Monday, May 21, 2012

Australia Day Two: To Kakadu!

On our second day in Australia, we slept in to make up for our sleepless night the day before. We finally dragged ourselves out of bed, checked out of our hotel, and meandered over to the Esplanade to check out the view. It was a lovely one.
View along the Esplanade at Darwin

It was a beautiful day - a little hot, but we're used to that! The birds were out in full force, making the most of all the sunshine. As we walked along the park near the water, we spotted a bright blue bird in a tree. It was the pretty forest kingfisher, which looks really similar to the collared kingfisher we have in Singapore.
Forest kingfisher

After our walk through the park, we stopped by the Coles Supermarket to stock up a few supplies - after lunch we planned to leave Darwin for the more remote Kakadu National Park (one of Patricia Schultz's 1000 Places to See Before You Die.) We ended up roaming the grocery aisles a long time, pointing out Australian brands we recognized (Vegemite, Milo, Bundaberg ginger beer) and exclaiming over American items that we usually don't see in Singapore. Eventually we moved on to find a place for lunch.

As we walked down Mitchell Street, we made touristy fools of ourselves when we stopped on the sidewalk in front of an apartment building to admire a bird up in a tree. We even photographed it while people looked at us oddly. I was glad we stopped though, because it turned out that we were looking up at a very colorful parrot! It was a male eclectus parrot, preening away up there.
"Pretty bird!"

So far, we'd been surprised at how expensive everything in Australia was. Coming from two people who are used to Singapore's high cost-of-living, that's saying a lot! But prices in Australia were certainly high - hotel rooms were outrageously priced. Going out to eat was a big expense, even at a little sidewalk cafe. So when we found a lunch place that was advertising $10 lunch specials, we stopped there. The restaurant was Cafe Uno, and I had a good pizza there. Bryan had a burger and fries, but agreed that my vegetarian pizza tasted better. When will he ever learn?!

After lunch, we hopped in the rental car and made our way toward Kakadu. We didn't really have a schedule, so we took our time, and stopped at the first nature-y place we saw, a place called Window on the Wetlands. We stretched our legs and walked a nearby trail.
This is my "YAY WE'RE IN AUSTRALIA!" face
The trail was nice. There were a lot of butterflies around, and a lot of the small skinks we'd seen before. Every few steps, we'd see one skitter off into the leaves. At the end of the trail was an old well and we could hear something big rummaging around in the brush. We stood there for a while, hearts pumping as we waited to see if a wild boar or a water buffalo (both introduced to the area) was going to burst out into our path. But nothing happened.
Nothing more dangerous than a butterfly around here!

We went up to the Visitor Center and enjoyed their scenic lookout point. Bryan and I got very excited when we spotted some water buffalo nearby. We thought they were the wild ones that had been introduced and become invasive, but we drove out toward them later and realized they were on a farm and bound in by fences, which made it all less exciting.
Anti-climactic water buffalo, with his egret friend

As we left the Visitor Center, I went into my apoplectic I JUST SAW A SNAKE mode, but I turned out to be wrong this time. It was a skink that looked remarkably like a snake! I wasn't able to identify it, though - apparently there are hundreds of species of skink in Australia! I did notice that it didn't appear to be making much use of its back legs. A lot of the skinks in Australia have evolved to not use their legs much any more, and in some species all that's left are little leg nubs!
A snake-y lizard.

After our snake-skink encounter, we hopped back in the car and moved along. It wasn't long before we were driving into Kakadu National Park!
Kakadu-dle Doo!!!

As we drove along the highway, we were alarmed when we saw a small fire burning in the brush along the road. You can imagine our surprise when, a few minutes later, we passed a guy in a forestry services truck intentionally starting another such fire! But we were visiting the area at the end of the wet season, just before the dry season really began. I'm guessing that they burn some of the brush while it's still relatively wet to keep it from burning out of control in the very dry season. that normal?

It quickly became obvious that at some point in the past, a fire really had burnt out of control.

We'd gone quite a way into Kakadu when we spotted our first really exciting wildlife. A WALLABY!! It was right along the roadside, head down, eating. After our first one, we started seeing them every few kilometers. They were pretty skittish - if we slowed down, they bounded off into the brush. At one point, we stopped to top up our gas tank. When we pulled away from the gas pump and back on to the main road, we saw five or six wallabies gathered in a small open area. We stopped on the side of the road for pictures. They're just so cute!!
He's one of the species known as the "agile wallaby." I think they should be called the

We hung around for a while, watching the wallabies eating the grass. They were positively adorable, but they didn't seem particularly intelligent. If we made any noise, they would look up in a panic, but if we sat quietly for a few seconds they would go back to eating, only to panic again if we made another noise, as though they'd totally forgotten we were there. Silly wallabies.

When we saw a car coming up behind us, we pulled back on to the road and continued on our way to the Aurora Kakadu. We'd been traveling and wildlife-watching all day, so we were getting eager to stop and check in to our hotel. But we made another stop when we saw a sign for a lookout point at the Mamukala Wetlands area. We stopped again, and took in the lovely scenery in the late afternoon sunlight.
In the hide at Mamukala
This is perfect! I love water lilies AND dragonflies!
Dainty water lily

After Mamukala, we pushed ahead, planning on not stopping until we reached the Aurora Kakadu. Unfortunately, what we reached instead was a sign informing us that we'd almost reached Jabiru, which is about 40 km beyond where we needed to be. Somehow we'd driven right past our hotel! AGH!

We turned around and drove back. A somewhat frustrated half hour later, we pulled up at the Aurora Kakadu, which happened to be...EXACTLY WHERE WE'D STOPPED FOR GAS EARLIER! We'd even been in the area with the reception desk and bought our Kakadu park passes there, and never realized that we were standing about 20 yards from where we'd be sleeping that night. Duh. I guess we were just too distracted by wallabies and brush fires!

Anyway, we were grateful to finally be checked in at our destination, and we were happy to be staying so close to a place where we'd earlier seen a lot of wallabies hanging around. After we checked in, we hopped back in our car to drive it to the parking spot in front of our room. On our way, we saw...(ready?)...A DINGO!!!!!
Poor baby

This dingo certainly looked like he'd seen better days. He was hobbling pathetically along with his ribs sticking out, and I really just wanted to put pick him up, take him home, and feed him some Bil-Jac.

As soon as we parked our car and dumped our bags in our room, we went for a walk around the grounds. We quickly spotted some new birdlife - a large, very impressive sulphur-crested cockatoo!
He was keenly interested in us, and looked more intelligent
than the wallabies we'd seen!

We also spotted a bar-shouldered dove and (of course) some more orange-footed scrubfowl. Those guys are everywhere!

In our explorations, we even ran across a frog! That almost never happens! Unfortunately, I'm not sure what species it was. Any suggestions?
What a cute little guy!

As we walked, it began to get dark, so we headed over to the on-site restaurant for some dinner. It was pretty good - I had roasted vegetable pasta and Bryan had beef pie, but it was very expensive for such simple food. But at least the Bulmer's cider was reasonably priced! And we couldn't help but laugh at the portion sizes of the food - they were what we call "American-sized," that is, more food than a person should reasonably eat in one sitting. No wonder the Australians are up there with the U.S. on the obesity rankings!

We asked the waitress if it would be possible to order a couple of ciders to go. She said yes, but mentioned that she had to scan our IDs. When we curiously asked why, she explained that Australia has a database of "banned drinkers" - people who have gotten busted for alcohol-related offenses and are placed on a drinking ban for a number of years or for life. While banned, they can't purchase alcohol anywhere. I thought that was a pretty cool system!

After dinner, Bryan and I headed back to our room to get some flashlights. We were going to try our hand at spotlighting some wildlife in the area around our room. We hadn't done much night-time wildlife watching, so we weren't too sure what kind of luck we'd have.

At first, all we saw were what seemed like millions of spider eyes glinting in the beam of our flashlights. The spiders were all over the grass, and I felt like I was stomping on five of them with every step I took. Eventually we spotted much bigger spiders up in the trees.
This big, fuzzy one looks like a bumble bee!
And this one was about the size of my hand! Just what you want to see before
bedtime. Sweet dreams!

We had one more interesting find that night - the big, fat cane toad. It was kind of neat for us to see the cane toad in the wild, since we don't see many frogs and toads in Singapore. But for Australians, the cane toads are nothing but a headache.
Like an obnoxious relative that just won't stop crashing on your couch.

The toads were introduced in the 1930's in a misguided attempt to control the population of cane beetles. But the toads quickly proliferated and became an invasive species that threaten the livelihood of native frogs. Because the toads are poisonous and dangerous to many animals, they aren't commonly preyed upon. Australian wildlife agencies encourage people to catch and kill them - we saw a sign instructing people to put them in a plastic bag and stick them in the freezer overnight. It seems ruthless, but Australia has major invasive species problems, not just with the toads, but also with rabbits, foxes, feral pigs, and many more. They must take drastic measures to protect the local biodiversity from being overrun by these introduced species.

Eventually we made our way back to our room. It had been a long day, but a good one, what with all the awesome birds, frogs, and wallabies. We couldn't wait to explore Kakadu some more the next day!


  1. I love to read your blog since I find it so interesting how our approaches in visiting the same places differ so much. I usually enjoy the big picture; landscapes, river valleys, mountains, and plains, whereas you mostly focus on closer details, such as wildlife and plants. Although, in Kakadu it was impossible even for me to ignore the fine details and the wildlife, especially in billabong cruises. There were so many birds. I'm looking forward to the blog posts on rest of your Kakadu trip :)

  2. Tei- Yeah, sometimes I think Bryan and I got really caught up in the details. When we were in New Zealand, we were along this beautiful rocky shore, and we were on the lookout for seals and penguins. We came around a corner and there was just this stunning view. Bryan stood there for a second, looked around, and then said "Nothing to see here!" and moved on. I almost died laughing. Here's this amazing view, and Bryan's totally oblivious to it because he's so caught up in looking for wildlife! I still make fun of him for it.