Follow my journey as I serve as a pilot with Mission Aviation Fellowship in Papua New Guinea.

Tuesday, 15 August 2023

Darwin holiday summary

Some final thoughts on our holiday...

Was it worth the wait? Yes!

Would you go campervanning again? It's probably a bit early to say, but we survived and our friendship is still intact. Campervan life did take some adjustment - having to put the beds up each night and down each morning did get tiresome, figuring out where you could sit or stand so you weren't in the other person's way (especially when it involved doing something in the kitchen), trying to park level so that the sink would drain properly. We also should have allowed more time to collect it (2 hrs instead of 1). It also took us 45 minutes of driving around at the end finding somewhere to refill the gas bottle (solution: BBQs Galore).

But it wasn't all bad. Taking the same bed with you everywhere helped (once we figured out the optimum mattress and sheet/duvet combinations), having an on board kitchen meant you knew what you had to work with each night instead of wondering what the next motel or lodge would have in terms of cooking facilities. We hired a table and camp chairs and we used them pretty much every day.

After the trip I did a quick comparison of 'regular' hire car and lodge accommodation, and the campervan option worked out at least $500 cheaper. So overall it was probably worth it. But we were glad to get to our motel in Darwin where we could spread out and have our own spaces!

How would you rate the campgrounds? We opted for powered sites wherever we could (i.e. everywhere except for the national parks). In order from best to worst:

1. Anbinik (Jabiru). En suite bathroom, not too close to the neighbours

2. Ivanhoe Village (Kununurra). Decent sized plot, good amenities, close to the pool

3. Florence Falls (Litchfield, unpowered). Huge plot, large bathrooms, not too close to neighbours so was quiet. Only downside was the plot had a slope

4. Riverview Tourist Village (Katherine). Noise from neighbours and the road

5. Djarradjin campground (Kakadu, unpowered). Cheap, had hot showers

6. Nitmiluk campground (Katherine Gorge). Amenities block way down the other end, small plots, noisy, tiny shower cubicles

7. Cooinda Lodge / Yellow Water campground (Kakadu). Tiny plot right on the road, busy, amenities block quite a walk

8. Victoria River Roadhouse (Victoria River). Sloped ground, very dated amenities, no toilet paper

Impressions of Kakadu? LOTS of driving. The rock art and walks were good, but did get hot later in the day. We didn't go to any of the waterfalls as we didn't have a 4wd vehicle.

Impressions of Litchfield? Points of interest were closer together than Kakadu. Waterfalls flow even in the dry season. Again, there were places we couldn't go as they required a 4wd vehicle. Like Kakadu, it did get hot later in the day, so if you plan to do any walks, try to do them in the morning. The same was true for the Nitmiluk Southern walks.

Impressions of the Bungle Bungles? Hard to say; it was a bit of a mixed bag. After the campervan (which also doubled as our accommodation) and flights, this was the next most expensive thing we did. Flying overhead gave a unique perspective. The walking tour was a bit disappointing not to be able to explore at our leisure. The lunch was quite fancy and may not have been to everyone's taste (quiche with quinoa salad).

How would you rate the activities you did?

A+  Kayaking in the Nitmiluk gorge. Highlight of the trip for both of us
A+  Barrk walk at Nourlangie and the associated rock art (two locations)
A+  Jumping crocodiles, both for the wow factor and the tour guide's dry humour
A+  Nitmiluk Southern walks - Jedda's rock and Pat's lookout. Worth the effort
A+  Aquascene fish feeding, Darwin

Mirima National Park, Kununurra
Katherine Show
Victoria gorge escarpment walk
A  Triple J Ord river sunset cruise (Kununurra)
Rockalong gallery (Kununurra)
Deckchair cinema (likely good rating because we enjoyed the movie)
Ubirr (not the guided tour though)
A  Litchfield: Wangi Falls
A  Litchfield: Florence Falls & Shady Creek walk
Mini golf, Palmerston

A-  Joe Creek walk
A-  Litchfield: Tolmer Falls
A-  Recreational lagoon (Darwin)

B+  Wartime experience tour with military museum, Darwin (needed more time at the museum)
B+  Kelly’s knob lookout (Kununurra)

Bungle Bungles tour overall (A Flight, B- Domes walk, A+ Cathedral gorge)
B  Litchfield: Magnetic termite mounds
B  Kakadu: Nawurlandja lookout walk
B  RFDS (Darwin) - virtual reality headset displays were the best part
Diamond shop in Kununurra
B  Kakadu: Anbangbang billabong walk
B  Cutta Cutta caves
B  Nitmiluk southern walks: Butterfly gorge

B-  Darwin self-guided heritage walk

C+  Mindil Beach night markets

C  Darwin oil tunnels
C  Gregory Tree
C  Darwin botanic gardens

C-  Yellow Waters cultural centre
C-  Mamaluka wetlands walk
C-  Kakadu: 2x lookout walks between Cooinda and Pine Creek (Gungurul, Bukbukluk)

Any surprises or things you learned? Where do I start...

The terrain is not all flat, like I was expecting - the Arnhem Land escarpment, Victoria River, Kimberley were all quite prominent geographical features.

Speed limits being 130 kph!

Driving from NT to WA and losing 1.5 hrs (time difference).

The different purposes of rock art, and how it wasn't ok to touch up someone else's painting but was perfectly ok to paint over it.

Some of the rock art we saw was made as recently as the 1960s - not all of it is ancient.

The orange and black stripes of the Bungle Bungles are only a surface coating, not the colour of the rocks themselves (which are white).

Crocodiles can sense vibrations 1-2 km away!

Barramundi can't reproduce in fresh water.

Freshwater crocodiles swallow their food whole, so they don't attack humans unless they feel threatened.

The waterfalls at Litchfield flow all year due to water seeping out of the rock slowly.

'Magnetic' termites are blind and can sense magnetic fields. Their mounds are oriented to give the most consistent temperature; if the alignment is changed then internal temperatures increase significantly.

At one point in history, 75% of Darwin's non-indigenous population was Chinese.

70-80% of Darwin's buildings were destroyed by Cyclone Tracy. 30,000 people were evacuated (out of 46,000).

It took 20 years to install the 9" guns at East Point, and they were never used in combat (only tested).

The Darwin oil storage tunnels' budget of £200,000 blew out to over £1,000,000 - and they were never used in the war.

The oil storage tunnels were a secret project, but the excavated dirt was simply piled up at the entrance; any Japanese reconnaissance officer would have instantly known what was there!


We finished our holiday with a few days in Darwin. In the last 100 years, two events have shaped the city and reminders of them are everywhere: the bombing of Darwin on 19 Feb 1942, and cyclone Tracy on Christmas Day 1974.

Deckchair cinema
We saw the movie 'Red White and Brass' and enjoyed pre-show
entertainment by the Darwin City Brass Band

Darwin military tour in a 1940s army bus - the tour guide was VERY informative!

Anglican cathedral. Survived the Darwin bombings and had a porch and gate built by the army from rubble of the post office, which was destroyed. After cyclone Tracy, the porch and gate were all that survived.

Feeding fish at Aquascene

Sunset at Mindil Beach (night market)

WWII oil storage tunnels - a colossal budget blowout by a factor of 5,
and never used for their intended purpose...


Our final national park was Litchfield, about an hour's drive south of Darwin. We stayed at the Florence Falls campground and were pleasantly surprised by how well laid out (and quiet!) it was.

Along the way we overheard people discussing whether it was better to do Kakadu or Litchfield first, with the consensus being 'if you do Kakadu first, you'll be disappointed by Litchfield'. But I imagine that's if you had a 4wd vehicle and were able to see the Kakadu waterfalls - which we didn't. So for us, Kakadu was more about rock art and Litchfield more about waterfalls.

Another interesting fact is that due to the porosity of the rocks, the waterfalls in Litchfield flow all year round as the rain that fell during the last wet season slowly seeps out. In contrast, many of the well-known Kakadu waterfalls slow to a trickle or stop during the dry season.

Wangi Falls

Tolmer Falls

Florence Falls

'Magnetic' termite mounds - all face the same way for temperature optimisation

On our way back to Darwin we had some time to kill so had a game of mini golf in Palmerston. It was quite fun (and our scores were quite close too!)

Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk)

Returning from Kunnurra to Katherine, we spent two days at the Katherine Gorge (Nitmiluk National Park) - one day kayaking and one day hiking.

The kayaking was probably the highlight of the entire trip - being out in nature, a moderate level of exercise (apart from the portages - pushing and pulling the kayak over rocks), able to go at our own pace and explore at our leisure with the only requirement being to be back at the boat ramp by 4:30 pm.

Boat trip on the first gorge

Lining up for our kayak

Gorge two

The obligatory selfie


We later figured out it didn't work as well with me in the back

Afternoon tea break

View of gorge two from Jedda's Rock - worth the effort!

View of gorge one from Pat's Lookout

Bungle Bungles

As mentioned elsewhere, our original plan had been to drive to the Bungle Bungles and take a 4wd drive tour from there. But with the tour company unable to open this season, we had to change plans. The only feasible option was to fly on a day trip from Kununurra. Naturally this was quite expensive, so we decided to forego the private aircraft hire we had planned in Darwin (for me to fly us over the parts of Kakadu that we weren't able to get to) and use that budget instead.

The Bungle Bungle ranges, specifically the 'beehive domes', are limestone rock formations with orange and black stripes. I was surprised to learn that the colour does not come from the rock itself (which is actually white), but a surface coating: the limestone is layered, and one of these layers gets coated with red dust while the other can support a particular kind of cyanobacteria, which is black.

The day tour we did involved flying over Lake Argyle and various large cattle stations to the Bellburn airstrip, then a short 4wd bus drive to the park, walking through the domes and up to Cathedral Gorge for a packed lunch, retracing our steps and flying back to Kununurra. It was a little frustrating not being able to explore further in the park, because we had to stay with the tour group and the guide seemed to want to stop at every termite mound and every tree and tell us something about them. I just had to remind myself that it was this or not seeing it at all. And the flight overhead did give us a spectacular view that we wouldn't have seen at all if we had driven there.

Rivers south of Kununurra

Lake Argyle from the air

Bungle Bungle range from the air

Bungle Bungle beehive domes

Domes walk

Domes at Piccaninny creek

Walking into Cathedral Gorge

Lunch at Cathedral Gorge

Black and orange stripes



Here are some pictures from around Kununurra...

Pink diamonds from the Argyle mine

'Zebra rock' and other varieties at Rockalong Gallery

View from Kelly's Knob lookout

Interesting rock formations at Mirima National Park

Turkey bushes in flower

Boab tree

Our home on the road

Lake Argyle and Ord River

From Kununurra, our original plan had been to drive to the Bungle Bungles and take a 4wd day tour from there. However the campground and tour operator had been unable to open this season because of land rights issues. So we had to shuffle our itinerary, which meant a flight and 4wd tour of the Bungle Bungles from Kununurra - and three more days to fill!

One of those days we opted to do a bus/boat tour out to Lake Argyle and back.

Lake Argyle and the Ord River Dam

Looking down on the Ord River from the dam.
The jets are from the hydro station bypass

Ord River gorge section

Tour guide Jeff does his best schoolteacher impersonation

Amazing rock strata along the river

Freshwater crocodile - not dangerous unless provoked

Approaching sunset