The drive gave us yet more amazing views of this huge country. The roads are quiet, the driving was easy.
We arrived early afternoon and stayed at a campsite located by Katherine gorge. At reception we were advised that a colony of fruit bats had taken up residence and that we might want to check out the pitch before we committed. We pooh-poohed the idea and signed on the line.
There were huge fruit bats in almost every tree around us, the total must have been in the thousands. Their high pitched screeching sounded like babies crying, it was going to be an interesting stay.
Also in the trees were a host of parrots, their colours were incredible. Dark blue heads, red necks, green bodies and yellow tails, what amazing looking animals.
Around the grounds were wallabies, 'roos, plus a huge range of birds big and small.
We set up our stove and settled in to our surroundings, the noise from the bats dissolved into the background.
Early the next day we took off on a hike to one of the lookouts over the gorge, the track wasn't too demanding aside from continuous deep, loose gravel and rocks. What we found to be tough was the oppressive heat. Up on the ridge, the temperature was a further 10 degrees hotter than in the camp. The bush was fairly uninspiring, scruffy looking trees, sprouted up from the red dust, orangey-red rocks loomed around and dry riverbeds crossed our path regularly. The temperature must have been too hot for animals as we saw nothing, we heard a couple of lizards scurrying among the dried leaves. We were feeling a little discouraged by the time we saw the sign "80 metres to Pat's Lookout" we'd made it.
As we approached the viewpoint, smiles returned to our faces, we were stood on a bluff 50 metres or more above the Katherine river as it snaked through the red walled gorge.
At the riverside perfect looking sandy beaches lined the route, these are nesting grounds for both freshwater and saltwater crocs (freshies and salties).
We sat at the lookout for a while in the shadow of a eucalyptus tree, our only company was the biggest crow in world and a brave little yellow lizard that sat beside me.
Before heading back to camp we took a detour to the first safe billabong we'd had access to, it was a steep and rocky downward track to the pool, from way above we could hear loud splashes and laughter. We couldn't rush though as the trail just got steeper and steeper.
The pool was lovely, though tiny, fed by a trickling waterfall from a hidden source. On all sides the billabong was surrounded by high rock walls sprouting various tropical vegetation. The only drawback was of course it's popularity. There were a few people already in the water and several more sitting on the rocky ledges in anticipation of their go. We had to get back to camp as we'd arranged for a cruise along the Katherine river. We left the secluded waterhole wishing we had more time here.
The 'cruise' was amazing despite being rather more rustic than we expected. The boat was an aluminium shell with hard plastic seats but it was all about the gorge and the crocodiles. Cruising along the river between the rocks, past the caves and the points where the swampy water from above drips out as the purest water in Australia via many metres of porous filtering rock.
The river is home to crocs and we were able to see several freshies basking in the late afternoon sun, teeth on show the length of their narrow snout. The colour difference between juveniles and adults was amazing, the young ones were almost pale grey with dark stripes around their jagged tails whereas the adults were far darker and had black patches over their backs in either case, they seemed to perfectly match their surroundings on the sand. No wonder they're at the top of the food chain.
Along the river edge and the escarpment were plants that are used by the Aborigines for medicinal and practical use. One of the leaves can be crushed and put into a stretch of river, the plant takes the oxygen from the water causing the fish to drown and float to the surface. Others could be turned into watertight bags or into mosquito repellent. The wealth of uses of the 'scruffy trees' would make them worth their weight in gold, if stranded out in the unforgiving bush.
We moved from the national park to a campsite around 3 minutes from Katherine town, it was a short walk from the hot springs and a wetland where I'd be able to fish.
We headed to the hot spring, which was not that hot but was in a very picturesque setting, in a tropical forest, a small creek wound its way. The fresh, clear water ran fast and while it was busy, we were able to find our own spot to relax.
From the spring, we headed down to the river, the weir gushed with water turning the surface frothy. We walked a few hundred metres down stream until the water stopped bubbling. Neon coloured Kingfishers flitted at the riverbank as huge eagles slowly circled above, snake-headed egrets flew by, all the signs were good for a clutch of fish. I caught a stick. But I did enjoy myself.
That night as we set up for bed, we noticed that someone had attempted to break into the van, we don't know where or when, but the metal around the window had been levered and buckled as had the the frame around the insect net. 9 months in some of the poorest countries in the planet and nothing. 5 days in Australia and this. What a strange world.
No time for moping, off to Kununurra.