Gum that James had ordered.  Those who watch Heston’s work or even Masterchef may have heard of it.  Then finally we were able to hit the open road.  Open road – now that is an apt description!  As we head away from Darwin and through Humpty Doo (yes, that really is the name of the town) we pass huge mango plantations.  The first fruits are just now ripening and being picked – most propbably to be sent to the southern markets and all those slobering consumers who want all fruits all year round!

Kakadu National Park is enormous, covering 20,000 square kilometres of the Northern Territory to the east of Darwin.  We had booked accommodation at Jabiru – part of the eastern most section of the park.  It is a 3+ hour drive from Darwin – without stops.  But of course, stop we did . . .

Our first stop is at the Window on the Wetlands Centre near to the Adelaide River.  This is the first opportunity we have to get high and above the floodplain to gain some sort of an understanding of the relationship between this land and the water that is its lifeblood.  Dave, the indigenous guide is a wealth of knowledge and helpful and friendly to boot.  He fills in missing information when we have a question, offers hints and tips and makes a booking for a cruise that we want to get to. The displays are excellent and explain the former and current uses of the floodplain that in the past have carried experimental crops of sugar cane and rice.  There is a lone water buffalo in a purpose built pen – they monitor the numbers wandering across the lush grasslands so that a careful balance is maintained.

From here it was just a short drive to the Adelaide River where we stopped to join a cruise on the lookout for CROCODILES.  And yes, we found plenty.  We were lucky enough to see all three of the large dominant males in the area – Stumpy, Bogart and Rambo, along with a whole lot of their female girlfriends – about 30!  Some were taking the warm air on the banks, but many were in the water.  And they are deceptive staying deep below you until they reach you – and then then just appear.  When they go under the water, they reappear seconds later quite a distance away – man they can move fast in the water!  The cruise we were on feed the crocs so that you can get an appreciation of how they can jump and what a real threat they might be.

Me, I’m happy to sit near the centre of the boat.  We had  joked with the captain when he asked during the safety briefing where our nearest exits were and we pointed out over the side of the boat.  His suggestion was to don life vests and wait until he had rammed the front of the boat on the nearest bank.  Not sure that even that is safe given the number of crocs we saw on the banks!

Duly educated, after a 1.5 hour feeding cruise we landed safely back at the jetty and began the now 2 hour long drive deepinto the wilderness.  The landscape doesn’t change much as you drive east – lots of rivers, creeks, channels and tributaries – all with the obligatory danger – crocodile signsa in about twelve languages.  The plants are presominantly pandanus, kapok and acacia.  Again, the soil is not all that rich and the grass cover is patchy.  At the moment, much of the land is burnt following back-burning operations either by the local Aboriginal tribes, of the Parks rangers.  I can’t say that I have ever noticed before just how totally the Australian gum trees burn.  And they must burn hot.  There are the powdered skeletal remains of trees, pure white and outlinging the shapre of the fallen tree perfectly lying on the blackened earth on to which it fell.  Quite eerie to look at!

And eastwards we continue.  Michael and James snooze on and off and when he is awake, Michael, sitting in the back continues to read Edward Rutherfurds’s novel New York – he is ploughing through it!  Its not too long before we enter into the Park proper.  Michael and I have had to purchase a $25 per person pass and I had assumed that there would be someone at the entry to check it.  Nope – guess they are just hoping that most people are honest!

We arrive at Jabiru just before 5 pm, take a quick whirl through town and then head over to our accommodation for the night Kakadu Lodge.  Jabiru is a small settlement with just over 1100 residents counted at the 2006 census.  In the Dry Season however, the population swells, primarily with the grey nomads – retired people traversing Australia in their caravans.  The Park is large and much of it laid out in concentric circles – yes, Canberra’s influence can be felt even right up here!  Our cabin is compact, but large enough for a night.  There is a double bed in the bedroom and a pull out sofa bed in the lounge ready made for James.  AND the air-conditioning is on – bliss.

Unpacked, we head over to the pool area and the bistro for dinner – we are famished and could eat a camel!  Turns out while that is not on the menu, Michael chooses Kangaroo and James Duck while I opt for a gourmet chicken burger.  The meals are surprisingly very good and decent sized portions. Michael, ordering the meals meets a Scottish lass who promptly tells him that Neil and Carol at the Bowmore Hotel on Islay are selling up – OMG what a small world it is!  It certainly doesn’t feel like two years since we were there.

So we return to our beds pretty weary after a long day on the road and just a little in awe at this big land up here!  Its not long before I hit the sack while the boys sit up and watch telly!

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Hi folks, long time no see.  The year has been a busy one and although I have often thought about posting, I just haven’t found the time to do so – not sure what that says!  Anyway, we are coming to the end of a ten day break in the Top End with son James, and now, I AM finding the time!

We flew up from Brisbane Friday a week ago on the midday flight and seeing first hand the diversity that this amazing country offers.  From the parched dry outback that stretches as far as the eye can see, with dry creek beds and cattle tracks criss-crossing the landscape, to the lush, clear waters where the ocean creeps in to the land in the floodplains of the Gulf of Carpentaria.  Apologies for the muted colours – looking through a plane window does not give the best colour!

Once we got closer to Darwin, over the Northern Territory, lots and lots of fires were evident.  Guess they use this time of the year to back burn as much as they can!

And then we were here, with James gleefully greeting us.  Don’t tell anyone, but I think that he was really pleased to see us!  He has lost quite a bit of weight since his health scare earlier in the year and looks much  better for it.  Once outside of the air-conditioned airport, we were hit with the full brunt of the northern winter – gosh, give me one of our summers any day!

James does not have the whole ten days off – in fact, he works all week until the Friday of the last weekend.  But his work at The Coffee Club, Darwin Waterfront is literally a hop, kip and jump across the forecourt in front of the apaprtment he shares with the lovely Gina.  Very handy – especially I guess, when it is pouring down here as it does for about 5 months a year!

So each morning we head over for breakfast and try most of the choices on the menu.  A lot of the week is spent very lazily and I am averaging a book a day!  I haven’t read that much since last Christmas.  Michael took a walk one day and came back with a copy of Edward Rutherfurd’s latest offering New York and has his head buried deep in this big book.  He is half-way through and for those who know Michael’s reading predelictions, that is some feat!!!

We planned to hire a car, but on doing the sums have decided to wait until later in the week and so, joined a tour company for a day in Katherine early in the week.  An early morning pickup just after 6 am is a rude shock to the system, but as the coach is air-conditioned, it is not too bad to bear.  Turns out there are only 12 of us travellng today – bit different to two days earlier when the coach was loaded to the hilt with 46 passengers!  Must say, I prefer this number.

The trip to Katherine is about 3 hours by road, but our trip is broken into stages with a breakfast stop at Adelaide River and a quick stop at the War Cemetery followed by another short stop at Edith Falls.  We could have taken a dip, but as our stop was a mere 20 minutes, only one fo the group did.  It is a beatiful spot though and you can easily see why it is popular with locals and tourists alike.

One thing that is amazing me as we travel through this small part of the Top End is the ruggedness of the landscape – not sure what I expected, but I got as much of a surprise as I did when we travelled through Broken Hill many years ago.

Yes, the land is wide and open for much of the time, characterised by open savannah forest and healthy clumps of pandannus.  We travel up slight rises from time to time and then we are in very rocky country where there hardly seems enough soil to hold the miserly trees that grow here.  George our driver tells us that we are in fact travelling across the top of a broad escarpment that has been weathered and carved by wind and water since time immortal.  Ah, that explains how you get waterfalls and rock pools (yes, I know I should have been able to work that one out with my love of geograpy – BUT WE ARE ON HOLIDAYS and the thinking is at a mimimum!)

Before long, we arrive at Katherine, the third largest town in the Northern Territory.  We dont stop in town, but head straight out to the Gorge within the Nitmiluk National Park where we are booked on a lunch cruise.  This is where we pick up our local guide Chris.  A member of the tribal clan whose land we are visiting, he could not be a better ambassador for his people, his country or his employer is he tried harder.

He was charming – laid back, a little bit cheeky with the odd joke, knowledgeable and respectful – everything we could have asked for.  Young and genuine, he makes a great tour guide and is very well suited to the job!  Katherine Gorge is amazing for those who have not been fortunate enough to visit it.  At this time of the year the walls of the Gorge tower over us, affording themuch sought after shade from time to time.  You can clearly see the effects of the laying down of the sandstone layers and the weathering that has attacked them since that time.  Truly amazing and beautiful and with fewer than normal of us, at one point we drift quietly and can hear the ghosts of the millenia past whisper their knowledge to us from deep with the chasms and caves amoungst the cliffs.

There is plenty of people using the Gorge – canoeing and even swimming – even with the possible threat of crocodiles!

All too soon, the day at the Gorge is drawing to a close and we head back on to the Coach for the trip back to Darwin.  A 30 min stop in Adelaide River for a Barra and Chips dinner at the Pub that could not possibly be adequately described.  All that was missing was the newspaper wrapping!  Man, I could live on this Barramundi up here – don’t care whether it is fresh or salt-water – it all tastes amazing.  And then we dozed or chatted with each other all the way back.

Yep, an amazing day that continues to affirm why the land we live is is so great!

I’ll share more of our week tomorrow!

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