Alice Springs - Darwin (05/06/15 - 01/07/15)
Alice Springs – Devil's Marbles
One of the locals recommended we visit Alice Springs Desert Park which we'd seen advertised but hadn't shown much interest in, luckily we took his advice and went early as we ended up spending most of a day there enjoying the walks, shows, movies and presentations with something different on every half hour, it's one of our best memories of Alice Springs. Everything was beautifully presented to highlight the flora & fauna of the desert with lots of enclosures so you could view the birds, animals and reptiles in their natural habitat as well as a nocturnal house, cinema, ampitheatre, shelters, cafe & gift shop. The “Free Flying Bird Show” was incredible - we sat in an open-air ampitheatre while the falconer led a stream of performances from a Kite, Magpie, Barn Owl, Falcon and an Eagle. It was stunning and he had them swooping over the audience at times only inches above our heads and showing off each of their particular flying and hunting skills for survival in the desert environment.
Hehe a huge contrast to this was the Botanic gardens, being a garden lover I usually manage to coerce Martin into a visit but this time it seemed we had just stumbled into a fenced patch of desert! Apart from the cafe and signage, there was little else to indicate Botanicals or entice visitors!
Heading north on the Stuart highway and every campground, rest area and random bush camping spot was thick with Grey Nomads all heading north to escape the winter and after a cramped night squeezed into a spot at the “Devil's Marbles” (see photos) we came up with plan B!
The Devil's Marbles – Edith Falls
Plan B involved deviating onto rough gravel roads which deter most of the caravans, we headed east into Limmen NP and eventually to Lorella Springs, a station turned bush resort which was very well marketed but in reality over-priced for a rough bush camp. While there though we met Allan, a friendly hard-case Aussie who had managed to talk his way into attending a wild-bull round-up on the station and that night by the fire while still high on adrenalin he regaled us with stories of his wild day (apparently the RSPCA would not approve)! He had videoed most of it and promised to send us evidence!
Nearby was the little-advertised but awesome Southern Lost City, with huge sandstone towers and domes and more great photo opportunities!
We were a bit dubious about visiting Mataranka Springs as read about it being “very busy” and after experiencing the traffic on the Stuart Highway thought it must be chaotic. Luckily we decided to check it out as it will remain a highlight of this leg of the trip, a lush tropical oasis with warm crystal clear springs and as luck would have it, only a handful of us there at the time. Along the way some of the best things we have seen have been on advice of other travellers and here again this was the case, we met a lovely lady from Adelaide who recommended we visit Edith falls (previously unknown to us) and also had advice on her best experiences in Kakadu NP, we never knew her named but call her Edith in honour of her great advice! We ended up staying 3 nights at Edith falls, camped on a small lush shady campground and swimming in the three pools which are tiered up the hill with walks, birds, bush and incredible rock formations.
Edith falls - Kakadu
Our first stop in Kakadu NP was Gunlom falls, due to the Crocodile warning signs we didn't swim in the huge pool at the base of the falls but it didn't stop most of the visitors!! Instead we climbed the cliff early in the morning and swam in the natural infinity pool with just a few other early bird visitors – the pics will show how lovely it was and some may remember it from when Crocodile Dundee showed it off in the movie!
The next day we checked out the Aboriginal Cultural centre, then again on the advice of our friend Edith we did the Yellow Water sunset cruise – finally I got to see crocodiles luckily from the safety of the boat and in their natural environment plus hundreds of birds and finishing with sunset over the billabong and park – definitely to be recommended and we both agreed the best thing we experienced in the park. Sadly we felt that the park and its facilities were poorly maintained and expensive given the shoddy condition of amenities.
Kakadu - Darwin
We escaped Kakadu after only three nights and feeling satisfied with what we did see then while heading over to Litchfield NP we stumbled upon Douglas hot springs. This was a really nice surprise, not overly developed, not crowded, basic facilities but a gorgeous creek with natural hot water and lush vegetation so we stayed a couple of nights. Litchfield NP was also a nice surprise with a rough 4WD track into the southern end past the weird and fascinating magnetic termite mounds which are flat and orientated north/south as a temperature regulator, then swimming in cool natural pools at Surprise falls and Sandy creek falls. We planned on camping at Wangi falls but again the amenities were grotty and dirty with no rubbish or water facilites and we eventually found a better option out at Batchelor.
Finding a campground in Darwin was a mission, not that there was a shortage but that they were ridiculously over-priced, it seemed they just get away with pumping up the prices for the grey-nomads! Finally after a lot of miles and ringing around we found a fabulous shady spot for a reasonable price and settled in for a week to make the most of Darwin and catching up with friends from NZ.
Apart from restocking, maintenance, updating this site, washing, mending and other chores, we had a neat time doing the touristy thing in Darwin, my personal favourite was the Botanical gardens (which made me incredibly homesick – the first dose of real lush green in months) and Martin's the B52 bomber at the Aviation Museum. Other highlights were the Mindil Markets, the Waterfront, lunch with the wealthy down on the wharf, and best of all catching up with special friends from home (ooops making me even more homesick!). Darwin seemed like a busy booming city, development in every direction and plenty of wealth evident, Martin could barely recognise it from his visit 25 years ago!