Alice Springs Desert Park

My last day in Alice Springs was spent in the 40 centigrade blazing sun at the Alice Springs Desert Park. An indigenous people run nature preserve and education centre. I had a great time seeing the animals and birds and discussing with the people their culture and traditional ways of living off the land.

Apparently my dress style is Park Ranger. Several older American tourists tried to ask me park info or make small talk about what a hard job I have in the heat. One lady went so far as to come up next to me and pull my iPod earphone out of my ear. I hope in my brisk retort I didn’t bring any trouble to the park, but I can’t be responsible for every American idiot on tour.

Kakadu, The Vivid Monsoon Rainforest

Just a 3-hour drive along the Arnhem Highway almost due east of Darwin is one of the world’s largest natural parks, and certainly as a monsoon wetland, a very different outback from the more usual desert landscape that the term calls to mind.  Actually, Kakadu was home to several integral “outback” scenes of the famous Paul Hogan Films Crocodile Dundee. IN any event, it is a fierce and beautiful land.

The tour group I chose was AAT King tours, and overall I have no major complaint about the two-day tour to Kakadu. As for small complaints, the usual: too many stops to spend money at souvenir shops, not enough time spent at the free National Park attractions (like hikes and scenic lookouts), but that’s touring for you.

On the first day we visited a small outcrop called Nourlangie, home of a short hike to several aboriginal stone paintings and a gorgeous backdrop of sandstone escarpment called lightning dreaming. I was introduced to what I think might be one of the most sensible of supernatural deities: Nabulwinjbulwinj, a dangerous spirit who eats women after striking them with…a yam. It is hot and humid in the tropical north and when we returned from our walk our guide told us it had reached 42° Centigrade with a humidity of about 85%.

After a salad bar luncheon, we enjoyed a guided cruise along the Yellow Billabong. A Billabong is a relatively permanent area of water in the ever-changing wetlands. At this time in the end of the dry season, this rather large Billabong was still connected to the South Alligator River. It was simply teaming with wildlife. There were crocodiles and birds galore. We had two very special events; first a 2-meter Croc swam along side our boat for a spell. Next we witnessed a Kite hunt out (and almost get bested by) a long neck turtle. IN the end the Croc went on his way, disappearing below the surface, and the Kite flew off to the tree line, to enjoy a hearty meal.

I had a nice evenings stay in The Aurora Kakadu Resort. A clean and friendly, motel with a welcome cool water swimming pool and a very nice grilled Barramundi for dinner, though not much else in terms of service or facility. Calling it a resort seems a bit of a stretch, but who am I to quibble.

The second day was another exciting and more demanding hike, up to the top of the rocky escarpments of Ubirr. This is one of the sites of the movie filming mentioned, and is also a very recent aboriginal dwelling area with many paintings and even some remaining signs of the life style.

After the hike we had another cruise. This one on the East Alligator which is the boundary to Arnhem Land, part of the Aboriginal nation and a place where few outsiders are allowed to tread. Our tour was guided by an aboriginal lady who showed us a lot of the uses of the river, plants and such, as well as took us for a 15-minute walk into Arnhem Land from the bank of the river. This was very interesting and informative, and I even learned enough to hunt up some bush tucker, the bush passion fruit, a small gooseberry looking thing. I was the only one in my group with enough savvy and gusto to make the attempt, and being a chef I brought back enough for everyone to try.

IN the afternoon we visited The Ranger Mine, one of the several mines licensed by the indigenous people, and in this case an open pit Uranium mine, which was also very interesting. I learned that the way they determine what is ore and what is slag is by having each dump truck pass under a giant Geiger counter, if the load has enough rads off to processing, too little and to the slag pile.

I am of mixed feelings about the tour. I think I could have hit all the same sites and more on my own, but It would certainly have been more dangerous, and perhaps less informative. If I had a travel partner, someone to back me up, the choice would be go-it-alone. But as an individual, and with people concerned for my wellbeing far away, I guess the tour option is better.