The rainstorm lasted less than ten minutes – brief like most Northern Australian storms. The clouds very soon cleared, and it was as if it had never been.
As we cruised back to our starting point, we were able to enjoy some beautiful afternoon light, and temperatures that were 10C lower than when we started.
Then it was back to the train, ready for our next off-train adventure.
Rain is a big factor in the Gorge in the Wet. These trees were bent at an incredible angle by the sheer force of water that rushes down-stream.
And sure enough, rain wasn’t far away that day. I had just landed to view some rock art…
When the rain came rushing down. Even the pandanus looked forlorn.
The temperature dropped by 10C in a matter of minutes. Fortunately, I did get a quick glimpse of the 3 metre high rock art on the cliff face before I was forced to return to the boat.
The walls of the Gorge towered above us as we cruised up-stream. You can see the layers of sandstone really clearly.
There were also many interesting rock formations, particularly along the cliff-tops – the product of some major weathering. Well, it does rain an average of 1,040mm per year here – much of it between January and March!
By mid-afternoon, we arrived in Katherine, 317km south-east of Darwin. It was time to get off the train and explore.
We chose to go to Nitmiluk (formerly Katherine) Gorge, which was a good 30 minutes coach ride away from the train station.
It was a very hot 37C in Katherine (with humidity!) and we were glad to get on to the boat and under cover.
Boats are practically the only means of seeing the Gorge in March as the water levels were still high, and so was the chance of seeing a salt-water crocodile!
Darwin wasn’t the end of the trip but the mid-way point. Next, we were off on the Ghan – the famous train service that runs from Darwin through the centre of Australia to Adelaide – a route that is 2,979km long. The train is named after the Afghan cameleers that used to transport goods and services in Australia’s centre before the advent of the train or motor car.
We started off at the Darwin end at their railway station. Surprisingly, it’s a good 30 minutes from the city, but that’s because the Ghan required a mighty long platform – the train was almost a kilometre long with around 30 carriages. First task was to find our carriage. Luckily it was close by.
Inside our Gold Class carriage, it was pretty swish.
Our cabins were in day mode and were comfy and snug. Hint – any luggage larger than a backpack will get you in trouble. I saw people hauling large suitcases and wondered where they put them.
The bathroom was a bit of wonder for me. Shower, toilet and basin all in a 1.5m squared room. That’s tiny living!
Aside from the bombings, Darwin also experienced destruction in 1974, when it was razed to the ground by Cyclone Stacey. The old town hall was one building heavily hit. It was a very historic building before.
But after it was only a shell, though a well-preserved one.
The Anglican church also had a long history with the town and was razed to the ground by the cyclone.
But in this case, the city found an innovative way to integrate the old with the new.
We returned to Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. I had been here once before, but only for a few days. We didn’t spend much more time this time around either, but we did see the newly created Waterfront. Aside from apartments and restaurants, it has a tiny beach (patrolled for crocs) and a much bigger wave pool.
Most of the jobs in Darwin these days is in the resources sector, particularly gas. You can see the gas refinery across Darwin Harbour (the box-shaped structure on the horizon) from the city.
But Darwin’s history is very much tied up with two big events. The first was the bombing of Darwin in 1942, which was the climax of the film Australia. Above the shore was a modest war memorial dedicated to those from the region who died in service.
Pretty soon it was our final evening at the camp (and a spectacular evening it was with our convivial camp hosts and guests).
And the following morning it was a fond goodbye to everyone before heading off to the airstrip in the troop carrier.
And then up in the Cesna, over the now familiar landscape.
We flew once again over the massive river delta that edges Kakadu National Park and Arnhemland.
And over the fantastic colours in Van Diemens Gulf.
Pretty soon we were back in Darwin, and civilisation. Don’t think we’d forget Mount Borradaile anytime soon, though.
One of the most interesting walls of art were ones that depicted contact with outsiders.
Among the hand prints and animal drawings was a sailing ship. The groups in this region would have known about white men very early on, first perhaps from the Makassan fishermen from Sulawesi, Indonesia, and then perhaps from seeing passing Dutch and Portuguese ships.
By the time the English came, they were very familiar with ships, as seen from the wall below.
Here, the artist has painted a steam ship in great detail.
The artist has even tried to copy writing (and almost got it).
They didn’t know that the outsiders would end up changing their way of life forever. Now we only have these remnants to admire and wonder.
It wasn’t just ceremonial sites that we visited — many were places where families had lived. Some shelters were vast and could have fit dozens of people.
Others were more cosy. The overhang below had comfortable sleeping ledges and a ‘kitchen’ area with grinding holes.
Here were grinding and cutting tools, and a bit of metal salvaged.
At another site, a message stick (a major communication tool between clans) had been left. I wonder what it said?