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OFF THE BEATEN TRACK: Into the wild at Kakadu National Park

Join me as I take you on our ultimate Australian Outback Extravaganza
By Aswathy Kumar
“South Africa…perfect for wildlife?”
“How about Europe…so romantic.”
“I think we should do Philippines…heard their beaches are absolutely spectacular.”

It was my mother-in-law’s big 60th and we were finding it hard to choose a destination for our annual family vacation. After all we were a rather extraordinary group with extremely different ideas of what a holiday should be like. There was my mother-in-law a complete wild life enthusiast, my husband: the adrenaline junkie, my father-in-law, a devout food fanatic, an inquisitive seven year old, my daughter and finally me, a die-hard romantic whose idea of fun was sauntering barefoot on an isolated beach or enjoying a candle-light dinner under a star-studded sky. In short, an interesting mix of people with rather distinct tastes.
“How about Australia then?” Suggested my husband. “It’s pretty massive and I am sure we can find something that each one of us like.” And boy was as he right! Be it getting up, close and personal with the gigantic salt water crocodiles at Kakadu National Park and plunging into the scenic water falls at Litchfield to taking a romantic hike under the rainforest canopy at Daintree to snorkeling with some of the most exotic marine life at The Great Barrier Reef, this monstrous continent did have it all.

Part 1

Into the wild at Kakadu National Park

The sun had slowly started to set as we arrived at our very first stop, Kakadu National park, a 20,000 square km sprawling park declared a World Heritage Site.  A mere four hour drive from the closest International airport in Darwin, we were almost certain that we had finally arrived in the famous Park when the colorless highways and drive-in restaurants started to give way to scenic landscapes splattered with hues of green, scarlet and tangerine and the shrill sounds of thousands of birds soaring in the evening sky started to echo in the background replacing the annoying sounds of sneering vehicles.
Picturesque wetlands, embellished with white and purple lilies, characteristic of Kakadu told us that we were close to our destination. Home to over 2000 species of flora and fauna, I immediately knew that Kakadu was definitely going to be the perfect concoction of wilderness and beauty.

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One of the first things that welcomed us here, were the ’Beware of crocodiles’ and danger signs that were splattered all across the seemingly harmless wetlands, all deceiving us from the danger that lurked right beneath its calm waters. Northern Australia is home to two species, the estuarine (saltwater) and the freshwater crocodiles that are seen in plenty in this region to the extent that any water body that is not mentioned safe for swimming, is better left untouched.
But then again we had travelled this far and that too with my fauna fanatic mother-in-law, so there was no way we were going to leave without getting a sneak-peek. A quick meal and rest later we were walking on top of a wooden bridge, leading us straight towards the Jim Jim Creek, where we boarded our boat that would take us around the Yellow Water Billabong, probably the best and safest way to get up close to these monstrous beasts and experience wilderness at its very best.
Now I have seen crocodiles in plenty at the zoo and even gotten pretty close to a rather humongous one at Crocosorous Cove, in Darwin. But nothing would have prepared me for what I was about to experience in the next one hour. I still remember the feeling as we spotted our very first crocodile. It was about 4.2 meters and could have been easily mistaken for a floating log. But this one was in no way going to let us pass without letting us know its presence or establish its territory, choosing to move as close as it can get to our boat and slowly cruising along with it. “They like to taunt you and the crocodiles know no fear,” our guide said warning us not to put our heads or hands outside. Apparently they can jump up to a height almost twice its own length and cases of crocodile attacking humans were definitely not unknown in this wilderness.

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As our cruise continued, we sat, clad in our plastic ponchos, in a rather unimpressive boat with strangers, soaking wet as the heavens had decided to open up just then, imbibing the several stories of this original Aboriginal lands, our guide was narrating with much enthusiasm. There was the one of the rainbow serpent, considered to be the protector, source of life and creation among the Aborigines, believed to have created the hills, valleys and the rivers along the way it moved. Then there was another and my personal favorite of Ginga or crocodile man who once got badly burnt and jumped into the river to save himself and later changed into the sandstone escarpments seen at Kakadu.
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The less eerier part of our trip was seeing the innumerable birds that swarmed the water body. Be it the large number of magpies, egrets, jacanas and whistling ducks that had gathered around the tributary for our warm welcome. Kakadu hosts almost one-third of the total bird species found in this massive continent, not to forget the 2000 unique species of plants that make up for the fantastic scenery that unfolded in front of us. If still not exhausted from the boat ride and all the hiking and bush-walking that’s probably the best way to truly imbibe the spectacular, that is Kakadu, you can also experience true aboriginal culture and witness some outstanding rock art, dating almost upto 20,000 years old at the galleries in the Nourlangie Rock region.

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