I had arrived in Darwin only 5 days before my 32nd birthday. Alone in a state I had never been to I thought, ok how can I avoid having a birthday alone which could lead to a pity party. “Angela you were in the top end of Australia! An incredibly beautiful place full of mystery and wonder! How could you have been sad?” It is easy after incredible soul warming trips, like driving 9000km around WA to NT, to feel the need for loved ones around you, especially on your birthday. But with lockdowns all over Australia and my visa ending in two months I knew going home was in my approaching future. I was here now and I needed to focus on the present.
Driving over and up from Broome I had skipped Kakadu National Park because of its vast size and mostly unsealed roads. Now seemed like the perfect time to head there. The hostel was sold out for the weekend anyways so I needed a place to sleep.
The benefits of spontaneous travel during a pandemic, in a country like Australia that would close a state boarder in 6-12 hours, was that tours had space regularly from cancelations. After researching a variety of tours I found one that had a couple cancelations from Victoria (obviously). I chatted with the tour operator, he offered to throw in a sleeping bag for me at no cost as an early birthday present, joking maybe he’d get a chocolate cake too. With that arranged I booked this party hostel for a week on the return of the trip. The tour would pick me up here, I could lock up all my clothes, computers etc in the hostel’s locker room, leave my food in the fridge head off for 3 days and return to the chaos of this place.
Kakadu is wild, expansive, and holds more waterfalls, hiking paths, or possibilities than most parks. There is no wrong way to see this incredible natural piece of the world. But here is what I saw:
For all my friends who do not know what a billabong is, besides a retail store, it is a body of water that based on the season can connect to the ocean. The Northern Territory has these everywhere. When the monsoon season comes everything becomes a waterway. This means that crocodiles can live anywhere.
On the Corroboree billabong we saw just how quiet a crocodile can be. Aussies call them freshies or salties based on what type of water they live in. They silently submerge underwater and there is no trace of them ever being there. We watched jabaroos, water buffalo, Jesus birds (that walk on water), freshies that were 3ft long, salties that were 7ft long, and infinite birds.
It was 9am and the sun had started heating us up. Considering I woke up at 4am for this pick up I was trying to get my rest stop espresso to wake me up to the beauty around me. Hands and feet inside the boat here. I was not trying to see a jumping crocodile today.
People have been painting art on these rocks since 40,000 bc. That is insane. Today most of the artwork you can see is 2,000 years old. We walked through the sandy floor rounding corners where rock art would be under an overhang protecting it from the elements. The main gallery had art across a 40ft long maybe 3 stories high rock wall. Depictions of turtles, birds, people, stories etc were scattered across the red rock.
Climbing to the top of the rocks around from one of the galleries gave you the view. Whether looking north, south, east, or west a different vista greeted you. Mountains, trees, lush plains, or rocky terrain surround each side separately like someone drew lines stopping each vegetation from crossing over.
From here we headed to our campsite for the night. This semi permanent structure became our home for the next two nights. Outfitted with a caged kitchen area, caged bunk bed area, and tents surrounding a large space for a campfire. That did not stop the mosquitos from eating me alive unfortunately.
The following couple days were filled with driving down crazy red dirt roads, hiking through jungles, and ending at spectacular waterfalls. See next post for those beauties.
On our second day, we had a golden hour stroll along another billabong called Yellow Waters. Here we learned any hoofed animal you see in Australia is a result of colonialism. The number of water buffalo around made me think that there are such crazy consequences to imperialism more than I think we would ever be able to analyze considering we are still trying to right the wrongs to humans.
That night was the day before my birthday. We sat around the campfire having deep conversations about where I had been and where I was going. I was not the only immigrant there, but I was the youngest and only one on a visa. My new friends were curious about my lifestyle and impressed that I had taken the risk to move alone across the world to experience something new. I stared up to the stars in this incredible National Park and felt like this was the perfect way to start a new year, 21/7/21 had a lucky feeling to it.