So That’s An Australian West Country Accent

Wed. 26th June 2019

Final camping in the BeastSo, that’s it for camping in the Beast. We’ve had 11 nights sleeping in the roof tent and, I have to confess, that the experience has exceeded expectations on pretty much every front. The built-in mattress and interior space have meant I’ve slept as well in the tent as anywhere else – even been a couple of times where I haven’t had to make the middle of the night trip down the ladder. The camp sites have been very varied from our favourite in Maguk (with almost no facilities) to the huge and busy Cooinda and none of them make it to the top slots on our ‘worst places we’ve spent the night’ list. The fact that we only need an unpowered site means that we’re always going to get into our first choice of site. There’s a little bit of sadness as we pack the tent away for the last time.

Mamaluk WetlandsWe’re now within touching distance of Darwin – as we leave Jabiru the sign at the side of the road says Darwin 251km, a mere nothing in Aussie terms. Before we get there, though, we have a couple of nights in Mary River National Park at Wildman Wilderness Lodge, one of the most expensive places we’ve stayed in our trip (a bit more than the AUD12 at Maguk!). We’re not entirely sure what to expect as it was booked so long ago. Our hopes are for an experience like Hwange in Zimbabwe but our fears are that it will be like Nitmiluk which was tired, shabby and had poor facilities.

Red finch flitting about at the wetlandsThere isn’t a huge amount to see or do en route – it isn’t that far after all. Google maps comes up with a couple of places into which we poke our noses. First up is Mamaluk Wetland – another bird hide looking out over a stretch of water. Pretty enough but it’s no Marlgu (see Making It Up…) let alone a Yellow Water but we did spot this bright red finch flitting about in the grasses on the water.

Boat ramp at South Alligator River crossingThe next point identified by Google is the boat-ramp and bridge over the South Alligator river. This turns out to be even less impressive. This is the same river that we saw from our Yellow Water boat trip the other day but here, instead, of banks teeming with trees, flowers and wildlife there is just a grey river flowing between grey muddy riverbanks. With no shade from the sun and the ubiquitous Croc Safety signs out, there is no point having lunch here and we head on to the picnic area at the Kakadu Park entrance (exit for us). Thank you, Kakadu, you really have lived up to your reputation.

Our cabin for the next few nightsWe’re happy to get to our lodge sooner rather than later – we want to make the most of what we’ve paid for. We also hope that they will have some interesting tours and activities and we want to maximise our opportunity to see what Mary River and Wildman Wilderness Lodge have to offer. After a bit of a slow start (by the standards of really high-end customer service) we start to appreciate the staff and our accommodation. Our cabin is nothing like that in Nitmiluk – big, light, airy, modern – comfortable! And a view out over the airstrip to the trees beyond and we’re told that the wallabies will be outside later. There is a billabong close by that we can walk to and a guided sunset drive along to the fringe of the wetlands for a serving of fizz and cheese. Well that certainly is our thing and, so, we sign up on the spot.

Blue winged KookaburraWhen we meet up with Ralph, our guide for the tour, we discover two things. One, its just us going out, and two Ralph has a really thick accent – definitely a country boy and if he’d said whatever is the Australian equivalent of “Orl roight my loverl!” we wouldn’t at all have been surprised. We’re initially disappointed when he leads us to the big overland truck rather then the smaller, open-sided, safari jeep parked nearby. (However, we later have reason to be extremely grateful by this decision). Whilst there is a padded tunnel between the driver’s cab and the passenger compartment, the rumble of the big diesel engine along with Ralph’s brogue makes it really hard to understand what he is saying.

Cautious eating of the leavesWe bounce out along the track that separates the lodge from the next-door property – a cattle station belonging to the Sultan of Brunei apparently – and Ralph stops every now and again to talk about some of the flora & fauna. For example, the paper-bark tree that we’ve seen consistently since we headed north from Perth, is used by the aboriginal people in many ways including as mattress and blanket (it has been getting chilly at night even here). At one point, Ralph hops out and (with gloves on) breaks off a couple of long spikey leaves and then shows how the spikes can be stripped off with one pull and that the white part of the leaf close to the base of the plant can be eaten. We make sure that Ralph eats it first!

Our first buffalo sightingWhilst there is less bird life to be seen than we were hoping for, we do get to see first a solitary buffalo and then a family group clumping around in the trees to one side and then crossing over the track. They are big old beasts – the Beast would definitely come off second best if we hit one of them at any speed. They aren’t the sharpest tool in the box and apparently their eyesight is poor though their hearing and sense of smell are good. And, of course, they can run a lot faster than humans can. This is our first buffalo sighting in Australia and it really only leaves camels on our ‘like to see list’ (I think we are now too far north to see camels, sadly).

Sunset over the mass of lillies in the wetlandAs promised, the track ends just beyond the fringe of trees in front of the wetlands and we all climb out. Whilst Ralph sets up the table and lays out the cheese and champagne (technically, Australian methode champanoise), we look out upon an expanse of grasses stretching before us as the sun goes down. We can see the white dots of egrets (but, after Yellow Water, feel we can’t point them out) and can hear the calls of birds all around. We also start to hear the high pitched buzz of mossies and this snaps our attention back and we immediately feel the need to liberally spray ourselves in insect repellent. Also, nobody has ever proved that cheese and champagne don’t deter insects, so we tuck in liberally so as not to take any chances.

Champagne & cheese to end the day. Can't be bad.With the sun now set, it’s back to the lodge and to the restaurant for supper. Our concerns that this might be a repeat of Nitmiluk further dissipate when we see the dinner menu (half-board meal plan, so no guilty conscience about going for a pud!). I think we’re going to do OK here. The sunset trip out to the wetlands certainly reminded us again of Hwange – though with very many fewer buffalo and of course in Hwange then no one had the equivalent of a Bristol accent!

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