Another Mode Of Transport

Fri. 28th June 2019

On the airboat and ready to goWe’d given up hope of getting a trip on the wetlands in an airboat. The tours only run on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and even then, there doesn’t seem to be a set schedule. It seems that the airboat needs to be brought round from nearby (as the crow flies) Corroboree and the operator’s website and phone seem to be down. Last night, Carol on reception made a big effort to contact them but to no avail. Ah, well. We’ve had some incredible trips over the last couple of months, I’m sure we’ll live. Then, this morning, just as we in the final stages of packing (why do the contents of our backpacks always end up scattered around our apartment?) we’re told that we can have a trip at 10:30 if we’d like. Oh yes!

Never smile at a crocodile!We’re introduced to the skipper (pilot? guide?), Josh, a beanstalk of a guy and the latest in a long line of exhibits in the category of “you know you’re getting old when…”. As with the sunset trip the other night, it seems to be just us going out on the airboat. We aren’t that scary to be with! The airboat is essentially a flat-bottomed bathtub with a microlight-like engine acting as a giant fan to blow us along. Janet reminds me that we did take a trip in one of these on the Florida Everglades but that was a bigger and more touristy affair. As we board, Josh gives us the compulsory safety briefing ending with “there are lifejackets but they are bright yellow and crocs are attracted to bright colours…”

The watery path through the wetlandOnce we head off, we quickly move out of the billabong and into the expanse of wetland. I have to keep reminding myself that we are no longer in gorge country but in floodplains. As we’ve travelled up north we’ve gone from places where water is scarce, to perpetually wet (albeit with big seasonal changes). What a country! Here, we seem to skip from one open patch of water to another over grasses and reeds often seemingly joined together by nothing more than a series of puddles. The airboat just skims over all of it and we quickly lose track of where we are and which way the lodge is.

Shoot of lotus lily. Edible yes, tasty???It’s fascinating. Even if there was no wildlife, the sheer variety and beauty of the trees and plant would make the trip worthwhile. At one point, Josh plucks a lily and its stalk – the flower is beautiful, but Josh explains that the skin of the stalk is used by the aboriginals to make a (very strong) rope (for fish traps etc) and that the rest of the stalk can be eaten.

On the hunt and hard to spotThe one disadvantage of the airboat is that the roar of the engine means that there is no stalking up unnoticed on the wildlife. The buffalo on one of the drier patches didn’t want to play ball and pose for photos but, as ever, the crocs don’t care they’re either building up their body temperature lying out in the sun or in hunting mode, gliding along with just nostrils, eyes and ears poking above the water. They also have vibration sensors under their skins and these are sufficiently sensitive that they can tell exactly what type of animal is having a drink on the shore.

Jabiru about to take offThe time just flies by, but just as we are about to head for home, Josh spots a Jabiru standing on a log. Astonishingly, as we roar over, it doesn’t move – whether it is enjoying the sunshine or fishing we aren’t sure but it isn’t bothered by us and we’re able to have our clearest view yet (and best photographs) of the bird that is iconic for the area. Very good of it to pose for us before taking off so that Janet can get an action shot too.

Darter drying his wingsBefore we left, we’d been warned that we’d be grinning from ear to ear with the airboat trip, and so it turned out to be. Indeed, we were still buzzing for the rest of the day. Somehow it seems appropriate to save one of the best trips we’ve ever had to the end of our journey up through Australia. We’ll be in Darwin tonight and then just the cities of Brisbane and Hong Kong before we return to the UK so this is the end of our time in Outback Australia. A great finale and, by my count, the ninth mode of transport we’ve taken in our time here.

Bridge over the Mary RiverIt’s only a couple of hours drive to Darwin, but we aren’t in a rush – trying to postpone the end of our drive north as much as anything – and so we look for some distractions. The bridge over the Mary River doesn’t really do anything for us nor does the Corroboree tavern (think transport cafe). We do better down at Corroboree billabong though. There are cruises on the billabong from here which we’d probably have taken if the airboat trip hadn’t happened. Although we’ve heard good things about this cruise, it wouldn’t, couldn’t have matched the airboat. Instead, we find a shady spot for lunch and try to finish up the contents of the Beast’s fridge and try to deflect the sense of an ending that we both feel.

Its not the size of your lens that counts...Moving along again, there’s only one more place on our list – Fogg Dam. I’d expected a traditional dam holding back a large body of water on one side and precipitous drop on the other. Nope, this is a much smaller, simpler affair in the wetlands set up to try to provide some water management for rice farmers. As we knew from the museum in Katherine, rice farming wasn’t successful and so the area is a nature reserve – to the extent that there are signs all along the ‘wall’ of the dam prohibiting walking due to the dangers of crocodiles. Strangely, though, the viewing platforms weren’t shut off and so we had to stop and have a look. Just one more egret photo!

Yes, another egret. But pretty, pretty!As we get closer to Darwin, the traffic builds up and we see strange things like traffic lights and dual carriageways. This is easily the biggest (well, only) city that we’ve been in since Perth and is a distinct shock after the quiet that we’ve had for the last few weeks. When we get to our apartment for the next 3 nights, there is underground parking – but the Beast is too tall to fit under the entrance way. Fortunately, Janet was outside and spotted that there was going to be a problem – and even more fortunately, the on-street parking is free all weekend after 5pm on Fridays and it is 5:15 as we pull up. After that, it is just the small matter of emptying all of our clobber from the Beast. We have no idea how we are going to fit it all in our backpacks but that is a problem for a couple of days time – we just savour the memories of that fabulous airboat trip.

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