Putanga – Life on the Road

Stories from my journeys around the world…

Holiday in Kakadu

Posted by Monica Johansen on September 19, 2008

This is my very first blog item, and I thought I could start this blog by writing a little story about my holiday alone in the Northern Territory of Australia quite recently.

Our tour vehicle, a Toyota Landcruiser

Our tour vehicle, a Toyota Landcruiser

Why I ended up alone in Darwin in the first place is a long story, but the short version is that I was planning to meet my Australian ex-boyfriend there. He currently lives in Sydney, and Darwin is about half way between Singapore and Sydney, so we thought it would be a perfect place to meet for a vacation. Besides I had always wanted to see the real Australian outback, but while I was living in Australia I didn’t really have much time to go in holiday. However, a few weeks before the trip my ex cancelled, and since my tickets were non-refundable I decided to go alone.

Anyway, I landed in Darwin around 04:30 AM on Saturday August 02, and my flight back to Singapore was scheduled for Saturday one week later. Despite the unpleasantly early hour there were lots of people at the airport, and I even found an open tourist information desk. Since I didn’t have a place to stay for the week I ask the guy behind the desk if he could help me with accommodation, but he told me that everything was fully booked due to a festival the same week, and that my best chance was to jump on one of the 4-5 day trips in the bush so I at least didn’t have to sleep on the street. He advised me to take the bus into the city and check with one of the tourist information offices if they had anything available.

So around 05:30 AM I was sitting on a bus on the way to Darwin together with a couple of loud backpackers in the back. One of the backpackers was bragging about all the places he had visited the last few weeks, and while he was talking I was surprised by how little he actually knew about the places he had visited. For instance, he was talking about Singapore, and from the story he told I could simply not recognize my home town. Then I realized that this is in fact the problem with backpacking in general, young kids running around like headless chickens trying to cover as much as possible and spending as little money as possible over a fixed period of time. In addition, many people only spend time with their friends or other backpackers, so they never actually learn anything.

Lookout

Lookout

In my opinion, the best way to travel is with work. I agree that you often don’t have much time to look around, but you are working with local people, and you have to adjust and learn how to interact with them in a way that will make it possible to get the job done without offending anyone. The benefit is also that many customers will be happy to take you out in the evening and on the weekends to show you their city or country, and that is when you get a chance to see the places that tourists typically will never see.

Well, back to my holiday story. I was sitting on the bus to Darwin, and I thought to myself: Monica, what have you got yourself into this time? No plan, no hotel room and no friends within 3000 KM. For a short while I was actually considering changing my ticket to go back to Singapore earlier, but I am glad I didn’t because it turned out to be one of the best vacations I have ever had.

When I arrived in Darwin city center nothing was open but a small café at the bus station, and I decided to hang out there for a couple of hours until the tourist information offices were open and I could book myself on to some sort of an organized trip. When the city finally came to life that morning I went into one of the combined backpacker hostel and travel agency places, and I ended up talking to a lovely young girl who recommended a 5-days camping trip in the Kakadu National Park. She even managed to get me a room at the hostel for the night, because the trip started the next morning, and she also booked me into a room for the last couple of nights before my flight back to Singapore.

Eventually I managed to kill the first day in Darwin, and the next morning I was picked up outside the hostel by the tour guide, an ex-Englishman called Ian. There were already a couple of guys in the back of the car, and after picking up a few more people and completing the necessary paperwork we could finally head towards Kakadu National Park.

Raptors

Raptors

Jumping on these organized group tours can be a hit and miss, and you never know what kind of people you end up with. It is no fun being stuck in the bush for days with a bunch of people you can’t stand, but luckily my group consisted of some really awesome guys. There were four Swiss, and only two of them knew each other from before. There were also four Australians, two couples coming from Melbourne but never having met before. And then there was our Pom guide who recently had his Australian citizenship. I guess I was the real outcast, the odd Norwegian who didn’t eat meat and drink coffee.

I have always loved the outdoors, and I would rather go hiking than watching the nature from a car window. And luckily our guide enjoyed the more physical trips, so we ended up walking more than driving. The activities ranged from a billabong boat trip to watch crocodiles, climbing to the top of amazing waterfalls, making our way trough almost impassable bush, watching aboriginal wall paintings and learning how to throw spears and play the didgeridoo. But despite the amazing nature and physical exercise, I think what I enjoyed the most on the trip was sitting around the fire at night with great company while listening to Ian’s crocodile stories, sleeping under the open sky and watching the stars until my eyes closed by themselves.

In fact, while I was lying in my sleeping bag, smelling the campfire and watching the shooting stars falling out of the sky, I came to think of the theme song from the Lord of the Rings.

Evening in Darwin

May it be an evening star
Shines down upon you
May it be when darkness falls
Your heart will be true
You walk a lonely road
Oh! How far you are from home

Mornie utúlië
Believe and you will find your way
Mornie alantië
A promise lives within you now

The strange thing is, I had never been to Northern Territory earlier, and I am not even Australian, but I have never in my life felt more like home than I did when camping in Kakadu.

When it was time to head back to Darwin we were all quite sad that the trip had come to an end. I spent the last couple of days in Darwin hanging out with some of the new friends I had made on the trip, and on Saturday I was on a plane back to Singapore. Today it is exactly six weeks since I came back from Darwin, and I am still thinking about my holiday and wishing I could go back again soon. The nature, the people and the atmosphere of the place is amazing, and I know that I will be back there again some day.

Until then I have a bunch of great photos to look at…

You will find my photos here: http://monicaaj71.vndv.com/20080802/.

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4 Responses to “Holiday in Kakadu”

  1. Nina said

    Velkommen som blogger Monica 🙂

  2. Gwyn said

    Hi Monica,
    This trip sounds amazing! I’m planning my upcoming six month visit to Australia, and I would like to spend some time in the outback. Do you mind if i ask about how much a tour like this would cost you? Trying to figure out a budget…
    Thanks for the great story!
    Gwyn

  3. Thanks for the helpful advice! Where did you live in Australia? i’ve talked to so many people and everyone has opposite opinions on which cities are good to live in and which are bad… But i guess i’ll see for myself in a few months
    Gwyn

  4. putanga said

    Hi Gwyn,

    Yes, people have very different opinion about where you should live in Australia. I lived in Sydney, and in the beginning I hated it, but then it grew on me and now I love the place. Personally, I would say that Melbourne is more “European” than Sydney, with a relatively large Greek and Italian population, and the Melbournians are very proud of their restaurants and Coffee Shops. But Sydney has the beaches and beautiful harbor.

    Brisbane is a smaller city, and very nice and relaxed. I found that people in Queensland in general are more typical “Aussie”, or what you would expect Australians to be like (from TV etc). And I am going to Perth for the first time this Christmas, so I don’t know much about that place yet.

    At the end of the day, I suppose Australia is like most other countries, people are more relaxed in smaller places, but if you want a well paid job you need to move to the larger cities.

    Anyway, I am sure you will have an awesome trip wherever you go in Australia. 🙂

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