Crossing East Alligator River at Cahills

Day 469 – Day 477: Jungle Camp – Smith Point, Garig Gunak Barlu N.P

Sunday, 14 to Monday 22 September 2014                                                     667.1kms

On Sunday morning, it was moving day. The 85km drive back to the highway took us 2 ½ hours. The scenery varies a lot and all of it is beautiful. There are pockets of rainforest and swamp lands, through to dry floodplains with nothing but cracked earth. The day was hot, and already in the early morning, we could see heat haze over the land.

We stayed at Merl campground in Kakadu for 2 nights. After setting up camp on the Sunday, we enjoyed a lovely cool shower which brought a welcome relief. In the afternoon we went to Cahills Crossing on the East Alligator River where Nath tried his hand at fishing, but caught nothing. We saw plenty of saltwater crocodiles though, just like the last time we were here. I met a lady, who turned out to be the doctor at Maningrida in Arnhem Land. While we were chatting, she told me her family had just returned from a wedding at Cobourg Peninsula and it was her favourite place in all of Australia and there were huge shells. When Nath finished his fishing, I told him what this lady had said, and it was decided, we had to go and have a look.

The next morning we headed into Jabiru for a few supplies, fuel and to wait for our permit to Garig Gunak Barlu National Park to be approved. We enjoyed a bakery lunch and they are the cheapest meat pies and sausage rolls we have had in a long time. $3.70 for a pie! We were supposed to be basket weaving in the afternoon, but it was cancelled for Ceremony. That was the only reason we had come back to Kakadu was so I could finally learn to basket weave. But, that wasn’t to be, again.

On Tuesday morning, we packed up really early to catch the low tide, plus we knew we had a long drive ahead of us. We crossed Cahills Crossing at 8.57am and headed onto Oenpelli Road and there was almost no water over it thankfully. And no crocodiles!

Along the road we stopped to check on the van and something compelled me to look under the car. I noticed there was a piece hanging underneath and after Nath had a look, he discovered it was an exhaust bracket. Nath wired it back on, but we now have a big hole in the exhaust pipe and a very loud car!

Nath with the broken exhaust piece
Nath with the broken exhaust piece

Further up the road we stopped again to re-strap the boat as it had come loose on the corrugations. And then stopped again to strap the black waste pipe back onto the van. As you can gather, the road is pretty shot. There were sections of very rough corrugations, and then some smooth sections where it had been freshly graded, or had the tractor pulling 3 tyres to smooth out the bumps. We stopped briefly on a causeway at a billabong and Nath saw a barramundi from his car window.

The drive took us most of the day and we finally arrived at the visitor centre around 2.30pm. The visitor centre has a fabulous display of shells and historical artefacts from the first British settlers. After finding a ranger to check in with, we made our way to the camp grounds. We chose campground one, as generators aren’t permitted and it looked the nicest and shadiest.

In the afternoon we went for a walk on Airport beach which is the beach across the road from our camp. We found big shells, a turtle track and crocodile tracks! There is even a crocodile crossing sign on the road, and yes, it gets used. Every morning there are fresh tracks!

For the next few days we spent a lot of time in the boat in the Port. We didn’t venture outside the safety of the land as the wind blew up every day at some point and we usually pushed our luck too far and had to come back to shore in pretty terrible wind chops. One day in particular we were on the other side and had to make our way very slowly because they were quite big. To be honest, I was scared, and that doesn’t happen too often in our tinny.

The fishing was awesome. We never had to venture far from shore to find good size Trevally that fought hard.

We also found some bombies and caught reef species and estuary cod. Trolling we had a few big hits, and all but one Spanish mackerel busted us off, and it was my first.  And for the record, we returned all but the estuary cod to the water, as we just enjoy catching them.

On our first day on the water, we were over at a reefy outcrop fishing away, when Hendrix all of a sudden wound his popper in quickly claiming there was a massive shark after it. We told him not to be silly and that there was no shark and to put the popper back in the water. Well, within moments of him reluctantly doing so (he hates losing fishing tackle, poppers and lures especially!) I saw a massive shark come out of nowhere and go for his popper. He tried to wind it in, but too late, the shark was hooked. I instantly grabbed his rod as it buckled over and was about to go flying out of the boat with Hendrix attached to it. This shark was no match for our little man, so I had to fun task of trying to retrieve his popper. It fought hard and we had to chase it in the boat and also drag it away from the ledge so it didn’t bust me off. Finally, with a sore back and tired arms, the toothy shark surfaced next to the boat. We don’t know what kind of shark it was, and as soon as Nath said sarcastically to Hendrix to reach over and grab the popper, the shark decided it didn’t want to co-operate any longer, rolled over and snapped the line on its abrasive skin and was gone, with the popper. Hendrix wasn’t impressed!

That day we also had a salty come out to the boat, saw a pod of snub-fin dolphins, a couple of ginormous sharks, schools of fish, two turtles mating and a big manta ray!

This place is truly amazing and I feel very privileged to have seen it. The coastal landscape is stunning, the fishing and wildlife superb, the only downside is that we can’t get in the water because of box jellyfish and saltwater crocodiles.

A few days later when we were over the west side of the port again, the kids and I went on the beach for a look around. The sand was burning hot and we forgot to grab our thongs, so we bolted from shady patch to shady patch until it became too much for our feet to handle and stayed put under a small shady tree. Nath had gone off for a bit of a fish in the tinny, when I noticed, probably the same one from the other day, a saltwater crocodile in between us and the boat. I yelled to Nath to come and get us as we were stuck where we were and had nowhere to run to safety. It was interested in the tinny, so it followed him, cruising along the bank in the water, still between us and Nathan. I screamed at him to hurry up as he had to go out and around a big shallow reef. I told Elokin and Hendrix to freeze as the croc had not yet seen us as it was fixated on the boat. Nath came speeding into shore and we made a mad dash for the boat scrambling in and I pushed us off, while the crocodile was still happily making his way towards us. It was very scary and I felt extremely vulnerable. Once safely in the boat, I took a couple of photos of the croc before pulling out the gopro and videoing him. He didn’t like us chasing after him with it, but as Nath said to it “just remember, you came to us and hassled us, so now it’s our turn”. Maybe next time, he will leave the next boat alone.

Saltwater crocodile that came in to hassle us
Saltwater crocodile that came in to hassle us

On our last day we went for a drive along the coastal track. Nath found a small dead dried out reef shark on the beach and decided he would attempt to take its jaw for Hendrix. What a stinky hard job that turned out to be. He did manage to get it completely intact so we shall see how it fairs.

 Nath and the dried up reef shark
Nath and the dried up reef shark

We also saw a beautiful dingo which seemed to be rather playful and didn’t run away immediately like I thought it would. Nath tried to call it over like a pet dog, but instead it lay down on the ground. What an awesome dingo.

Dingo of Garig Gunak Barlu
Dingo of Garig Gunak Barlu

That evening, Hendrix and I went back to the beach for one final walk at sunset. We had planned on going about ½ before hand, but now I am glad we didn’t. Hendrix and I walked down to discover a huge crocodile track where a big fella had not long left his sunbaking spot to return to the water. There was a skin print in the sand which was extremely cool. We could see the texture of the crocs skin. Its foot prints we ginormous. Glad we hadn’t come across it lying there. We also came across a turtle track that had come up to nest.

Until next time…. Happy and Safe Travels.

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