Heading out of Derwin, we turned off the Stuart Highway (an horrendous straight road from Derwin to Adelaide) onto the Kakadu highway (that is the one with the one bend in it) and headed to the wet country. It was early in the “dry” and all around us was evidence that there was still a lot to dry out. Local rivers swollen and lapping on the side of the roads, locals fishing for barramundi (a local legendary fish) off bridges leaning on “no Fishing because of Crocodile” signs, the usual suspects.
Our first “Kakadu” experience was exploring the Nourlangie region, a rocky escarpment that was baking hot, low scrub, dry and challenging climb up but once we reached the large splits in the tops of the cliffs it cooled down and we walked amongst amazing Aboriginal art painted on overhang. Near the top there was water, we could not believe it. Jo stopped to cool off under a waterfall that originated near the top of the escarpment.
Descent and a nice picnic lunch before heading to our campground and a bit of an error of judgement. We had booked a cabin/tent thing which in cooler times would have been ideal but during the day was like an oven.
Outdoor cooking facilities and shade made it tolerable but inside the cabin was only really bearable during the evening when the sun had gone down. Originally we had booked to go on a 4wd tour of Kakadu – essentially locals would drive us out for a couple of hours, we walk around and see some sights and then we drive the couple of hours back to camp.
I am struck by how uninteresting it is to drive around in Kakadu – I had imagined there were sights to see from all vantage points but the huge distances, wild variations in climate and terrain meant you could literally drive for hours and see very little. Fortunately where we were heading was still not safe (the water had receded but rangers had yet to clear it of crocs) so they cancelled and offered us a refund.
We decided, due to the sheer scale of the place, that seeing it by air would be better so booked a light plane trip over Twin Falls and JimJim Falls – both inaccessible at this time of year any other way. I thought I would be ok, but knew airsickness was possible (in reality I get motion sick in a bath so it was a certainty) and forgot to pack kwells which was a mistake. We took off and I remembered how much little planes get thrown around by the strong thermals rising from the huge plains below us. The pilot flew us around (and around and around) some mighty spectacular scenery.
I learned a lot from that trip – never travel without precautions, know where your sick bag is at all times and also interestingly that I can take amazingly good photos whilst simultaneously throwing up – interesting talent that.
Back on the ground, and after a good rest (and hose down) we returned to the cabin to rest, eat and pack up ready for the trip to Katherine Gorge. Our plan was, along the way, to take in a wetland tour in the morning. We had the boat to ourselves – in fact we were outnumbered by guides (well, trainees) but that was brilliant.
As there was so much water still around, we managed to motor into some astonishingly beautiful places, saw abundant birdlife (eagles, kingfishers) and even saw, in the distance a Jabiru – nasty dangerous monster birds they are.
It is difficult to get your head around the volumes of fresh running water in this region of Australia. Water depths of 5m, solid reed/grass mats that float and look for all the world like solid ground, rivers kilometers wide, wow – the scale and diversity of life breaks your brain.
From Kakadu we then headed off to Katherine and after some provision shopping headed out to Katherine Gorge National Park. We had a cabin booked and, although small it was comfortable and air conditioned which we thought would be a blessing. We confirmed our morning cruise up Katherine Gorge then returned to the cabin, settled in and then, because we were so baked from the mornings activities, decided on a swim in the park pool.
This turned out to be our undoing. The water was beautiful, cool, inviting – Jo and I spent over an hour getting wrinkly, reading our books and generally blobbing but when Jo when to rinse off in the shower block all hell broke loose.
It was dark, the floor was slippery and she slipped and fell, dislocating and breaking her ankle badly. After much faffing about (what does one do so far away from anywhere, knowing no one with no mobile reception?) we managed to get an ambulance called, headed to Katherine base hospital where they tried a cocktail of pain relief to ease the growing agony. Luckily when she fell a nurse and doctor (neither of whom knew us or each other) raced to our assistance, icing and immobilising, strapping and splinting – when this was removed it was fairly uncomfortable and it is horrible to be so helpless in the presence of such waves of pain.
It was late that night when Jo was finally taken into the operating theatre in Katherine and they popped her ankle back into its socket, relieving much of the pain. Xrays confirmed no nerves were pinched or othe circulatory damage but there were 2 breaks and a need to air-evacuate to Derwin the next morning.
I got stuff together for Jo, she then flew (interestingly with a chap who had become detached from his finger) via Careflight (an amazing outback service) to Derwin Hospital. I packed up camp into out little hirecar and then miserably drove up the Stuart Highway (not one of my favourite experiences of late) to join her in Derwin.
I did manage to catch up with my dear Mrs Noisy, a friend who showed me the sights of Derwin (that took about ½ hour) and we caught up a bit but it was not the same without Jo and fear I was lousy company (sorry Annie).
After xrays and consultations the surgeons were going to operate, but kept getting bumped (apparently if someone comes in and says they want a cesarean they get promoted to the top of the emergency surgery list – Jo got bumped for 3 days before we finally gave up as a bad joke) so we opted to fly home so the op and recovery could happen closer to home.
The Top End holiday apart from its rugged end was really brilliant (the posts before this one are testament to how much we loved it). I had already seen Katherine Gorge but Jo has yet to see it, not sure we will rush back there though because it is MILES from anywhere, there is nearly nothing to do nearby and transport to that part of the world costs more that it does to go back to Europe.
It has been 6 months writing this blog post – I have labelled it the “lost post” because I found it difficult to end off the holiday blog given what happened to end it. After a lengthy recovery Jo’s ankle is a couple of hundred grams heavier (with titanium bands and screws) but stronger each day and nice and bendy again. I have had my knee cartilage repaired (we were going to do that first thing back from holiday but I wanted to wait until Jo could drive again before I became a cripple) and am walking without joint pain for the first time in a long time.
We have dubbed 2013 “The Year our Legs Broke” – much of it we would not have traded for anything, some of it is best forgotten.
We did learn, however, that travel insurance is amazing – this is really the first time we have had to use its benefits but would not travel without it – you never know what is going to happen, where, when and what needs to be done to recover from it.