We purchased the cheapest flight possible from Bali to Darwin. This meant checking out of our B&B at 11am then hanging about in a restaurant with our bags, slowly stretching our remaining rupiah over eight hours until our taxi to the airport left at 9pm. This life on the road isn't all excitement you know!
We bought some airport bottled water for the flight and then were told as we arrived at the gate that it couldn't be taken on board. So we downed the bottles and felt uncomfortably bloated. Our flight left about 2am and arrived in Darwin at 5am (it's +1.5 hours). Chris was very excited about arriving in Australia. It has always been a country he'd wanted to visit, to experience the genuine true wildness and explore the bush. However stepping out of the plane at 5am and being hit by the tropical heat at that time of the morning took him by surprise. We began to wonder if spending the next 24 days in a tin can crossing this continent was a sound idea.
First thing we noticed was the coating of red fine sand licking every surface. Then the availability of so much space became apparent. Building planning in Darwin seemed to be conducted in a most leisurely fashion as we had the impression of endless land.
Bleary eyed, more sitting around occurred until the campervan place opened at 8am. To our annoyance the van wasn't ready and (why didn't we realise) there were other 'extras' like insurance premiums to reduce the excess, payment for second driver etc. to discuss and agree upon. Finally we where introduced to the vehicle and set off to find a supermarket.
It was called Woolworths, it's not like the UK Woolworths of old as there was no pick 'n mix. The food prices are higher than the UK, apart from the beef steaks. Stocked up with more tinned food than the Famous Five off on a super exciting bank holiday expedition we set off.
Leaving Darwin we headed along the Arnhem Way to Kakadu, a 3.5 hour drive. It is the end of the dry season and very hot in the Northern Territory. It was 38C in the shade so Sarah was very pleased she'd insisted on a van with aircon.
The roads are wide, straight, empty and long. The landscape was drier than sandpaper which had been further desiccated hung over an Aga. The evidence of bush fires was prevalent. We later found out that most of these were managed fires. The landscape reminded us of Central Africa. There are many thin weed-like trees struggling through the blood red rocky soil and tall dead grasses are baked silver and gold. Termite mounds stand like grave stones. On closer observation they are in fact longitudinally finned, presumably to help with cooling. The view was homogenous until it was occasionally broken by crossing a dry creek bed or passing a sandstone outcrop.
After a while the heat and lack of sleep was too much for Sarah, who succumbed to dreamtime. Luckily coffee-addict Chris was driving.
Eventually we reached Kakadu National Park, bought our permits and settled at Merl Campsite in the East Alligator Region. The site was pretty empty. Chris liberally seasoned the beef steaks we'd bought. It was a real treat to devour a good slab of meat again as in SE Asia meat was always more of a garnish than a portion size. What a very pleasant end to our first day in Australia.
What a beauty - the van's pretty good too!
Three hours after leaving Darwin we enter Kakadu National Park - 20,000 square km of wilderness
Home sweet home - our first camp with a couple of stubbies to celebrate