Thursday, 6 August 2015

Darwin to Townsville

Yellow route: Darwin to Townsville - 3580 km
Total so far: 29'500 km

Darwin was the place where Kasbah got a set of new tyres as mentioned in the last post. But this was not the only reason to spend an entire week in the capital of the Northern Territory. Both of us have been to Darwin more than 20 years ago and wanted to see the change. In fact the development was so significant that we didn’t recognised much – or might this be due to our bad memories? We don’t hope so.
Exciting moments for Kasbah - a set of brand new tyres (BF Goodrich KO2)

Darwin has a lot to offer. Not only a very nice climate in the dry season but also various cultural events, good restaurants and cafes, pleasant bicycle paths, a nice waterfront, vibrant markets, the fantastic Alexandre lake and just a very relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere wherever you go. We just loved it. The two highlights were the unforgettable sunset at Mindil Beach together with the lively market and the play Australia Day by Jonathan Biggins in Brown’s Mart Theatre. 

 Sunset at Mindil Beach in Darwin

Another wonderful latte

After we had indulged the city life enough, we went back to nature. And where else would be better than Kakadu national park? Even before entering Kakadu we saw stunning wildlife in the Southern Alligator region: on the sunset tour at Corroboree Billabong, at Anggardabal Billabong and from the Mamukala Birdhide. We declared the Rainbow Bee-eater, which is abundant in this area, as one of our most loved birds. 

 Corroboree Billabong with eagle and crocodile

 The cute jacana with his huge "feet" is able to walk on the water lillies

Anggardabal Billabong

In Kakadu we got into Aboriginal culture once more. Not only for the impressive, numerous rock-art sites but also for our excursion to the Art Centre in Gunbalanya, West Arnhemland. You need a permit to enter this area which offers a breathtakingly beautiful landscape. The Art Centre exhibits a firework of extraordinary paintings on bark, canvas or paper; colourful weaving works out of Pandanus fibres; wonderful printed patterns on silk or cotton, which a workshop for disabled people in Cambodia turns into hip bags, shirts, scarfs and more. 

 New painting from the artist Gabriel in Gunbalanya

Workshop where the prints on fabrics are made

Women preparing the pandanus fibres

After the almost-too-popular but still wonderful sunset at Ubirr we joined a ranger talk at Nourlangie (Burrunggui) which gave us much more information than just the details about the rock arts. Christian, the ranger, is a remarkable personality, very knowledgable and in deep admiration of the traditional life and languages of the Aborigines. His enthusiasm for the archeology of the area and the flora and fauna used as signposts for the transitions between the six seasons by the Bininj / Mungguy people, was infectious. This prompted us to stay in the area for another night to join a talk at Nanguluwur site he held the next day. To round off this traditional cultural experience, we joined the Animal Tracks tour, led by an Aboriginal woman who introduced us to bush tucker and Aboriginal life in the bush. We dug for bush carrots, freshwater mussels and water chestnuts, learned how to prepare buffalo and magpie goose (after we plucked the animal ourselves) the Aboriginal way in a ground oven, and enjoyed all this accompanied by some freshly baked damper. What a treat – especially eating it in a magic spot in the wetlands at sunset! 
We loved walking around the various billabongs, in the monsoon forest and through the wetlands. Best camping was next to Sandy Billabong. Gunlom Falls was our last destination in Kakadu before heading to the oft-suggested Edith Falls. The good reputation leads to big crowds but it is still an excellent spot for swimming in various pools.

 Impressive Aboriginal rock art

 Stunning view from Ubirr towards Arnhemland

 Christian the ranger

Sandy Billabong

 Magpie geese – alive

 Magpie goose – dead

 Magpie geese – ready for the ground oven

 Dinner in the ground oven

 Damper – Yummie

 Waterhole at Gunlom Falls

Longpool at Edith Falls, we had them to ourselves

Next, we passed Mataranka and couldn’t resist to have another dip in the fabulous Bitter Springs. From there we followed the Savannah Way, mostly a remote dirt track with its most interesting part being the Limmen national park. Not a firework of highlights like in Litchfield and Kakdu but still remarkable places such as Butterfly Springs, where a Jabiru had a rest and was not bothered by us, and the Southern Lost City which can be explored by an attractively designed walking track. 

Fantastic Bitter Springs

Walking track through the Lost City rock formations

After one and a half months in the Northern Territory we crossed the border into Queensland, for the first time on this trip. We started with the indisputable highlight: Boodjamulla national park (Lawn Hill) and camping in the lush greens at Adels Grove. We did several walking tracks to see the lower and upper Gorges and enjoyed the so far best paddling in the afternoon sun through the Gorge to Indarra Falls and even further up. 

 Adels Grove

 Paddling in a peaceful Gorge is very relaxing – Lawn Hill

Lawn Hill region

We changed our initial plan to leave the Savannah Way and head directly up to Cape York via the Burke Developmental Road and the Dixie Track, because our radiator definitely needed a replacement before we do more rough stuff. By that time we had a new radiator  waiting for us in Townsville. 
Therefore we followed the Savannah Way to Georgtown, then explored some of the gold-rush towns on the way towards Charters Towers, which was once the second-largest and wealthiest town of Queensland. Some of the wealth can still be seen today in beautifully preserved 19th-century buildings. The land is currently pretty dry and the drive through this outback uneventful if not for the poor animals gathering around the remaining waterholes.

There was more to do in Townsville than replacing the radiator, which we did today successfully. It’s again a fantastic city for cycling along the Ross River for bird life, up the Castle Hill for magnificent views and along the Strand for people watching. Unfortunately we couldn’t find another of the cool cafes which we normally locate through the Lonely Planet guide book but got decent Thai food instead.

 19th-century building in Charters Towers

 Mural in Charters Towers

 The Strand – Townsville

View of Townsville from Castle Hill

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