Here I sit after a 9 day trip to Darwin that had me filled with a range of emotions before we headed there but on reflection I can say that it was a true travel trip full of surprises and some of the most amazing vistas and experiences on a trip in Australia for a number of years!
November is not really the best time to head to Darwin as it is just before the weather breaks and it is extremely humid and very hot no matter where you travel but as we wanted to have a short break before the end of the year Trevor decided that Darwin and Kakadu would be our destination.
Now I could go on and on about the price of travelling around Australia but we very luckily had some options to allow us to do the trip without it costing a fortune. Firstly we started with using Frequent Flyer points to fly to Darwin in business class and it was the perfect way to begin the break and the perfect way to end the trip.
So that was airfares taken care of, then we looked at accommodation and being Accor Vacation Club members we used points and our membership to book into both the Novotel in Darwin as well as the Ibis in Katherine to take care of accommodation and so for 7 of the nights our total accommodation bill was $300.
Next we decided to do a tour that would take us to Kakadu, Lichfield and some of the pristine waterfalls and billabongs outside of Darwin. After doing our homework we decided on Wayoutback Tours for this 3 day and two night ‘glamping’ experience.
Our intrepid tour guide Flick
Anyone who knows me will know that since I was in my early 20’s I have never been keen on roughing it and camping has never been high on my list of desired forms of over night accommodation when on holiday. So we booked a tour that was tent based for accommodation but that was a step up from blow up mattresses on the floor and offered single beds with mattresses and was supposed to have power and fans in them on both nights (one of the only reasons I agreed to do this)!
We arrived in Darwin after a fabulous flight with the best service and some great food from QANTAS ready to hit the Novotel and get settled before being collected the following morning for our ‘glamping’ experience. The first thing you notice at this time of the year is the humidity as soon as you head out of the plane onto the tarmac and just how hot it is! But we knew that so it was no big deal really.
Into the Novotel we headed and arrived to be told that we had been upgraded to a junior suite for the night but enough about all of this…the hotel accommodation, although great in both places was not really what this trip was all about.
The 4 wheel drive – thank god for the air condition…
It was all about the 3 day tour and our trip to Katherine to see the gorge. We were duly collected by Flick our driver, cook, tour leader the next morning and after picking up the final family we headed off down the Stuart Highway and off to Lichfield.
On board there was a couple from South Australia, a couple from France, a family from Denmark, 2 gay boys from Norway and Trevor and I. 12 travellers ready for an experience of a life time. I think the thing that really surprised the European visitors was the amount of time that we had to spend in the 4 wheel drive in between destinations. I think they did no realise the distances involved and that unlike Europe we are a large continent with lots of open roads and significant distances in between destinations.
Waterfalls and Billabongs – heaven
We were prepared and thank goodness for a fully air conditioned 4 wheel drive which kept us cool in between locations. The first day it was all about 3 fantastic waterfalls and billabongs, lots of aboriginal history, wildlife spotting and generally getting to know fellow travellers and relaxing into the beautiful surrounds of Lichfield.
Each of the water falls and bathing pools and billabongs had its own unique characteristics and even though it was the end of the dry season the water was still refreshing and fabulous to submerge in.
We visited Florence Falls, Wangi Falls and Buley Rockhole as well as taking time to stop and look at the magnetic and cathedral termite mounds along the way. The great thing about this tour was that Flick did lots of stops to break up the driving along the way and was full of some fantastic local historical information, flora and fauna information and plenty of personal experiences to always keep us entertained and up to date to where we were travelling.
We spent the first night in Lichfield in tents with power and a fan because it was still and warm but with the fan we were able to settle down and have a good nights sleep before we headed off the next day on the Murray River Wetlands Cruise that was filled with wild life spotting and was the perfect way to begin the day.
It was clear, warm and the water lilies (although clogging up the waterways) were just spectacular and the birds nesting, flying in and out were simply stunning. We did search for crocodiles but as it was so hot they all seemed to be on the bottom of the water and there was only a brief glimpse of a fresh water crocodile on the cruise. But that didn’t really matter because the rest of the cruise was wonderful and the tour guide for this trip was insightful, full of information and knew every species that we saw and answered all questions asked. It was one of the highlights of this part of the trip.
We then headed to Ubir to look at the aboriginal rock art at the 40,000 year old world heritage site and to climb to the top lookout for a stunning 360 degree view over Arnhem Land and the wetlands. The rock art was just fabulous and having our tour guide explain the stories behind the drawings put it all into perspective and added another dimension to it. The only downside was that it was about 46 degrees in amongst the rock art as there was very little shelter but the climb and the heat was worth it as it was truly memorable.
Rock art and million dollar views!
Then we headed to the Kakadu camp site and the only negative experience from this 3 day trip – a tent with no power or fan (even though we had paid for a tent with power and a fan)! The campsite had a great pool for cooling off in but it closed at 10pm and so it was a sleepless night ahead that really was unbearable…humid, hot, no wind at all and sticky…needless to say I was not a happy ‘glamper’ the next day.
The last morning we headed Ginlom Falls after first having a look at the Ranger Uranium Mine (lots of history and lots of issues with that, not sure what is going to be happening with it as it was meant to be filled in by now but that does not look like happening any time soon) and a bit of a trek to get to the water fall and it was worth it…this was a delightful cool refreshing pool and water fall that our group were the only visitors too and it just added another element as we all swam together and joked and laughed in the water.
We then headed back towards Darwin and did a couple of side stops to look at different wildlife along the way before we had a final stop at Fogg Dam on the way back into Darwin. The history behind the dam was very interesting and I would encourage you, if interested to do some homework, otherwise this post will be 15 pages long…needless to say Harold Holt played a large roll in the dam.
Then we were dropped off back at the Novotel after 3 hot, intense and interesting days exploring some significant parts of our country!
We then had a rest day in Darwin to relax, rest up and pick up our hire car that would get us through to the end of our stay, so we could do a trip to Katherine to explore and experience the wonder of the Katherine Gorge and the Nitmiluk national park.
off to Katherine we went and it was a lovely 2 hour drive and with an early check in to the Ibis we headed out to Nitmiluk and the gorge to do an afternoon river cruise to get a sense of the gorge, its history and be guided down 3 of the gorges. It was truly breathtaking and another experience that will not soon be forgotten.
This really put the Katherine gorge into perspective and gave some great information about its history and the role it has played with the history of the local aboriginal communities. Interestingly it is at its lowest level for over 10 years but was still beautiful never the less.
We then headed back to Katherine for an afternoon swim and early night before heading back early to the gorge for a morning of canoeing up the first gorge and over some rocks for a swim in the second gorge.
Katherine Gorge – what more can you say!
We were the only people on the gorge (other than a couple of ranger boats doing their morning checks for salt water crocs!) and it was silent, peaceful and such a stunning experience (after I had finally gotten the hang of being in a canoe and not heading in the wrong direction). This would have to be one of the highlights of this trip as it was really breathtaking (can you tell how impressed with the whole experience I am with all of the glowing words I am using?).
The tranquillity of swimming in the rock pools after the 3.5 km canoeing was just amazing and cooled us down and allowed us to revel in the peace and beauty that was surrounding us.
After about an hour we walked back over to our canoe and headed back along the gorge and really enjoyed the hour it took to get back to our starting point. We then made our way back to the visitors centre and headed back to Darwin.
Along the way we had found a gorgeous local stop on the highway that offered the best fresh home made scones and stopped again on the way back to Darwin for lunch for one of the biggest, freshest home made hamburgers I have ever had.
So in a nutshell given my trepidation about this trip I have to say I had the most amazing time and loved just about every minute of it (lets forget the second tent night!).
In the next couple of days I will share with you 2 of the most amazing restaurants that we experience whilst we were in Darwin. Both were real surprises with the most amazing food, service and settings on offer. But that is yet to come.
If you are keen to see more of our gorgeous country and in particular Darwin and its surrounds I strongly recommend a tour like we did of Lichfield and Kakadu as it was well planned, well structured and our guide was full of the local knowledge that we would have missed doing it by ourselves. Katherine and the gorge is something that you do not need to tour to do.
So for your next trip think about this option, I am sure you will enjoy it as much as we did!
Wayoutback Australian Safaris
For Reservations please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: 1300 551 510 (within Australia) or +61 (0)8 8997 0300
Fax: + 61 8 8952 7079
Post: PO Box 7893, Alice Springs NT 0871, Australia
Street: 30 Kidman St, Alice Springs NT 0870, Australia
Your intrepid traveller cooling down in a billabong!