Monday, September 17, 2018

Flying Turtles

This past weekend my daughter and I went kayaking (in our canoe) with the Darwin Bushwalking club.

Child friendly event

A small section of the flotilla

As the tide was rising and with about 16 other kayakers we paddled out through the mangroves into Ludmilla Bay.

Time for a lesson
Darwin's mangroves are so full of life but we rarely get to explore them. I tend to avoid paddling around them on my own for fear of an encounter with crocodiles. With a group I felt much more confident that we'd be safe.

Kayak in the treetops

With Dr Kristin Metcalfe as our guide we paddled from the nearest point at Nightcliff along the coast to Ludmilla Creek.
Dr Metcalfe leading from a canoe

Although I had studied mangroves during my Land Management course about 15 years ago there is a mountain of stuff I don't know, so having Dr Metcalfe with us really made the trip a lot more interesting.

Sea and Sky

The most fascinating piece of information she shared with us was the idea that Sea Turtles may actually nibble on the young leaves of mangrove trees... Let that sink in. 
A turtle that glides across the tops of trees chewing on leaves! 

I am now imagining turtles in the treetops. What a fantastical image! 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Jatbula Trail

Travel Log
Wednesday 5th – Sunday 9th September

Last week, with members of the Darwin Bushwalking Club, I finally walked the Jatbula Trail in Nitmiluk National Park.

This hike was something I've wanted to do for years but I've not really had the time or the head space to attempt it.

Back in May I attempted a solo hike on the Great Ocean Walk which ended abruptly when I left the walk after just three days. A combination of ill fitting shoes, excessive pack weight, wet tent and flooded camp sites caused me to make a judgement call on whether to continue the hike or not. Pulling out was a disappointment but I know it was the right decision.
A little hard to get perspective, there is a camp site down there somewhere

Although the weather was out of my control I realise that my lack of hiking experience had me poorly prepared for this relatively easy hike. I decided I'd be better off if I spent some time with others more experienced. In July I decided to join the Darwin Bushwalking Club.

After attending a couple of club events I saw that there was a Jatbula hike scheduled for September.

I contacted the hike leader and was able to get my name added to the list of 12 people who would walk the Jatbula Trail with the club at the beginning of September.

This bush looked similar to Turkey bush but with much more fragrant flowers (full of nectar)

I've not been with them long but so far my experience of the local bushwalking club has been first rate! Experienced members offer to lead walks then do all the research and calculations of times, distances, and cost allowing the average punter (even inexperienced plebs like me) to simply follow a few instructions, prepare as recommended and turn up on the day. Rides are shared and the cost of fuel and wear and tear on the vehicle is calculated according to distance and divided by number of passengers. (Very reasonable indeed!)

Prior to the hike we were sent emails reminding us of what to bring and sharing information about the hike. I found the emails helpful and practical until I received the one related to pack load weights which I must say left me feeling quite intimidated. The hike leader announced that she would be carrying a pack weight of 10kg (before water) "WTF!" (Thunk I) I don't know how I can get 5 days worth of stuff down to 10kg! (Actually I think her ploy worked because I quickly got busy dumping unneeded stuff, I was still overweight but was a lot closer than I would have been.

Another email contained links to useful information, Park Notes a must if you plan to do the walk. Please see link HERE if you're interested. 

On day one I was picked up at my door by our hike leader just before 6:00am. By 9:00am we were at Leliyn (Edith Falls). We parked the cars and got our packs out just in time to meet the coach that had been booked to transport us south to Nitmiluk Gorge where the hike would begin. We would return to the cars on foot in 5 days.

After checking in at the ranger station we caught the ferry across the river adjusted our packs and commenced the walk by about 11:00 am.

The sun was already high it was a hot but dry day, just fine for walking. As we set off single file up hill from the river bank a cloud of grey dust rose above our shins. Yes! It's really happening. I was feeling particularly buoyant, I actually didn't think I'd be making this trip until next year. Yet. Here I was with a pack on my back and my boots grinding the loose gravel of a 60km track!


After about an hour and a half of walking I noticed my right boot seemed to be slipping, I looked down and found the sole had become unstuck all the way from the toe to about a third of the way to the heel! I couldn't fricking believe it! First day of a 5 day hike and I felt sure I'd have to pull out due to a the pathetic state of shoe manufacturing in the 21st century! 

Another member of our group was really struggling to keep up, hills just completely knocked her and we were all wondering if it was safe for her to go on. As my shoes were probably not going to make it I reluctantly offered to walk back with her to the river and to leave the hike. I couldn't believe, I'd actually be dropping out of another trip! 

Having progressed to a position quite far ahead of the slower walkers I took my boot off, pulled out some cable ties and begun a haphazard attempt at repairing my boot. After borrowing some electrical tape and a spare shoelace from another hiker I could only hope that the sole would remain attached. Another hiker, with far more experience, inspected my handiwork and made a few suggestions then reassured me that it happens every trip and if I could prevent the sole from pealing back it might be possible to complete the walk.

Trail Marker. There were many of these

As for going back... the other hiker was quite determined to proceed, so we moved on and all arrived at camp in tact.

Crystal falls camp was beautiful, I arrived with a cracking headache (Caffeine withdrawal) but after a couple of panadol a cup of coffee, a swim in the most inviting waterhole I soon felt quite relaxed.

At about 2am on our first night at camp I heard a deep and heavy breathing followed by heavy grinding sound, at first it was faint but grew heavier and louder as whatever it was got closer to my tent. I lay silently in my bed and listed intently, I had heard that sound before, it was the deep slow bovine chomping of a large grass eating mammal... A BUFFALO! I shone my torch and could just see the eye shine of an animal about 20 meters from my flimsy mosquito dome. I had no idea what I should do so I just lay there. After five minutes it had passed.

Over the next four days and three nights we passed through high stony country and low sandy soils, we wandered through a variety of habitats with quite differing vegetation types, some land had been burned while other parts still had a lovely covering of delicate tinder dry grass that folded over onto the track like a narrow carpet of straw. We camped by water holes of flowing water crystal clear and sweet to drink.

Sandy Camp - Tent, pack and Hammock. (I really like my hammock!)

Once again my pack was overweight but at not so much that I struggled to walk. I ate porridge for breakfast, a couple of musely bars for lunch and noodles at night. With just two coffees per day my withdrawal symptoms were gone and I didn't crave coffee at all. I could feel my fitness return with each day and all worry of work or life in the city evaporated. In the evenings a few of us would find a flat rock in the open so we could lay back and stare into the moonless night sky, full of stars planets and constellations. Venus was so bright we could see it's reflection clearly in the sandstone rock holes of clear spring water and hit the sack when it had sunk below the horizon.

At various stages along the walk I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude, a kind of bliss at the joy of just being. My life felt quite alright and I didn't need anything! Those are the moments I will try to remember. Nothing spectacular just purely content.

Along the way I had to make ongoing repairs to both my boots. Toward the end of the last day the complex network of cable ties, tent guy ropes, shoelace and tape failed to hold my right boot together, the sole peeled completely off. The boots had lasted far longer than I had expected with only 4 km to go I had nothing to worry about. A member of our group lent me his sandal and I continued to the end feeling as though I had been blessed.

We arrived back at the Leliyn carpark just before 2pm on Sunday afternoon. After a cool drink, a shower and a change of clothes we all headed back to Darwin satisfied and relaxed.

Thank you Darwin Bushwalking Club for providing this wonderful opportunity and great company. We all made it back safe, no evacuations, no major injuries.
Can't wait for the next one!

Extra thanks to the Jawoyn People (traditional owners), NT Parks and the Darwin Bushwalking club.