Yellow Water Dreaming
WE ARE HERE
“Now by law I gotta show you where the life jackets are. By law that is. There and there. If I tell ya to put your life jackets on, put ‘em on like this, just nice and comfortable, one arm through ‘ere and round and round and through ‘ere, yeah? Now if the boat starts sinkin’ and you put your life jacket on, don’t jump in! The Northern Territory has got 100 thousand Ginga. That’s crocs to you mob, ginga is what we call ‘em here. And Kakadu’s got about 10% of them. So if you jump in when you put that life jacket on… well I’ll throw that life ring in after yah and pull back whatever the bloody hell’s left of yer.”
The sky was only just starting to become light as we pulled away from the dock, the last of 4 boats skulking out into the billabong. Out front was Rueben, who we affectionately nick named Mr Sunshine. Rueben was our guide and law abiding captain for the next 2 hours as we cruised out through the murky croc infested swamps and floodplains of Yellow Water Billabong (don’t ask him where Yellow River is, because that’s in China, not here!). Sprinkled with disarmingly pretty red waterlilies that Comb-crested Jacanas danced atop of, terror lurked close by, only just beneath the shimmering reflection of a cloudy morning sky on the water.
With 3.6 billion years of Kakadu history to cover in a mere 2 hours, Rueben had his work cut out. But, being the showman that he was, he immersed us in the country’s culture, flora and fauna, history, geology, his peoples stories and beliefs with pungent blank honesty that was hilarious and engaging. We saw 6 of the habitats Kakadu has to offer, including floodplains, mangroves, savanna woodlands, open forest, tidal mudflats and monsoon forests. Four of the major trees that encompass the area from mangroves to paperbark and species of pandanus. Even learning about how the Bininj (Aboriginal people) harvest the seeds and root tubers of waterlilies for food, raw and cooked, or ground into a flour for making bush bread.
Then there’s the birds, it’s all about the birds! Kingfishers; Azure and Forest, Great Egrets, Intermediate Egrets. Whistling Kites ganging up to take on the second largest bird of prey in Australia, the White Bellied Sea Eagle who circled above unfazed looking for breakfast. Brolgas lurched on the floodplains, nervous Plumed Whistling Ducks hid amongst the shade, along with Magpie Geese which are good eating this time of year, nice and plump from snacking on all the water chestnuts. A territorial Jabiru prowled the waters edge, but we aren’t allowed to call them a Jabiru, they’re Black-necked Storks. South America already has a bird called the Jabiru, so we could just call them Djakarna like the Bininj call them… “and look, a Great-Billed Heron! Take a photo!” Rueben’s animated voice peaked with energy and enthusiasm “even if you’re not into birds, I’m not into birds, but you take a photo of that one, that’s in the top 10 list of birds to see here in Kakadu for birders. Take a photo for your family back home!”
And of course the one that takes the centre stage. King of the castle. The Ginga – Saltwater Crocodile. We saw them, many of them. And Rueben knew exactly where to find them. This Billabong was a living breathing being that he knew like the back of his hand. He knew where the Azure Kingfishers territory was, as well as who was the new croc on the block.
Splashing and thrashing caught our attention and we all turned to see a turtle. He was stuck in the upper row of teeth of a ginga who was trying hungrily to dislodge the turtles shell from his chompers so breakfast could be served. However, ours was not the only attention he’d attracted. A female croc edged in closer among the mangroves to assess the situation. And from the opposite side another male. A bigger male. We sat back and watched, while original croc watched the free loader crocs, while the turtle watched us watching him with his long neck and legs helplessly hanging out of his shell… A Kakadu stand off.
As we returned to the dock and Rueben thanked us for our time, he told us “gamuk, boh boh”, a local pleasantry and thanks, as well as wishing us a happy journey, a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Anniversary, Birthday and all of the other ‘Happy’s’. We were so sure that we had been lucky enough to snag the best guide of them all as we shook the hand of this funny straight faced man. Everyone else hopped off their boats saying the same of their own guides, but without a doubt, Mr Sunshine was the #1 in town.
Check out Kakadu and the incredible Yellow Water Billabong for yourself – our tip is the sunrise boat cruise (you even get a buffet breakfast!). Hopefully you’ll get your own Mr Sunshine!
Our next blog will be from: More of the Top End!
Until our next update - see you on / off the road 😉
Cassie and Micky