As before, it’s amazing how quickly a semester goes by. This semester, because I knew what to expect and was well-prepared for everything, seemed to go by even faster than the first. I know we do the best we can with the time allotted to wrap things up and allow time for goodbyes, but it doesn’t seem like enough when you’ve spent the previous three months forming a family with the group of students. After we said our goodbyes and dropped the students off at the airport, the interns and I spent a few days cleaning up the Centre (this was definitely much easier, with only 17 students leaving things behind as opposed to the 29 students last semester) and made our way down to Cairns for an evening before flying out in the morning.
My flight to Darwin was uneventful, but it was hot once I exited the airport. While waiting for the shuttle, I looked about for new birds to add to my list, but only found birds I had seen before and one suspiciously unidentifiable bird. Once I got into town and dropped my things off at the hostel, I walked to the Botanic Gardens on the other side of town (again, in search of birds) and spent a few hours there before walking along the Darwin waterfront and relaxing at the lagoon. All in all, Australian cities are very similar. Darwin is on the smaller side, as cities go, and it is about the same size as Cairns. But because I’ve spent so much time in Cairns, it feels like home to me, as any place in Australia could, at least. So I couldn’t spend time in Darwin without comparing it to Cairns, and by the end of the day I'd had enough of the city and was excited to depart on a three-day tour of Kakadu National Park.
I traveled with a tour group made up of a guide, myself, and nine other people, about half of whom were Australian. The rest hailed from Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands. Our guide was from New Zealand, and had only been living in Australia for about five months, which meant that he wouldn’t be helping me find any new birds; I was on my own. We left Darwin as the sun came up and headed toward Kakadu, stopping first about an hour outside of town for an Aboriginal cultural experience with a man named Graham. Graham played the didgeridoo for us, showed us how the instruments are made, pointed out some useful plants, and told us stories of his life. His fourteen-year-old daughter, who was incredibly well-spoken and confident for someone her age, showed us how to make dili bags and baskets out of pandanus leaves. Listening to her speak was my favorite part; while I’ve been to many Aboriginal cultural experiences, I rarely hear from Aboriginal women.
We continued on and stopped for a wetlands cruise at the Corroborree Billabong. It was a perfect day for it, and as we cruised along we saw saltwater and freshwater crocodiles, Brolgas, White-bellied Sea Eagles, Comb-crested Jacanas, Jabirus, Pied Herons, Darters, and Pied Cormorants, among other birds. The lily pads floated atop the water, the birds hid in the tall grasses along the edges, and the crocodiles basked in the hot sunlight.
From there, we headed to the entrance of Kakadu National Park, where rangers had lit fires in the brush as part of a controlled burn. The kites followed the smoke of the fire, chasing down whatever insects, rodents, and reptiles evacuated the flames. As our road led us past fire, it also led us through water, and there were a few creek crossings along the road that required a 4WD.
Our first destination within the park was Ubirr, an Aboriginal sacred site with artwork on the rock walls and beautiful panoramic views of the park. Among all the stories the paintings told, my favorite was that of the Mimi spirit. One sign asked viewers to “look up,” and there, at least 100 feet up on a rock ceiling, was a painting. There was no way a person could have reached this place to paint. How did it get there? The Mimi spirit put it there.
From Ubirr, we headed to our campsite as the sun set. The following day, we went on a short hike through the bush to a lookout, visited the cultural museum, and then hiked to Motor Car Falls, which emptied into a perfect, crystal clear swimming pool. The water was inviting after the hot walk through the sun, and the heat wasn’t unbearable when we headed back and the late afternoon light illuminated the vegetation.
On our final day in Kakadu, we visited Gunlom Falls. A short but steep hike to the top of the falls left us with an amazing view and natural infinity pools that overlooked the top of the waterfall and out to the hills. Smaller waterfalls cascaded over the rocks to form multiple pools, and the water, as the day before, was perfect. After soaking in the scenery, we had a long drive back to Darwin in the afternoon (made longer by a car accident that left the road closed for several hours) and got back into town late. In the morning, I spent a few hours walking around town and enjoying a few art galleries before heading to the airport for my flight to Alice Springs.