After an early breakfast the high bodied air-conditioned coach picked us up outside the reception area for a short journey to the local airport where a solitary Cessna waited on the runway. In the company of two other people we boarded the aircraft, and were soon in the air and gaining altitude for a flight over the Kakadu National Park. This was to see the park in all its glory as tourists were not allowed to visit the area on the ground.
Passing over a tree covered landscape interspersed with billabongs and rivulets, the scene soon gave way to low mountains of stark rocky cliffs. Over a dark looking river, the pilot pointed out a crocodile sunning itself one of the occasional sandbanks. Then we flew over a red dirt road that stretched almost to infinity in the distant haze. A lone car drove along it, throwing up a huge cloud of dust.
The pilot said through our earphones that we were going low to do some crocodile spotting, as the aircraft lost height and followed the great meandering river for some miles. Two or three sinister shapes could be seen languidly floating on the dark water, and the plane’s shadow skimmed rapidly over the river’s surface.
Gaining height we passed over the small town of Jabiru and could see the reptilian shape of our hotel, a pale blue against the sandy ground around it, and passed close by the huge earthworks of the Ranger Uranium Mine with its attendant lake before the arrow straight runway appeared dead ahead.
The next stop was to the East Alligator River for a cruise on a crocodile infested waterway, where the boat was driven by a wonderful, cheerful aborigine with the improbable name of John. At one point he drove the boat on to a small sandy beach and treated us to a display of spear throwing. Using a channelled piece of wood like a sling shot, he slotted the wooden spears into it and effortlessly threw them to the middle of this wide stretch of river. He retrieved them as we continued with the cruise.
Our dependable four wheel drive coach awaited our return and soon we were driving through this wonderful country as the driver gave us a running commentary on billabongs (rapidly filling up), crocodiles, (almost wiped out before the turn of the century), and aborigine culture, of which he was very knowledgeable. Then we arrived at a rock strewn landscape and climbed upwards to view aborigine artworks painted on the face of the cliffs, where some of the paintings are said to be at least 40,000 years old – evidence of the millennia long culture of these people.
Climbing further, we rested with our obligatory bottles of water on a flat rock overlooking a green plain, with water courses and billabongs shining in the hot sunshine.
Grudgingly, we wended our way back to Darwin, stopping on a high hill to watch the sunset, enjoying a couple of glasses of red wine whilst doing so.
by Terry Took © 2014
Terry Took was born in Yorkshire but has lived in Tynemouth for over 50 years. He spent 45 years in the Merchant Navy which included 27 years as North Sea Pilot. He then spent five years as a lecturer at the Marine Department of South Tyneside College.
He is now an Elder Brother in Trinity House and Marine Director.
If you have any comments or would like to contact Terry then please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.