NOW: COBOURG PENINSULA, GARIG GUNAK BARLU NATIONAL PARK – ARNHEM LAND
An early start saw us over Cahills Crossing at 7.30am, two hours before high tide. This causeway crosses the East Alligator River and has a notorious reputation for eating cars and for its crocodiles that eat humans. We’d headed the warnings, crossed on the low tide and had breakfast on the northern bank. We were in Arnhem Land with a transit permit to travel through to Smith Point Campground in the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park.
We called in to the Injara Art Centre at Oenpelli where local artisans work adjacent to the billabong in the shadow of some spectacular rock formations. Local women collect pandanas leaves, dye them with local materials and weave them into baskets and mats sold in the art centre.
As we travelled on we didn’t see another vehicle until we pulled to the side of the track to boil the kettle for morning tea. Four work vehicles slowed to check we were ok and then we didn’t see anyone else until we arrived in Black Point Ranger Station. Ten minutes later a tourist bus arrived so he must have been just behind us in the dust!
The road had trees down, washaways, large ruts and corrugations so it was a leisurely 5 hour trip to a delightful camp at Smith Point.
At low tide and after much prodding and poking we managed to spear two mud crabs for lunch. At one stage a small reef shark came quite close and we considered whether flake would be an easier option. Cut in half and steamed the crabs were delicious but it was hard work.
Victoria Settlement ruins are 25 kilometres across the bay from Black Point and only accessible by boat. The settlement was established by the British in 1838 to prevent The Dutch and French expanding from the north. The village had a Governor’s house, church, hospital and military buildings.
The remains of the Cornish chimneys for the officers’ houses, the hospital kitchen, magazine store, lime kilns and bakers oven still stand. The timber sections of the buildings were destroyed by white ants and cyclones.
Around 100 people lived in the settlement during its 10-year history until insufficient fresh water and malaria saw 60 residents buried in the cemetery and the settlement abandoned. However, the Macassan traders from Indonesia continued to trade with the local Aboriginal people and the Bentang cattle they traded for sea cucumbers still live in the park.
Despite the windy weather we managed some fishing in the afternoon. A jewfish and golden snapper rounded off our day on the water with Cobourg Fishing Adventures which we had booked in Darwin before heading up to the peninsula.
At Smith Point a beacon built to guide ships into Port Essington and the Victoria Settlement still stands. We had dinner at Smith Point watching the sun go down over the ocean and the moon rise behind us.
During the day we’d seen tracks in the sand where turtles had struggled up the beach and laid their eggs the previous night. As we drove back to the beach to look for nesting turtles 2 red eyes glowing in the headlights on the track caught our attention. A large croc was lying in the warm sand and he wasn’t happy about being disturbed. We’d laughed at the Crocodile Crossing sign, but it was no joke!
One of our Anderson plug wires had come loose on our way into Smith Point. 3 days later we realised it had blown a fuse in the Tvan’s battery box. No wonder the solar didn’t seem to be working at its usual rate and we’d had to use the generator.
There were several days on Cobourg when we heard no other human sounds other than our own. We collected good firewood on the ranger’s advice and baked bread in the campoven followed by braised lamb shanks while watching the stars.
On our way back south we were both watching for the two sticks in the middle of the road that marked a big ditch that crossed right across the road. Much to our surprise, the ditch was still there but there were two warning triangles attached to the sticks now. The tide was higher on our way back from Cobourg and whilst the water wasn’t very deep the flow was much stronger at Cahills Crossing.
Our adventure to Arnhem Land ended with a camp at the Merle Campground near Ubirr in Kakadu. There’s a big amenities block with tiles and laminated walls but the hot water wasn’t hot. The Cobourg shower was under the tank stand with some colourbond sheeting for walls but the water was always hot! Sometimes simple is much better.
NEXT: NITMILUK AND DAVENPORT RANGE NATIONAL PARKS
See you on the Emu Track
Cheryl and David