Australia: Kakado or Kakadon’t?!

Sunday Sept 29/Monday Sept 30
Kakadu National Park is one of Australia’s best known parks. But it’s another several hundred kilometers, hot, muggy.. what to do? Is Kakado worth the extra miles?
After having seen it, we both agree: yes. If you have come from so far, you might as well go the extra mile and see it. We were disappointed with the landscape. It’s just more of the same: desert shrub, flat and long distances. There are more palm trees in the mix and it’s a bit greener, but also hotter and more humid. Wouldn’t want to be here much later in the year.
Much of what is described in the tourist books and brochures is only accessible if you have a 4WD or some rough car that allows you to go down bumpy dirt roads. However, there are a few short, paved side roads that allow you a glimpse into Kakadu. Two excellent visitor centres explain both the aboriginal way of life, their legends and ceremoney as well as the natural history side of the park. 
We stopped at a few view points but the highlight was two extensive sites of aboriginal art. As far back as 20,000 years (!) people have come to these sites. They roamed and hunted on the plains and in the estuaries of the rivers leading to the Timor Sea (Van Diemen Gulf). In Kakadu they had rock shelters, allowing them to spend the rainy season there. And what do you do on a blustery, rainy evening when it’s dark early and you have nothing else to do? You tell stories with your children and extended family around. And while some recalled events, and others explained legends, and the talk drifted to the hunt and the food you had – some of the gathered clan illustrated the stories. They did so with the stones and the ground colors that were in plenty supply. They paint them on your walls and ceilings… Little did they know that, thousands of years later, we would file by and take photos of their art. Thanks to the aboriginal interpretations, we are able to follow their stories. Such as the Rainbow Serpent tale about women coming of age. The yam-man who killed people and lessons about greed and honesty. Pretty cool stuff.
I was grateful that you are allowed to take photos. At Uluru everything is sacred so this was good.
Our recommendation: Kaka do!

Tuesday Oct 1/Wed Oct 2

The day started exciting. We were just waking up when I opened one eye and noticed the speaker on my side of the van. “Strange,” my sleepy brain thought, “I never noticed before that all the wires are hanging out of the speaker…” Then I opened a second eye and said “Holly s…!” I jumped out of bed. Thank goodness Kees was brave enough to attack the gigantic spider, which was draped over the speaker, with a steak knife. It unnerved us for the rest of the day. I kept glancing uneasily at the speaker but all seems clear now. I just wondered if his extended family had hitched a ride, too.
Then we drove. As usual. But this time we had the added excitement of driving from Kakadu to the town of… drum roll please… Humpty Doo! Can you image living in Humpty Doo? We wanted a postcard to commemorate the occasion and were told that the post office was right behind the gigantic statue of a crocodile. We couldn’t miss it.
We did. But drove back in hopes of finding it from a different angle. Which we did. Bought the postcard and continued on to Darwin. The capital city of Northern Territories truly is the Top End. Can’t go any further from here. At 38 degrees we did not galavant all over town. We strolled along the water front, then were thrilled to find the state library which was air conditioned and had FREE wifi. There’s a first for everything.

We are now camped at the backdoor of Litchfield National Park.  We decided to drive straight to the end of the dead end road through the national park, camp there and make our way back in the morning. A plan that worked well. I wondered why I felt totally lethargic until I looked at the temperatures… We have seen -50 in the Yukon but I had never seen the thermometer completely red to the top, + 50º C. The pool was the size of a rain barrel but it was enough to cool me down.
The drive back through Litchfield National Park was lovely. Pockets of rain forest (dense eucalyptus with palms), rock walls and suddenly – amazingly – there was water cascading down into pools. We soaked at one spot with many pools and little falls. Nice and cool before tackling another 250 KM back to Katherine.

Aliens Invade Australia

Wed Oct 2 

I wonder if someone ought to tell Australians that their country has been invaded. I don’t think city people will sleep if they knew the extent to which the entire country has been taken over by aliens!
Cities, networks of roads, amazing dwellings have sprouted up all over the Outback and beyond. Millions, no billions of the invaders have taken over the country. Termites that is.
All over Australia we have seen termite mounds, thousands along the roads, into the bush. In the harshest areas where humans couldn’t hope to live, these creatures thrive.
At first we wondered what the red stone peaks were. Ant hills? But they were too point, too stony. Later we learned that these termite mounds only occur in Australia. I guess when the Dutch and Spanish explorers first spotted the continent, and turned up their noses at it, the termites grinned and said “We’ll take it!” Now they own the lot of it.
From small red mounds along the curb, to yellow towers of over 2 meters tall – termite mounds are everywhere. I even saw postcards of termite mounts. Really.
But they are amazing. Like ants and bees, termites have a queens, nymphs, workers, soldiers and alates. Each has its own job to do. The termite is only slightly larger than an ant, sometimes called ‘white ant’ because their skin is so thin it is nearly transparent. Such a vulnerable insect couldn’t live in this climate if it wasn’t for their amazing architectural skills. The mounts protect the queen, who lives near the bottom surrounded by soldiers. Near the top is the food storage. The mounts are completely water proof (important in monsoon season!), fire resistant, and insulated. The have aligned their homes north-south so that it receives the least amount of heat and one side is always in the shade. Scientists have figured out that these ‘magnetic’ termites sense north-south. They are blind so they can’t see where the sun is. The mounds are ventilated to prevent fungi and bacteria from spoiling their food. The colors of the mounds change, of course, as the soil changes. They range from gray to yellow to fiery red.
Even the style of architecture seems to change per region. I wonder if what the termites teach each other, changes subtly until a whole new style is achieved. In some areas the mounds are skinny and pointy, while lately we have seen much rounder, wider mounds that almost resemble upside-down strawberry pots.  
We can probably learn much for these amazing insects. For now, it’s the most abundant species we have seen. Australians have a wicked sense of humor. They have taken to dressing up the mounds. There’s no other form of entertainment when driving roads that are thousands of kilometers long with not much else in sight but termite mounds. So we see termite mounds along the road wearing t-shirts, aprons, hardhats, sunglasses, even frilly underwear. I don’t know how the termites feel about this, but it sure gives us something to look forward to.

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