February 2020 in Darwin
The Wet season in Darwin extends from November through to May; it is hot, oppressively humid and usually stormy. During the Build-Up the clouds promise a rain storm but refuse to deliver, which can be really frustrating (in Queensland we used to say people went Troppo from the frustration – I don’t think Territorians can be bothered). Finally, by December the daily weather gets with the program and dumps rain with optional floor show – lightning, thunder, very exciting. Sometimes the weather gets so carried away with itself it starts throwing cyclones around. During our time in the NT we got none of the excitement, just rain and then just enough of that to keep things damp. We were told repeatedly that this was a bad wet season and that there had been quite a few recently.
So, what does one do during a bad wet season – sit at home in the air-conditioning, trying to stay dry? Or just accept that you’re going to get wet and get out and about to those places that are still open (The Wet is the off-season for the NT). We have some lovely friends in Darwin, from the mining days, and they offered to take us out camping and fishing. Andreas wanted try out his new custom designed, all-off-road, it’ll-go-anywhere truck, and Jackie needed to get away from her job and count birds for a while, so we headed out to one of the NT’s iconic destinations, Kakadu.
East Alligator River
The East Alligator River (a rather odd name considering there are no alligators there) is a 200ish km drive from Darwin. We stopped at Marrakai to pick up the ‘tinny’ (fishing boat runabout) that we had hired for the weekend and then it was on to the Crocodile Lodge at the town of Jabiru for the night. We had a room under the front leg (the lodge is best viewed from above – it is a crocodile shaped building). There were a few tour groups in, so we ate early and headed to bed; Andreas was threatening a really early start in the morning.
The tide did not come in when expected, and yes, we allowed for the time difference between Darwin and East Alligator and then added extra time for the distance we were up the river; but it was still late and I could have stayed in bed for another hour or two! After travelling well upstream, we ended up in a large river sized puddle waiting for the tide to bring the water up far enough that we could continue up the river. There was another boat group of two tinnies stuck in another puddle about 250m away, also waiting. We shared our puddle with two crocodiles who were obviously also waiting for the tide. Waiting, waiting….
This friendly guy circled the boat for about 2 hours while we were waiting for the tide to come in. The ‘tools’ in the other puddle got tired of waiting and decided to go for a splash in the mud (not sure why – maybe something to do with the amount of alcohol that was no longer in their eskis). We hoped they didn’t have any ‘friends’ in their puddle. We couldn’t do anything from where we were, other than get the photo for the NT News (they like a good croc photo for their front page). [Suz Note: they did not come to any harm]
The East Alligator River is a very muddy, tidal affair, and when the water did decide to make an appearance it was a bit like the rain up here, in that it arrived all at once. In the space of 10 minutes we had enough depth to be off up the river following the water. Our crocodile friends just sat on the mud bank with their mouths open facing downriver – their version of fishing requires far less energy.
Lots of mud (beautiful erosion patterns), crocodiles and jumping mackerel, but no fish of note were caught that day. The bird watchers were happy though.
Nourlangie Rock (Burrunggui and Anbangbang)
The next day we headed to Yellow Waters, another popular stop in Kakadu. On the way we stopped for a walk around what is popularly known as ‘Nourlangie Rock’, but should more correctly be called ‘Burrunggui (the higher outcrop) and Anbangbang’ (the lower area). There is some impressive rock art preserved here and the walk was most pleasant. It has been developed with walkways and signage so is very tourist friendly.
As well as the excellent educational signs explaining what we were looking at, there are regular signs reminding people about protecting themselves from the sun and keeping hydrated (do not ignore that advice, this place is hot).
The aboriginal calendar makes so much more sense than the conventional four seasons.
We were definitely in the Gudjewg season (we got wet quite regularly).
Yellow Waters (Ngurrungurrudjba) – flood plain for the South Alligator River
There are commercial tour boats at Yellow Waters and given the spectacular flora and fauna it would be well worth making a point of taking one of those tours, unless you had your own boat like us (you can also hire boats there).
Yellow Waters is a large lagoon with tributaries flowing in from the surrounding marshy flood plains – it is what you see on TV when documentary makers come to the NT. The water is muddy but covered in water lilies, there are avenues of trees reaching across the banks to talk to each other along the tributaries and such expanses of green reeds (with ungainly Brolgas poking their heads up out of the green), it truly takes your breath away. Again, we didn’t land any great fish, but the experience was unforgettable.
We appreciated the high sides on the tinny (and the cover, as it rained for much of the day) as we cruised past large crocodiles resting on the banks. The chappy/lady in the photo was about 4m long. I am constantly surprised by how wide crocodiles are and how their legs really do stick out from their bodies, like in a child’s drawing. They are so impressive you could just sit and watch them all day, as long as you’re in the boat and they are on the shore.
Jackie happily worked her way through her bird book and even Andreas and Peter, despite their lack of success with the fishing were in constant admiration of their location.
We stayed at the Cooinda Kakadu Lodge on our last night and that is where I found an ant in my ‘gin and tonic’. I have been drinking GnTs since the Triassic Period (according to my loving children) and like to try different gins, especially as there are so many now that every little distillery is getting on the gin bandwagon – very in vogue. I am in the habit of pointing to a bottle based on its label (so much easier than trying to remember names). The pretty green label I pointed to this time had big ants embossed on it but I didn’t see those from my side of the bar. Who knew that I’d be celebrating having an ant in my GnT? The pesky little insects are harvested by the Motlop Family (of the Larrakia Peoples) from the Top End (the northern part of the NT) and sent to Adelaide in South Australia to flavour ‘Green Ant Gin’. The little blighters give a zing of citrus to this rather crisp gin (the uniqueness of ingredient is well reflected in the price too). If you bite off the tail end you get a little fizzy shot – like those lemon sherbet lollies from when we were kids (it would take a lot of ants to make a sherbet lolly though). The ants are easily found around Darwin (I sat on a few at the waterfront a few days later) but I’ll leave the catching etc. etc. to others, I’ll just buy the finished product. We now have a bottle (or two) of ‘Green Ant Gin’ on the boat.
Darwin Social Scene
Our regular Friday night Margarita and Mexican at the Waterfront was changed slightly when Jackie produced passes to The Cocktail trail; a new initiative in Darwin (really just a map of bars, but we are always happy to support small businesses). We started at the waterfront and didn’t get much further.
We did utilize the latest in NT transport to get back to the flat – the neuron scooters. They are really fun and much cheaper than a taxi or uber, and they are really fun (did I mention that?). [September 2020 note: they have become very popular and have extended their range to include the marinas]. Jackie liked the scooters so much she went out and bought her own for avoiding traffic when getting into work each morning and it parks next to her desk.
Boat Works (Suz’ version)
The galley fridge (original to the boat) gave up any pretense of cooling half way through the Kimberleys, so we replaced it in Darwin. We took the opportunity to fit a sheet of rubber matting under this fridge to reduce some of the noise from vibration (boats are incredibly noisy things) and then chocked around the fridge cabinet to within an inch of its life (so that it can’t move when we are under way – that would be very bad). We’ll have a pretty wooden surround sorted by a professional when we get the next major works done in Brisbane. The most frustrating thing about this job was getting the actual fridge delivered to the marina; it took 3 days to get it from Sydney to Darwin and 3 weeks for the Darwin TNT mob to finally work out where Tipperary Waters Marina/86 Frances Bay Drive is. As TNT have centralised their offices to Melbourne, we couldn’t contact the local depot directly and explain that their drivers needed to stop watching the Google and try looking for the car park between 84 and 90 Frances Bay Drive with all the boat masts behind it! I actually flagged down one of their trucks that was going past and asked about our delivery; the driver said it had gone out that morning and should have been delivered, I informed him that it had, yet again, not and like magic it turned up the next day – maybe he noticed I was a bit fraught (peddling down to the boat each day and sitting waiting in the heat for it not-to arrive may have been getting to me).
We had to have an out-of-the-water boat inspection for our insurance renewal so we took the Big Girl out at NT Marine. My takeaway from the experience was a solid recommendation that other boat yards take a leaf from their book regarding boat stairs. I’ve climbed up a number of wobbly jobbies over the years, but these were a solid, yellow joy to use.
Replacing ropes on the boom, mast and flopper stopper poles required a bit of initiative (and friendly trespass onto the boats next door) and some sewing skills. Butting the new rope to the old rope so that the new length could just be pulled through all the fittings – so simple once I got the hang of it, but it makes the job so much easier. We are learning new skills all the time.
No Neon notes this month as he found the BuildUp quite stressful and is just enjoying the air-conditioning in the apartment.