Australia’s Top End, Northern Territory. Vast, mysterious, rugged . . . a place that even most Australians seem not to find. You know from the moment you land in Darwin: this is a strange and wonderful place. Two flights and some twelve hours after bidding farewell to the Sundancer, we groggily stumbled into Darwin’s airport at 1AM, stunned to find the place humming. Flights coming and going, bars and restaurants at full swing, and people everywhere. It’s a long way, and only a certain breed finds their way here, so the airlines squeeze those revenues in the middle of the night, getting the planes safely back to points south for daylight, civilized travel. Yep. This is gonna be a wonderfully wild ride.
Hoses to fill tanks and empty tanks…and make sure to remember to distinguish the fresh water fill hose from the brown water empty. And the bathroom…images of Robin Williams emptying the tank in the movie RV convinced even the kids that the bathroom offered a wonderful spot to change clothes. Nothing more. There’s really only one way to experience this part of Australia’s wildnerness – up close and personal – so settled into our 22’ traveling home, we set off, still chugging down the wrong side of the road, but Columbus now feeling quite comfortable over there and me now resisting the need to lean to keep us on track.
First stop: Sacagawea’s jumping croc cruise. She’d heard of these crazy adventures before we left home, and this was her pick of the trip. We followed the directions, from the surfaced highway, to the gravel road, to the dirt track down towards the river, where we met up with Morgan, our guide for the afternoon. “Oh yeah, that’s Godfrey,” he said as we excitedly pointed to this monstrous, prehistoric creature watching us from the water, a few meters away. From our perch in the tinnie, we came up close and personal with Godfrey (a big guy at 5 meters and 100 years old) and his many friends up and down the Adelaide River as Morgan rammed the boat into the shoreline so the crocs could lumber up for a snack. Jaw-dropping and utterly prehistoric…. amazing. And what an introduction to the Top End!
From Mary River National Park to Kakadu and now Nitmiluk in Katherine, we’ve been amazed, moved and inspired by this magical place. This is Aboriginal country, with a history that dates back some 50,000 years, indigenous art to tell the story, and landscape unlike anything we’ve ever seen. As the sun settled into the afternoon sky, we climbed to the top of Ubirr to gaze across the mass Arnhem lands, extending forever across the horizon. At Nourlangie, we discovered the settlement nestled in the massive rock formation, emblazoned with art dating back thousands of years. We watched the sunrise over the Yellow Waters of Cooinda as jabirus, sea eagles, kites, and kingfishers soared overhead and crocs rested comfortably up and down the shore. Then later that day, welcomed the setting sun from the waters of Katherine Gorge, floating among the cavernous cliffs of gorges older than time. We’ve held our breath as wallabies and kangaroos gather by the dozens in the early mornings and late afternoons, scavenging for food and casting a curious and trusting eye our way.
Settled into a wonderful routine of self-contained living, we’ve enjoyed breakfasts with the sunrise, lunch in whatever park or scenic vista we stumble upon, and dinner under the stars in state parks across the region. Grilling steaks and burgers on the communal barbies, Columbus has honed his skills in this most revered Aussie male ritual, and has found new travelling friends along the way.
Feeling a million miles away from civilization – and not terribly interested in figuring out how to find it again anytime soon – we’ve honed new skills, discovered new wonders, and found, in ourselves and each other, nuggets we never knew were there. Yes, it’s a magically wonderful place, indeed.