Australia - Northern Territory (The North)

New South Wales, Northern Territory (Red Center) featured the southern and central part of the Northern Territory. So, what do we cover here? We entered the NT from the northwest border with Western Australia, on the Savannah Highway near Kununurra. We then drove up to Darwin and from there headed southeast to the border with Queensland, which we entered by Hell's Gate, not far from the Gulf of Carpentaria.
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The Victoria River flows another 150 km before reaching the Sea of Timor in the Joseph Bonaparte Bay laguna, which is well renowned for its birdlife. Here, at the bridge near Timber Creek the river is already 230 meters wide. The only other bridge over this 550 km-long river is at Victoria River Crossing, 80 km to the east.
The dark layer of dolomite limestone which appears in this photo formed in a shallow lagoon about 900 million years ago. This tropical karst landscape features serrated outcrops, a result of rain erosion. In the foreground, the white ''boab'' or baobab -- also known as Adansonia Gregorii, from the Malvaceae family -- is called "gadawon" by local Aborigenes. According to one theory, boab seeds came from Madagascar and the African southeast coast, drifting on the Indian Ocean until reaching the Australian northwestern shores. Others think they already existed here before the Gondwana continent split Africa and Australia apart, during the late Cretaceous, about 80 million years ago.
Gregory National Park changed name in 2011 to "Judbarra / Gregory"... but will change it again in 2021. Its new official name will then be "Judbarra National Park", following an agreement between the Territory Government and Traditional Owners (Aborigines). 80 km separate the western portion of the park from its eastern counterpart. A visit to both illustrates the changes between semi-arid and tropical zones, as the latter can be seen here on the banks of Nawulbinbin, previously called Joe Creek.
The Mak Mak Marranunggu, Werat and Waray Aboriginal people are the Traditional Owners of the land encompassing Litchfield National Park. Here, monsoon rains eroded sandstone and created these formations, referred to as the ''Lost City''.
Monsoon rains feed creeks which flow all year long. At 15 km south of Woolaning settlement, the caves near Tolmer Falls host colonies of ghost bats as well as the rare orange leaf-nosed bat.
Our Land Rover Alistair was dwarfed by these termite mounds standing as high as 4 meters. They are built by less than 8 mm-long subterranean termites, precisely spinifex termites also called Nasutitermes Triodiae. Termites are considered in agriculture both as pests or as... aids: their tunnels air the soil, allow rainwater to soak it deeply and thus reduce soil erosion by runoff. As far as energy goes, the fact that termites can turn a sheet of paper into 2 liters of hydrogen is turning them into a possible sustainable source of energy for the future.
Because fire blackens the stems of cycas trees, the resulting new fronds are called "fire-ferns". Cycas armstrongii (or lanepoolei) yield a poison, cycasin, which is a threat to cattle herds. Cycads are ancient plants which date back to early dinosaur times, some 230 million years ago, eons before flowering plants appeared. Roots are populated with blue-green algae-bacteria which, fixing nitrogen from the air, are a great helper on these poor soils.
This is not the East Alligator River... just a remnant of the monsoon season. Seeing it during the dry season makes it quite difficult to imagine how, during the ''wet'', this huge plain can be drowned under several meters of water!
Bill Neidjie shares this story about how Aboriginal children learn about estuarine crocodiles and their dangers: ''The Namarragarn sisters (left on the picture) used to play games near the river, where they hid by changing into crocodiles. One sister said: ''Come on sister, we'll turn into crocodiles so we can kill anybody, no matter what tribe, no matter which Aborigine, we'll kill 'em... ''
Biologists have since established that Crocodylinae have indeed ''supernatural sensors''. In fact, their Dermal Pressure Sensor (DPS) organs can detect surface water changes. These sensors are distributed over their entire body, making ''salties'' one of the most effective predators in the world.
The land releases throughout the year the rains accumulated during monsoon season. These pockets of water make welcome stops such as Upper Edith Pool, 60 km north of Katherine. Here, sweet water is separated from sea water by waterfalls which are not submerged during the ''wet''. As a result, it is unlikely that an estuarine crocodile would populate the area, keeping it safe for our greater enjoyment. Swimming towards the outlet of the lower pool, we were surprised to find a 4x1x1 meter-wide trap cage with, as bait, a quarter of a goat inside it! "Just to be on the safe side" was the comment we heard from park rangers, who on other locations, trap the crocs present in these pools and release them further away, so as to ensure that tourism is not disturbed...
Somewhere, on the 300 km of dirt road between Borroloola and Hell's Gate. No more than half a meter deep, this creek would not host estuarine crocs, hence a safe place to camp!