Does anyone return from Kakadu without a story? I doubt it’s possible. Anyway, here’s one of mine.
My visit to Darwin and Kakadu a few years ago didn’t quite follow my visualised itinerary. The night before my trip started, I found myself talking to a few people who were joining me the next day. I think it’s a global thing: people who have never met before, in an unknown place, in a temperature that’s easily double that of our home town, find themselves celebrating this new, vibrant atmosphere. Mitchell Street in Darwin is bit like a siesta in Barcelona, but nearly thirty degrees all the time. It’s warm, sultry, and a long way from Melbourne. We weren’t the only ones who liked the vibe – the Australian cricket team were enjoying Darwin’s nightlife too. The night quickly got away from us.
Fortunately my new friends Jamie, Darren and Maria complemented my shortcomings by setting an alarm for the following morning, and a relationship of convenience was born. We jumped aboard the Adventure Tours truck and off we sped, due east. After an amazing Indigenous experience where we learned how to weave baskets, throw spears and play didgeridoos (badly), we reached the famous Mary River Wetlands for our afternoon river cruise. The sun flooded the boat and warmed the hearts of all on board; seriously, that’s how it feels for cold-climate dwellers that are slowly ‘thawing out’ in the northern heat. Our guide pointed out amazing bird life, the buffalo in the distance, and told us anecdotes about the flooded ecosystem of the Top End tropics. I felt myself drifting off, calm, content, a little hungover. Darren and Maria, sitting on either side of me, appeared to be following my lead.
Swish. My eyes prized open. The heart kicked into second gear. A sudden splash disturbed the calm flooded river, and out of the corner of my eye I saw it coming straight towards Maria. A silver blur, over half a metre in length, leapt out of the water, slapped Maria in the face, and landed at the bottom of our boat. Maria sobered up in an instant. The guide calmly leant down to pick up the too-large-for-a-plate-sized fish, and said (in a VERY thick Aussie accent), “Ah yeah, this is a Saratoga. This fella thinks it’s safer on land than in the water. Which means the croc’s just there somewhere.”
The guide then gave the fish a kiss and threw him into back into the river, to recommence his unfortunate swim against the odds with a prehistoric giant. “Guys, just another reminder – hands inside the boat… ah, look, there’s a brolga!” as he swivelled on his heels to point out a dainty Australian crane nearby. I had my elbow hanging over the edge of the boat, which I quickly folded across my lap. I looked at Darren, Maria looked at Jamie, we all looked at each other, and asked ourselves what actually had happened just now; our mouths were wide open, yet no one said a word.
Anything is possible in Kakadu; flying fish were just one of the many highlights of my trip. I’ve heard too many stories about Kakadu to know that this wasn’t ‘a one-off’ experience, and I’m convinced there are so many other moments that make every trip unique and truly memorable.
I’m heading back up to the Top End this week. I can’t wait to visit Kakadu again; I wonder what lasting memories it will provide me this time. There’s only one guarantee though – the best bits won’t be in the brochure.
Visit Kakadu and the Top End – and try not to get slapped in the face by a flying fish – with Adventure Tours Australia.