Mataranka to Darwin (Monday, 10 May)
Eric was awake just after 06:00, despite our room at Mataranka not being exposed to the morning light. As expected, Apple had started allowing pre-orders for their new iPad that was scheduled to be released on 28 May in nine countries. The USA experience was that deliveries of later pre-orders were deferred until a later date than advertised. Hence he put in his order as early as he reasonably could. Negotiating Apple’s web pages to order an iPad was a bit of a challenge when using an iPhone, but he succeeded.
We breakfasted in the room and were away just after 08:00. for the 420 kilometres drive to Darwin. The sky was overcast for a brief time to the north. We eventually decided that it must actually be smoke haze rather than rain cloud. We refueled in Katherine, 105 kilometres north of Mataranka, and were able to buy the Weekend Australian and the weekend Financial Review at the newsagent at the Woolworths supermarket complex. The Australian was about three times the cover price this far north. Despite this we were away well before 10:00.
There were a lot of road works, from one of the federal programs about to be killed by budget changes. We were stopped by construction traffic lights for a while. We diverted into Pine Creek for a rest stop and a walk around.
We had to stop at Adelaide River. The Adelaide River Resort there has the stuffed water buffalo from the first Crocodile Dundee film. Alas, the hide is now old and rather fragile. We inspected the open air markets (very tempted by Devonshire Tea) but were sensible and got sandwiches for lunch instead. Despite this, we were away again by 12:30.
In Darwin, we found the Palms City Resort on the Esplanade, where we were staying for the next few days. The desk staff would not give us a second key to the room. We returned after unpacking, and tried to explain that Jean does not hear anyone returning late at night. This leads to excessive noise when attempting to rouse her. This time the other staff member went and saw the manager. I could have a second key if I paid a $50 deposit. While mildly annoying, that is far better than not having the key at all. However I really think hotels that still use physical keys should rethink their policies, and having done so, explain them to staff.
The rooms were little villa type things, two per building, set in confusing paths with lots of shrubs (a tropical specialty). Each had a sheltered outdoor deck with a table and chairs. That was very pleasant any day the weather was not too hot. They could have used a fan on the verandah, as many resorts do these days.
We walked around the downtown, especially Mitchell Street and the backpacker’s row. Stopped at the nearby Coles to get some food supplies like milk.
Darwin (Tuesday-Friday, 11-14 May)
Jean was attending the Australian Online Documentation Conference. Eric wandered around by himself when it wasn’t too hot, and sat in the shade reading or typing the rest of the time. One of the conference speakers from the USA had an iPad, so we got to hold one for the first time. Because we had been in Darwin several times before, we didn’t pay our usual attention to the many interesting things to see in the area.
Darwin to Berry Springs (Saturday, 15 May)
We ran some errands, including buying food and wine supplies for the next few days, then checked out of the hotel, refueled the car, and were on our way by 11:00.
We stopped at the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre in Darwin, home of the B52 bomber. This small hanger of a museum is totally dominated by an enormous B52 bomber donated by a USAF loan program. We wonder how they got the B52 into the space. Maybe they built the hanger after the plane arrived. They managed to fit many other full sized planes, helicopters and aviation equipment around it. We really enjoyed this museum. Alas, the planes are so large that flash photographs can not illuminate them. However the available light was insufficient for digital photography.
We stopped again along the Stuart Highway at one of several WWII landing strips within easy dispersal distance of Darwin. This one had three pretty much life size cutouts of the sorts of planes that were used here in WWII.
We were staying at a villa at Tumbling Waters Holiday Park, just past the Berry Springs township and on the Blackmore River. After settling in, we drove to the Litchfield Pub for a very late lunch. Jean had a chicken and mushroom fettucini and a very generous glass of house wine, while Eric had the barramundi burger and a small beer. Very nice (and rather large) pub, which turned out to have a bottle shop, so we stocked up on a little more Coopers Pale Ale. We also bought a few frozen Mrs Mac pies at the Trading Post next to the hotel.
The Litchfield Pub had a decent position for Telstra 3G reception, unlike Tumbling Waters, which had marginal reception for iPhones. While at the pub, we both collected our email, and anything else that did not need a continued connection to read.
We drove further away, to the Crazy Acres Farm Shop, to collect home made passionfruit ice cream. That we took back to Tumbling Waters for the evening meal. It was delicious. So delicious and filing that we never did get around to eating our meat pies.
Territory Wildlife Park and Berry Springs (Sunday, 16 May)
The Tumbling Waters camp ground may have only 8 villas and about 10 cabins, but they also had a lot of caravans and campervans in the grounds. Saw a few guinea fowl wandering around. At the entrance to the park, there was a large aviary, which appeared to contain a rabbit and three guinea pigs, but no birds. A peacock and two peahens were outside the aviary.
The highlight of the day was a visit to the Territory Wildlife Park near Berry Springs. This impressive, award winning tourist attraction is set in large grounds. So large they have a train type trailer to take people around. They told us there was about 6 kilometres of walking tracks.
We visited the Nocturnal House first. This was larger than we expected, and had a great range of northern animals. Another place was the monsoonal forest, where we got eaten alive by mosquitos; the still waters help the critters breed. This area even had a simulated tropical thunderstorm. We were in this area for the many bird viewing points. The most impressive was the giant walk through aviary. This was sufficiently large that you sometimes lost sight of one side or another.
We were lucky to get a train towards the Flight Deck area. The staff put on an exhibition with various trained raptors flying and getting fed. The non-raptors included a sulphur crested cockatoo, a black cockatoo, and a slightly different pair of lorikeet. The show even had a dingo, digging up fake crocodile eggs. The buzzard demonstrated how it uses a stone to crack open emu eggs. They had a young Brahminy kite in training. They also had an osprey, which was reluctant to fish, but eventually did so.
Bird handling later included a barking owl, which actually did bark. Jean got to hold one of the birds, rather gingerly despite the leather glove.
As the show started, we found we were sitting next to folks we had last seen in the thermal pool at Bitter Springs near Mataranka. Then at the bird handling, Jan (from trips with Dave) recognised Eric, and came up to tell him she had seen someone with an Avalook T shirt. That was, of course, Jean.
We wanted to see some of the other exhibits, but by then the day was too hot and humid for us. So we went back to the Crazy Acres Farm Shop, to collect four packets of home made passionfruit ice cream. We took them back to the room and shoved them in the freezer. Our next stop was again the Litchfield pub, where Jean had the barramundi burger, and Eric had barramundi based spring rolls with Thai sauce. We also managed a glass or two of wine. The giant wooden tables were all occupied, so we shared one with a couple who were there house minding. We found from them that the road through Litchfield National Park was fine for regular vehicles, with only a little water over the road. We also took advantage of the good Telstra signal there to update our email again.
Berry Springs to Batchelor (Monday, 17 May)
Since we were ready to leave Tumbling Waters Holiday Park around 8 a.m. we had time to look at Berry Springs Nature Park. This involved driving a little way back towards Darwin, past the Territory Wildlife Park we had visited the previous day.
Berry Springs Nature Park was another spring, but the low waterfall fell into a series of impressive sized pools. We walked to both Main Pool and to Lower Pool. At that hour of the morning, there was no-one swimming, and the water was totally smooth and undisturbed. We took some photographs of the reflections of the surrounding on the water.
When walking in the park, we noticed a cane toad. The ugly brute was sitting in the path leading up the steps. This means there would be a heap of other cane toads ready to destroy native wildlife. Since it was sort of posing, Eric took a photograph. He would have preferred to hit it with a stick.
We left around 09:00 and continued driving down Litchfield Park Road towards the northern entrance to Litchfield National Park. The road into Litchfield was said to be 42 kilometres of dirt. However we travelled for 7 minutes at good speed on excellent new bitumen, and then another five minutes on good new gravel with no line markings. There was a team working on part of the road. There was also a lot of new road base graded into place. It seemed very likely they were upgrading the entire road. We also saw a couple of army vehicles, with a driver in training, with one broken down. Soon after this, we started to hit showers, and then actual rain. It remained overcast for most of the day, with rain forecast ahead of us.
After 28 kilometres of dirt road, we came to an actual creek crossing. Eric walked it, just in case it had a giant sinkhole, but it was fine to drive around the end of it. Luckily the rain stopped around this time, as we entered the park.
Inside Litchfield, our first excursion was a little detour to Bamboo Creek. This was a former tin mine, and still had the three ruined buildings from more than a century ago. Walter Creek had facilities, however the tourist swimming areas seemed a long walk from the car park.
We stopped at the main viewing area for Wangi Falls. This was spectacular even from the road driving in. Although not open for swimming (active currents and possible crocodile sightings), the plunge pool below the Wangi Falls was a wonderful size. We did not manage to leave until 11:30.
We passed on visiting the Aboriginal Sacred Site at Greenant Creek. Tollmer Falls was a 400 metre walk from the parking area. That had some great falls, in a gorge area, with some attractive surrounding gorges. This area us reminded us of Karajini National Park in West Australia. Jean was not happy with the walk uphill back to the car, especially in the oppressive humidity.
We skipped Buley Rockpool, as it was a 900 metre walk, and we did not intend to take a swim in any case. It did seem a very popular spot, to judge by the number of cars. The nearby Florence Falls also has a nice plunge pool at the bottom. This also seems a popular swimming spot with those willing to descend 135 steps to the pool. We took photos from a much higher viewing platform.
The last stop was the termite mound field. Although termite mounds are common, in this area the ground was mostly cleared of trees, so you really could see how extensive they were. The height of some larger termite mounds must have exceeded six metres. It was an impressive sight. It also shows why building in timber is not a great idea in the tropics. Speaking of tropical weather, it rained again as we drove off out of Litchfield National Park.
We reached Batchelor Resort, on Rum Jungle Road, rather too late to get lunch from the Rum Jungle Motel bistro. However the cabin we had ordered was ready, and we had an ice chest of leftovers. We made do with biscuits and brie, apple, dried pears, and the remains of a nice red wine. We are also aware we need to empty most of the ice chest before crossing the West Australian border in a day and a half.
Batchelor Resort was formerly called the Rum Jungle Motel, on what was once Rum Jungle Road. The room here was a former demountable building, but was organised for a family of five, so it had a fair amount of space for us. We shall probably suffer small motel rooms from now on.
One amusing thing was finding all the plates were French made Arcoroc glassware. More than a decade ago we had searched all over to get some extras of Arcoroc for our place in Airlie Beach. We eventually found a highly similar set in a chain store midway up the NSW coast. Never did see Arcoroc again, except rather scratched specimens in op shops. By this time, our set was all scratched, and we left them at Airlie Beach when we moved.
When we tried for a dinner that evening at the bistro, we found the bar was running a very noisy TV, and the outside dining area had rather too many bugs and a lot too noisy a juke box. The bar here has a series of murals, depicting the finding of pitchblende at Rum Jungle, right through mining operations, and restoring the mine site to a native landscape. We ordered take away, to reduce the time we had to suffer the noise. That actually worked fairly well. On walking back along the path in the dark, torches at the ready, we encountered myriad cane toads gathered beneath each of the path lights. As you approached each light, it was as if demonic shadows departed the base of the lamp.