Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Darwin


Following our visit to Litchfield, we continued north to Darwin, taking the northern exit from the park.  Darwin is a strange confluence of various influences.  The English settlers, Southeast Asian Islanders, and Aboriginal cultures all come together in tropical city with a monsoon climate.  The city has some interesting history, and saw plenty of action during WWII. 

Like most Australian cities, Darwin has well-funded public spaces, and interesting places to visit.  Given the cost of accommodation in any major Australian city and the warm/humid weather, we opted to keep our visit to Darwin on the short side. 

Our first point of interest in the city (after parking near the waterfront) was the WWII fuel storage tunnels.  Built under a short distance from the port, these tunnels were actually enormous underground tanks for storing fuel for military purposes. Originally built to replace above ground tanks (which were bombed by the Japanese) only a few saw service due to their poor design.  At over 200ft long, and 12ft high, they stored huge amounts of fuel.  However, the regular rains saturated the rock above leading to corrosion and leaks, eventually causing a blowout in the 60s in the tank remaining in service.

One tank has been opened for visitors. You can see the water constantly pouring from holes in the steel (even during the dry season!).

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Here is one of the closed tanks, Even with the drains open, there is still several inches of water.

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After enjoying some time near the waterfront we did a bit of a tour through the downtown area, and around the NT parliament building.  After which we visited the old QANTAS hangar.  Qantas is now a major international airline, but it started out servicing Queensland and NT. 
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Now belonging to a local machine and car club, the hangar is filled with all manner of classic cars, industrial antiques, and steam powered equipment. 

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Bombed during a Japanese raid, the superstructure still has shrapnel holes See the orange spots below.

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There are several very good museums (art etc) as well as plenty of great Asian food available.

After finishing up in the city, we headed south to the Territory Wildlife park.  Basically more of an “open range”-feeling zoo, it has an impressive array of NT animals, including a fairly large saltwater aquarium.  We arrived late in the day, and not wanting to make the trip again (or pay the local rates for accommodation) we opted to take the 2 hours before closing.   There were only 5 people in the park, and we basically had it to ourselves. 

This water monitor (about 3 feet long) was hiding in the water looking for some dinner.

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We spotted this mid-sized freshwater crocodile as well (about 4 feet long).

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A plethora of birds flitted about, including this Rainbow Bee-eater

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A blue winged Kookaburra.

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A 4 meter saltwater crocodile.

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Fun Fact (by Jen): Since about Port Hedland in Western Australia, we have had trouble with our bread molding within days of use and even before the expiration. Perhaps it has something to do with the weather in the northern part of the country or perhaps the time it takes to get to these remote locations. We have had to make room in the fridge for the bread full time. Apparently the stores have this issue as well. All bread in stores since Port Hedland has been in its own freezer section.


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Litchfield National Park

By Jen.

After Katherine Gorge, we decided to heard north to Litchfield National Park. On the way, though, we made a couple of stops. Also part of Nitmulik NP is Edith Falls. This was a pleasant stop. It would make a great vacation spot, with a restful and relaxing oasis atmosphere, plenty of walks and swimming, plus a cafe, cell reception and wifi nearby.


In this region, spear grass is very common and grows very quickly. The stuff in the background is 4 months’ growth, while the stuff next to Jonathan is probably 6 months’ growth.

Next on the list was Butterfly Gorge. This was a terrific stop! A short walk takes you to a small gorge where there are thousands of butterflies. Walking along will cause many of them to start fluttering around you, giving the place a magical feel.




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Then, we arrived at Litchfield. For many locals, this is a favorite park. I can see why. It is basically a free water resort. Surprisingly croc-free and with no entrance fee to the park, it is fairly irresistible. Our first stop was the termite mounds. They called them “magnetic”, but this is misleading. I was expecting to be able to stick a magnet on the mounds. But they actually meant that it lays its mound in a north-south direction to optimize temperatures. This is cool, but not as cool as magnets. They should call them compass instead of magnetic.



This is a cathedral termite’s mound.

From there, we managed to get a rock pool all to ourselves for about 10 min before others joined us at Buley Rockhole.


The next day, we got an early start and managed to hit all the other spots. We don’t really like to sit and play in water all day, so what normally takes people several days, we finished in 1 day.

Florence Falls.

Check out these green tree ants! They have reddish brown bodies with a green thorax!

They make this nest by folding living leaves over and glue them together using their larva’s silk. 
Tolmer Falls.
Wangi Falls.

Upper Cascades, view 1.

Upper Cascades, view 2.

Bamboo Creek Tin Mine ruins.

Then, we were heading north along the back route to Darwin, Australia’s only tropical capital city.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Territorial Discussions

By Jen.

After 5 months of being in Australia (Jan-16 to Jun-16) and nearly 2 months (minus 5 days) of being in WA, we crossed the border into the Northern Territory. If we thought that WA was sparsely populated and remote, Northern Territory is even more so. This large area isn’t even designated as a state and only has a territory-wide population of 200,000. We had no cell reception, except in the small towns that infrequently dotted the Victoria Highway. We were greeted with a 130 km/h speed (80+ mph) sign, a first for us since arriving in AUS. Jonathan commemorated the event by going the speed limit for a bit, which reminded us why don’t do so. The van takes a lot of energy to get to that speed.




Our first night in NT was not enjoyable as some residents of Kununurra decided to stay at the same roadside stop as us and drink and talk all night long, leaving at daybreak. I guess this is a common thing to do around here, as this is the second time this has happened to us when parked at the nearest roadside stop to a town in WA on a Friday night. I guess this makes sense as the with the strict drinking policies most places in Australia have, and with the small populations, there are no late-night bars, clubs, or pubs to hang out in, so they go down the road and do it there, where no one (except the cheapo tourists like us) will complain.

To break up the ride the following day, we made a few stops, including going on a hike in a massive national park through which the highway goes.


The next day, we arrived in Katherine, a fairly large town by NT standards, and got caught up with the rest of the world’s news. Katherine is popular for its gorge and national park, so we decided to hit that up the next day. We had been planning on canoeing or kayaking down the gorge (apparently that is the thing to do), but they hadn’t finished their crocodile survey yet (conducted every year after the wet season), and therefore, weren’t letting anyone in the water. Instead, we chose to hike up to a few lookouts over the gorges.

When we went to the visitor centre, it was apparent that there were small fruit bats all along the trees by the river. There were thousands of them. All along the banks as far as you could see! These Little Red Flying Foxes were smaller than the ones we saw in Karijini. 






The rocks along the gorge were really precariously perched. Jonathan managed to send several cascading down the cliffs. Not much holding them on. 

This wallaby was snacking in front of the van when we got back. Judging by the bulge on its belly, it could have a joey in its pouch.

Despite doing close to 10 km that day, my knee was doing pretty well. It was a bit stiff the next day, but not too bad. So, it is healing. Thanks for your prayers. Hopefully, soon, it will be back to 100%. I was wearing a compression brace that day and apparently didn’t apply sunscreen well enough around it, so now I have a bit of a burned impression of it.

This was taken a few days after the walk, so the redness had calmed down a bit.