July was a pretty difficult time for me. I was getting closer to the end of one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life so far (e.g., living in Australia) and I wasn’t ready for it to be over yet. Taking a minute to self reflect – having to write about the end of my experience – might contribute to why I have procrastinated in finishing this blog. But unfortunately, the clock doesn’t stop and you can only move forward. So here goes.
While this entry will focus on The Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu and Litchfield, before I get to Queensland and the Northern Territory, I’m going to plug one of my favourite restaurants in Melbourne – the Moroccan Soup Kitchen. It is this great vegetarian restaurant that does family style shared Moroccan food. It was established by a woman was who a victim of domestic violence. It is a positive place that empowers women and that makes a real difference in the community. Also the food is amazing. This is a definite must go.
Switching gears, my gateway to the Great Barrier Reef was Cairns. I’ve been to Cairns before, it is a small humid city (almost like a town) that is focused on getting tourists out onto the reef. There are other things to do in the area – like visiting the Daintree forest – but I skipped all those things. The reason was because last time I was in Cairns – I really wanted to do a reef tour but if you don’t book a week or so in advance – you are SOL. So this time – I booked 2 or 3 weeks in advance and was excited for the big day! What was the weather like when the day finally arrived? A downpour. But – the reality is, when you’re head is under the water, the weather really doesn’t make a difference.
I booked a tour which made 3 stops on the outer reef. I was flip-flopping between snorkelling and scuba diving but decided the day before my tour, snorkelling was the way to go. Then what happened? I got on the boat and suddenly became a scuba diver. I thought to myself – “it’s okay, I’ll do 1 dive and then snorkel the other 2 sites.” That plan also changed quickly. This was my first scuba dive and man oh man was I terrified when I plunged my head under the water for the first time. I was having trouble breathing above the waves. How did they expect me to breathe underwater?!!! It was insane. When I finally gathered my courage and managed to get my head under water and down the dive line it was amazing. But, I was so focused on breathing slowly and trying not to die that I pretty much missed seeing everything around me. Hence, dive number 2. My second dive was a much more enjoyable experience and I’ve go to say – seeing the great barrier reef so up close was incredible. Sea turtles, little nemos, sea cucumbers, many many schools of fish and apparently a shark although I was too slow to see it. If this is something you have the chance to do – go for it!
The next afternoon, after sufficiently decompressing, I hopped on a plane and headed to Darwin in the Northern Territory. Almost immediately I got onto a bus and headed in the direction of Kakadu.
Our first stop was Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve. I was shocked to see how green and luscious the environment was. I definitely imagined the conservation areas outside of Darwin as being similar to the red centre. It could not have been more opposite. While driving along I saw a croc swimming in the waters (Kakadu and NT is famous for crocs – WATCH OUT).
We then headed to Marraki for a boat tour along the estuaries. Along the way we saw some huge birds and obviously more crocs and alligators. Did you know that crocs and alligators can swim in both fresh and salt water but they are “categorized” so to speak as fresh or salt water because that’s the type of water where they are most frequently found? No. I also wasn’t aware of that fun fact.
We then continued our drive to Kakadu National Park. Our first stop was at the Aboriginal Cultural Centre which was very interesting. We then walked into the park to look at some Aboriginal cave paintings. Often the cave paintings were created to teach a lesson – for instance about hunting – or to tell a creation story.
Like the Fogg Dam Conservation Area, Kakadu was also surprisingly green. The perspective from Nadab Lookout is incredible. It is definitely worth your time to make the trip out here.
The next day we went to Jim Jim Falls (Twin Falls was closed as it hadn’t been cleared for crocs yet. For real.). The pictures that you often see of Jim Jim with water gushing down the cliff is not what you can see when Jim Jim is accessible to tourists. Those photos are from the wet season. In the dry season, the falls are barely a trickle but it was still an awesome hike (even though I was keeping an eye out for crocs at all turns).
That night we stayed at Mount Bundy Cattle Ranch in little ritzy tents! The cattle ranch was gorgeous and so much fun. I will include a comparison photo from our tent the first night so you can see the improvement.
The cattle ranch had cattle (duh), horses, donkeys, and wallabies. SO MANY WALLABIES. I woke up at 4 am to use the facilities and was terrified that the wallabies would eat me (yes I know they are herbivores) but there were so many of them and it was sooo dark. Terrifying but I survived.
The next day we headed into Litchfield National Park. We started off the day by seeing the termite mounds. Litchfield has primarily 2 types of termite mounds – magnetic termites and cathedral termites. The cathedral termites obviously build termite mounds that look like cathedrals. They are these huge stunning (and surprisingly hard – you’re allowed to touch an old mound no longer used) formations that rise out of the ground.
The magnetic mounds are much thinner and are all oriented north south.
Later that afternoon we cooled off by stopping at Buley Rockholes and Florence Falls. The Buley Rockholes are so much fun and surprisingly deep in places. Where the water is shallow you can sun on the rocks while cool water flows around you.
On my last night in Darwin and the NT, I checked out the sunset at Mindil Beach and the Sunset Market. The Market is every Thursday Saturday and Sunday (? I think. I’ve always lucked out and it is always open on the days that I happen to be in Darwin). It is definitely worth checking out. There are some great crafts, eats and music. When I was arrived there was a musician playing the didgeridoo.