Monday, 27 June 2016

Half-lap Day 53: Timber Creek -> Keep River National Park

LiAM and I were up well before sunrise (although the sky was getting light) and decided to go back to the bridge to see if we could see any crocodiles – a guy had told us yesterday that he’d seen one near the bridge that morning. It was quite cool and LiAM put his jacket on. We drove down and walked out across the bridge. There was a mist rolling across the water and it looked quite spooky at times. We wandered all the way across the bridge – LiAM had wanted to do that yesterday and we hadn’t gone that far. We saw birds (little wrens and other small birds, and kites and crows) and some fish in the water, and a few logs and sticks and buoys that initially we thought might be a croc. At the far side of the bridge we peered through the gates into the restricted military area, and appreciated the sign that said ‘Do not touch anything you find. It may explode and kill you’. LiAM read all the signs on the gate about live fire and lasers being used etc.

The light was changing constantly as the sun started to rise, and it was so beautiful and peaceful. Great reflections in the water. We were about to head back over to the other shore when I saw a log down towards the boat ramp – but it was moving against the current. I looked through my long lens and while I couldn’t make out the shape yet, it was definitely something swimming. It was headed towards the bridge so it wasn’t long before I could see its scales and basic crocodilian shape – very very exciting. It slowly swam up the river, nearly under the cover of the trees on the edge, and through my lens I could see it swishing it’s tail from time to time. It was so silent, just gliding through the water. It turned towards the centre of the river and then submerged. We were talking about how exciting it had been to see it when it came up again near the middle of the river, parallel to the bridge. In the early morning light the spikes on its back and it’s bumpy head, which was all that was out of the water, looked like a black skeleton floating past. Added to the mist and the distant sound of trucks on the highway, it all felt quite eerie.

He submerged again and we assumed that was the last we’d see of him. We crossed to the eastern side of the bridge to get a good view of the sunrise on the river, and the crocodile came up again, on that side. We could see his wider snout and the definite dark colour of his hide and felt confident that this one was a saltwater crocodile. We were able to stand directly behind him as he swam up the river and could see the clear lines of his back spikes – he was incredible to watch. He swam for a while longer then turned towards shore, but didn’t get out. He turned again and headed across to the other side of the river then started to come back towards the bridge.

A man on a motorbike arrived at the bridge as well as someone on a bike. LiAM started to go over and tell them that there was a crocodile when he realised that it was Caitlin on the bike. She’d ridden up from the campsite and was happy to be there in time to see the crocodile. LiAM told the motorcyclist as well. The croc submerged before he got back to the bridge so we went back to camp.

It was warm enough now for LiAM to take his jacket off. We had breakfast and the kids wandered around camp chatting to people, patting the dogs and watching the birds, while Tony and I started to pack up. The kids found a lady who was selling her paintings on greeting cards. They talked to her for ages and bought a card each. She came over to meet us too and had lots of tips about places to go and things to do on our travels.

When we pulled the peg out of the ground water flowed out of the hole and down the hill. I spent ages trying to find a contact number for the ranger, and eventually rang and left a message. I would have preferred to talk to someone directly but no one ever answered the phone.

It was hot while we were packing up and we decided that it would probably be better to set up in a place that has morning shade, rather than afternoon shade, if we need to choose. We were on our way by about 10.30, and continued west along the Victoria Highway.

We’d been given a tip back in Mataranka that the Keep River National Park, right before the WA border, was pretty special. There were rock formations there which were similar (though much smaller) to the Bungle Bungles, so we thought it would be nice to see them as we won’t get to the Bungle Bungles. Our Camps book said that the road in was rough dirt, so we had almost decided not to go, then we checked on wikicamps and the reviews said that the road had been recently graded and was fine for 2WDs.

We drove into the park and stopped at the ranger station. They had a fantastic display there of all the types of things you could see in the park, and a map of the walks. I was thinking we’d need to do the longer walk, at the furthest campground, to see the beehive rock formations, so we thought we’d camp at the closest campground and drive further the next day. Talking to a couple in the ranger centre they said that the walk at the 1st campground was beautiful and had lots of those types of rocks, so we figured we might not need to go all the way to the end.

We headed off on the dirt road, which was occasionally corrugated but not too bad. We filled up our water containers at a drinking water station, and stopped a bit further on to collect firewood, then continued on to the campground. There was one sandy creekbed which worried us slightly, but we got through easily. We picked a spot (again, a narrow spot that we needed to back in to) that we thought might have morning sun (there was one better spot, but the car that had gone past us when we were collecting firewood, had set up there).

We unhooked the trailer and put it in place, and got out our chairs, then went and sat in a shady grove of trees to cool down, it was very very hot in the sun. The view was amazing – a large formation of red rocks rising up just near the campground, with lots of smaller beehive rocks in the foreground. There was a large rock right in the middle of the campground too, which the kids used for shade while they played some games and then they climbed it a little way and sat up near the top.

We had some lunch and spent the hottest part of the afternoon sitting and reading, chatting, doing puzzles and so on. After a couple of hours we set up the tent, then the lady we’d met at the ranger station came over and said there was something interesting at her campsite that the kids might like. They had an old termite nest next to their van, and the meat ants were destroying it, going in and out of the nest and bringing out eggs and termites. We could see how big it used to be (spread between 3 trees and as tall as me), now it was just a mound, only 30cm or so high. It was fascinating. We talked to the couple about their trip and ours, and about this area, and the boab trees (we’d seen lots today) and how the indigenous people had eaten the nuts and the seeds.

The sun was getting lower in the sky so we all got ready to go for a walk. Millie was reluctant at first so I said she could take photos with my camera, and once we got started I suggested she look for rocks that looked like animals – she found a camel, a turtle, and a gorilla almost immediately and was happy for the rest of the way. It was a 2km walk through the rocks, and it was magnificent. Amazing rock formations every way we looked, a range of plant life, lots of little valleys, and the big red cliffs, with holes and jutting out bits and interesting features, towering above us. Tony walked ahead with LiAM and Caitlin while Millie and I went a bit slower. There was so much to look at that no one complained about doing a walk or felt that it was long at all. There were places that echoed and the trail led gradually upwards so we were soon looking back across the woodlands of the national park. We were on the highest part of the trail when the sun dropped over the escarpment on the horizon, which looked pretty special. The walk led back down to ground level then through the brush back to camp, with rocks all around us as we went. It was very very cool.

It looks like there's a crocodile climbing the escarpment
Back at camp Tony started to get the fire ready to cook tea. There was a ranger talk scheduled for this evening – we’ve been seeing them advertised at every NT National Park we’ve been to, either talks or guided walks, but have always missed them by a day or so. So we were excited to be here for this one. Tony was just about to light the fire when the ranger arrived – he wanted to use the fire to heat the billy so that everyone could have a cuppa during or after the talk. We were happy to move our stuff out of the way and figured we’d eat after the talk.

The ranger showed us a slideshow and talked about all the different features of the Keep River National Park, and what the rangers’ role is at the park. It was really interesting and he spoke well. The kids asked lots of questions (as did other people – there were probably 30 people there) and he answered them in a lot of detail. After the talk the kids had a hot milo, and chatted to the ranger a bit. He’d been working as part of the crocodile removal team in Darwin until recently, so it was fascinating to talk to him about how they removed crocodiles from Darwin Harbour.

We finally headed back to our tent and had toasted corned beef sandwiches for tea. Caitlin had set up the green tent next to our big tent and moved Millie’s bed in to there for the night. There was lots more room in our tent with only 2 beds (Millie slept on Caitlin’s). Being right next to us she could still hear so I was ready to read Brisingr, then realised that LiAM had fallen asleep while he waited for me to come to bed, so we didn’t do any reading tonight.

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