a blog about seeing the world

Archive for July, 2011

Lazy days in croc country

Kakadu is everything a national park should be: a massive and untouched sanctuary for diverse wildlife, a site to experience ancient culture, holder of some awe-inspiring scenery and natural beauty. At 20,000 square kilometers, it is Australia’s largest park, and is highly revered in guidebooks and the mountains of tourist literature that piled up in our car. Unlike past parks where we’ve had hikes planned and sites to see, the three days we reserved for Kakadu were refreshingly blank of an itinerary, aside from exploration.

One thing was for sure— after slogging along the Tabletop Track, we were more than ready for some lazy sightseeing featuring very short, very flat walks down paved paths. In the park’s excellent visitor’s guide, we highlighted trails clocking in under two kilometers and gave stars to the ones featuring a decimal point in front. Anything requiring footwear more substantial than flip-flops was out of the question. This was going to be an enjoyable three days.

Kakadu is known for its lovely and life-sustaining wetlands, home to countless birds and fish, turtles, snakes and— possibly the scariest animal ever—estuarine crocodiles. Signs everywhere warn you not to enter or even get close to the water, frightening you off with a depiction of a toothy and malevolent-looking croc, jaws wide open ready to gobble you up should you dip a toe in the river.

The scary part is that in Australia, warning signs mean something. People have met their early and unpleasant ends due to croc attacks inside the park, and the stories are too common and too gruesome for comfort.

We wanted to see one from a safe distance, and were on the lookout.

On our first day, we spotted a massive yet disappointingly docile-looking fellow on the far side of the river, resting in the heat of the day. While impressively long and powerful looking, we wanted action, preferably involving him lunging up to eat a bird or annoying child.

Kakadu is also famous for several extensive Aboriginal rock painting sites—something I’ve been wanting to see since we arrived in Australia. Painted in layers of ochre, pale cream, and deep red, the drawings depict several aspects of daily life—mostly, it seemed, dinner. Barramundi, catfish, ­­­­­­­­­saratoga, long-necked turtles and wallabies all adorned the walls and roofs of caves at Ubirr, painted in a distinctive X-ray style. Since people often painted over other images, the older images we could see date back to somewhere the last 2,000 years. It was way cooler than we expected.

After looking at several sites, we clambered up to the lookout. A wide floodplain extended below us, bright green except for a few lingering expanses of sparkling blue water. Reddish rocky outcroppings rose in the distance, and several dark green trees studded the plain. The occasional white bird or kite flew above the plain, and a vibrant blue sky spread above. We stayed up there for a long time, captivated by the colors, staring out at the plain as other visitors came and went.