So Jamie finally got to do his Cahill Crossing on our trip. He was a bit sad when we left Kakadu without attempting it. It wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I imagined either. After our trip into Arnhem Land we met a couple at the Walkabout Camp ground and they told us tales of hermit crabs and swimming turtles and we were hooked. So out came the trusty Australian Road and 4WD Atlas and we made plans for a slight detour, by slight I mean massive. We currently could not be further from Port Fairy if we tried, in fact I think we are nearer to Indonesia than Port Fairy. But it was worth it. The Garig Gunak Barlu is a National Park and marine conservation site with large area out of bounds. They have six marine turtles – eeek!! Dugongs, dolphins, crabs, and apparently amazing fishing – if you have a boat. They also have the world’s largest herd of wild Banteng – endangered Indonesian cattle. You get a week long booking for a bargain $240. You just have to be able to get there.
The drive up started well and slowly disintegrated into the worst road we have been on, washouts, potholes – one filled with sticks and empty stubbies stacked on top of each other so you could see it coming and the occasional tree over half the road. On our way we passed a car on the side of the road and a guy wandering up and down looking for something. When we pulled in to check he told us the nuts on his wheel had unscrewed themselves and his wheel had shot past him at 100km an hour! He was hoping to find a couple of nuts to reattach it but had to settled for taking one off each of the other wheels. Jamie informed me his nuts are just fine but he’s happy for me to check them. I graciously declined the offer.
On the way we stopped at a river crossing where you could see the fish jumping. There were schools of little fish desperately trying not to be lunch. Jamie and a couple of others who had also pulled up took turns flicking a line out and the kids all got to reel in a fish.
Then one of the locals made a comment as he walked back to his car to be careful as there was a local crocodile who lived here. Kind of glad he made the comment after the kids had all caught their own fish!
The 260kms from Oenpelli took us over 4 hours of travelling, the last 100kms once you hit the national park took around 3 hours alone. But we made it, checked into the rangers station and found ourself a camp. They all had their own shade sails up and recycling and rubbish bins. Very swish! On our way into camp we passed this….
…..apparently we are living near a crocodile highway. But so far no crocodile had wandered into the campsite the ranger reassured us in the morning. The downside was she followed it up with the comment – “it’ll only be a matter of time before one does though.” Weeing at night has never been more terrifying, especially as there is a swamp out of the back of our camp. She was full of hints and tips as well as interesting stories. Apparently this area is one of the places aquariums come to restock, Jamie was asking how many actually come out here and the conversation went like this…
Jamie: So do many people come out with a license to collect creatures, you know for aquariums and the like?
Ranger Jenny: Oh yeah, we get a few….. well we have not had any for a while….you know since the last one got eaten by a croc….
Ranger Jenny: So what are you planning for the day?
Our first full day and we took a trip to Smith Point, there is an old settlement spread out amongst the National Park. They provide you with a map to all the little ruins dotted over the park, I read the plaque up at Smith Point and decided I had satisfied the ruin admirer side of me – she’s pretty small and tends to sleep a lot. Instead Jamie fished off the point – caught nothing – but did manage to slip over on the rocks and cut up his hand. Instead the kids made a sand turtle to bring us luck in our turtle hunting and I snoozed on the beach.We finished up the day at the beach just up the road from the camp. I bent down to pick up a pretty shell and it nimbly scuttled away from me. We had stumbled onto Hermit Crab beach. I have renamed it for them because it was filled with hermit crabs. Little shells hurrying away to hide under rocks and fallen branches or clambering up the side of the rocks. Jamie took to the reef to eat fresh oysters by the dozen while the kids gathered hermit crabs into piles for me to take pictures of.
That night we took a night walk hunting for nesting turtles, it’s not the season but you still get them coming onto shore to lay eggs. Apparently the week before a couple had walked the beach each night and finally managed to see one laying on their last night. Our first night was the best night as the high tide was early enough for the kids still to be up. We found turtle tracks but obviously old ones from a few days before. We initially thought they were crocodile slide tracks which made the walk all the more interesting!
We were meant to go on the coastal drive on the Sunday but instead Jamie was introduced to a section of the island with a Telstra signal. So we spent the afternoon with him watching Essendon play, I read and the kids watched a movie. The sun blazed, birds flew and not another soul appeared. After such a strenuous day we hermit crab raced as the sun set. Because really why would you not?
The coastal drive takes you on a 50km round trip down one side of the park and then back through the middle to the rangers station. On our first stop we stumbled onto a dead green turtle. When I say stumbled I mean it, we were so busy following goanna tracks in the sand we did not notice the turtle until we were almost on top of it. Lucky it wasn’t a croc! No idea how it died, there are slight claw marks on one side but apart from that it is untouched. We took the ranger out to it later and they dragged it back up the beach and put out motion sensor camera, hopefully we’ll get a great view of a croc meal at some point.
We followed the winding road, stopping at beaches to look for shells, spot sea slugs and turtle watch.
We ended up at Kuper Point for lunch and some fishing. The boys hit the rocks to fish and saw reef sharks swim through the channels under their feet hunting fish, a huge manta ray and even spotted some swimming turtles. Jamie caught a few fish – catch and release but makes him a hero to his boys!
We headed back to the Ranger station to catch up with what was happening and find out the names of all the shells we found. We topped the day with our final stop back near camp for hermit crab racing. Jamie hit the rocks for a light pre-dinner snack of fresh oysters when he spotted a blue ring octopus. A little creature that packs a powerful punch. It was one of the creatures we were warned about, along with Stonefish and jelly fish, and one of the reasons there is no swimming or even walking on the beach without shoes on. Downside of this place is swimming is a big no no. Then as Jamie cracked his last oyster he found a little pearl. Days don’t come more perfect that that!
We spent the rest of the week shell hunting and hermit crab racing – that never gets old. On our penultimate day we headed to Caimen Creek for more fishing. Jamie caught a spanish mackerel for dinner, the kids declined.
Our last day dawned and as we packed up the ranger swung past to say he had come looking for us the evening before as there were hatching turtles up at Smith Point. I think he missed us by about 5 minutes. Bit sad for the last day but as Jamie was quick to point out if we had gone we would not have made it back to Jabiru without running out of petrol – would have made for a stressful return journey!
Frogs aplenty for small children to coo over!!
Instead we hit the road for Gunlom, in Kakadu. I may have slightly lied to Jamie about the distance so we didn’t arrive until 7:30pm but probably for the best. Apparently it is a long weekend so we fell asleep serenaded by the tuneless singing of Wonderwall from a group of drunk British backpackers. Makes me proud to be English at times like this. Now we have a weekend of swimming in waterfalls and plunge pools before hitting Katherine for a restock and a van service. Apparently we have broken the suspension on the jayco – no idea how that happened!