Friday, May 30, 2008

DAY 218: Day off Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge

Thurs 28th May 2008
Scattered cloud, 27 deg C
Elevation of destination 125m
Distance to date 13312 km (8320 miles)

The Wallabies were very active, grazing aroung the tent all night, so I slept a little fitfully even though they didn’t try and get in the food bag. One did try this yesterday while I was away from the tent and a lady shooed it away.
Eventually I went off for a walk up to the Lookout - a platform built 100m up at the top of the gorge wall about 1 km from the campsite - along a rocky path which is steep but safe, being very solidly built. This walk continues back to camp in a wide loop of about 4km, and it made for pretty hot walking despite the strong wind. I met a guy from Ayrshire photographing birds, and we had a good nattter for a while as we watched the small Buff-Chested Honeyeaters darting around.
After a sandwich lunch I hired a canoe for a couple of hours and paddled up to the end of the first gorge and back - around 7km all told. I enjoyed this more than the cruise yesterday - you get to see a lot more and at your own pace, although it was sometimes difficult to paddle against the strong SE-erly wind. The canoes are very light and easily blown around though, and even coming back downwind the thing kept trying to go sideways so I had to keep paddling to keep it straight. It was fun to paddle into the little geos / fjords, some of which went right under the vertical rockface for 15m or more, then with a good push of the paddle against the rock you come flying out backwards into the river again.
I returned to the Info centre cafe again after this, and noted the low prices here - only $6 for muffin and iced coffee - it’s certainly not a rip-off type of place. The terraced cafe overlooking the river is very nice indeed.
I went back up to the lookout to watch the sunset around 1815 and got talking to a young German man, and we were still talking half an hour after the sun had disappeared. The sky was spectacular for ages, until it was almost dark - streaks or bright orange turning to red, then grey. We could just about see where we were going on the rocky path down, with lots of rustling creatures in the dark undergrowth on either side getting away from us.
After another big camping stove feed I again sat outside, untroubled by mozzies, fanned by the usual gentle and warm evening breeze.

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!

DAY 216: Day off in Katherine

Tues 27th May 2008
Sunny, scattered cloud, 31 deg C
Elevation of destination 112m
Distance to date 13282 km (8301 miles)

Another very noisy evening / night with my neighbours in a house over the fence shouting and screaming when talking would do quite well enough. With indigenous folk everything is a drama and has to be acted out vociferously! Then before 6 my tent neighbours were getting an early dash and making plenty of noise too, why be quiet when you can crash about and bang car doors 99 times? So I managed less than 5 hours I think - oh, for the peace of the bush - humans are just too noisy for me.
However I had a productive morning doing all my washing, uploading 8 days blog on a rather slow computer that cost me about $12, more food shopping for the next few days, buying a toaster attachment for my stove etc. etc.
In the late afternoon I went exploring the Katherine River cycle track, of which there is about 10km in all, and was blown away by the beauty of the river by the Low Level Bridge - deep white sand-lined banks covering mangrove roots, overlooked by deep green tropical trees full of strange colourful birds. The late light shone through the thick foliage to produce deep colouration to the peaceful scene. After the austerity and dryness of the Outback this burst of growth seemed such a contrast. I found a spot on the sand where I could lean back against one of the many flood-uprooted trees that lay around and just enjoyed doing nothing for over an hour - bliss. I was transfixed...
The cycleway runs from the town out to the Low Level Bridge on one bank and back on the other, and the south bank on which I returned was deserted until 1km from town, whereupon groups of Aboriginals, most of whom appeared drunk and whom were shouting and cursing each other, occured at intervals. Some of them shouted after me, but I don’t know what they were saying. I have never felt threatened by these people who seem pretty benign with white people usually. I’m amazed how many of them are drunk at all times of the day. I understand most don’t work, and it seems getting intoxicated is the answer for many of them. It’s sad, and seriously problematic. As I passed by the last such group the police arrived to sort it out. There are also community warden patrols cruising around looking for problems.
Back to camp and I fancied sandwiches again with the fresh muffins I bought today, plus the remains of the cam sav and later another mound of yoghurt and fruit. The house next door is also winding up the music and shouting again too, so it looks like another noisy night - now where’s the knock-out drops.....