20 June 17
The plan was to spend a week or more on the Cobourg Peninsular and the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park. Only it’s high season and with limited numbers of visitors permitted there isn’t space until mid-July, a month after Ram departs.
Plan B? Well, there’s no end of things to do in the Top End within a thousand kilometres of Darwin. Kim and Lynne told us about Daly Waters and Lee and Jenny’s Bushcamp. Aside of really nice people, we’re told of excellent barramundi fishing excursions and abundant crocodiles.
A quick call to Lee and Jenny’s later we know that the access road is all asphalt, which is a pleasant surprise. And, high-season or not, there’s plenty of space in their Bushcamp. Unfortunately all the barramundi guides are booked out. They’ll try to organise something. We need one fish. It’s a bit excessive thinking to hire a boat and a guide considering it can cost hundreds of dollars, for one fish. We don’t have the fridge space for more considering minimum legal size for a barramundi is fifty-five centimetres. Two or more fish and it’ll simply go to waste.
We’re not fans of Big Game Fishing even without considering the morals of it. But I’m running out of time to catch my first barramundi and Ram has but a month. We have no fishing equipment. At all. So it’s either spend hundreds of dollars on fishing gear or hundreds of dollars on a dude/ette, their boat and their fishing gear. Neither of us are sure it’s a bad thing that the guides are either fully booked or in Darwin for bureaucratic reasons.
Tonight though we’re booking into the Adelaide River Caravan Park. Adelaide River is a settlement a hundred and ten kilometres south of Darwin, with a small shop, a small garage, a large roadhouse with caravan park attached. And the Adelaide River, named after Queen Adelaide. The caravan park looks nice enough with lots of grass and nice tendered gardens, but in the strange way that Australians organise caravan parks all the powered sites, which the large caravans and sophisticated trailers need, are at the rear with lovely shady trees. The unpowered section, for tents, vans and trailers is adjacent to the roadhouse, lacks shade and close to the road. So the vaners with their airconditioned sound insulated vans are in the quiet rear under trees and we tenters are in the noisy front with limited or no shade? Yes.
Kim and Lynne are in the powered section and have been for several days. They like it. More jokes about following them. Kim and Lynne are excellent ambassadors of Australian geniality and friendliness. Open and welcoming, willing to tell about their lives, interested in our story, easy with useful information, happy to share a beer, and generally very nice people. Although, the gulf between contemporary Australia and Indigenous Australia remains problematic and I wish them well in reconciling their concerns.
Their next stop is Lorella Springs, nine-hundred kilometres to the south-east, in the Gulf country. Scott is thinking to go there as a surprise for En-Hui’s birthday and we may join them. Seems we’ll be following Kim and Lynne some more.
21 June 2017
In the unpowered section there are indeed airconditioners. Those of the roadhouse. And at night they make quite a racket. Add the odd car whizzing past and large numbers of roadtrains rumbling past I can’t say it was a nice peaceful nor relaxing night.
Heading out from the caravan park we cross the Adelaide River, immediately turn right on the scenic Dorat Road which winds it way through low hills. Pulling into Robyn Falls, an area of free camps and a small waterfall. We don’t make it to the waterfall because we are in flip-flops and the terrain gets a quite rocky causing Ram to veto the walk. She’s not accustomed to Life In Flip Flops yet.
Back onto Dorat Road until the turnoff to Daly Waters.
Eighty kilometres later we’re following an impressive Daly River which kinda oozes crocodile potential. Wide, sluggish, steep of bank, thick riparian vegetation. Then we pull into Lee and Jenny’s a wait for Jenny to finish organising the arrival before us.
Large camping area, lots of green, powered sites over there, unpowered near the camp kitchen. It’s pretty empty. We share the unpowered area with a young couple and their two dogs from Victoria. Ram being a dog person means we talk dog for a while before moving on to fishing, in particular barramundi. He’s refused to eat barramundi until “I catch my own”. He has all the gear. “If you catch too much” I say “and don’t know what to do with the surplus, we are willing to help you”.
The Daly River is just across the road where a number of chairs on top of the bank shaded by small trees delineate a lookout. Jenny tells us of crocodiles making their way up or down the river. Armed with binoculars we scan the sand banks. Sure enough, a couple of hundred meters down the river large dark shapes can be seen lounging.
An almost indistinguishable V in the water duly heralds a four meter croc slowly making its way upstream. Entranced we follow it as the sky darkens and shadow gradually takes over the river. Fascinating to think that this idyllic scene is far from tame. It is a wilderness, no matter the pontoon, the road, the odd boat and all the other human infrastructure. No way in the world a person can safely enjoy going into the water. It is the realm of a creature vastly more successful in survival than paltry record of humanity. Be Crocwise. Sound advice.
Lee runs us through the arcane bureaucracy of Life On The Daly as a guide. One can be either a fishing guide. Or a croc-viewing guide. One cannot be both. All the fishing guides not only those of Lee and Jenny’s but also other companies in the area are busy for the next two days. Lee can take us to look at crocodiles but we cannot throw a line over the side and try our hand at fishing. “Everyone knows me here.” he points out. “They know I don’t have a licence for fishing. And will complain”. Croc viewing it is, tomorrow morning.
21 June 2017
A short drive to the boat ramp and we board Lee’s boat. It’s big enough to deal with all but the largest and grumpiest crocodiles. Lee’s spent decades here and knows the river well. He provides a running commentary on the river, its ever changing nature and the animals that live in and around it. Water levels rise by tens of meters during the wet-season. Scarcely imaginable as we make our way down the river.
Sandbanks come and go. Huge logs move around and become semi- and submerged dangers. Variable water levels means rocks are a constant risk. He tells a recent tale of a boat ramming a rock catapulting a woman into the water. Rule #1: don’t panic. Rule #2: get out of the water. Unless the hapless falls smack on a crocodile the risk of being taken is negligible. So, don’t panic and get out. The boat had a huge hole in it and the couple needed rescuing. It’s one reason that hiring a boat here is difficult. Too many risks.
There are no end of crocodiles lounging on the sandbanks, taking advantage of the sun. The water is too cold at the moment for the crocs to maintain body heat. “It’s like they have a battery” Lee tells us by way of explaining their behaviour. “Hunting during the night lowers their ‘charge’. So they come out in the morning to re-charge. At a certain point they open their mouths to better regulate their temperature before reaching full charge, whereby the go in the water to cool off”. And presumably to start hunting again. Hence we are checking out crocodiles in the morning
There are both freshwater and estuarine crocodiles, which surprises me. The smaller freshwater crocs are often dinner for the larger and more rapacious estuarines. Maximum size is about three-three and half meters. Big but nowhere near to full size which is somewhere between six and seven meters.
After meandering our way for an hour or so Lee suggests we race downstream to see if we can find a big one.
Suddenly he cuts power, telling us he’s seen something unusual: a crocodile lounging on a log. Not something you see often, apparently. A dozen photos later, back to racing.
Various crocodiles come and go, but no really big ones. Various fishermen lament a quiet morning, optimistic of better fishing to come. Non have seen a big croc this morning.
We retrace our steps (if boats take ‘steps’).
There’s the big almost white croc lying on a bank of red, ochre, yellow. We’re pretty damned close to it but it doesn’t bat an eye.
Several do however, seamlessly entering and becoming one with the water. Truly awe-inspiring to see how such a large animal can enter the water and become almost invisible. ‘It’s not the croc you can see’ so goes the parable, ‘it’s the ten you can’t’. Simply put, always assume there are crocs in the water and ‘They’ll be there, looking at you’ the parable continues.
Back at camp Ram is quite taken by the temperature. She’s just come out of a Arctic winter and is now experiencing an Australian winter, albeit a northern, as in a tropical Australian winter. It’s not called the ‘dry season’ for no reason. The concept of ‘winter’ is a bit too alien up here. In the shade the thermometer’s smack on 30C.
Given that at the peak of the hottest day in the Arctic it may just make 30C for an hour or two, it means Ram is experiencing her hottest weather for years. In winter, in Australia.
We hit the small swimming pool. For in a part of the world where winter is around 30C and there’s no ‘wild’ or natural water even remotely safe to swim in, the swimming pool is an absolute necessity. Here’s where it gets quite funny. The air temperature may be 30C but that’s not the same for water temperature which is a chilly 24C or so. It feels nippy. We laugh considering a body of water around 24C in the Arctic would be considered balmy and pleasant.
Back at the tent we’re thinking about what to do for dinner when the Victorian couple turn and hands us a huge fillet of barramundi. He definitely caught his first one and is happy to share the spoils.
What to do with it? First up, cut some of the back fillet into wafer thins slices dip into a mix of sesame-seed oil and Kikkoman’s soya-sauce, then into to wasabi and eat as sashimi, as we discuss what to do with the rest. Fucking nice.
It’s godda be BBQed, that’s clear. Accompanied by squash, onion and garlic, and sweat potato. A superlative meal. Nothing better than fresh fish.
Tomorrow we leave. The plan being to join Scott and En-Hui in Katherine and then make our way to Lorella Springs. Lorella Springs is about a thousand kilometres south, south-east of Darwin. A ‘million-acre’ operating pastoral lease with lot of billabongs, gorges, water-holes, access to the Gulf, all joined by a network of tracks which Australian’s think is simply great fun to drive along. Adventure, wildlife, birdlife and fishing. It’s been on the To Do list for quite a while and would certainly expand Ram’s knowledge of what Outback Australia is all about. Handily, the route from Mataranka through Roper Bar down to Borroloola is the same I’ll take with the bike as I ride to Cairns in my bid to ride the Cape York Peninsular. No harm in a bit of reconnoitring especially as this section seems to be the longest without readily identifiable freshwater supplies.
Max and Ram
Lee and Jenny’s Bushcamp, Daly Water, 21 June 2017