Arnhem Land Adventure August 2020

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August 30, 2021

Arnhem Land Adventure

Day1 Larrimah to Mataranka

Due to Covid 19 the camp of our choice was not taking bookings, so we positioned ourselves just an hour away at Larimah the night before. We checked into the caravan park at 9:15am and there was a constant stream of vehicles for the next hour or so. We were extremely fortunate to be allocated two of the three riverside sites for the next two nights. After setting up camp, we caught up on our laundry duties and then went for a pleasant walk alongside Roper Creek. After lunch, we walked 500m to Bitter Springs and the warm flowing thermal creek was a delight. Some of the group enjoyed a soak in the water, while others floated down to the bridge and then walked back for another dip. Some of the tourists had purchased pool noodles to enhance their floating experience. Back at camp we whiled away the afternoon reading, chatting, and fishing.

Day2 Bitter Springs, Mataranka

After a delicious, cooked breakfast, we drove the short distance back into the tiny town of Mataranka to explore and see what was on offer. The focal point of the town was a well-maintained park with statues from the book & film We of then ever Never. The Mataranka Store was well stocked with non-perishables and camping supplies, but it lacked fresh fruit & vegetables. The BP Service Station was also home to a thriving bakery style cafe. We had a quick visit to the Mataranka Hotel and had a great chat to the female publican, who keeps the locals in check with her firm but friendly attitude. We then drove to Mataranka Springs and had a lovely swim. The warm flowing creek had been developed for use by soldiers in wartime and had a formed edging of stone. We called in at the huge beer garden bar there to have lunch. Back at camp, we walked up to Bitter Springs again and most of us enjoyed a float down the creek to the bridge.

Day3 Mataranka to Mainoru Store

Before breakfast we walked up to Bitter Springs for one last dip in the beautiful thermal waters, which were almost deserted at that time of the morning. After we had floated downstream, we decided to swim back against the current and we loved the experience. Back at camp, we had breakfast, packed up, filled our water tanks and headed north. After 62 km we turned on to the Central Arnhem Road (CAR) to begin our Arnhem Land Adventure. First stop was Beswick, where in preparation for leaving the tar seal behind, we stopped to reduce our tyre pressures. Our next stop was Flying Fox (Jurassic) Lookout where we met a young couple and their dog enjoying the amazing panoramic view while having their lunch.We drove a further 30 mins up the road to Flying Fox Creek for our lunch stop at a bush camp area on part of a cattle station. After lunch, we went for a short walk to check out the shallow but fast flowing creek nearby. Our final stop for the day was at Mainoru Store, where we were greeted by the friendly staff from nearby Mainoru Station. The sprinkler system which was using river water provided us with green grass and shady trees. The facilities included two toilets & showers and a sink for washing up positioned under a covered area. There were also fire pits and a lovely timber deck with a view over Mainoru River. Later in the afternoon, we wandered up a dusty track to checkout the local waterhole with its beautiful reflections. We had booked ahead for dinner, which we enjoyed in the large outdoor dining area at the back of the store.

Day4 Mainoru Store to Baniyala

We left camp around 7am and stopped briefly outside the gates to walk over the bridge and photograph the Mainoru River. We then made several stops to view water buffalo and donkeys which were quite prevalent on that next section of road. The community of Bulman was very quiet, and the shop was closed but we did spy an interesting cattle yard chocked full of water buffalo. The scenery changed continually, and we passed through some steeper sections of road, where the country opened up in front of us. There were many dry creek beds and just a few areas with water on the road as well as a large section of roadworks where a huge corner had been by passed. We had a morning tea stop at the Goyder River under the shade of the huge concrete bridge. The road continued to range from excellent to very corrugated in parts however overall, it was better than we expected. We pulled into a small bush camp area at Buckingham Creek for our lunch break. The creek wasn’t flowing however there were a few waterholes left. Further along the road, we turned towards the coast and drove around 60km to Baniyala Community. Unfortunately, the shop was closed due a funeral and the place was quite deserted. Eventually Ross found the administrator and had a chat to him about the cultural experiences available in the area. We then drove about 15km in to Dholuwuy Recreational Area located on beautiful Blue Mud Bay and were pleasantly surprised by the spacious sites with shade & water views. Each site was big enough to hold two vehicles and had its own tap & fire pit. There was also a covered area with a sink and 4 cold showers and along drop toilet not too far away. We set up camp and enjoyed some leisure time, while on the lookout for crocodiles as the couple camping nearby had seen a huge one just an hour before we arrived. We had a sighting of two dolphins and enjoyed our first campfire since arriving in the NT and a beautiful Arnhem Land sunset.

Day5 Dholuwuy Recreational Area

This was the first of two leisurely days in camp so there was no hurry to get moving. While Ross and Ken drove back into Baniyala to meet up with the Community Elders, there was plenty of time to fish, read and enjoy an exploratory walk around the camping area. In the afternoon we all went for an excellent drive down an overgrown track out on to a peninsula where there was A huge repeater station. That track then led around the point on to a series of sandy bays with beach tracks. At one stage, we stopped to view two huge turtle tracks leading from the sand dunes down to the water’s edge. Back at camp, there was time for a refreshing shower and the hammocks erected between trees on the rocky waterfront provided excellent reading locations. Our camping neighbours caught heaps of fish including a shark and once again we enjoyed sunset and a campfire.

Day6 Dholuwuy Recreational Area

Although we had confined our walking to the higher ground of the camp, there was a family of campers who seemed quite at ease walking along the beach without a care about crocodiles. We went for another drive in the opposite direction however our beach drive was cut short because we were not able to progress past a traditional area used for male initiation ceremonies. The afternoon was spent fishing and some of the group returned to their hammocks until happy hour. We had another enjoyable meal around the campfire.

Day7 Dholuwuy to Banambarrna (Rainbow Cliffs)

We farewelled our scenic camp in Blue Mud Bay and headed north to Nhulunbuy. First stop was to photograph the beautiful cycads that were sprouting everywhere after some burning off. Next, we drove in to see the Giddy River campsite, which was very scenic and even included some small waterfalls. We continued on a well graded dirt road into Nhulunbuy and went to Gove Boat Club for lunch in the beer garden overlooking a beautiful turquoise bay. After a quick trip into the thriving Nhulunbuy township for supplies, we drove about ten minutes out of town to set up camp at Rainbow Cliffs. The sites along the cliff face overlooking the bay, were very large and quite spread out. Some of us went for a short walk to view the sacred Rainbow Cliffs site from a far. The coastline was stunning in the afternoon light, and we had happy hour around the campfire. We all enjoyed another homemade meal under the stars.

Day8 Exploring Nhulunbuy

After leaving camp at Rainbow Cliffs, we drove along the track to the day use area to get an excellent view of the sacred site in the early morning light. Our next mission was to travel south to Yirrkala to look at the huge Mulka Centre. This consisted of a museum section with a huge display of painted trees, bark paintings and basket work. There was also a special section with two panels of aboriginal art, formerly housed in the church during the early days of the missionary. There was a large selection of artwork for sale. We then drove north into town to visit the lookout and all the local beaches from Drimmie Head Road near the Gove Boat Club to Town Beach with its surf lifesaving club.There was an interesting walk from the beach out to Galuru (East Woody Island)and the views were sensational. We saw people fishing at Crocodile Creek and we had a crocodile sighting at Wirrwawuy (Cape Wirrawoi). Some of the group went for a refreshing swim in the 50-metre pool at the modern Aquatic Centre. Back at camp, we enjoyed the rest of the afternoon relaxing at our scenic Banambarrna (Rainbow Cliffs) camp.

Day9 Fishing Charter & Nhulunbuy

Wewere up bright and early for our drive out to Melville Bay Boat Ramp to meet Rock for our fishing charter. Highlights of the catch included a small shark, a mighty battle with a huge mystery fish that got away, a large coral trout and a stunning Red Emperor. We had a wonderful day and caught plenty of smaller fish that were delicious and added to our overall bounty. Rock said he would clean our catch at his place, so we stopped for a drink at Walkabout Hotel and ordered lunch there. Back at camp we enjoyed another relaxing afternoon before enjoying happy hour and dinner another campfire.

Day10 Banambarrna (Rainbow Cliffs) to Garanham (Macassan Beach)

This was the day we moved camp, so we had a leisurely start to the day. First stop was at Wathawuy (Goanna Lagoon) where most of us enjoyed a wallow in the shallow running waters. The grotto area with its eroded rocky area between two pools was an interesting feature. We also looked at the Wathawuy (Latham River)site, but it wasn’t as good for a dip. The track into Garanham (Macassan Beach)was a little rougher than those of our previous camps however the 13km drive was well worth it to be camped just back from another red rock shelf. There were just enough trees for shade and the ocean was a stunning turquoise. The cultural display of Yolngu stone pictures with its short walking track and informative signs is a must see at this camp. Our keenest angler caught another fish to add to that night’s fish feed and we all enjoyed the afternoon soaking in the view. Late afternoon a small rain squall hit camp and we had to retreat inside the tent for a while however it didn’t last long. We enjoyed happy hour, watching the sun go down, and another excellent fish meal around the campfire.The waves continued to crash into the rocks as the tide came in and we all took an interest in just how far the water was going to come in over the rock shelf.

Day11 Nhulunbuy & Binydjarrnja (Daliwuy Bay)

We made an early start to head back up the road to Nhulunbuy as we had booked a guided walk. David, who works in the crocodile and other animal management department was a wealth of knowledge and shared a brief history of the area with us before the walk. The Gaynaru Wetlands (Town Lagoon) was beautiful in the morning light, and we really enjoyed learning about some of the bush tucker in the area as we walked along. Once again, we made excellent use of the Aquatic Centre before having lunch in town and restocking our supplies. On our way back to camp, we explored Binydjarrnja (Daliwuy) camp which is located on the river and perfect for those who own a boat. During the rest of the afternoon, hammocks were popular for reading or dozing and the huge waves pounding against the rock shelf continued to keep us entertained. Although it was windy, the well-designed fire pits were once again utilised.

Day12 Binydjarrnja (Daliwuy Bay)

We awoke to a windy but warm morning at Garanhan (Macassan Beach) camp and were once again entertained by waves crashing into the rocks. We decided against taking the walking track as it was very overgrown, but we did drive up the coast to look at Numuy (Turtle Beach) and Barinura (Little Bondi Beach) before lunch. Most of us took a short walk from Barinura to view Yarrapay (Rocky Cape) from a distance and a bonus to the view, was internet to catch up on the morning news. The track in to Barinura was very soft sand towards the beach so quite unsuitable for camper trailers.

Day13 Garanham (Macassan Beach) to Mainoru

We left in plenty of time to allow two detours including a second visit to Giddy River Camp, where we had breakfast and once again enjoyed the scenic river views. The next detour was to Memorial Park, where there was a huge and stunning waterhole with sheer rock cliffs. After a dusty drive with a few road train encounters, we turned in to Rocky Bottom Creek for a lunch break. This was an excellent rest area, as it was clearly a part of the old road and included a lovely water crossing. Back on the road, we had several donkey and buffalo sightings as we approached our camp at Mainoru Store. Once again, we enjoyed the spacious shady green camping areas and the great amenities.

Day14 Mainoru to Pine Creek

First stop was Jurassic Park or Flying Fox Lookout, where once again, we soaked in the panoramic view. We then stopped at Beswick, where the friendly and informative manager of the art gallery showed us around. The intricate art work in natural ochre colours was stunning. He also gave us an insight into aboriginal culture and some of the challenges facing the local communities.Local artwork including clothing and jewellery was for sale in a separate building and some enterprising locals even had barista coffee for sale. After leaving Beswick, we arrived back on the tar seal of the Stuart Highway and had a two-hour drive north to Pine Creek. We were pleasantly surprised by the Lazy Lizard with its small campground, quirky tavern, basic supermarket, and pool.After luxuriating in the lovely warm showers and admiring the amenities which included basins and pull chains made from stainless steel beer kegs, most of us had a swim. That evening we enjoyed a meal at the tavern.

Day15 Pine Creek

We had a leisurely start to the morning with a delicious, cooked breakfast and an opportunity to catch up on laundry. Most of us went for a town walk, using the map obtained at reception and the town really had a lot on offer. Although much of the signage for the Heritage Walk was old and faded, we identified old, corrugated iron buildings from the gold rush era and visited the small museum.There was a water garden area with some beautiful water lilies however it was also home to a huge and raucous colony of bats. We found several cafes and wandered down to look at both the Miners Park with all its excellent gold mining displays and the Railway Precinct with its museum. We enjoyed the pool again and our usual happy hour was followed by an excellent meal thanks to a well-appointed camp kitchen.

Day16 Pine Creek to Cooinda

Driving towards Kakadu National Park, we stopped for a short walk to a scenic lookout point and then further along, we drove into the day area to seek out Maguk Falls with its huge plunge pool. Although the last part of the 20min walk was rather rocky and uneven, we all agreed that it was well worth the effort to see the stunning gorge with its massive deep pool. Some of the group swam up the other end to the waterfall, while others just luxuriated in the cool water. We were pleasantly surprised to find ample room at Mardugal One Camp and snavelled up several sites on green grass close to the amenities block. After lunch, we drove the 7km into Cooinda for a look at the resort and the home billabong. There was an opportunity for bird watchers and wildlife lovers to book the popular Yellow Water boat tour at Cooinda Lodge. After a refreshing ale, we had an excellent swim in the huge resort style pool. We finished off the afternoon croc spotting on the boardwalk alongside part of the nearby Yellow Water and a visit to the fabulous Cultural Centre which had the added bonus of being air conditioned in the 36-degree heat.

Day17 Exploring Kakadu

We travelled about 30km north of camp to explore the Nourlangie Rock area. The rock itself was magnificent and there was a short trail that provided us with both cultural highlights and scenic views. We saw rock shelters, numerous examples of excellent aboriginal artwork and the view from the lookout was stunning. Next stop was Anbangbang Billabong, which was teeming with bird life. Our final walk in that area was up to Nwaginwir lookout which had panoramic views of both the low-lying area and stunning Nourlangie Rock. We then called in at Cooinda Lodge for a few adult beverages, a refreshing swim, and lunch.Activities on offer in the afternoon included, the Yellow Water cruise, spending more time at the Cultural Centre and relaxing around the pool at the lodge. The anglers in the group took a short walk to the huge billabong back at camp to try for the elusive barramundi.

Day18 Mardukal Camp to Smith’s Point

We left early and drove north towards Jabiru over several bridges and past many waterholes and creeks with abundant bird life. Unfortunately, part of the drive was very smoky due to the seasonal burning off that is part of land management in the area. At Jabiru, we fuelled up, went to check out Jabiru Lake and had a coffee at the local Art Gallery. We then topped up on supplies, ready for our journey into West Arnhem Land. The tide was low at Cahill’s Crossing with its contingent of crocodiles, so we just motored through with only a couple insight. The rock formations were stunning as we headed into West Arnhem Land, and we stopped to view a huge billabong with an abundance of beautiful of waterlilies and birdlife. We passed by the turn off to Gunbanyala Community as thanks to Covid, it is now off limits to the public and the art centre has moved to Ubirr. The scenery continued to change but the road also deteriorated and there were no obvious places to stop. We passed over a couple of shallow water crossings with waterholes on either side of the road. Eventually about noon, we came across a ford where there was a shady spot to pull over for lunch. We were fascinated by the schools of small barramundi but every time they splashed, we went into crocodile watch mode. It took us another couple of hours over a rough road to get to camp. The campsite for tour groups is spacious, has excellent views of the turquoise ocean and great amenities including spotless bush toilets and hot showers. Site facilities included shade sails over picnic tables and designated fire pits. While the anglers were keen to get moving, some of the group couldn’t resist putting up their hammocks in the shade of the trees. Once again, happy hour around the campfire and delicious bush cooking made for very contented campers.

Day19 Smith Point

After a slow start to the day and a cooked breakfast, we drove west through the Wetlands area and although the birdlife wasn’t quite as abundant as we expected, the lagoon area was huge, and the drive was varied and enjoyable.Next stop was the Rangers Office where we were able to spend time viewing the displays and absorbing some fascinating information at the Cultural Centre.Some of the group walked down to the beach and checked out the beautiful bay on the other side of Smith’s Point. There were two yachts moored in the bay and the people came ashore in search of amenities not realising that they required a permit. We took the road out to Smith’s Point to look at the huge rock monument. Back at camp we had lunch and whiled away the afternoon either drinking and chatting or reading in hammocks. It was too hot for a campfire, so we just enjoyed our shared meal around the picnic table.

Day20 Smith Point Coastal Drive

After another relaxed start, we prepared a picnic lunch in preparation to explore the beautiful coastal track. We stopped at several beaches and took some short walks, ever mindful that we were in croc territory. We found and photographed a distinct and large crocodile slide. Both Point Kubler, where we watched a pair of Pied Oyster Catchers and Point Stewart were worth exploring on foot and we added to our extensive photo collection. Some of the group stayed on the coast to try their hand at fishing, while others completed the track west and detoured in to look at Caiman Creek. The views from the top were impressive but even more so was the creek itself which could be accessed by a small sandy track.There was a keen fisherman trying his luck at the mouth of the creek, however we all agreed that as scenic as it was, the mangrove section was an ideal croc habitat. Later that afternoon, we took our happy hour supplies to Smith Point itself to enjoy our last beautiful West Arnhem Land sunset. After the sun went down, we enjoyed a BBQ meal back at our campsite.

Day21 Smith Point to Jabiru

We had a very early start for our long dusty drive back to civilisation. First stop at the halfway point was back at the ford and once again we checked out the baby barramundi that were hanging out there. Eventually the road improved and we started seeing some of the impressive rock formations that are north of Kakadu. We had a brief stop and leg stretch to climb the rocky outcrop where we had great views of the surrounding wetlands and rocky landscape. Once again, we were disappointed with the number of crocodiles to be found at Cahill’sCrossing so after a brief look from the observation deck, we drove to Ubirr to complete the Rock Art Circuit. Although it was hot and in the middle of the day, most of us went the extra distance to take in the fabulous 360-degree views from the lookout. Most of the group enjoyed an ice cream or a cold drink at the Border Store and took time to look at the artwork there. We then checked in to Kakadu Lodge in Jabiru and spent some time in the pool cooling off. Once again this site provided us with an excellent opportunity to catch up on laundry and meals were available to purchase for those who were keen.

Day22 Jabiru to Nitimiluk Gorge

At 8am, we called in to the Bowali Visitor’s Centre just outside of Jabiru, to check out the architecture and spend time looking at the fascinating and beautifully presented exhibits. Back on the road, we continued south to PineCreek, where we stopped for a meal break at an excellent café. At Nitmiluk Gorge (Katherine), we set up camp, spent a pleasant afternoon by the resort style pool and most of the group finished off the evening with a poolside meal. Although the itinerary provided time for booking an afternoon tour, those that were keen, decided to book for the 9am tour next day. We thoroughly enjoyed our two-gorge tour which included boat rides with a short walk in between and the morning light and reflections were stunning.

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