15/08/2014 - 14:46

Kununurra to Rum Jungle

15/08/2014 - 14:46

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We’ve spent the past few days making our way from Kununurra to the Northern Territory.

Kununurra to Rum Jungle

We’ve spent the past few days making our way from Kununurra to the Northern Territory.

First stop was a drive out to the dam wall at Lake Argyle. From the road, you can only see a small portion of the lake but it’s still amazing in its scale.

There are grey nomads everywhere – we stayed in a remarkably cramped caravan park in Kununurra, with lots of long-term residents, lots of backpackers working on the horticulture farms, and lots of grey nomads. I thought we might get a break after leaving Kununurra, but no. We saw another caravan park at Lake Argyle, absolutely jam-packed.

The first thing we noticed after crossing the border was the speed limit – 130 kilometres and hour.

P plate drivers are restricted to 100km/h, however, much to the disappointment of my co-driver.

The 500km run to Katherine was surprisingly interesting – in parts. The Gregory National Park has some quite spectacular ranges very close to the highway. It was also notable to see the big rivers still had a good flow of water at this time of year – a big change from most of Western Australia’s northern rivers. Victoria River Roadhouse was the best place to stop for a break.

From Katherine we went out to Katherine Gorge, which was tourist central, and I’m not sure why. We didn’t take the full boat tour, so maybe we missed something, but from what we saw, it’s nothing special.

Edith Falls – which had previously been recommended – was a much better stop. It’s about 40km north of Katherine and a good camping spot. The falls are not spectacular, but are very interesting enough and lead into a lovely swimming hole. The area is very nicely laid out, with some grass and shady trees.

Litchfield National Park is about 200km further north, and is definitely worth a day trip. It’s a short detour off the Stuart Highway on all sealed roads, so it’s very easy travelling. Wangi Falls and Florence Falls are two of the main attractions – they both feature beautiful waterfalls cascading into gorgeous swimming holes. The NT has an abundance of these attractions – the nearest comparison in the South West is Serpentine Falls, which is nice but nowhere near as impressive.

An added attraction at Wangi Falls is the lush rainforest setting and the local wildlife. The area is home to hundreds of flying foxes, hanging just above our heads in the branches. Impressive but a bit creepy. We saw a couple of wild boar wandering through the bush.

Another natural marvel is the termite mounds, which stand up to six metres tall and are most often right next to the road.

Discovering Rum Jungle was an extra bonus. When I was in primary school, I collected a set of cards from Esso petrol stations, depicting famous Australian mining sites. My favourite was the Rum Jungle card, in part because I’d not previously heard of it (not that I’ve heard much about it ever since).

Rum Jungle was Australia’s first uranium mine, discovered in 1949. It led to the development of the town of Batchelor, which is now the service centre for the Litchfield National Park. And for good measure, Rum Jungle Lake, presumably in the old mining pit, is one of the local attractions.

Darwin stopover

We spent a couple of days at Darwin, enjoying a few ‘luxuries’ at a nice hotel.

Central Darwin felt like an unusual mix of busy city and large county town. There seems to have been a huge amount of construction in recent years, judging by the number of new hotels and apartment buildings. No doubt the Ichthys gas project, currently under construction just over the harbour, and the posting of US military in the area, have given the city a big boost.

Mitchell St is Darwin’s main night spot, and was buzzing with activity on the Friday night we visited. It was a cross between Northbridge and Freo’s South Terrace, with bicycle taxis as an added gimmick.

A big redevelopment at the Darwin waterfront has added to the hive of activity. There are lots of new apartments, cafes, shops and parks alongside the city’s convention centre. The redevelopment blends very effectively with the rest of the city, something Perth is yet to test at Elizabeth Quay and City Link.

The city was getting ready for its Fringe cultural festival, which is encouraging for a city of this size. It also has a great outdoor cinema by the water’s edge.

Darwin is a modern, attractive and lively city. We arrived at a busy time and actually got caught in a traffic jam at 9.30 Friday morning, as all of the locals arrived at the showground for the start of the Darwin Royal Show. Finding accommodation was also challenging – lots of places were booked out but we got a nice hotel room in the central city via lastminute.com.

Is it Kakadu or Kakadon’t?

Among experienced travellers in northern Australia, there is a lively debate over whether Kakadu National Park deserves its reputation as an iconic tourist destination. This divided opinion was illustrated by two couples we met earlier in our travels in the Bungle Bungle range.

One elderly couple said Kakadu was hugely over-rated. They called it ‘Kakadon’t’ and recommended we go to Litchfield National Park instead. This elderly couple also referred to tour groups as ‘nasties’ – something to be avoided at all costs – so I immediately empathised with their viewpoint.

Later that day, we met a younger ’20 something’ couple who insisted we should definitely go to Kakadu. The raved about Gunlom Falls, which feature Kakadu’s very own ‘infinity’ pool, Jim Jim Falls and boat rides along the Alligator River.

Whatever our differing views we all agreed on one thing – it’s a fairly long drive into Kakadu, and most of the driving is through dull countryside. The loop road from Darwin to the township of Jabiru and back to the main highway near Katherine is about 500km.

We opted for an abridged visit to Kakadu, partly because we felt like tourists to Europe who declare ‘not another church or cathedral’.

In our case, the appetite for waterfalls, gorges and the like had been well and truly sated. Another factor is that Kakadu is populated by saltwater crocodiles, so swimming in most places is a risky proposition.

We drove down the Stuart Highway and took the southern entrance to Kakadu. From there it was about 90km to Gunlom Falls, with nearly half that on a rough 4WD track. Bouncing along in our sturdy Pajero, I felt sorry for all the European tourists who hire nice Maui vans, and the backpackers in their Wicked vans that can’t handle the rough roads.

Gunlom was quite impressive. There was only a trickle of water running over the falls and the swimming hole at the base was average, but it got better after completing the steep 1km walk to the top of the falls to discover a series of swimming holes. It was a bit like an infinity pool, though the photos make that aspect look more impressive than it is in real life. While Gunlom was pretty good, we had seen much better attractions elsewhere on our trip, so decided that was enough of Kakadu.

After that, it was back on the road, where we discovered something completely different – the Pussy Cat Flats racetrack, about which I’ll have more to say in my next instalment.

 

This is an edited version of Mark Beyer’s blog post, which can be read in full at http://markbeyerontheroad.wordpress.com/

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