CROCODILES CROSSING: MARY RIVER WETLANDS.

Still in the Northern Territories, Jack flew us from Home Station and over the wetlands.  We were staying in a wilderness lodge overnight – and believe me it was very wilderness-like.  So cold at night, icy in fact.  We were prepared for day temperatures to soar to 50 dg C.

“I can see crocs,” we all squeaked simultaneously.  “Big crocs too! As usual there was some wit aboard warning about smiling at crocodiles so we swooped in for a straight-faced landing onto another airstrip, evidently cleared of scrub and wild grasses the night before.

It wasn’t long before we were all aboard another ‘outback jeep’ bumping and rattling along a track made for occasional visitors.  After about 15 minutes we tumbled out of the van.  We were drenched in perspiration.  I admit there was a lovely breeze where we’d stopped so I didn’t need to do what I did next.  Herein lies the lesson to all sweaty, exhausted, dehydrated backpackers and less intrepid tourists!  DON’T PADDLE.  Don’t even think of throwing yourself into the cool, shimmering water lapping over the hot sand.  I had spent a lot of time thinking about not doing this, but of course the heat had sort of shut my brain down and down I went to the water’s edge; glorious!  The water was as soft as silk and the temperature divine…..

“Come back, come back Lorraine – get out!”  Yes John had spotted me in time.

“I was only paddling,” I excused myself.

“Didn’t you see them?  Three sets of eyes had you in their sight.”   One of t

Watching from the river bank was Cedric.  Cedric is the oldest known saltie croc known in this part of the Wetlands, very big, very hungry and yes, he’s got many notches on his belt for human consumption and is the leader of the pack.  A tourist had been taken from this spot a week before.  Needless to say I sprang from the water’s edge pretty quickly and took myself off to a tree for shade.

There were a dozen of these hanging around.

There were a dozen of these hanging around.

Despite the start we boarded, what seemed to me, a flimsy aluminum boat to set out for the photo shoot.  All the pictures I’ve put on this post are Harry’s because he caught the bird-life so well.  My Samsung phone can’t begin to compete.

A Jaberoo in flight

A Jaberoo

Sea Eagle

Sea Eagle

Little Blue Kingfisher

Little Blue Kingfisher

This Jabaroo  left the water a second too late  before Cedric got a leg

This Jaberoo left the water a second
too late before Cedric got a leg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sea Eagle in flight

Sea Eagle in flight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The heat continued of course but it was more tolerable  out on the water  Oh yes, I caught three barramundi – all undersized so were returned to their watery home.  I was very pleased they got to swim another day, if the crocs didn’t get them first.

 

 

 

 

 

Where a day becomes a week, a week becomes a month and month is on the edge of forever

 

Kevin owned five restaurants in metropolitan Australia.  He’d long reached the top of his game when his imagination set him on a new path. I got the impression his idea was to continue cooking, but for a clientele who would eat what they were given rather than catering to the whim and fashion of urban diners.  He lives at the resort for 5 months of the year, heading back to Perth in the cyclone season but not before battening down everything that moves.   All but the foundations and basic building structure are destroyed by cyclones sweeping in from the Timor Sea.  JD stays behind and continues to shore up and rebuild as the weather calms.  The season opens after Kevin returns from 5 months in the city.  Now he advertises on the web for staff.  Applications arrive from all round the world.  From England to Ecuador, New Zealand to the Netherlands the young arrive to be trained in the chef business by a master.  If this was Kevin’s entire story it would be impressive enough but he is a guide to every accessible corner worthy of attention in the area, from the site dated as the oldest recorded rock drawings in Australia, to clambering over boulders lodged in cliff faces that lead to rock swimming pools 20 metres beyond the reach of crocodiles.  He takes us out fishing.

 

My reward for being stung by gren ants and clambering over 100 metres of boulders to swim beyond reach of crocodiles!

My reward for being stung by green ants and clambering over 100 metres of boulders to swim beyond reach of crocodiles!

Kevin lead us down into caves to see rock drawings that have survived 40 thousand years.

Kevin lead us down into caves to see rock drawings that have survived 40 thousand years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The pool (upper left) you sit in and watch the crocs basking in the sun on the beach below. Swimming here is in water of 27 deg and heaven.

Every day we return to the cornerstone of his enterprise; a fabulous meal.  The menu is a set one that encompasses the flavours of local seasonal food with the finest ingredients brought in from urban Australia.  These are his signature dishes. The meat and fish are cooked outside over a pit of licking flame and glowing embers.  Vegetables are cooked in the kitchen as are the sauces and jus.

Sarah is Kevin’s right-hand sous chef.  By the time tourists arrive a team of cooks is trained to prep the set menu each evening. Hors d’ oeuvres  are brought to the casual seating area where we gather each evening before taking our place at the long tables set for communal dining.  The kitchen, open to the restaurant, provides a stage upon which the team perform a well-rehearsed dance at the end of each day. One dances around another to taste this, add a little shake of that which is replied to by a pirouette back stage left to save a tea towel on the way to the floor.  Meanwhile Kevin moves gently back and forth washing  and drying an assortment of used utensils and crockery..  A Van Morrison song drifts from unseen speakers.  The performance ends with mouth-watering rack of lamb, a fillet of pork, or a catch of the day.  A mouth-watering dessert arrives to conclude a fabulous meal.

The restaurant we return to each evening after adventuring in the regions of Faaraway Bay

The restaurant we return to each evening after adventuring in the regions of Faaraway Bay

After dinner, anyone not ready to stumble into bed or take a shower under the stars, sit around the embers left glowing in the  fire pit  to talk about photography, travel, the night sky, fishing – anything but politics; we left all that behind!

 

What we stepped out  to on the verandah of our palm frond hut each morning in Faraway Bay.

The view we stepped out to on the verandah of our palm frond hut each morning in Faraway Bay.

 

 

 

 

THE TIWI ISLANDS NORTHERN TERRITORIES

 

Our flight north took us to the Tiwi Islands where we spent a day.  The islanders there are the oldest known aboriginals in Australia.  The live in a community that largely involves keeping their art and culture alive.  The artwork is intricate and quite outstanding.

[Picture of Tiwis]

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Artwork on the Gallery Ceiling

Artwork on the Gallery Ceiling

From the Tiwis we made a short hop to Darwin.  We stayed the night here in a Rydges hotel where we paused for breath overnight.   The next morning it was up and off to Faraway Bay on the Timor Sea.  Two hours later we landed on another grass landing strip that in no way prepared us for what was to come.  We managed to squish into a unique, somewhat aged land cruiser for a jolt and jump drive over boulders down to the wilderness camp.  There are just two means of getting to Faraway Bay; by boat or as we did, by air.  What we banked on being a 10 minute drive to the camp turned into a 30 minute negotiation of aforesaid boulders up and over a narrow road kept clear by the resort.  The term clear is an approximation of what you find.  Every cyclone that comes through will demand a re- grading of the road to provide access again. Being in such isolation brought the environment into a sharp focus I found exhilarating.  

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Kevin is the present owner of the small camp resort, but I’ll come back to him later.

In the late 1980’s two diamond prospectors arrived here in search of bling. They worked in the area for some time and had no joy in their prospecting.  In the early 1980’s they called it quits, concluding all the diamonds waiting to be dug  could be found by someone else.  Nearby the men had set up camp in a sheltered a bay.  They named this bay Faraway Bay.  They were loathe to leave the idyllic haven  carved out of cliffs and the turquoise blue sea that broke on the white sand.  A pretty beach was already waiting to be accessed.  Unfortunately the saltie crocs had already laid claim to the bay, but the idea had already taken hold; to develop a place where people with adventure in their souls, and enough money to get them there could kick back and recharge their batteries.  This enterprise was hatched twenty years before the onset of eco-tourism. The aboriginal of the pair needed little encouragement to get the project underway but after a decade his partner tired of the hard labour and lost the drive to offer warm hospitality.  Enter Kevin, a chef from Perth.  Bill might have called it a day but JD (Johnny Dark) stayed in the Bay.

 

 

OUTBACK ODYSSEY

We were a group of 10 (including the pilot, the tour leader and the tutor photographer) setting out on an ‘Air Adventure’ customized for photographers.  I was the only one ‘along for the ride’ so to speak.  Below: our 10-seater Cessna outback jet.

 

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I opted out of a lot of the photo shoots and workshops to do my own version of out back adventuring.  Some of this time has included languishing in chlorinated swimming holes rather than crocodile infested billabongs scattered along the way.  Getting out of bed at 4am to do sunrise shoots didn’t appeal unless there was some hiking involved so most mornings I’ve enjoyed a slow start to the day taking in the early-ish hour of morning rather than a pre-dawn call to arms.  The tour manager, John, has been brilliant and worked like a border collie to keep his wandering herd in check.

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We’re a multi-national lot; me the only Kiwi.   Dee-Dee and Mike from Kentucky (‘happy as clams’), Andrea from Melbourne, Graeme from Canada, Romaine from Minnesota and Harry of course from the UK.  Jack, our pilot is local from Melbourne.  I wonder what his first impression of us must have been.  After introducing herself Dee-Dee commented ‘you look awfully young – when did you learn to fly?’  He’s still in his twenties so Jack was the ‘I-phone photographer’ of our little group.

Ewan Bell is a professional landscape/wildlife photographer.  Ewan is an extremely talented individual.  His work is outstanding and I look forward to his daily roundup of shots that include a very different perspective to what I’ve been looking at all day.  Harry has been a keen student and the two of them get on well together, Ewan always keen to have Harry along on each shoot. So it’s up most mornings by 5.00am; for him, but not for me!  Needless to say sleep comes quickly for Harry each night.

Our first photo stop after Broken Hill was the opal mines in Cooper Pedy.  The name was offered up in wonderment by local Aborigines when they witnessed “white man down a hole”.      The area is still mined by individual prospectors today. Mounds of earth appear scattered over a huge area resulting in a lunar-scape. Oh yes, it was hot.  And there were a million pesky little flies.  And yes, ‘there was an old woman who swallowed a fly….. and it wriggled and tiggled and jiggled inside her.  I didn’t do much talking after swallowing that first fly.  Now my speech took on that familiar nasal twang. Below:private opal mines, Cooper Pedy.

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We kept flying North in one-two hour hops.  I became very fond of the little jet and only did we hear the pilot a couple of times mutter, “oh dear!”  This usually arose as cross-winds buffeted us on landing.  The remoteness of our airstrips were often neglected in his received weather report, but we had a lot of faith in Captain Jack – all 24 years of him.   From now on the air landing strips were either compacted earth or grass.

A two hour flight and we were right above the Kings Creek Canyon.  First stop – lunch; a very big Kangaroo burger followed by a delicious slice of berry pie.  And the food got better as we went on.

The King’s Canyon is an extraordinary land mass developed from wind and rain of millions of years.

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We were to come across land formations in the Bungle Bungles, and those within the Flinders Range that are often photographed or documented on television.  In no way are you prepared for the emotional impact the land has on you, and you are so alive here in a landscape of sculptured rock .

 

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20140612-_53C9123The Bungle Bungles at sunrise, and

 

sun up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The West Flinders Range

The West Flinders Range