A Great Raffle Win- Darwin For Only The Second Time

Sunday 24th May, 2015

With our Bourke Races raffle winnings (return tickets and accommodation) we flew out of Sydney packed into a very full Qantas 737. I had both my Apple devices tuned into the pilots navigation app, OzRunways, which provides your position and track utilising GPS technology. For an as yet undetermined reason the bigger screened Ipad is not engaging the GPS, but is fine with the map. Conversely, the Iphone works like a charm, but with the disadvantage of the small screen-so I used them in tandem. The maps are identical and the Ipad would be fine on its own if only the GPS was working.

It is a four hour flight, but given the mostly cloudless skies I found it fascinating. Was able to reinforce my rivers geography. Got a good view of the Macquarie and Warren town, the Darling and Bourke and thence the Warrego (Ford’s Bridge), Cuttaburra (Yantabulla), Paroo,Bulloo, Wilson, Coopers Creek, Farrars Creek, Diamantina, and Georgina.
Familiar (at least by name) properties we flew over and in some cases identified the homestead, included Latoka and Janbeth (Bourke),Currawinya, Plevna Downs, Malagarga, Headingly, Monkira, Cluny, Lake Nash, Austral Downs, Avon Downs, Anthony’s Lagoon, and Brunette Downs. Also got a good look (from 36000 feet) of the Katherine River and Katherine Gorge, which we will see from the ground tomorrow.
This is by far the best look I have ever had of the Barkly Tableland, which continues to fascinate me and which I remain determined to see from the ground, hopefully in a good season. I was pleasantly surprised at the sight of water in waterholes and swamps. I think the country is much drier east of our track.

After a long wait at the airport for the shuffle to depart we were fortunate for the Sky Casino Hotel to be the first drop-off. Comfortable first floor room with a lovely view out to sea. We couldn’t wait to get down to the beach and visit the Sunday market in the adjoining park. Lots of trinkets and food options. Afterwards we had an idyylic dinner in the Italian restaurant being part of the Casino Complex, watching a spectacular sunset.

Monday 25th May
After a 5:30am room service breakfast we were the second couple to board the tour coach for the Katherine Gorge tour. That meant we got a front row seat with big panoramic windows in front of us  as we headed down the Stuart Highway. The outskirts of Darwin are a series of what our driver/guide called settlements. He couldn’t bring himmself to call them suburbs as the landscape meant that they were quite separate. It somehow reminded me of developing China. You lay down a road and industry and accommodation gets built around it. The new AACo. abattoirs a very impressive building some kms south of the city centre. Passed lots of road trains with three of four trailers (dogs) loaded with weaner cattle heading north-no doubt heading for a depot prior to being exported live. First stop was the War Graves Cemetry at Adelaide River. Adelaide River a well presented little town with the war graves beautifully maintained. As usual one is shocked by the young age of all those killed. As you go down the Highway you pass a number of airstrips built by the Americans in WW2, parallel  to the Highway. The thinking being that the Japs would not recognise them as airstrips with the aircraft hidden back in the bush. Next stop was Emerald Springs Roadhouse for a late breakfast cum morning tea. Here we returned for dinner on the way home. Then on to the very beautiful Edith Falls, where Gail left her hat and water bottle on a rock after vainly posing for a photograph!

The country from Darwin to Katherine is generally “challenging”, a word used by Clyde pilots when encountering “shithouse” weather.

Katherine’s main asset is the western flowing river. It joins the Daly before flowing into the Timor Sea. Upstream is the Katherine Gorge which appears to be a significant water storage. From a water supply resource (irrigation) I have much to learn. I was very surprised at its scale, nothing like the impression  from the air. It is reminiscent of the Kimberley coast with towering cliffs and water 40 metres deep at the deepest point. (Photos to come). 

The trip home was a long haul. Drove into Darwin at 9:00PM-a fifteen hour day! But, very worthwhile. Again I was reminded of the value of “managing by walking around”. There is no substitute for actually seeing things first hand and talking to those on the spot.

Tuesday, 26th May

Today was designated a “rest day”. Had a leisurely breakfast in a chaotic, but pleasant Casino dining room and after it warmed up headed for downtown Darwin. Was so hot decided to get a taxi and walk back. Did some shopping-including the inevitable post cards and bought a few items. Gail has been complaining about my baggy unsightly shorts and the only suitable ones we could find were a horrendously expensive pair from RM Williams. This had the benefit of no other customers in the shop and undivided attention compared with the next door store where it was impossible to even get an acknowledgement! Their must be an opportunity for an entrepreneurial person to do some retail staff training. Darwin has a real cosmopolitan friendly feel about it with the Chinese and islander presence very apparent. The walk “home” was extremely hot, but only a couple of kms. As usual Gail’s thermostat didn’t work too well and she was pooped on arrival back at the Casino. 
We had our usual (second time) dinner as the sunset over the water then fiddled around writing this and watching TV.

Wednesday, 27th May

Another 5:30 room breakfast before again heading by tourist bus (front seats again) down the Stuart Highway to Pine River and turning east onto the Arnhem Highway thru’ Humpdy Doo (visions of Bill Gunn, Art Linkleter, geese and failed rice production)  to Bark Hut Resort. Considerable agriculture around Humpdy Doo. Was surprised how quickly we crossed the Adelaide River and came across the Marrakai Plains and some extensive wetlands. Visited Nourlangie Rock with its aboriginal paintings and a knowledgeable recitation from our vociferous guide.Thence further south to Cooinda Lodge then the highlight of the day-a barge trip on Yellow Water in the upper reaches of the misnamed South Alligator River. Teeming bird life, interesting array of wetland flaura and crocadiles galore. We elected to take the 55 minute fly over. Images of very large scale Toorale and Oxley. The most spectacular part was not so much the wetlands, but the sheer ruggedness of the Arnhem escarpment. We took off from Cooinda and flew over the extensive wetlands, then along the escarpment  before flying over the the non-operative Ranger Uranium Mine before landing at Jabiru. We rejoined those who stayed on the ground and then headed east again, changed buses at the Aurora Resort before the long drive back to Darwin. This trip was enhanced by a most efficient personable young female bus driver who managed to get us all delivered to our respective accommodation by 8:00PM in time to watch most of the NSW/Queensland State of Origin Rugby League match. This time a 14 hour, very fulfilling day!

Thursday, 28th May
With some misgivings we headed off on a 5 hour tour of Darwin sights and museums. First call a somewhat mundane visit to the underground fuel storages (tunnels) built after the first Japanese bombing of Darwin and never actually used. Then to the Aviation Heritage Centre from where Gail and I were the only ones to take up the offer of a 15 minute helicopter ride over Darwin city and immediate surrounds. We were so glad we did as it was a wonderful way to get the city in perspective. I offered the other passengers the opportunity of viewing our photos at $10 a pop to offset our costs. There were no takers! Inside the Centre was a massive U.S. B52 bomber and good examples of the various aircraft used by the RAAF over the years-from gypsy moths, sabres, meteors, F111’s, etc.
We then went to the old Qantas hanger for a display of old vehicles before going on to the Military Museum which was very well set up including a graphic “film” of the Darwin first bombing. Lunch was a meat pie from the tour owners favourite bakery eaten on the harbourside park at Fanny Bay across the road from Foxy Robinson’s mansion.

Friday, 29th May
The trip home provided another opportunity to view the country we had visited and the Barkly Tableland again. With the Iphone providing GPS position on the OzRunways map and with the telescopic lens attached to my camera I had a ball.Rather than repeat it all here I will put a link to my photos for the whole trip. Suffice to say that we had a good tail wind and spent most of the journey at37/38,000 feet cruising at over 500nts (1000kms) per hour. After flying over the Adelaide, Mary and West Alligator rivers and to the east of Katherine Gorge we then flew to the east, but within sight of the Stuart Highway for quite a long way.Flew right over Eva Downs and then Rockhampton, Alroy, Georgina, and Monkira Stations. Got a good look at the Channel Country rivers including the Georgina, Diamantina, Cooper, and Wilson before cloud and glare prevented further visual navigation.

So finished a most informative and interesting six days. Link to photos.

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