After a hurried lunch at Ravineside Lodge, I got to experience my first safari ride at 4:15pm – no thanks to the coach driver from Hell. His stubbornness had resulted in the group’s late arrival at the lodge. The original scheduled game drive had to be shifted to a later time meaning a significant reduction in available daylight hours to view the wildlife. By the time the sun went down behind the mountains at 6:30pm, the grassland was already too dark to see and most of the wildlife had already gone home.
Here are some images of the wildlife and landscape (in chronological order) that I did manage to photograph before the last rays of light left the sky.
The next morning, I was up and ready by 5:30am for our second game drive. While everyone waited inside the lodge for the 4WDs to drive up, I remained outside to see if I could catch an Entabeni sunrise. Personally, I did not think that the spot where I was standing was a good location for a sunrise photo, but my options were limited as we were warned not to venture out of the compound in case of wildlife lurking nearby. I just wanted a snapshot of my first and only morning at Entabeni.
I was so focused on getting a shot of the sunrise that I had not realised that a rhinoceros had entered my frame. I only noticed the rhino while scrolling through the photos on my laptop after my return from South Africa. What a nice surprise!
All in all, the game drives were exciting and lots of fun. I enjoyed the scenery and 4WD rides as much as I enjoyed viewing the wildlife.
The rangers went out of their way to make sure that we got to see as many animals as possible. Their sense of responsibility towards ensuring the safety of their guests at all times was commendable.
After breakfast, we got ready to check out of Entabeni. Everyone climbed into the waiting vehicles that would take us to the Security entrance where the coach was parked.
We waited for some time until someone asked what was causing the delay. The tour guide ran out, looking flustered and saying that she had tried to call the coach driver several times but he had refused to answer his phone. He finally made his appearance fifteen minutes later and got into the 4WD. Not a word of apology.
You would have thought that we would be well on our way to Pretoria after getting into the coach. As luck would have it, the coach refused to start as the engine had gone cold. We had to stand around for another hour while waiting for help to come and resuscitate the engine!
Despite the little hiccups, this was one of my best trips ever and I had a wonderful time. Coming on this safari was a real test at photographing the African landscape and wildlife. Everything was moving, shifting and changing simultaneously – the 4WD, the landscape, the wildlife, the light conditions. It was an unforgettable adventure and a great way to end the year.
A visit to Cape Town is not complete without a visit to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. Set in a 36-hectare site on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, it certainly lives up to its reputation as a wonderful showcase for South Africa’s indigenous flora.
Kirstenbosch was established in 1913 to promote, conserve and display the extraordinarily rich and diverse flora of southern Africa. Over 7000 species of indigenous plants are found here, including many rare and threatened species. In addition, there’s also a rich collection of bulbs, alpines and ferns.
In 2004, Kirstenbosch as part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, became the first botanic garden in the world to be included as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nature and flower lovers will no doubt be blown away by this place. The are a number of stunning themed gardens connected by hidden trails that offer little surprises at each turning. There is a lovely wooden tree canopy walkway giving breathtaking views of the rich and colourful landscape, with the majestic Table Mountain standing as a backdrop.
Inside the Visitors’ Centre entrance and at the main lawn is a bust of Nelson Mandela standing next to a pepper-bark tree (Warburgia salutaris). The bust was sculpted by John Francis Gardner, who gifted it to Kirstenbosch to commemorate Mandela’s planting of the tree during his visit on 21 August 1996.
It portrays Nelson Mandela during the pivotal years of his presidency and captures his radiance and generous spirit for which he is so well known.
Strelitzia reginae ‘Mandela’s Gold’ is a rare, yellow form of the crane flower and famous orange bird of paradise. This spectacular flower has flaring, yellow petals and a blue tongue reminiscent of a crested tropical bird. The grey-green leaves can grow to a height of about 1.5 metres and the large bird-like flowers stand above the foliage on the tips of long, sturdy stalks during winter and spring.
Too bad that we were given only an hour-and-a-half to roam around – which was hardly enough time at all, considering that six of us spent about half an hour going round in circles, trying to find the right path that would lead us to our meeting point at the second entrance to Kirstenbosch. Nevertheless, it was a morning well-spent in a very tiny corner of the African continent where for a while, everything was peaceful, balanced and beautiful.
Puteri (Princess) Waterfalls sits on the lower slopes of Gunung Ledang (Mount Ledang also known as Mount Ophir), between the borders of Malacca and Johor in Malaysia. Rising from a lofty height of 1276 metres, Gunung Ledang is the highest mountain in Johor, rich in diverse flora in a lush tropical rainforest.
The mountain is popular with amateur climbers as there is a trail leading straight to the summit. This, however, does not mean that the hike up is easy. Some parts are steep and slippery, requiring ropes to negotiate the rocky outcrops. A climber also needs to be fit as it takes about 6 hours of energetic hiking to reach the summit. Accidents have occurred in the past, some fatal, and it is now compulsory for climbers to be accompanied by local guides.
Gunung Ledang is considered a sacred mountain, steeped in myth and legend. There are stories of gold deposits in the mountain, and the Puteri Gunung Ledang (Princess of Mount Ledang) that lives on the summit.
During the reign of Malacca’s Sultan Mahmud Shah in the 15th Century, it was believed that a beautiful fairy princess lived on top of Mount Ledang. News of her beauty reached the Sultan’s ears and he was eager to make her his wife.
The Sultan sent two of his most experienced and trusted aids, Hang Tuah and Tun Mamat, to go up Mount Ledang to propose to the Princess. The climb was paved with many obstacles and in the end, only Tun Mamat managed to make it to the top. Upon reaching the summit, he did not meet the Princess of Mount Ledang, but was instead greeted by an old woman (believed to be the Princess of Mount Ledang in disguise) who claimed to be the guardian of the Princess. She outlined seven conditions that the Sultan needed to fulfil before the Princess would accept the Sultan’s marriage proposal:-
A bridge made of pure gold from Mount Ledang to Malacca A bridge of pure silver for her to return from Malacca to Mount Ledang Seven jars of tears from virgin girls for her bath Seven jars of young beetle nut juice (young betel nuts do not have juice) Seven trays with hearts of germs, Seven trays with hearts of mosquitoes, and A bowl of blood from the Sultan’s son
Some versions of the legend say that the Sultan was not able to fulfill any of these conditions, while others say that he was able to fulfill the first six requests but not the last one which would have required him to kill his son. Yet another version says that the Sultan attempted to kill his sleeping son, but just as he lifted the dagger, the Princess appeared before him and told him that she could not possibly marry a man who was willing to murder his own son.
The point of the story is that the Sultan was simply too egoistic and blind to realise that the impossible conditions set were merely a tactful and polite way of rejecting his marriage proposal.
Today Gunung Ledang is a place for relaxation, swimming, camping and mountain hiking.
This post is not about my hike up the mountain and meeting the Princess. I would rather not meet her face-to-face. There are stories of unnatural deaths befalling those who claim to have seen the Princess. Furthermore, I am not fit enough to be able to embark on 6 hours of energetic hiking! I would probably take 8 to 9 hours to reach the top, requiring me to spend a night on the mountain!
Instead, I headed for Puteri Waterfalls at the foothills of Gunung Ledang.
My 800-metre hike to the waterfalls started from the car park at Puteri Waterfalls Resort. There is ample car park space at USD0.50 per vehicle and an entrance fee of USD0.75 per adult.
There are a number of sections along the path leading to the Falls that accommodates the kind of activity that suits you. At the start of the hiking point, the walkway is cemented and the surrounding area sandy and open. This section is popular among the locals for picnics, with the water being shallow enough for children to splash in.
Further inwards, the cement path gives way to a stone path. Huge rocks and boulders are everywhere, adding to the beauty and serenity of the forest. A camp site is available for nature lovers who wish to take in the natural sights and sounds of the surroundings. There is an alternative dirt trail to the waterfalls for those who wish to get off the beaten track and experience the thrill of adventure.
While making my way along the deserted track, the therapeutic sounds from the forest were rudely interrupted by a disturbance coming from the bushes. I stopped short on my tracks and looked around, expecting a snake or wild animal to make its appearance. From nowhere, a huge monitor lizard, the size of a small alligator, sauntered in front of me, and disappearing as quickly to the other side of the path. It had come to depend on the litter bin for its food supply, scavenging and scattering rubbish all over the ground.
The hike became more and more energy-draining as I made my way along the slopes of Gunung Ledang. My only consolation was that with every step, the sound of gushing water became louder – a clear sign that I was getting nearer to the waterfalls.
Finally, the thick bushes opened up to a clearing and I was overjoyed to see a curtain of white water tumbling over the rocks. A stairway leading to the top of the waterfall had been carved out of stone on one side, providing an uninterrupted view of the powerful rapids as they made their descent across the slope to the ground below.
I spent quite some time on the steps just watching the water coming down like a never-ending water bucket! It was also an excuse for me to take a short rest before mustering enough energy for the long climb up find out what lay beyond the staircase.
At the top, I was slightly disappointed not to find a plunge pool, but yet another trail leading into the shadowy recesses of the forest. Throughout the entire hike, I had not come across a single soul headed in the same direction. I was getting a little concerned that I had made a wrong turning and was unknowingly on my way to pay homage to the Princess on the summit! The track descended round a bend so I decided to check out where it would lead.
I made my way along the trail across some boulders and rocks. About 30 metres in, the undergrowth opened up to reveal another waterfall – this one bigger and more impressive than the earlier one. I had come upon the second tier of Puteri Waterfalls!
This tier of Puteri Waterfalls marks the end of the paved track and the start of where the real climbing begins. It’s best not to venture beyond this point if you are unfamiliar with the topography of the mountain. As I stated earlier, Gunung Ledang is a spiritual mountain and it is not advisable to go up alone. If you must go, be sure that you are accompanied by a local guide.
Mention the word ‘koala’ to me and the first image that comes to mind is a cute, furry grey animal with a white stomach and no tail, found in souvenir shops, wildlife magazines and at best, in an Aussie zoo! Yes, I’ve caught glimpses of koalas in the wild. However, those sightings were not only rare, but difficult to spot as koalas usually sit high up in eucalyptus branches.
Driver: Look, there’s one up there!
Me: Where? Where?
Driver: See the big tree in the middle? (Duh???) She’s right there.
Me: I see only lots of trees. Where?
Driver: It’s a bit dark but you can still see her. Up there. Look, she’s moving now.
Me: Where? Where?
Everyone else: Yes, there she is! Aww! That’s so cute!
Me: Where? Where?
Driver: That’s all, folks. The koala’s gone!
I had never really seen a koala in its natural habitat until I visited the Koala Conservation Centre in Phillip Island. The Centre plays host to a special koala breeding programme, ensuring it remains a key player in the conservation of these iconic animals.
The unique treetop boardwalks in a eucalypt woodland area gives visitors the chance to see how these amazing creatures live as they would in the wild. Even while strolling, two or three koalas could be seen relaxing in the trees directly above me.
It was super exciting to see them face-to-face. Never in my life had I come this close to a koala. This fella was like on a branch five feet away from me and I could literally touch him if I leaned forward and stretched out my hand.
I was half expecting the koala to move away but instead, he moved even nearer towards me, bringing the both of us to eye level by his sheer weight on the branch. We just stared at each other for around a minute, waiting to see the other’s next move. It was perfect timing for a photograph (or selfie) but I didn’t want to scare him off with a lens in front of my face. That was a very special moment for me and one which I will never forget.
Certain stretches of the wooden boardwalk have more koala poo than others, indicating that koalas have their favourite spots to hang out. When walking along this part of the bridge, you need to be on your toes (pardon the pun) to avoid stepping on koala poo and keep looking upwards occasionally to make sure that no koala does its toilet business on you!
I have to admit that I’ve never ever seen a koala walk on the ground before! It was specially thrilling to see this cute fella casually climbing down the tree trunk and sitting on a log for a quick rest…
…before making his way under the boardwalk where I was standing. He appeared on the other side and proceeded to climb up another tree! How I wished I had videotaped the scene but I was so excited to see the koala on the ground that I couldn’t think straight!
Kennett River situated along the coastal bushland between Lorne and Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road is one of the best places in Australia to see koalas in the wild. This area is home to hundreds of colonies that live in both the forests and more urbanised areas. You are practically guaranteed close koala sightings if you drive up the Grey River Road. Here, they can be found in trees surrounding the houses, in peoples’ gardens, relaxing on someone’s balcony and occasionally crossing the road!
Hearing this catchy tune on the way back to Melbourne, “Please Don’t Call Me a Koala Bear‘ by Don Spencer, sealed the end of a thoroughly enjoyable day with the koalas!
Please Don’t Call Me a Koala Bear
I’m a koala not a bear
And I don’t think it’s fair The way that people always add a word that isn’t there I’m a marsupial and proud of it And there can be no doubt of it I’m closer to a kangaroo than I am to a bear
So please don’t call me a koala bear Coz I’m not a bear at all Please don’t call me a koala bear It’s driving me up the wall If your name was Tom And everyone called you Dick Perhaps you’d understand why I’m sick, sick, sick I’m simply a koala And I want the name to stick
So please don’t call me a koala bear
I live here in Australia In a eucalyptus tree I’m as cuddly, cute and charming as an animal can be I don’t understand fair dinkum How anyone could think them Grizzly bears and polar bears Are anything like me
So please dont call me a koala bear Coz I’m not a bear at all Please don’t call me a koala bear It’s driving me up the wall If your name was Tom And everyone called you Dick Perhaps you’d understand why I’m sick, sick, sick I’m simply a koala And I want the name to stick
Loch Ard Gorge is a must-stop point along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia. It’s found in Port Campbell National Park, just three minutes away from the world-famous Twelve Apostles.
Flanked by two cliff faces and tufts of vibrant greenery, this scenic gorge is home to a secluded, turquoise-coloured bay with rolling waves caressing a narrow, sandy beach. However, Loch Ard Gorge isn’t just another natural Aussie attraction. It has a history of tragedy, irony and heroism that started from a voyage 130 years ago.
In 1878, the Loch Ard, a magnificent three-masted square-rigged iron clipper ship set sail from Gravesend (I’m serious!) in Kent, UK. Measuring 263 feet long with a beam of 38 feet, it carried onboard 17 passengers and 37 crew for a 3-month voyage to Melbourne. For the past 90 days at sea, it had been smooth-sailing and everyone was in good spirits, looking forward to their arrival in Melbourne the next day. On the night of 31 May 1878, a party was organised to celebrate the end of a long voyage.
Many days of fog and poor weather had made it difficult for the newly married, 29-year-old Captain Gibb to calculate his exact position for the critical passage into the western entrance of Bass Strait. By the time the mist lifted around 4:00am, the Loch Ard was greeted by powerful breakers and treacherous cliffs of the Victorian coast just two miles away. The Captain and his crew tried desperately to drop their anchors in an effort to steady the ship and turn her about, but it was too late. There was not enough space to manoeuvre such a large vessel, particularly with the wind and current against her. The Loch Ard struck Mutton Bird Island, crashing against the reef, dislodging rocks from the limestone cliffs onto the ship’s decks.
Pandemonium broke out as the crew struggled to launch the lifeboats, while passengers screamed in terror as the ship started to disintegrate. Many of the crew and passengers were washed overboard, and others trapped as the sea began to invade the ship. The Loch Ard sank within 15 minutes of the crash, with passengers having little chance of survival in the icy and treacherous waters.
Fifty-two people went down with the ship on that day. Only 4 bodies were eventually recovered and later buried in the clifftop cemetery – in coffins made from piano crates!
Only two people survived the Loch Ard Shipwreck – Tom Pearce, an apprentice seaman aged 18 years, and Eva Carmichael, also 18, a passenger emigrating with her family to start a new life in Australia. When the Loch Ard was going down, Eva had raced onto the deck to find out what was happening, only to be confronted by towering cliffs looming above the stricken ship, before being swept off by a huge wave. She could not swim and clung fiercely to a chicken coop for 5 hours. As the angry waves carried her nearer towards the entrance of a long, narrow gorge, she saw a lone figure on the distant beach and screamed for help.
Tom Pearce, a member of the crew, was swept into the sea while helping to launch a lifeboat. He managed to hold on underneath the upturned boat and was swept into the same deep gorge that now bears the name Loch Ard Gorge. He managed to swim to shore and was recuperating in a sea cave when he heard Eva’s cries for help. Although himself exhausted, he bravely dashed back out into the raging sea to rescue Eva. It took him an hour to swim out to Eva and pull her ashore. He brought Eva to a nearby cave in the gorge where she collapsed from her ordeal. After a few hours of resting, Tom climbed up the surrounding cliff and walked over three miles to seek help.
He managed to raise the alarm from the nearby Glenample Homestead and both survivors spent the rest of their time recovering at the farmhouse.
Tom and Eva became the subject of intense media attention and romantic speculation. On the one hand, there was the romantic expectation for them to marry. On the other, Victorian attitudes suggested that she was compromised by sleeping in a cave with a young sailor, and he should do the right thing by offering to marry her. Disappointingly for the romantics amongst us, Tom and Eva went their separate ways. They never saw each other again. Eva returned to Ireland where she later got married. Tom went back to sea and his heroism earned him a medal from the Humane Society.
Visitors to the area today can see the Gorge where the disaster took place, the rock stack of Mutton Bird Island that brought down the Loch Ard, the beach where Tom and Eva struggled ashore, and the cave where she lay exhausted while Tom went for help.
The other survivor of the shipwreck is a life-sized, brilliantly-coloured 1.5-metre-tall Minton porcelain peacock, perched on a rock. It was on its way from England to be displayed at Melbourne’s Great International Exhibition of 1880. Apart from a small chip on its beak, it was undamaged and is Australia’s most valuable shipwreck relic on display at Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum with an estimated worth of $4m.
Life After the Shipwreck
What became of Tom and Eva after they went their separate ways?
After recuperating for 6 weeks at Glenample Homestead, Eva boarded a steamship and went back to Ireland! What a brave young woman to board a ship after all that had happened just a few weeks ago!
Eva married a Captain Thomas Townshend. Notice that her husband and rescuer had the same first name. Perhaps the name ‘Tom” was very common during that time.
Could Tom Pearce have been jinxed – or as we Asians call it – suay! Before the Loch Ard, Tom Pearce had previously survived another shipwreck 3 years earlier in 1875 when the Eliza Ramsden went down near the entrance to Port Phillip Bay. After the Loch Ard tragedy in 1878, Tom returned to sea in 1879. The ship Loch Sunart he was in hit a rock off Ballywalter in what is Northern Ireland today. The story goes that Tom was washed ashore and carried unconscious to the nearest house. Guess whose house it was? Eva Townshend’s! Coincidence? Fate?
Tom eventually married a woman who happened to be the relative of another ship apprentice that went down with the Loch Ard. He retired in 1908 and died in his Southhampton home at the age of 49. It’s a bit of an irony that Tom managed to survive 3 shipwrecks but didn’t get to reach his 50th birthday! Perhaps he had cheated Death one too many times and his time was finally up!
Tom Pearce was born Thomas Richard Millett. When his civil engineer father died in 1874, Tom’s widowed mother married Captain James Pearce and Tom took on the surname ‘Pearce’ from then on. Tom’s stepfather, James Pearce, happened to be the captain of the ill-fated SS Gothenburg that wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef in February 1875!
Tom’s family history is littered with tragedy. Both his sons followed in their father’s footsteps and became sailors. However while Tom managed to survive three shipwrecks, his sons were not so lucky and both boys died at sea. Tom’s daughter was killed in a road crash and a granddaughter committed suicide.
Back to present-day Loch Ard Gorge where yesterday’s tragedy has become today’s tourist attraction. I felt very small standing on this narrow stretch of sand, sandwiched between towering cliffs on both sides. While some of the fascination has rubbed off, the coast has not been tamed. It’s really not difficult to imagine the chaos, destruction and danger that sweeps across this part of the Great Ocean Road during a thunderstorm.
To be honest, you’re not likely to go ga-ga at the mention of Phillip Island’s Forrest Caves, unless you have a passion for surfing. There are three exposed beaches on this 1.3 km of coastline with extensive rocks, reefs and bluffs around. These waves have strong rips with a number of breaks over the reefs. Breaking the waves, flipping the board, turtle roll! You can realise all these moves here!
A 45-minute return walk along some large sand dunes will bring you to Forrest Caves. These are large sea caverns in the rock carved by the unceasing erosive action of the waves. The caves become exposed and are accessible only during low tide.
You get to see some beautiful colours on this walk – the red stained tuff rocks, grey boulders, green tussock grass, the blue sky, white waves and golden sands. Best of all, the whole beach was deserted. What a special way to be spending my last few hours in Phillip Island!
The Nobbies is actually the more popular name for Point Grant, located at the western tip of Phillip Island. In addition to boasting of panoramic ocean views and dramatic sea bluffs, the Nobbies is home to one of the largest fur seal colonies in Australia. It’s not quite certain as to how the Nobbies got its name. Perhaps it was from the domes at the end of the point, or from the rocks that protrude from the water like knobs when the tide reaches a certain level.
Unlike Cape Woolamai where the hike can be quite challenging, the one-kilometre walk around the Nobbies is a relaxing one via a series of wooden boardwalks and stairs that wind around the edge of the cliffs, offering uninterrupted views of fiery waves and white water crashing against the rocks.
The Nobbies showcases nature at its best. There are many native birds and wildlife in the surrounding area, and they turn up at the most unexpected moments. If you are thinking of coming here, consider bringing along a pair of binoculars. We spotted quite a number of wallabies hopping about, and admiring us while we admired them. Elsewhere, there were Grey Geese wandering about with their goslings. It’s amazing to think that little penguins land here and climb the cliffs to their burrows every night. We spotted many man-made burrows and even spied little penguins inside some of them.
Wallabies are plentiful here.
A penguin inside her burrow.
Birds are abundant.
After crossing a level stretch of the boardwalk, we arrived at a viewing platform for the Nobbies Blowhole. There is a 12-metre-deep sea cave just below the boardwalk. When smashed by a strong wave, the blowhole returns fire with a mist of air and water that sprays out of the hole. It was mesmerising to watch this phenomenon from the safety of the platform.
There is a sign along the boardwalk to explain how this force of nature works. Those with a physics bias will appreciate this additional information.
1. A large wave enters the blowhole. 2. The wave fills the tunnel from floor to ceiling, compressing air against the rear wall. 3. The wave hits the rear wall and rebounds, its speed increased by the explosive force of the compressed air. This creates a jet spray from the tunnel entrance.
The plus point about the rugged scenery of the Nobbies is that there are no entrance charges for the the pram-friendly boardwalk. Free. Now that’s a word I rarely hear these days! Don’t forget your jacket and scarf as it can get very cold especially if you are visiting during winter and spring.
It’s not often that I get the chance to catch the sunrise in a beach setting. So very early the next morning, I forced myself out of the warm bedcovers, grabbed my jacket, camera and torchlight and used a shortcut to Cowes beach. The entire neighbourhood was still in slumber as I walked right to the end of the street. I made my way across the grass and into some bushes and trees that hid a narrow trail until I came to a flight of wooden stairs leading straight to the beach. As I made my way through the foliage, I could hear the distinctive calls of birds and insects as well as movements and cracking branches coming from the trees above me. This is what I love about Phillip Island. You get to really experience close encounters with wildlife in their natural habitat.
At that very early hour, I was the only person on the deserted beach. The sand was still wet and soft under my feet, forming little pools of water with every step forward. In the distance, I could make out the dim flicker of lights from the town and the black silhouette of trees against an emerging gold sky. I gazed at the waves ebbing lazily in their silver blue-grey coat and waited. A flock of seagulls kept me company as I watched the sky perform an elegant dance ritual of colours in blue, purple, pink, red and orange.
I felt as if I was in a huge open air concert hall and the light extravaganza was for my eyes only. What a humbling feeling!
All too soon, the magic of the moments came to an abrupt end. The sun’s golden rays had appeared surreptitiously but quickly, casting its light over the landscape and staking its claim on a new day.
Just a 70-minute drive away from Edith Falls is one of Australia’s most spectacular outback regions – Katherine Gorge or as the local indigenous Jawoyn people call it – Nitmiluk National Park.
Frankly, I had envisioned the gorge to be something like Maguk(Barramundi Gorge) where the hike is long and strenuous across most parts. My fears, however, proved unfounded. You can’t just walk in and out of Katherine Gorge. You either take a cruise or canoe.
All tours in the region are operated by Nitmiluk Tours that offers 2-hour and half-day safari gorge cruises, canoeing, hiking, helicopter rides and accommodation within the National Park. You can buy your tickets at the Nitmiluk Visitor Centre located at the entrance to the jetty, and then make your way down the ramp and hop into a boat or canoe.
Nitmiluk Gorge is made up of 13 separate waterways that wind along a 12 kilometres stretch of ancient rock with heights extending to more than 70 metres. Sculpted from sandstone over 20 million years ago by the Katherine River, it is open all year round, and features some of the most stunning gorge scenery in Northern Territory – raging waterfalls, rocks and boulders, breathtaking cliff views of Jawoyn country, pockets of rainforest along streams, water holes, bushland and a myriad of lizards, insects, birds including freshwater crocodiles!
These thirteen gorges are actually sections of one massive gorge that become separated by rock bars and boulders when the water level drops during the dry season. Conversely, when the water level rises during the rainy season, rivers, rapids and waterfalls develop and flow down the escarpment. Therefore, accessibility into the upper reaches of the gorge by boat and canoe depends very much on the water level.
The cruise I went in took me as far as the Second Gorge. The guide gave a good account of the local Jawoyn culture, the make up of the gorge, and some of the plants and wildlife that inhabit the area. It was not long before we came across a freshwater crocodile camouflaged underneath a rock along the bank.
Can you spot the croc?
At reaching the end of the First Gorge, we had to get off the boat and make a 400-metre walk across rocky terrain before getting into another boat that would take us to the Second Gorge.
This crossover with its uneven surfaces can become quite tricky. Those with restricted mobility do not need to hike all the way to the Second Gorge. There are benches and rocks at the crossover to sit down and take in the views while waiting for the rest to return.
Here are some views that opened up as we made our way to the Second Gorge.
Making our way down the steps to the Second Gorge.
The Second Gorge is even more stunning than the first one. Every turn of the winding river provides another visual masterpiece of near vertical bedrock plunging straight down into the blue-green waters of the expansive Nitmiluk Gorge.
I felt a sense of deja vu when cruising along the Second Gorge. The place looked strangely familiar and I couldn’t recall where I had seen a similar scenery. And then it struck me! I was cruising along the same route that was used in the filming of the Australian horror crocodile movie, “Rogue”.
Rogue (2007) is about an idyllic wildlife cruise that disintegrates into terror when a party of tourists are stalked by a massive man-eating crocodile. The movie was shot in Yellow Water at Kakadu National Park, with additional scenes in Nitmiluk Gorge. You can watch the trailer here.
All too soon, two hours seemed to whiz by. It would have been very nice to have been able to stay back for the sunset. Sadly, time did not permit. We were soon back inside the coach, making a stop at Emerald Springs for dinner, before embarking on the last leg of the long journey back to Darwin.
Edith Falls, also known by its Aboriginal name Leliyn, is a picturesque collection of dazzling waterfalls that crash down the surrounding cliff sides and into the one large plunge pool. Surrounded by lush vegetation and a quirky array of wildlife, Edith Falls is a popular recreation spot for visitors on the look out for the Top End’s mesmerising outback scenery.
The falls are located about a one hour drive north from Katherine in Northern Territory, and is a must-visit attraction if you’re headed for the Katherine region.
The falls are named after the Edith River which runs through the Nitmiluk National Park. It is a thriving habitat for plants and animals, whilst the rock pools offer cool respite from the hot Australian outback.
In addition to the waterfalls and rock pools, the landscape surrounding Edith Falls is carved with numerous hiking trails which are popular with more active travellers. There are plenty of scenic bushwalking routes for exploring, as well as a handful of secluded spots with grassy sites and ample shade for picnics and relaxation.
Hot shower facilities are available and there is a kiosk for buying food and drinks.
Edith Falls can be visited at anytime of the year, but it’s best to experience it during the dry season between May and September. The rainy season might be less crowded, but there’s a chance you might not get to swim in the pools – one of the main highlights of the trip.
It was a lovely start to the morning. I got to try crocodile meat for the first time during lunch, and then we were back on the road again, headed for Katherine Gorge.
It took a couple of hours to finally get out of the dirt road from Jim Jimand head northwards to view the rock art in Nourlangie. We made a stopover for lunch at Angbangbang Billabong, one of Kakadu’s most attractive billabongs. Here, you get to see a large variety of wetland waterbirds, water lilies, as well as Burrunggui (Nourlangie Rock) making for a stunning backdrop.
There’s an easy 2.5 km walk around the billabong but as the track is so close to the water, you need to be wary of saltwater crocodiles.
The long ride had made us very hungry. We set up our picnic goodies on one of the shaded park benches and made sandwiches topped with bacon, ham and leftover kangaroo meat from the previous night’s campfire dinner. The day was very hot, and we were glad to have a bit of a stretch, take selfies and enjoy the view.
Another great place to unwind and chill out is Buley Rockhole in Litchfield National Park. Buley Rockhole is a series of rock pools that cascade downstream to a larger rock pool at the bottom. The whole place is surrounded by Aussie bush, small rapids, waterfalls and lush greenery.
The rock pools are great for swimming and some are even deep enough for diving. I was content to just sit in the water and enjoy the invigorating sensation of cool water running all over my body.
If you are looking for a short getaway from the heat of the Northern Territory, then Wangi Falls might be just the place for you.
Situated 80 kilometers south of Darwin inside Litchfield National Park, the waterfall descends from a height of 84 metres (276 ft) above sea level via a series of segmented tiers.
The great thing about Wangi Falls is that you don’t need to go very far to reach it. It’s just a short walk from the parking area through a shady forest that is ideal as a picnic ground. You can either swim in the clear waters of the plunge pool or watch the water of the two falls cascade over the rocky escarpments as they make their way down.
It’s accessibility also means that Wangi Falls attracts lots of visitors. However, as long as you’re not there to escape from the crowd, you’ll probably appreciate the beautiful surrounds and impressive waterfalls. The area is wide enough for everyone to enjoy their own “space”. There’s even a viewing platform to take that “must-have” photograph of the falls, and a nice boardwalk for exploring the wildlife in the area.
There are also a number of walking tracks, including a three-kilometre track starting at the Wangi plunge pool, that takes you right to the top of the escarpment and back down to the base of the falls.
Wangi Falls is open all year round, but is sometimes closed for swimming, especially between October and March when rainfall is heavy. The rise in water levels resulting in strong and dangerous currents, together with the possibility of crocodiles finding their way into the area, makes swimming dangerous. Ironically, it is also during this wet season when the fast-flowing water from the falls are at their most spectacular, making for great photography.
I finally made it to Darwin in July this year, fulfilling my long-time goal of visiting Northern Territory’s (NT) national parks at some point during my lifetime. My first stop was the Adelaide River. This river is well-known for its high concentration of saltwater crocodiles, along with other wildlife including sea eagles, whistling kites and black flying foxes. The crocodiles are a protected species here. Getting onboard the Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise gave me the chance for a close-up view of these elusive reptiles in their natural habitat from the safety of a boat.
Just an hour’s drive from Darwin city, this 75-minute cruise is manned by a very experienced and knowledgeable all-girl crew. We were well-briefed on crocodile safety during the boat ride and the skipper kept us entertained with crocodile anecdotes, preferred lifestyle and eating habits!
Before going on this trip, I had no idea about how intelligent these creatures are. My previous experience with crocodiles was limited to seeing them in the zoo – eyes shut and motionless in the shallow concrete pond. I’ve also spent many nail-biting moments watching movies where crocodiles took centrestage – Lake Placid, Alligator, Rogue, Crocodile Dundee, Primeval, Dinocroc, etc.
However, it’s just not the same as seeing these creatures up close in their natural surroundings.
I was thrilled to get a seat at the front of the small boat, right next to where the bait catcher dangled raw meat from a pole, while dipping it in and out of the water to attract the crocodiles. Everyone was fidgeting with excitement when we saw our first crocodile making its way towards the boat. With its eyes never leaving the bait, it started to move in towards the meat. After getting very close to the bait, it began to position itself upright, with about one-third of its body out of the water. Then, with a powerful whip of its tail, it jumped out of the water, mouth wide open, teeth bared and snapped at the meat! It all happened in a split second, so you can imagine the gore and horror if that prey happened to be you! Yikes!
While we could see only one crocodile jumping out of the water and chomping down the meat at any one time, we were told that there are actually many crocodiles swimming underneath the water. The smaller crocs prefer to keep their distance, allowing the bigger and more dominant ones to have a go at the bait.
After four or five crocodiles had demonstrated their jumping prowess, I heard loud noises approaching me from above. It was the whistling kites’ turn to be fed – birds of prey swooping at lightning speed and grabbing the leftover scraps of meat thrown in the air. These feathered scavengers were so quick with their catch that not a single scrap was allowed to fall into the water. By the time I adjusted my shutter speed to catch the action on camera, it was all over!
Crocodile Safety Guidelines
The danger of a crocodile attack is ever present and real in NT. Crocodile warning signs are plentiful. My scheduled visit to a waterfall was cancelled because a swimmer had spotted a crocodile in the waterhole a week earlier and the whole place had to be closed!
The safety guidelines below tell us that crocodiles are astute hunters, and crocodile warning signs must be taken very seriously.
First, observe warning signs. These signs warn of the very real risks in and around the water. Anywhere with signs means that the risk is greatest in those areas.
Don’t assume it’s safe to swim if there is no sign! Treat any body of water in crocodilian habitat as potentially dangerous.
Stay away from the water’s edge. The closer to the water, the higher the risk of a crocodile attack.
Do not wade in shallow water.
Never stand on logs or similar overhanging near the water.Australian saltwater crocodiles can jump to attack! Never turn your back, always face the water.
Do not lean over the water from boats, overhanging banks or trees.Some species are known to launch their entire body length out of the water to catch their prey.
Avoid predictable activities at the water’s edge.Crocodiles hunt effectively by learning routines and patterns by their prey. They are fast learners.
Don’t clean fish near the water, or throw fish scraps in the water. Be careful when launching boats. Don’t dangle your arms or legs over the side of the boat.
Don’t feed crocodiles.It increases the risk of being attacked, whether deliberate or not.
Don’t leave food scraps around.Food attracts predators and scavengers, including crocodiles.
Avoid areas of crocodilian activity.If you see slide marks, drag marks or fattened vegetation, stay clear of that area as there is a good chance that a crocodile is not far away.
Avoid places where native animals or cattle drink. That’s exactly where a lazy crocodile would be waiting for an opportunity to attack. Saltwater crocodiles are opportunists when it comes to hunting. They stalk their prey, hide under water and wait. A crocodile you can see is less dangerous than one you can’t see.
Be wary during the breeding and nesting season – Crocodiles become more active and aggressive during September to May. The warmer weather also allows the cold-blooded reptiles to move faster.
Be particularly vigilant at night timeduring the warmer months, when crocodilian activity levels are at their highest.
This crocodile cruise was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to NT!
Did I fail to mention in my last post on Angkor that there are no toilet facilities in the temple grounds itself? Angkor’s public toilet is found a short distance away from the food stalls located across the road from Angkor Temple. You need to produce your Angkor Pass to use the facilities.
If you didn’t visit Angkor’s public toilet, you wouldn’t even know that there is a beautiful lotus lake just behind it, with lotus flowers growing everywhere! I even got to watch three Cambodian workers doing their morning chores of clearing the plants.
Sometimes, we find gems in the most unexpected places!
It pays to go off the beaten path if you’re going to Sungai Rengit. This well-paved coastal road has natural views on both sides and there is not much traffic. The best part about driving along these countryside lanes is that you can pull up to the side of the road at any time and take as many photos as you wish.