Katherine Eva is a Freelance Writer on the look-out for top adventure spots.
Published September 28th 2016
Sometimes I wonder how we Aussies manage to survive. If it's not Great Whites in WA or stingers in Queensland, in the NT we're faced with crocs! Crikeys we're tough.
On this trip of danger, we're taking the road from Darwin to the Crocodile Hotel in Jabiru, Kakadu, about two and a half hours from Darwin. I'm glad we've been given a straightforward itinerary, thanks to a smart friend who's a long-term NT local.
First stop out of Darwin is Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve (above), located on the Adelaide River floodplain between Darwin and Kakadu. (Funnily enough, back in Sydney a week later, another friend reminds me that she used to work as a research assistant many years ago, catching snakes from the grassroots in a place called... Fogg Dam. I'm glad that I can now actually picture where all her snake catching took place).
Back to the adventure at hand, we enjoy a brief stroll on the raised walkway over the park, but don't see any of the infamous water pythons. Apparently they hide in the cracked earth during the dry season and come out and hunt as the rains come. It's a peaceful view over the parched looking reserve, which we imagine will become a hive of wetland activity over the coming months.
Soon we're back on the road and keep following the itinerary to our lunch stop at the Bark Hut Inn, a roadside bar and inn (ph 08 89788988). By the time we arrive we're starving and enjoy a hearty burger. We're also desperate for a coffee pick me up, but the staff are hesitant about whether "coffees are still happening" (?). To our relief ten minutes later two massive mugs of Cappuccino-Nes-Croc-E suddenly arrive.
It's an interesting view from our outdoor dining spot too, looking out at what seems to be a farming area with a water buffalo strolling around. My snake catching friend later tells me that this pub used to be famous because a local buffalo would actually come and drink your beer. The current fella doesn't come near our Nes-Croc-Es though; he wouldn't dare.
That's not a croc - it's a hotel!
Soon we're back on the road again, and finally checking in to the Crocodile Hotel (ph 0889799000). We manage to spot the place because, well, we see the sign, but also because we spy a funny looking building with windows that look mysteriously like glowing crocodile eyes. We crack up laughing at the sight of this building that's shaped to look like a menacing croc. It's actually very clever. I was hoping our room would be in the croc's mouth, but it turns out we're in a nice deluxe room in the liver? There was time for a quick evening swim in the pool (it's 33 degrees out still) and a chat with some interesting NT guys in Kakadu for work. They tell us that dinner at the restaurant is great so we make plans to head there after our sunset drinks at Ubirri Rock.
Ancient aboriginal rock art
I'd heard about this mystical Ubirr Rock place from a true Darwinian local at the "Angels and Baby Animals" concert in Darwin a few nights earlier (that's another story). He said that the most magical experience you could have in Kakadu is the sunset at Ubirr, which is about 20 minutes drive away from the main tourist area of Jabiru. So we quickly head over their before 6:30 PM. After parking, it's a 20 minute trek through bushland, passing ancient aboriginal artwork on the way to "the rock". It's all quite mysterious. It's amazing how they've managed to preserve these historical paintings full of scenes of hunters, snakes and fish, and the intensity of the pigment remain vibrant.
Finally, just before the sunset we climb up the sacred rock called Ubirr and gaze down at the wetlands. Alcohol is strictly prohibited, and out of respect we comply, although a drop of champers would have really fitted the moment. As the sunset and the wildlife settled in for the night, there was a spiritual feeling in the air. I can really see why aboriginals feel so connected to the land; I had that sense, too.
The next morning we take a wrong turn, and fear we'll miss our booked trip on the Yellow Water Cruise (ph 08 89791500) to see the crocs. But luckily speeding isn't out of the question in the NT, and typically we end up being the first passengers on board. Our tour guide, Alan, is great, full of knowledge and interesting anecdotes. We spot about three massive crocs during the 90 minute cruise, as well as sea eagles, jabirus, and a hot and bothered looking water buffalo. I love the atmosphere, as though all the superficial layers of the world are stripped away and it's survival of the fittest. Alan tells us that the water buffalo is the only animal not scared of the crocodile, as buffalos are bigger and tougher. One of them sitting on a croc would do the job. It's cool seeing a buffalo casually lazing in the shallows, almost giving the finger to a conniving looking croc cruising by.
Another interesting anecdote we learn from Alan is that whilst Dutch Explorers may have visited OZ in the 1600s and Captain Cook started the first European settlement in the 1700s, the Indonesians and Chinese had actually been drifting over on boats to the NT for hundreds of years before these guys. They'd regularly visit the Top End and do trade with the Aborigines before heading home. So the Bali-Aussie trip isn't that new..