Thursday, July 4, 2013

Camping in Australia - Darwin, Northern Territory {Part 1}

Malaysia has been naturally a more economic choice of travel for our family of three.  And we had done it many times enroute back to my hubby's hometown, Kedah.  The last trip we travelled to Australia (Adelaide) was three years ago when my son was only two years old.  The June school holiday, we decided to do a camping trip to The Top End - Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia. Yes, we packed our own tent, camper's blankets, mattresses, pillows, utensils, pots and pans. I am not kidding! How weird some may ask?  We did it in our younger days where the luxury of staying in a hotel was not an option for us in Western countries due to financial constraint.  Insofar, we had done it Australia, New Zealand and Alaska.  I was apprehended at first because I was not comfortable in sharing toilet, bathroom and kitchen with strangers.   I somewhat grew accustomed to it after visited some of the caravan parks/camp sites which were clean and so well-maintained.  And there was even a chance to spot wild animals nearby.  People generally was more friendly.

Why Darwin?   My son has a soft spot for animals.   When Papa mentioned there would be bird watching and sighting of crocodile, he jumped on the idea obviously!!   Hubby did all the logistic and itinerary planning. A day before departure, I was checking for the list of items to be packed and we realised Papa had forgotten to apply for Visa.  Luckily, the online application saved our day.  Despite the slight hiccup, all went well (we thought so) and next moment, we were jetting off with Silkair.  During mealtime, Papa then mentioned he did not order kid's meal for our son thinking they would 'automatically' give kid's meal for children. :(  Again lucky lady indeed did look after us!  A kid had given up her meal and hence, my boy got his kid's meal .  The air stewardess was also kind enough to arrange the kid's meal for our return flight to Singapore. 

Day 1: 2 June 2013, Lee Point Village Caravan Park
On arrival at Darwin airpot at around 4pm++, we picked our car from Budget operator and drove to Lee Point Village caravan park where we spent a night in a cabin before heading to Kakadu National Park the next morning.  The cabin was simply furnished.  It was equipped with the essential utensils, microwave and kettle. Bathroom and camp kitchen were shared in the common area.  It was Sunday night, we were hungry and headed to the nearest Casuarina shopping center.  However, all the eateries were closed except for the supermarket (which we later bought some cereals and fresh milk for tomorrow's breakfast)   We ended up eating Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).  This would be his first time tasting KFC.

Lee Point Cabin


Day 2: 3 June 2013, Crocodylus Park/Kakadu National Park
We had a simple breakfast; coco pops cereal with fresh milk in the morning.  Stock up some groceries from Coles supermarket Then, we drove to Crocodylus Park at McMillans Road, Berrimah.  Besides crocodiles and hatchlings, Crocodylus Park housed a variety of wildlife such as tiger, primates, birds and reptiles.  It was like a mini zoo. The highlight of the visit was to be able to hold a baby saltwater crocodile! I was quite reluctant to touch this hatchlings.  But I did!  It was cold, soft and fragile.  We later had crocodile meat burger with mango chutney dressing for lunch in the café at the Park.  It was huge! The size was equivalent to two McDonald ham burger.  Honestly, not really tasty though.

Hatchlings at Crocodylus

Next, we hit the road for Kakadu National Park , the UNESCO World heritage site.  We stopped at the Bowali visitors center to buy a park pass before entering the park. By evening, we reached Gagudju Lodge Cooinda where we pitched our tent at the campsite.  For dinner, we decided to dine at the open-air Barra Bar & Bistro as it was late to cook.  We order a grilled barramundi and Hawaii pizza that night.  We had a early night because we need to wake up 5.00 am the next morning to catch sunrise Yellow Water cruise.

Day 3: 4 June 2013, Sunrise Yellow Water Cruise/Nourlangie
At dawn 5 am, as soon as we stepped out of our tent, we could feel the chilling air and were overwhelmed by so many mosquitos waiting for juicy bite at us.  We had been warned at Lee Point and prepared the mosquito spray (it helps but still got bitten somehow).  Quickly, we brushed our teeth, changed and made our way to the shuttle van departure point which fetched us to the boat ramp for the Yellow Water cruise.  Yellow Water Billabong, Kakadu's most famous wetland, apparently is the best sighting places for birds species and crocodiles (which I think the Wetland Crusie at Mary River was much better.  Since it was all about wildlife, I guess it depends a lot of the timings and our luck).  Armed with binoculars, we spotted Whistling Ducks, Whistling Kite, Sea Eagle, Darter (Snake bird), Egret, Jacana and freshwater crocodiles.  Sunrise was not that spectacular to my dismay.  At the end of the cruise, we returned to Cooinda lodge for a buffet breakfast which we had paid in advance together with the cruise. 

After shower, we visited the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre.  It was eye opener for the little one to learn about aboriginal cultures.  Watched some short films.   Then we went back to Bowali visitors center again for more short films. 

It would not be complete without visiting the amazing Nourlangie Rock Art Site. It serves as shelter and canvas for thousand years.  Through the seasonal park ranger, we learnt about the complicated relationship of indigenous people, stories of the paintings like the lightning man and the six seasons in the park.  And he also shared the inspiring story about Jeffrey Lee, a hero, who protected his land from uranium mining.  However, my son was only interested in picking up stones and played with it.

To get a view of Nourlangie sunset, the park ranger recommended Nawurlandja lookout which is next to Norlangie Rock.  It was a steep climb and I was out of breath by the time I reached the top.  It was a cloudy day and photographers (including hubby) were quite disappointed not able to capture the natural sunbeam.

Nourlangie rock art site - storytelling by park ranger
Nawurlandja lookout

Back at the camp kitchen, we cooked spaghetti with bottled tomato sauce that we bought from the camp store.  Meatless for the night! :P

Day 4 : 5 June 2013, Jairu Town/Mary River
Time to hit the road again for our next destination, Mary River.  We had butter croissant spread with raspberry jam for our breakfast in the morning.  Before we packed up, we took a picture with our orange tent - our travelling companion for more than 10 years!!

The Orange Tent

We did an easy bushwalk around Bowaii visitor center (can't remember the name).  On the way, we also dropped by Jairu town where we had ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch besides a lake. I also had my first taste of pickle beetroot.  It was yummy! My son would attest to it.  I was curious about Gagudju Crocodile Holiday Inn and insisted to have a look.  I read that it was designed in the shape of a crocodile which can be clearly visible from the air.  However, we were not staying at the hotel.  Instead we were heading towards Mary River Wilderness Retreat & Caravan Park

We arrived early and swam in the pool.  This family owned resort has beautiful landscape and greenery.  There was a wallabies trail from a distance (that explained why we saw a lot of poo poo in the compound) and birds like ibis wondering around.  And green ants too!  A great discovery for the little man because the common ones we saw back in Singapore was black, brown or red ants.  We cooked spaghetti again for dinner!  With added hardboiled eggs, broccoli and corns.  Still meatless yeah!

It was pretty hot and humid at night especially inside the tent. Dear Papa was fanning my son till he fell asleep. ;)

It's not the end yet.  To be continue at Part 2....stay tune for more exciting adventures at Mary River.

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