The Ghan train departs Alice Springs at 1630 and arrives the next day in Darwin at 1600. The train does stop for three hours in the Top End city of Katherine before continuing on to Darwin:
My wife and I used the layover as a chance to go and walk around the town of Katherine. We expected that the train station would be within walking distance of downtown, but we were surprised to find that the train station is in fact in the middle of no where. We had to call a taxi to come get us from the isolated train station. The taxi ride from the train station to the city was about $20 bucks. The city of Katherine has a population of about 7000 people which approximately half the population is Aboriginal. The Aborigines are very noticeable in town. They don’t bother the tourists at all but it is uncomfortable to see people passed out drunk on the sidewalk, men and women screaming at each other, and park benches filled with people doing nothing. I don’t claim to know a whole lot about the Aborigines in Australia, but to say the least they don’t make a very good first impression.
Image from here.
The rest of Katherine that is not Aboriginal relies on tourism or the cattle industry to make a living. Cattle is a major industry throughout the Top End with it’s vast green lands. Also, the city of Katherine borders the Katherine River which between Adelaide and Katherine is the only year round river system. To put that in perspective imagine between South Texas and Minnesota if there were no year round river systems. That was one of the main reasons why the interior of Australia remained one of the world’s last explored continents all the way into the early 1900’s; because there is just so little water. However, Katherine has plenty of water and often too much water, due to the frequent flooding of the Katherine River that has leveled the town on multiple occasions. The last time the city was wiped out was in 1998. On the old railroad trestle bridge across the Katherine river on the North side of town, a sign is posted indicating how high the flood water was in 1998. It has to be seen to believed how high the flood waters were. It is a wonder people still live there.
The Katherine River is one of many rivers in the Top End that creates a uniquely tropical Australian environment. I say uniquely tropical because just like everywhere else in Australia the gum trees have evolved to grow in the hot, humid Top End as well. These trees are really amazing because they are versatile enough to grow in the deserts of the Outback, the plains of the bush lands, and high in the snows of the Great Dividing Range. Truly a remarkable plant species.
Besides what little I mentioned, there is really nothing else to see in town besides the usual tourist stores, businesses, and accommodations. The big tourism draw to Katherine is the lovely Katherine Gorge which my wife and I planned on exploring later on in our journey to the Top End:
Ghan Train Line, click view image for closer view.
After the Ghan pulled out of Katherine Station it continued on northward for another three hours through the green tropical environment. At Darwin Station we found ourselves in a long line waiting for a taxi cab because once again the station is located in the middle of no where. Darwin Station is even more isolated than Katherine Station. I don’t even know why they call it Darwin Station because it is no where near Darwin. It was a $40 taxi ride just to get to our hotel from the station. That is how far from Darwin it is. I am beginning to think that these train stations were built in these cities with the taxi cab drivers specifically in mind. The taxi cab drivers are guaranteed a steady income from the train passengers by placing the stations so far outside of the cities. Great for taxi cab drivers, but bad for us tourists.
Anyway we stayed at the Best Western Top End Hotel in Darwin which ended up being a really nice, friendly place which I recommend to anyone reading this and thinking of going to Darwin. That evening for sunset the wife and I went for a walk along a park that follows the beautiful Darwin bay:
The park was lined with beautiful palm trees like you see above, that were silhouetted against the setting sun. I think the above picture came out really well, any thoughts?
The picture below is of the harbor itself as the sun sets:
We spent one night in the hotel before getting in another taxi the next morning to pick up the campervan I reserved online. Conveniently once again for the cab drivers, the Britz campervan company is located on the outskirts of the city meaning another big cab fair for the drivers.
We were scheduled to pick up the campervan at 0930 that morning. We showed up at 0915. You wouldn’t believe what time we left the place with our campervan, 1PM! That’s right. We had to go through nearly 4 hours of waiting in line, getting a briefing, waiting in line again, sign a few forms, wait in line again, inventory the vehicle, wait in line again, finally get your keys and leave the place. Of course they charge you a full day price for the campervan that you spent half a day jerking around with their company procedures just to get the said campervan. Needless say we did not have a pleasant beginning to our first campervan experience; it didn’t get much better from here either.
We were now way behind our time line since we had to wait so long for the campervan. We wanted to watch the 13:30 Jumping Crocodile Show but now we had no way of making that time. The next show was at 15:30 so we had to hustle to make the show which was located on the Adelaide River about an hour and a half from the campervan rental company. That left us about an hour to buy supplies and anything else we needed to get done before we hit the road. We stopped at a Woolsworth just down the road and bought enough food to last us for all of our meals for 5 days. I spent $156 bucks on food which wasn’t all ramen noodles. The campervan had a full kitchen in it and we planned on putting it to good use. We bought steaks, salmon, frozen vegetables, potatoes, bacon, eggs, etc. We ate very well for 5 full days off of what we bought on this one trip to Woolsworth. We definitely saved a lot of money in the food department with the campervan since we did not have to eat at any restaurants.
While sitting in the Woolsworth parking lot I happened to notice this interesting vehicle outside:
It was a porn delivery truck! This porn company drives around and stocks porno magazines in all the local stores. Learn something new every day.
Anyway we now had a stocked campervan and a little under two hours to get to the Adelaide River to see the Jumping Crocodile show. Getting to the river was pretty straight forward because there isn’t to many roads in the Top End, so I was confident we wouldn’t get lost, but what I didn’t expect was the amount of signs proclaiming to be the Jumping Crocodile show. We almost made a few wrong turns to places other than the one I had in my Lonely Planet guide book, which was the original Jumping Crocodile tour. We didn’t want to see imitators; we wanted to see the real thing, so after some searching and avoiding the false Jumping Croc signs we found a big billboard proclaiming to be The Original Jumping Crocodile Tour.
Of course it had huge oversized crocodile model in front of it:
We had found the place with 20 minutes to spare! We hustled and bought our tickets for $70 bucks a piece to get on the Adelaide River Queen boat:
$140 bucks for two tickets for a two hour cruise may seem steep at first, but once the tour was over, we felt it was worth every penny!
The day was really beautiful and the scenery terrific, but we were soon going to find out the danger that lied right beneath us in the murky water:
Not long after the boat pulled out we began to see the massive crocodiles come swimming towards the boat:
The Crocodile Dundee type guide made sure to tell everyone to keep their limbs inside the boat; we would soon find out why. The guide on the boat hangs a piece of meat off of a bamboo pole from the boat. The crocodiles will come one at at time to eat this easy meal; the only catch for them is that they have to jump out of the water to get it and jump they do. It is absolutely incredible how far out of the water the crocodiles jump to get the meat:
Before anyone decides to go call PETA on these guys, the crocodiles are not trained to jump up at the meat. In fact crocodiles naturally learn to jump out of the water to eat birds sitting on tree limbs overhanging the river. So them jumping out of the water for a piece of meat is in fact a natural reaction. Here are a few more jumping crocodile pics:
Just incredible to see these monsters jumping out of the water so high. You have to see these 4-6 meter crocodiles in action for yourself to really appreciate them. If you are wondering why only one crocodile at a time comes up to the boat to eat, that is because crocodiles are highly territorial and fight over turf. So as the boat travels down the river, it stops in each crocodile’s turf to feed it. Every once in a while if the boat was stopped on the border of two crocodiles turf the bigger crocodile would chase off the smaller one for the easy meal.
The crocodiles weren’t the only ones scoring easy meals though. The sea eagles and other birds were as well. Here is one the large sea eagles for you:
The guides threw some chunks of meat in the air and the birds swooped around the boat and grabbed them in midair. It was really quite impressive:
Like I said before, this tour was worth every penny we paid. If we ever go to the Top End again, we both would be willing to go on the Jumping Crocodile tour again. It is a definite must see for anyone touring the Top End.
After the tour we got back in our campervan and headed for the Mary River campground where we decided to stay for the night. To hook up our campervan at the campground only cost $15 bucks a night. This gave us power to everything inside the campervan, most importantly the large air conditioner on the roof of the campervan:
My wife proceeded to cook up our first campervan meal, steak!
Getting out campervan that morning had been a nightmare, but ultimately we ended up having a great first day in the Top End with the jumping crocodiles. Our tour of the Top End would only get better as the next day we headed off to Kakadu National Park.
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