We were up at 5.00 am, breakfast at 6.00 am. It was pitch black as we stumbled outside half asleep but the stars were beautiful and, as I’d heard, looked close enough to touch and there were so many of them. With no city lights, the stars were a wonderful sight and I was happy to have seen them in the Outback. The early morning darkness seemed very thick but soft and with a slight freshness about it...beautiful.
We were warned to take light jackets or sweaters as it was a little cool. Yep, it was but when we reached our destination what a sight the water was, just like glass, with not a ripple to mar its smoothness. We were the first to arrive and it was as if we were the only people in this ancient red land. The sun was coming up and hitting the sandstone cliffs showing some amazing contrasts and shapes of shadow and light. We went into the Katherine Gorge which is the most common scene on “postcards, tea towels, tee shirts, teaspoons and tea bags,” according to our tour operator and was where Daryl Somers (one time host of "Hey, Hey, It's Saturday) made the infomercial for Northern Territory Tourism. ("You’ll never never know if you never never go".)
The Katherine River has a system of 13 gorges which, during the dry, as it was when we were there, are separated by rock bars. We only had time to go up into the first two, walking across the rock bars and getting onto another boat to reach the second gorge.
One of the 13 gorges along the Katherine River
The area was leased to the National Parks and Wildlife Service by the Jawoyn people for a 99 year lease. Ten years into the lease, they were administering the park by 2004. The Jawoyn name for this area is Nitmiluk which means “cicada dreaming” in their dialect.
On our return to the jetty, our guide pointed out Jedda’s rock, a magnificent piece of sandstone rock where Jedda jumped to her death in the 1950 film of the love story.
We also come across several canoeists of all ages paddling madly up the first gorge. While we were waiting to board our boat after coming from the second gorge, we saw some of these canoeists who unwittingly entertained us with their antics in trying to get their canoes across the rock bars. Two guys in particular were hilarious and ended up in the drink but some girls made it through with no trouble at all. Go girl power!
We had a brief look around the information centre at Katherine Gorge and then headed for the Adelaide River for lunch. The day before, Margie had counted all of us who wanted fresh barramundi for lunch then radioed ahead to the restaurant. Consequently, when we arrived for lunch the next day we had barramundi that had been caught only that morning. (Barramundi is a huge fresh and saltwater fish that is absolutely melt-in-the-mouth delicious). So we had that with fries and salad – again only $10 per head. It was an open-air restaurant so after lunch I went for a walk and had a look around. At the back of the restaurant were three of the most enormous mango trees I have ever seen all dripping with almost ripe mangoes. It was a terrific mango season that year!
We saw Charlie, the water buffalo, again another star from “Crocodile Dundee”, however in all our travels we saw neither hide nor hair of Paul Hogan! But poor old Charlie’s horns were so huge he could hardly lift his head, the poor thing. His keeper was giving him a hose down which he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying.
We stopped off at the Adelaide River War Cemetery where the victims of the Darwin bombing by the Japanese in World War II, both civilians and servicemen, have plaques. Some of the servicemen were very young – 19 or so. Harold got a shock to find his cousin’s name on the cenotaph but unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to look for the plaque.
Had another brief pit stop at a truckstop called Emerald Springs on the Stuart Highway, or “the track” as the locals call it. It runs direct from Darwin to the centre of Australia – Alice Springs. There was a beautiful carved eagle in the bar with a tame quarrion (cockatiel) sitting on its head.
That evening we caught the shuttle out to the Mindil Beach markets and watched the most glorious sunset. The traditional owners had been burning off and the colours were so intense one expected to hear the sun sizzle as it sank into the Arafura Sea!
We then got down to the serious business of eating and shopping. We wondered down the food stalls from which were emanating the most delicious smells. Mum and Harold decided on stuffed potatoes but I wanted something I hadn’t had before and decided on an interesting looking Filipino dish. I couldn’t pronounce the name of it but it tasted absolutely delicious, as the two ladies manning the stall assured me it would.
There were all sorts of entertainers and buskers – one guy had two stock whips, one in each hand, which he was cracking in time to music. Very clever.
I found a lovely silver chain for $30, a cute jade smiling Buddha for the friend who was babysitting my cat and had my cards read. Money, a man and my own home. Yeah, yeah.
Mum and Harold were feeling rather weary so we caught the shuttle back to the hotel and I must admit I was ready for bed, too. The were some little kids in the room next door making a racket – hoped it didn’t continue. It didn’t.