From Cairns to Darwin
via Alice Springs
September - October 2007
Part III
North of Northern Territory

If you want to skip directly to the other parts, then just hit
Part I or Part II or Part IV.

The Ghan

I had booked the Ghan train from Alice Springs to Katherine for $214 as Rail Saver a couple of days before at the Travel World in the Todd Mall in Alice Springs. Same price whether you go to Darwin or only Katherine. Regular price would have been $335. Sleeper would have even come up to $685 (no Rail Saver available). Also check their internet site

The Ghan train actually arrived at 1 p.m. coming from Adelaide of which the passengers are conducting a sight-seeing tour of Alice Springs before leaving Alice Springs at 6 p.m.

I was already at the railway station at 4 p.m. and had plenty of time to have my luggage checked in and to relax in the station waiting hall, where also drinks and snacks were available.

The train is named in honor of the many Afghans (not always Afghans though) and their camels used as the best and only means of transport in the Outback in the old days.

At around 5:45 p.m. (instead of 5:30 p.m.) we were allowed to board the carriage and shortly after 6 p.m. we left Alice Springs.

Click the small picture to get it enlarged

The Ghan and the Afghan That's half the length of the Ghan
The train ride itself was smooth on the new tracks (inaugurated in the year 2004) but not as comfortable, just an interesting experience. The landscape did not change much but it was night most of the trip anyway. Also sleeping was not so easy because the seats were very uncomfortable. There was no middle arm rest, no foot rest either and it was not possible to fully stretch out the legs, because there was just no room under the seat in front of you (back side of the seats went almost down to the floor). Late at night people even had occupied the more comfortable seats and couches of the lounge car for a better night's sleep (next time I know better).

Also a German group in the same carriage were very annoying. At boarding they blocked the aisle for some time until they eventually noticed that a long line was trying to get through to their seats. Then any announcement by the train staff was loudly translated into German by the guide.
The lounge invites for a relaxing trip From the Japanese Tokaido to the Ghan
The dining car was ok. The food prices were reasonable: no meal was higher than $12. The breakfast with toast, eggs, bacon, baked beans and hash brown for $7 was a bargain.

A Japanese couple from Osaka (where I arrived once with the Tokaido Express in 1969) was doing the whole trip from Adelaide to Darwin. She was the one who could speak English, so we had a nice conversation during dinner. They wanted me to join them during their 4 hours stopover in Katherine, but I had to decline because I wanted to stay there overnight


Exactly at 9 a.m. next day, after 15 hours and 1,200km, we arrived in Katherine. Most passengers boarded their buses for the Katherine Gorge cruise.

It seemed that I was the only one looking for accommodation. But where? Then I just saw a sign still on the platform saying "free shuttle to such and such backpacker or motel". I recognized some names, which I had already memorized during my train ride.

Now, where is the courtesy shuttle bus? Just saw a man taking the sign away, whom I asked quickly whether he has a single room for me. He had, in the
Palm Court Backpacker
Third Street (Corner Giles Street)
Katherine NT 0850
Tel.:08 8972 2722
And it turned out that the guy was Austrian and the owner. The single/double motel style room for $52 was ok. It even had a cooking facility. Fridge, TV, aircon and bathroom anyway. The swimming pool was too small to swim but probably meant just to cool of. But I preferred a cold shower and stayed in my air conditioned room for my morning nap. The outside temperature already hit 37 degrees centigrade.

When I got up to make my inspection tour, I saw nobody around. Where have all the backpackers gone? Also the receptionist was not around at first. When he turned up, he told me, that they even had to close down the other Kookaburra Lodge Backpacker, because there were not enough travelers. I wanted to rent a bicycle and was told that all four bikes had been stolen.

Ok, then I had to go by foot to town three blocks away. I first passed the pub of the Katherine Hotel. It seemed to be the meeting place during the day for only Aborigines, for a cool beer in a cool place, while playing billiard or trying their luck at one of the so-called poker machines.
Aborigine playing billiard Aborigines playing poker
Since I never drink beer during daylight I left the pub without and went strait to the Tourist Office, where a friendly lady convinced me that the best thing was the 4 hour cruise through three gorges of the Katherine river. Ok, I booked it for the next day and paid $89, including $24 for the shuttle bus (return).

Now what else to do? Going down the main street which was almost deserted except for the "grassy" people sitting on some portions of the grass in the middle of the street and in the heat. Not only beer ads everywhere but also beer and beverages super markets all around.

Also the park close to the Katherine River was inhabited by picnicking Aborigines. Just looked around and with a last glimpse at an old locomotive I went back to the main street to get something to eat in one Internet Cafe after getting some cash from an ATM.
"Grassy" people also here Old locomotive on the old track
Today I did not want to intermingle with the locals yet, so I went back to my backpacker motel. Before, however, I bought (at Woolworth's big super market) "only" a couple of beers (XXXX Gold) with some cheese and crackers for my dinner and milk with short breads for my next morning breakfast. I intended to sleep early (still to make up for my uncomfortable train ride), but a crime documentary movie of the many backpacker murders on TV kept me awake (that really happened in Australia in the eighties).

Next morning I was picked up by the shuttle bus (I was the only one) to bring me to the Nitmiluk National Park, 30km north of Katherine, for the cruise on the Katherine River, which was supposed to be the last one up to the third gorge this year, because of the low water level (we actually almost did get stuck and all passengers had to move to one side to get over one rock).

I was now wondering how many people turned-up for the cruises (there were also 2 and 3 hours cruises). Mostly bus loads on an intermediate stopover (no Ghan people today, though). No wonder that not many tourists are staying in Katherine.
Canoeing was also a nice option but the boat was more comfortable
It was fantastic how the Katherine river has cut into the sandstone cliffs. I was to see only four (the fourth far away from the third) of the 13 stunning gorges. Choppers flew over us while we were cruising down there through the first gorge. They carried concrete sacks for new constructions or improvement of the tourist infrastructure of some of the walking trails leading to the viewpoints.
Along the river bank of the first gorge
The Katherine Gorge National Park was proclaimed in 1962. In 1989 the Jawoyn Aboriginal people (consisting of 17 clans) gained ownership. The name was then changed to Nitmiluk and the land leased to the Parks & Wildlife. Nitmiluk is the name of the Cicada Dreaming (using at least the translation for all reinstated Aboriginal names, if at all, would have been much better to memorize).

Between the first and the second gorge we had to walk (there is always another next boat waiting for us), while passing some of the Aboriginal rock paintings.
These rock paintings are thought to be 10,000 years old
Information displays are everywhere, though no crocodile warning signs. Only the not so dangerous freshwater crocs are supposed to inhabit these waters.
Information about Aboriginal Rock Art Only a frog? Where is the croc?
It would have been some nice adventure to explore the gorges and some of the side creeks with a canoe and staying overnight in a tent and cooking on a gas burner (wood fire not allowed) at one of the camping areas.
Going through the second gorge and getting to the third gorge
Close up look of the third gorge Looking to the fourth gorge far away
On the way back was time for a swim. But it did not look good enough to me, also very stony. The other side had really a nice sandy beach and I asked the guide why we did not stop there for a swim and he answered that it was the breeding ground of the crocs, so I decided not to swim (some others did). So I leisurely relaxed with the provided snacks and juice while watching the swimmer, until it was time to head back.
We did get a chance to swim at this place not with the breeding crocs on the opposite side
New glimpse on the way back in another light
I actually wanted to walk the trail to the viewpoint of the first gorge to take a look from above, but unfortunately it was closed for that one day because of the before mentioned construction going on. So there was nothing else to do except to stay in the Nitmiluk Center until my pick-up bus was due at 5 p.m. So I asked my neighbor on the boat, who was from Melbourne, whether I could have a lift (he mentioned before that he was alone and came to this place by car), so I went back to Katherine with him.
Final look at the first gorge of the Katherine River
So I was back early in Katherine at around 3 p.m. to stroll around again and either sat in an internet cafe or in the very well stocked communal library. If you want to know more about Katherine then look up the Internet site

The question for the evening was: where to eat dinner. I looked up the guidebook's restaurant recommendations and found an RSL Club (stands for Returned Service League for all World War veterans), also called Katherine Club, just a couple of blocks away.

In the streets I only saw Aborigines, easily to be recognized because all streets in Katherine are very well lit with lamps, some with flood lights. Though I was still yelled at and one Aborigine just sat down before me on the walkway blocking my way so I went to the other side of the street.

When I arrived at the Katherine Club it was almost full but no Aborigine around. The guests seemed to me all better, I mean people betting. Same inventory as all RSL with horse racing screens and poker machines. This mentality seemed to be true for most Aussies. They also bet on the outcome of the next election (due November 24th) and news agents even use the quotes as a pulse survey or election forecast.

I decided for one of the most expensive dishes, a delicious Barramundi for $20 with all the sides all you can eat.

After that I went back to the Katherine Hotel Pub to intermingle with the Aboriginal crowd from noon the previous day, but they were all gone. There was only a white couple playing billiard with three (!!!) security guards. The barman told me that the Aborigines always leave early and stay in the woods now.
Dinner with WW Veterans at the Katherine Club Last beer (with Aborigines?) in the Katherine Hotel
Next morning, Thursday, October 11th, I left my "backpacker" at ten (check-out always 10 a.m. in Australia). The courtesy bus was scheduled to run to the Transit Station at 11:30 a.m., but I did not want to stay at the bathtub swimming pool at the "backpacker" but rather sit in the roadhouse beside the transit station, so I hired a taxi for $6. At the station a bought a ticket for the Greyhound bus to Darwin for $79, which left at 1:20 p.m.


After 317km I arrived around 5 p.m. at the Transit Center in Darwin, just behind Mitchell Street. I went through a drive way and saw right away the
Value Inn
50 Mitchell Street
Tel.:08 8981 4733
of which I have read in their brochure that this is the best value for money place in Darwin. I didn't think so: The room (with bathroom) for $85 was too small with a look to an ugly parking lot and then it had a very small swimming pool in a back yard. Since this hotel is associated with the Melaleuca backpacker next door, guests can also use their better swimming pool on the roof.
My Greyhound Bus at the Adelaide River Stopover The Melaeuca with beach party atmosphere
That evening I went for dinner to the Kitty O'Shea's Irish Bar and Café, also on Mitchell Street, after I took a look at many of the other restaurants and pubs. It was a good place with good food. The Grill Plate was more than I could digest (for $12.50). The XXXX Gold was $4, as usual. Then I intermingled with the folks at the bar and met and had fun with Mike, Trevor and Albert (an Event Manager and his colleagues).
Making new friends at Kitty O'Shea's
Next morning I went to look for another accommodation. It did not take long to find the "Cave", the
Cavenagh Backpacker and Motel
12 Cavenagh Street
where I did get a room for $79 (instead of $130, as I was told by the receptionist). It was a good deal and much better than the Value Inn: much bigger with fridge, coffee and tea making facility, LCD TV, right in front of the large swimming pool. Forget everything else if you are looking for a decent double room with attached bathroom.

It was listed under Budget Hostels in the Lonely Planet, but it is more a motel, even if it has dormitories. You will only notice in the evening that this is a backpacker's place when the party starts with loud music and laughter.
Modern Architecture in Darwin My "new" Backpacker in Darwin
Then I went to the Tourist Office to check all the tours offered and decided for a four days tour to the Kakadu National Park. Since the material was so much and I did not want to divide it into two parts I decided to make it a separate one. If you want to switch to Kakadu right now then hit Part IV.

So I will continue now with the Litchfield tour the other day I came back from the Kakadu tour.

Litchfield National Park Tour

After studying all the brochures for the best tour to Litchfield I selected the Goanna Eco Tour for the next day for $130. They were the most expensive one (just a few dollars difference though), but it was simply the best (also recommended by Lonely Planet).

That's also what the old guide (already past his retirement age) then always was telling us during our trip: Firstly, it goes where the big buses could not go (our was a small bus), secondly, it includes the jumping croc cruise (would have been $38 extra), thirdly, we will get a "fabulous" buffet lunch in a dining room setting in the Rum Jungle Resort (Best Western) in Batchelor, which includes champagne.

However, to have the extra barramundi fish main dish, instead of three different pieces of meat, we had to pay $4 extra. The champagne was pre-measured: after getting a small glass with it, the waitress disappeared with the, not finished, bottle. Same happened with the orange juice.

But all in all it was a very good tour, and I really can still recommend it. We also were a small group of seven people, three from South Korea and three from Canada.

First we went to the Fogg Dam of the Adelaide River Wetlands. The dam itself is a remnant of a given up rice project. Now it is a wild refuge for wildlife, especially for water birds, like sea eagles, magpie geese, darter, brolgas, jabirus, kingfisher, ibis and egrets.
Lilly pond at the Fog Dam Nice lilly to look at
The magpie goose is everywhere A darter, the snake bird
Wonderful wild birds will make bird lovers happy
Next came the fantastic Jumping Croc Cruise on the Adelaide river. It was like a circus with wild crocs, making them jump up to catch the chunk of meat (looked like a T-bone steak) hanging on an angle. The lady let the croc jump up about three times before she let the prey go, otherwise the crocs may never jump up again, if they learn not to be awarded and the jumping croc cruise may go out of business. But maybe they still have the feeding of the kite birds then.
What's up in the bush of course a crocodile
Crocs will jump after the bait not always in vain but finally rewarded
I would not fish here with crocs around Final treat for the flying kite birds
After the crocs we passed huge mango and banana plantations close to the town of Humpty Doo. Farmers are looking now for young people (backpackers and so) to pick mangos for $16.60 per hour during the harvesting season from October to December.
Mango plantations Banana plantations
Ok, after that we had our "fabulous" lunch. At around 1 p.m. we entered the Litchfield National Park and went first to the Tolmer Falls. On its way we passed the strange looking Meridian or Magnetic Termite Mounds (all north-south aligned because the constructions are not too much exposed to the sun and thus better temperature controled). And finally we saw the highest one (around 7m high).
Finally the Litchfield National Park this looks like a termite mound plantation
A single termite mound She was not so small, that Korean girl
Looking at the landscape and deep down to the Tolmer Falls
During the trip our old guide was telling us a lot about flora and fauna. Then he promised us to see Jurassic Park. We really did not know what he meant, and then we saw it: a forest which looked like at the time the dinosaurs were roaming around, but without the dinosaurs.
Doesn't it look like Jurassic Park? But where are all the dinosaurs?
Next came the Wangi Falls. Beautiful setting, and … we could swim in it. Litchfield Park does not have any crocs (but you are still warned to look out for them, though). We did get diving masks from our guide (for 10 dollar deposit, I could not imagine why). You could walk around the whole waterfall in an hour, but we did not have the time for that. The swim was more refreshing after sweating in the heat (35 degrees centigrade), but there was not much to see under water through the mask.
A swim in the water of the Wangi Falls
Next we visited the Florence Falls. Very beautiful down there. We could have walked down, strenuous but rewarding with a cool swim (much cooler).
No crocs around here but spiders Looking down to the lake of the Florence Falls
Finally the Buley Rock Holes. This was one of the highlights, but we were not alone. Some families and couples relaxed here the whole day with picnic and barbecue. Getting in and moving from pool to pool with a back massage in the falls between was fantastic (here I could even see some fish in the clear water through my mask). After getting out we had our soft drink (cold water was available the whole day).
That's the ultimate experience relaxing at the Buley Rock Holes
And finally we headed home to Darwin just 90 minutes away. But on our way we had a final stop for 15 minutes at the Banyan Tree and Caravan Park. I was greeted by a Berlin flag hanging outside of the pub and my suspicion turned out to be true: the owner was a Berliner who immigrated to Australia more than 10 years ago.

Back in Darwin

I was dropped off in my "Cave" at 7 p.m. Last walk through town trying to find a place in one of the restaurants or pubs: all full. So I tried the RSL club in the same street as my "Cave". And I did get the best (and cheapest) T-bone steak for $15 and my favorite XXXX Gold beer for $3 (they also advertise that they have the cheapest food and drinks in town). I met a couple from Perth and we had an interesting conversation about Australian politics and the coming election on November 24th .

Next day, Saturday, I took the bus to Parap, where the weekly Parap Village Market takes place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Bus No 10 left from Harry Chan Ave just opposite of the old Brown's Mart. One of the few cheap things in Australia: the fare was $2 and valid for three hours, so I could return with the same ticket.

The market was 300m from the bus stop. It was small and represented a little South East Asia with all its food and fruit stalls, beside some Aussie outlets like Scientology and massage and tarot, beside some crafts people. Also some Aboriginal and white Aussie local street musicians.
Malaysian Laksa Indonesian Satay
Aboriginal Art lady Driftwood Art lady
Aboriginal street band Aussie street band
Next day, Sunday, in the afternoon I walked to the Mindil Beach a couple of km away from the city, while passing the Burnett House, located in the Myilly Point Heritage Precinct.

It is part of the Darwin Heritage and was build in 1938 and is an example of outstanding tropical architecture. I could imagine to live in it. It is also a museum and has a nice café (with the famous High Tea).
Don't these Fords look fantastic? And this idyllic garden restaurant?
I can imagine to relax here and to sleep and wake up here
in a beautiful house like this not far from the Mindil Beach
The Mindil Beach looked very nice but dangerous to swim in the sea right now. From October to May no swimming is allowed because of the box jelly fish, which is very poisonous and can be lethal. Surfing is allowed but only with a suit. The beach life guard is still there to check that the rules are followed.
Better obey the warnings and don't risk your life If you still dare, the life guard stops you right there
Then at 4 p.m. the very colorful Sunday Mindil Beach Sunset Market started. Beside the many stalls of all nationalities it seemed to be a real Australian event with many bands.
At the Mindil Beach Market Mexican, Vietnamese or Chinese food stalls
Especially the didgeridoo performers were fantastic. I actually expected it to be performed by Aborigenes, but neither any Aborigines band nor any stall of them was around here.
Didgeridoo performer Another fantastic one
Aboriginal women watching with concentration These are "grassy" white Aussies having a good time
But then with the sunset the demonstration against the Federal Government's intervention in Northern Territory's Aborigines business started. There seemed to be only a few Aborigines fighting for their rights.
Demonstration against new Federal Law to save children from abuse by establishing alcohol free Aboriginal communities?
Or establish youth centers run by qualified staff? And safe houses for women and kids fleeing violence?
Evening was party time going on in my Cave. Also had my huge Neanderthal hamburger and a couple of beers before intermingling with the, mostly young, crowd.
Sunset at Mindil Beach Back to party life in the Cave
Next day was departure day. Had booked the airport shuttle the previous day and was punctually picked up at 1:30 p.m. for my Jetstar flight to Singapore at 4 p.m.


Ok, that was my third and actually my fifth and last part of my trip to Australia. Click on Part IV for my solely Kakadu tour or any of the others: Part I or Part II.

As it was said before and will be said again: There could have been seen and done a lot more. Also I could have written more. If you want to know more all about the places I have visited, then just look up any of the many guidebooks or in the internet.

But if I had to do it again (with a companion then), I would hire a 4WD mobile home or just a 4WD with an additional tent trailer (if possible) in Darwin and tour Kakadu (and even all the other places around Darwin, like Litchfield, etc.) on my own while staying at those many beautiful campgrounds, trekking around on the many bush walks, fish on your own (many Australians carry their own aluminum boat on the roof) or join any of the guided fishing tours or river cruises.

This is valid with some variation for any other place in Australia. Additional advantage also is if you get stuck in the middle of nowhere that you have a place to sleep and enough provision (water anyway) to survive until some body crosses your way or help takes longer than expected (after calling for help with an HF Radio, if you should have one). My friend Toni from Kings Canyon told me that while he was driving from Uluru he picked up a Japanese couple, who did get stuck on a side track and had to walk 8 hours to get back to the highway. This would not have happened on the Plenty Highway, for example, because this track is very much frequented.

And I do still prefer a mobile home than a car, because some of the accommodation in the Outback was not very comfortable and not enough food to buy was available either. Petra and Uli neither wanted, from the beginning, a mobile home, not to mention a tent, nor to sleep in any of the cabins along the Plenty (except in Tobermorey, because there was no real other choice) and thus we missed some more outback feelings (and real Gem fossicking, etc.). Also there would have been more opportunities to stay in some of the not attended camp grounds in many National Parks.

What has been said about a 4WD is also valid for a 2WD mobile home if you always want to stay on a sealed road, and there will be no problems in Kakadu, for example, where most sights can be reached on sealed roads (Jim Jim and Twin Falls can still be reached with an extra tour), same with Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon.

There is another option if time is no constraint, let's say at least 3 months, then buying a 4WD or any other car (your choice), which may very well be used all over Australia and selling it at the end of the trip (there are even dealers who guarantee buying the car back). Many years ago I met a young German couple who bought an old Ford Fairlane Station Wagon (even slept in it) and toured Australia for almost a year and wanted to a sell it as soon as they are back in Sydney.

Another word to the Aborigines: There is a certain tendency in my narrative as far as Aborigines are concerned that does not seem to be politically correct, but that was what I actually saw and experienced. The real issue cannot be explained easily, though I will try it in a separate link Aborigines.

© 2002 by WEW Tours