Is the Juice Worth The Squeeze?
So that's the question I've been asking myself. Is it worth it to be on a tour bus for 6-8 hours a day in order to see the parks up here in the NT? I am not a good tour bus tourist. First of all, I like to think of myself as a traveler. Not a tourist. Someone who experiences a country and what it has to offer. Not just schelp from one tourist spot to another. And yes I've been doing a little bit of that, but I'm also doing more than just that. Second, my TBN kicks in pretty quickly so I spend most of the trip in some sort of weird stupor. Which isn't necessarily that bad when you are on the bus for that long. But still. And I think the answer is yes. I've only been to two of the NPs so far, but they are pretty spectacular. The scenery is amazing. The geology, flora, and fauna are all distinct and nothing Iike back in the states. And I think even in the US you'd have a hard time going to three national parks from the same city without sitting in a bus for a long time. Which is all to say that I got in a tour bus at 0615 this AM. And got back to my hotel at 8PM. So it's a long day in the bus. But totally worth it.
I've been referring to this park as Katherine Gorges and while that's correct, the real name for the park is Nitmulik National Park. That's what the aboriginals who "own" the land call it and want people to call it by. So this is sort of like the Ayers Rock vs Uluru issue. I said "owned" because they did get control of the land back from the Australian government in 1989 after some lengthy lawsuits, but they don't think of themselves as owning the land. They think of themselves as caretakers of the land. Which I think is a really cool way to think about it. So they "own" really large areas of the Northern Territories, but then they lease the park areas back to the government so they are available for tourists to visit. They are good with that, but apparently they were not good with opening up another uranium mine in the area, so they are being good caretakers of the land.
The Katherine River passes through this really amazing section of massive sandstone that has been fractured over the past millions of years creating a series of gorges that are pretty spectacular. The way sandstone fractures, it sort of does it at right angles, so one gorge is actually a series of smaller gorges that meet at right angles as the water flows down. Now while it is the rainy season here, I've actually been lucky as there hasn't been any rain except for that first savage thunderstorm the night I arrived in Darwin. So the water level in the gorge has actually dropped quite a bit (by like 2 meters!) over the last couple of days. So what that meant was that we would get to see two of the gorges.
So we hopped on another boat (which seems to be my common mode of travel here in the Top End), and head up into the gorge. It really is so pretty. The sandstone is all sorts of different colors and the lush green foliage along the gorge and clinging to the rocks is so pretty. The reason why the water levels are so drastic is that when the rain hits the escarpment plateau, it only has a couple of channels down from that height. So it's a lot of rain, being squeezed into just a couple of creeks and rivers. In the big monsoon season of 2011, the gorge was almost 3/4 full. It was like only 1/8th today. And while I looked majestic today, I'm sure it was pretty scary when it was that full. And when it's too full, they can only do tours in the first gorge. If you have time, you can walk to see all 13 gorges, but sadly we didn't have time for that. Plus, I'm not sure some of my tour mates could make it.
After the tour, it was back in the tour bus. For 4 hours. Ugh. But so worth it. Off to Litchfield NP tomorrow!