Lake Argyle to Katherine and through Kakadu

Sometimes parenting can be a pretty tough gig and I'm sure many parents would agree, that it's easy to question yourself and to be your own hardest critic. We decided to go on this adventure and we hope that even though neither River nor Olive will probably remember much of it, that it will impact their lives in positive ways. We hope that it will form the building blocks to who they are and who they become in the future. That they will use their imaginations, that they will thrive in outdoor play, build their inner confidence, learn to be kind and gentle, have respect, fairness and responsibility. The list could go on. However sometimes we think about home and wonder if we 'are' doing the right thing by the kids. I imagine at times Rivers reaction if we returned home. Would he run to his bedroom screaming with excitement "my bedroom" ? Would he miss his toys and hug them like long lost friends. Would he jump into Nannies arms and never want to let her go. Would Olive remember our home at all? For the very first time this week River has asked, "Mummy, after this holiday (And each new place is a new holiday) Are we going home?" My heart sank and I answered "Yes mate, of course we will go home, but this is a pretty long, big holiday and aren't you having fun?". He said "Yeah, but I want to play with Ethan." (His cousin)  I think about all the experiences we are all having and I've got to shake all of that out of my head and tell myself that we are doing the right thing. He is having an amazing time and so is Olive. We miss the people in our lives like crazy and we always talk about our family. We have pictures up on the back of the overhead cupboard and River often recites our family members names. I guess this the down side of this trip, missing people. I do second guess myself, a lot, but I have to trust in myself that we have done the right thing and trust in the resilience of children to cope with the ongoing change.

We hit Lake Argyle and the look of excitement on the kids faces when they see the water was enough to temporarily put all my doubts to bed. After a quick drive winding around and over the lake via the huge dam wall we decide a swim is most certainly in order. At Lake Argyle there is one main caravan park, which we had already decided not to stay at after discovering a free camp just outside of town called Dead Horse Spring. The caravan park kind of owns the access walks down to the lake and say that their particular spots are safe(er) to swim despite the fact that there are fresh water crocs in the lake. As we are not staying in the park we cannot use this access and we really didn't want to risk finding our own swimming spot only to become afternoon tea for some hungry crocodiles. Therefore we make the decision to pay the caravan park the twenty dollar day pass fees to use their walk trails and as an added bonus we can also have a swim in the park pool. We think that's a bit sneaky of them to charge people for that, but we do it. There is no need to go to gym after the big walk down to the lake. I have a quick slightly anxious swim and then climb all the way back up the hill with 14kg lump sitting on my shoulders... My legs are burning. The pool at Lake Argyle has an infinity edge that overlooks the lake and it is quite magical. Our twenty dollars was probably well spent and with that we head back to Dead Horse Springs to watch the moon set between two huge hugging mountains and get an early night's sleep in complete silence.

The next day we cross the border into the Northern Territory! We all have a daggy moment and yell a good bye to Western Australia! "Goodbye WA!!!!!" Instantly Reece points out how the roads have widened and the quality has improved. We've lost and hour and a half and for the first few mornings the kids sleep in until 8am. Our gas bottle has run out which we were anticipating and this now indicates to us that our 8.5kg bottle lasts us just over 6 weeks. A quick fill up at Timber Creek on route to Keep River National Park which we explore just for the day. Along the wonderful, wide and full flowing Victoria River just past Timber Creek we set up camp at Big Horse Creek Campground and pop a line into the river. Wiki Camps has been a fantastic tool in finding campgrounds and saving money keeping away from the caravan parks. The next night Reece found a camp based on an old road, aptly called Old Road Camp. It's the very first night we have spent completely alone and both Reece and I agree that we are really starting to prefer finding these secluded little camp spots rather than stay in the crowded noisy caravan parks. The only down side is the washing. We have now been able to stretch our water supply for 6 days and power is still not an issue. I've tried doing some hand washing but "oh",  it's just not worth the effort"! Next stop, Katherine and we arrive with a huge pile of washing and looking like homeless bums that have just robbed a Good Sammies.

Randomly and without any research we check into Riverview Caravan Park in Katherine. I will strongly note this to anyone wanting to stay in Katherine.. STAY HERE!  Although It's not the flashes caravan park, it's shady, cheap and best of all it is backing right onto the Katherine hot springs. I try to explain to River that we are going for a swim but he didn't understand why we were all dressed in our bathers and heading in the opposite direction to the swimming pool. I told him "This is a big warm special swimming pool" and cheekily add "but if you don't want to swim when we get there then that's OK, you can just watch us" When his little eyes set sights on that crystal blue beautiful water, slowly streaming and bending between natural ferns, they lit up like light bulbs and  he ran straight towards it with delight. With a single dip of my toes into the baby bath warm water, that was it, I was in. In these natural surrounds, effortlessly floating down stream, kids splashing and laughing, there is really nothing else to say other than 'we have found heaven on earth'. That night Ken O'Shea, a local country music performer, played covers at the camp kitchen. Kenny Rodgers "know when to hold'em" was a crowd favourite and the kids danced and laughed with the other children while we drank with all the old timers and talked tales of the best free camp spots on offer.   

While in Katherine a visit to Nitmiluk National Park to see The Katherine Gorge is obviously a must and another reason why no gym visits are required while on this type of holiday. With jelly legs again, kids on our shoulders, all the way up 192 steps, solid without a break, what a great site when you make it to the top. I think to myself "now I've earned a few drinks in the hot springs this afternoon" and settle to take it all in for awhile.

Heading further north we enter into the Judbarra / Gregory National Park about 45kms up the Stuart HWY for a few nights camping at Edith Falls. It's so strange to look at the land forms along the way. "How did these massive boulders get there?". Resting up on top of the mountains there are round ball shaped rocks, just balancing on one small point. They look as if they have fallen out of the sky. The Edith falls camp spot is great. Our spot is shady with a lovely calm cool breeze and backs onto a large grassed play area. It's just a short 2 minute walk to be surrounded by high rock faces with a beautiful swimming hole beneath and the falls beyond. The water is greenish and filled with barramundi but alas there's no fishing allowed. Reece jumps straight in and River follows while I hold Olive back on the first step. The water is quite cool but once you're in its not long to acclimatise and then staying in seems like the better option. Now with Reece on 'Olive duty' I swim across the water just over 250 meters all the way to the falls, splash my face under the fierce tumbling water and rest up on the slippery rocks. There's a frog looking scared to death at my presence. A couple of oldies reach the falls and I give them a hand to step up onto the flat rock I've discovered. We watch the ruler length fish swimming around our feet. I had better swim back now as I can just make out  Reece on the other side and it looks as though he's struggling to keep Olive and River from drowning. Upon returning to our camp spot the entire family manage a two hour afternoon rest which any patent will tell you is an achievement in itself. The Jawoyn people call Edith Falls its traditional name, Leliyn. The next day we walk and climb the Leliyn trail up through the trees over the mountain and into to the upper pools. Another MUST DO!  

The next day I receive triadic devastating news that my cousin has been killed in a car accident and I mourn and cry the entire way to Pine Creek. Later in the evening we have a beer for Gareth and I tell Reece some of my childhood stories of trips to Collie when we were younger and times spent with him. I can't believe he's gone and thinking about his three older brothers and my Aunty Lesley and Uncle Ken, and all of my family back home, brings me to tears all over again. I know I won't be able to go home for the funeral and I feel quite hopeless and disconnected. Pine Creek probably won't be remembered as a happy place for my own personal reasons. Rest in Peace Gareth.  

Into the Kakadu National Park on another dusty bumpy corrugated road heading towards our first stop Gunlom. 
"Hold on Olive" Shouts River and she responds with a big smile on her face "Whoaa Whoa whoa".  Olive's little noises and sound effects are so entertaining on bumpy roads. She claps and smiles and laughs like she's on a ride at a fair, completely unawares and naive to the possible dangers. We lost 5 eggs on that trip and the lid to our back up water supply but we made it. Only a short stroll from our campsite is an amazing little green water hole with little fish that swim around your feet and try to give you a pedicure. There are fresh water crocodiles sunbaking on the bank across from us but so many people are in the water swimming. We join them. While at Gunlom we climb to the top pools up the steep rocks, past cliff edges and over another mountain. It was worth the climb. We are so proud of River and he has become a wonderful adventurer. I love watching his proud eyes as he realises his achievements when he announces at the top "We made it!" Swimming in the top pools is such a reward after the big climb. There's no need for manmade infinity pools when you have this. A waterfall behind us flowing into the first pool that then trickles down over the rocks into the second pool, and then again over into a third and fourth pool. All overlooking the gorgeous mountain and valley we are camping beneath.

It starts to feel semi tropical with pandanus spiral ferns lining the ground cover between the gumtrees on the way North up through Kakadu from Gunlom to Cooinda. It's a new landscape we've yet to see which is exciting. River literally cannot contain himself and is jumping out of his skin, not knowing in which direction he wants to run first when he see's our campsite for the next three nights. His legs are bouncing up and down as we try to put his bathers on, his smile is ear to ear, and he can't keep eye contact as he's too busily looking around. I'm worried he will pee himself like an excited puppy. I can just imagine his little brain working overtime "There's the POOL, it's a big pool, jump in the water, a PLAY GROUND, slides, sand, GRASS, bikes, SCOOTERING" and then back to the "POOOOOOOL"!!! We have hit a little mini paradise in the Kimberly where tall shady palm trees over hang the Cooinda Lodge and hide the red dirt so you will forget entirely where in the world you are.

Cooinda is the home of Yellow Waters and we are told the birdlife and wetlands are incredible and a 'must see' so we dedicate a day to it. Onboard The Yellow Waters Wetlands Cruise, looking for saltys, wild horses and the famous Jabiru I fell as if I'm on some kind of an African safari. The Jabiru, or Black Necked Stalk is the only stalk that can be found in Australia, so we are told, and therefore we are on its trail. In the distance we see one standing tall perched on top of the highest tree far into the horizon with a huge nest below. It was not a close look but later towards the end of the tour our guide spots the Jabiru in the distance eating in the wetlands. He steers the boat towards it and slowly approaches to not scare it away. We get a very close look at the magnificent bird with its reflection doubling into the still waters. I manage an in flight photograph as it realizes our proximity and fly's past us, flat across the waters, wings spread wide and bright red legs resting. Another highlight for me was seeing the little Comb Crested Jackana with their fluffy baby chicks bouncing effortlessly over the lily pads at sunset.

The next day be do nothing! Yep, nothing. It was just a day of swimming in the pool, eating food, drinking beer and relaxing watching the 2016 Olympic games in Rio. We arrived at the pool area by 11am and didn't leave until 4.30pm. Thank you Cooinda, we needed that! We move further through the Kakadu National Park to Jabiru and again the landscapes change. This time the gum trees disappear and the ferns and palm represent a more tropical feel. Into the East Alligator Region where the river divided the Kakadu National Park from Arnhem Land we visit Ubirr and the aboriginal art sites as well as Cahill's crossing where we watch locals stand on rocks fishing while salt water crocodiles munch on barramundi practically at their feet. We meet another excellent travelling family, The Webster's. Thanks Jay and Crystal plus lovely crazy kids (and Aunty Annie) We make a plan to meet up again later this year. 

There's a saying going around up here which we have heard several times now. "Kaka-don't" Our experiences in Kakadu were great and I wouldn't bypass this area for anything but I can understand why people do and how this nick name has been coined. First of all there is a $40 per adult Park Pass that is required to enter the park but not a single person ever once asked or checked to see our  passes. Secondly there is no free camping within the park. Our first night at Gunlom cost us $30 for really basic facilities and Cooinda was $48 per night. There are campsites for $15 dollars but they are all out of the way and not close to the major attractions. This was quite disappointing. However I have since come to learn that the amount of money and level of care it takes to upkeep the nation park is huge. Every year the roads flood out and are rebuilt. There is a crocodile management program in order to make it safe for tourists and the fire cycle to keep the national park safe. I like to think I am an honest person and so I'm glad we paid our way, but.... if you're going on a budget, just don't buy the pass.

Before we hit Darwin we stop for two nights at Bark Hut Inn Roadhouse where they offer free camping out the back and you have access to all their facility's, showers, swimming pool and pub. It's a great place to watch the Adelaide Crows beat the Fremantle Dockers and enjoy ourselves at little cost. A young girl who works there is turning 21and a party is thrown to celebrate on our first night there. We even manage a few free drinks that night we haven't  partied like that since we were 21ourselves. Better grow up quickly as we have two kids to look after at 7.30am the next morning. Next - hit the road again bound for Darwin.