Friday, May 30, 2008

DAY 217: Katherine to Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge

Weds 28th May 2008
30km @ 12.8 km/hr
Overcast, 28 deg C
Elevation of destination 125m
Distance to date 13312 km (8320 miles)

Another very noisy night but eventually got to sleep, though I felt the worse for wear this morning. I didn’t rush since I’ve only a short ride today, and ate my muesli in sleeping bag as I watched the Grey-Crowned Babblers combing the ground for food just outside. On the way out of town I stopped at Brumby’s Bakery for a chocolate croissant just to keep me going, and certainly needed the energy as I ploughed into the very strong headwind. The SE-er isn’t always my friend, and I was miserably reduced to 8 km/hr at times in open areas. There are a few hills in the last half of this leg which seemed worse than they really are due to the wind.
I was in the Nitmiluk NP soon after noon and checked into the campsite ($9.50) and also booked a 2-hour gorge cruise for 3 this afternoon. The camping area is huge and not very busy, so it looks like I’ll get some peace for a change. I had plenty of time until the tour so got the billy on and had jam butties, and this time it was the beautiful Blue-Faced Honeyeaters and another first, the Great Bowerbird, who came beside me to see what was going on. The latter is famed for building a structure - a bower - to entice a mate, and he kind of dances around it to try and impress a prospective mate - sounds familiar?
I went over to the boat departure area early and had a look at the large and very smart park info centre on the way - theres a nice exhibition illustrating the history of the local tribe, the Jawoyn, who actually own the land the gorge is in, and who run all the tours here.
Once underway in the pleasure cruiser the scale and grandeur of the gorge becomes apparent, although the absence of sunshine today may have detracted the scene a little. Our guide showed us some Aboriginal rock art on the gorge walls - 10m stick figures a la Lowry - and explained some of the Dreamtime stories that have been passed down orally from generation to generation. We left the boat at the end of the first gorge and had to walk 500m to another boat waiting in the second gorge - there are 13 gorges altogether but we only visited the first 2 today. There are freshwater crocs in here, which are fairly harmless to humans, but we didn’t see any, just their tracks where the females came in to test the temperature of the exposed sandy patches where they will eventually lay their eggs when it's warm enough. Our guide told us that only 2 Saltwater crocs have got in here in the past 2 years. I didn’t see too many birds other than Darters and White-Faced Herons, and the guide said that most birds go to Kakadu where food is more plentiful.
The second gorge is particularly impressive with its vertical sides and dark caves, and I am considering whether to hire a canoe tomorrow and return under my own steam.
I was chatting to a German girl on the trip about her and her boyfriends trip around Oz, and was surprised to hear they’d driven the Gibb River Road across the Kimberley in a 2WD Nissun Sunny, and made it through OK, only getting stuck once, in soft sand. She showed me a short movie of one of their deepest river crossings, where the water was halway up the car. This road is only recommended for 4 wheel drive vehicles. I haven’t decided whether I too will cycle that way.
When I got back to the tent a lady came over to say that Wallabies had been trying to get into my (food) bag while I was away. I had left it inside the tent outer but this had been pulled away, presumably by the animal, and I’ll have to watch out tonight. I hope they’re not as attentive as were those at Granite Gorge near Mareeba.
I cooked a delicious pasta with tuna, under the watchful eye of Skippy, who accidentally got a hot tea bag in the face when my aim went astray, but even then hardly flinched! a light tap on the head with my bicycle pump made him retreat a little though!

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