Pretty bowl of our favourite spring green

It took me until well into my 40s to develop a taste for fresh asparagus, mainly because the only asparagus spears I ever knew about came in a tin and I didn’t like those one little bit. Fortunately, I spent a few years at the beginning of this century living in an asparagus-growing region, soon after I had learnt how to make hollandaise sauce. Since then, I have been making up for lost time and I always look forward to late winter, when the first fresh spears appear on our greengrocer’s shelves.

Maggie, on the other hand, has always liked fresh asparagus and has fond memories of sharing some fresh out of the pot with her maternal grandmother, who taught her to appreciate the plumpest of the available spears, served simply with butter, salt and white pepper. So, Maggie is in charge of selecting the fat green spears for our table, while I take responsibility for cooking them.

On the strength of some particularly tasty early-season asparagus, I suggested we consider make an asparagus soup. I began my search for a recipe by looking to see if Felicity Cloake had published one in her regular ‘How to cook the perfect …’ in The Guardian newspaper. Indeed she had! You can find the recipe here, including her usual exhaustive process of testing techniques and ingredients as favoured by various well known recipe-writers.

We decided to follow the recipe that Felicity settled on, with two slight variations. For our litre of liquid, we cooked the chopped woody ends in just 500ml of water and supplemented that liquid with 500ml of salt-reduced chicken stock. This produced a satisfyingly robust result without diminishing the pre-eminence of the asparagus.

Our other variation was to add one-quarter of a teaspoon of white pepper at the same time as the cream. To our palates, white pepper is a must-use ingredient when preparing a dish of asparagus.

Here are some photos of the method, followed by a bowl of the soup we made (twice and counting!)


On the left below, we have just added the liquid after the spring onion has been sauteed in butter and the plain flour has been cooked for a minute or so. Once the liquid has warmed through, the chopped asparagus goes into the pan.

   

The camera doesn’t really do justice to the colour of the soup; it is actually greener than it looks here.

And here is another option for serving cooked fresh asparagus – cooled down in the fridge then wrapped in pieces of smoked salmon which have been smeared with a paste of sour cream, grated horseradish and a pinch each of salt, pepper and caster sugar.

Cheers for now!
Rick Grounds

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Review of our journey through the middle of Australia

Are you an Australian who is yet to explore the Northern Territory or travel on the Ghan train? Are you from overseas, with Australia on your ‘bucket list’, but you’re not sure where to go first?

If so, this review of the main elements of the fortnight-long journey Maggie and I recently made through the middle of Australia, from south to north, might interest you.

While this post will be more of an evaluation than a travel story, a detailed account of where we went, what we saw and what we did is provided in the seven posts I have published over the last six weeks. An easy way to find these is to go the ‘Our travels’ page, which lists each place we visited and provides a link to the post about that place.

Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon

When Maggie and I meet people while visiting their countries, many of them ask us where we they should go if they were to visit Australia. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is always top of our list, alongside the Great Barrier Reef. Each of these icons is unmatched elsewhere in the world.

In the case of Uluru and Kata Tjuta, it is not only a case of their beauty, remarkable geology and the surrounding landscapes, but also the rich and profound indigenous cultural element.

You do need to be aware of the extreme seasonal variations in climate, arising from the fact that the area is not subject to any significant oceanic influences and is located close to the Tropic of Capricorn. So, it is better to avoid visiting during the southern summer and you should be be prepared for sub-zero nighttime temperatures during our winter.

Our recent visit to the area also included a night and morning at Kings Canyon. It is a popular destination and does have its own virtues, as shown in the photos below. However, the amount of time we spent getting in and out of there, plus the comparative inadequacy of food & beverage options for coach-tour passengers, reduced our ‘bang for the buck’. In hindsight, we wish we’d spent an extra day in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Self-catering travellers would probably enjoy a Kings Canyon visit more than we did, especially if they spent more than one night there.

               

               

Alice Springs

Alice Springs is the only sizeable town for at least 1,000 km in every direction. It is located on both the only railway line and the only sealed road running through the middle of Australia. ‘The Alice’ is also accessible by regular direct flights from every major city of Australia, as is home to a large number of coach-tour services, hire cars, four-wheel-drive adventures and so on. So, it is an excellent base for exploring Central Australia.

The town had a somewhat troubled history for much of the second half of the 20th Century, mainly due to the calamitous circumstances of many of its Aboriginal residents. However, it seems to be a happier place these days and there is plenty to see and do, both in the town and within the MacDonnell Ranges, which run east to west either side of the town. Exploring the latter remains on our ‘to do’ list.

Katherine Gorge

Our visit to this significant site was organised in conjunction with our Ghan train journey, so we spent less than three hours there. It was a pleasant enough experience, highlighted by the fact that our guide and cruise-boat operator were both local Aboriginal men.

We would have left with more appreciation for the gorge and its environs if we had either see it from the air in a helicopter or had a day or two to explore several more of the thirteen gorges that the Katherine River has cut through this southern end of the massive Arnhem Plateau.

The town of Katherine itself has a good range of facilities and services, including several adventure and tour options. It is located on the main north-south highway and it takes less than four hours to drive there from Darwin.

Darwin

Darwin has long since recovered from the impact of Cyclone Tracy, which destroyed most of the city in December 1974. It has steadily developed and become a modern and lively city. There is plenty to see and do in Darwin itself, including a well-priced hop-on hop-off tour bus service, and there is plenty of accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets.

As well as the twice-weekly Ghan train service from Adelaide via Alice Springs, there are daily flights to and from all of Australia’s major cities. Once you are there, it is the ideal base for exploring the highlights of the ‘top end’ of Australia, with sealed roads out to the major national parks and a wide range of short or long tours available.

Kakadu

Kakadu is one of Australia’s most important national parks, with world heritage status for both its natural and cultural qualities. The incredible variety of features to explore include the living Aboriginal culture; a vast collection of ancient rock art; the remarkable geology of the Arnhem Plateau; tropical rivers and extensive wetlands; abundant birdlife; fascinating plants; and the presence of an estimated 10,000 saltwater crocodiles!

It is only 150 km from Darwin, so you can take yourself there easily enough. However, to get the most out of a visit, you should avail yourself of a well-researched guide book or some of the many guided tours based within the park itself.

Litchfield day trip

We added this to our itinerary because we wanted to visit Litchfield National Park, a popular destination due to its year-round waterfalls and rock pools. We enjoyed those, as well as the remarkable termite mounds. However, if you have read my post about this outing, you will know that the highlight was coming up close with saltwater crocodiles on the Adelaide River.

Here are a couple of examples:

   

This tour is operated by Litchfield Escapes, a small Darwin business, which enjoys a close relationship with the most famous crocodile cruise boat on the Adelaide River. If you check them out on Trip Advisor, you will understand why we regard this as a ‘must have’ experience for visitors to the ‘Top End’.

Ghan train

Maggie and I have travelled extensively overseas, commencing with three weeks in Italy in 2008, followed by a dozen other journeys through parts of Europe, North America and Asia. Along the way, we have made room for some short trips within our own country, several of which have been documented on our blog.

However, we decided a year or so ago that the time had come to devote more of our travel budgets – time and dollars – to some longer explorations of Australia.

One such journey we had in mind was a long road trip, taking in Central Australia, the ‘Top End’ and possibly returning to Melbourne via northern Queensland and the east coast of Australia. An exciting concept, in principle, but a lot of driving, much of it through ‘the middle of nowhere’; an epic fuel bill; not to mention our limited mechanical prowess!

So, when I stumbled upon some information about the availability of a Ghan train trip packaged together with the main attractions of the Northern Territory, it got our full attention. The closer we looked, the more attractive it became and, before long, we had booked ourselves into a 15-day adventure, including a daytime train ride from Melbourne to Adelaide.

Now, travelling on a train in comfort, as it proved to be, can be quite expensive. However, when we factored in all the side-trips and off-train accommodation, as well as avoiding the stresses and strains of the road-trip alternative, we believe we got good value for our money and didn’t come out far behind financially. And the train journey was world class.

You can find out more about the Ghan here.

AAT Kings coach tours

With the exception of our visit to Katherine Gorge and the Litchfield day tour, all of our side-trips were conducted by AAT-Kings, a large coach-tour company which operates throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Coach tours have been a popular way of travelling in outback Australia for many decades, reflecting the long distances involved and the extremes of climate, among other factors. Consequently, AAT-Kings offers an extensive range of options, as to routes and duration; has a large modern fleet of coaches; and has a large pool of experienced drivers with excellent knowledge of the main visitor attractions, to a level not far from that of expert guides. (And, no, I am not receiving a commission for this puff-piece!)

The scale of AAT-Kings’ operations in Central Australia is illustrated by the fact that, at 3pm every day, three of their coaches rendezvous at the junction of the road between Alice Springs and Uluru and the road to Kings Canyon. This means that visitors can mix ‘n’ match their options and employees of the accommodation village near Uluru can make their way to and from other locations. We stopped there twice and watched on as up to  20 passengers hopped from one coach to another.

You can find out more about AAT-Kings here.

Interactions with Aboriginal persons and with Aboriginal culture

The final lesson from our journey is that visitors to the Northern Territory have numerous opportunities to interact with Aboriginal people and their culture, to a greater extent than in any other part of Australia.

The reasons for this include the extensive Aboriginal ownership of traditional lands, some coming with joint management arrangements for national parks and the subsequent opportunities for guided tours, cultural performances and sales of paintings and craft. Traditional cultural beliefs and practices and the use of original languages have survived to a significant extent and, as a by-product, this enhances the range and quality of visitor experiences.

Across our journey, we had a good number of such experiences but, in reality, we barely scratched the surface of what is available. However, we also had the unanticipated pleasure of meeting young Aboriginal men and women from other parts of Australia who had taken up some of the many hospitality industry on-the-job-training opportunities within Yulara, the village located just outside Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.

All in all, this was one of the best trips of our lives. So much so that we would mention it in the same breath as a tour through the Rocky Mountains. Seriously!

Cheers for now!
Rick Grounds

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Q: Why did the chicken legs cross the road quickly?

A: So they wouldn’t be late for dinner. My dinner!

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Once upon a time, in a faraway land, a local newspaper invited me to nominate my ‘signature dish’, explain my choice and give them the recipe. It was 2003, and I had just become Chairperson of a community organisation that promoted the food and wine industries of the Great Southern, a leading agricultural region of Western Australia.

The dish I nominated was Coq au vin. I chose it because it was my go-to dish when hosting a dinner party and because I could obtain most of the ingredients fresh and directly from local producers, including premium cool-climate red wine and the first brand of free-range chicken produced in sizeable quantities in Western Australia.

I’ve never put that recipe on this blog, but only because, by the time I was writing posts about cooking, I had discovered the joys of making coq au vin with rooster rather than chicken. The story of that dish is here.

Now, jump to late 2016, when I shared the story of how Maggie and I had prepared a ‘deconstructed’ version of coq au vin using a whole spatchcock. We have used that method once or twice each year thereafter. But this winter has brought another change. We are very much in ‘streamlining’ mode, as we count down the months – 15 to 20 of them – before we move from our modest home to an apartment in a low-level complex being constructed not far from where we live now.

In the chicken department, ‘streamlining’ means that all of our cold-weather meals of chicken are being prepared using the ‘Maryland’ cut, ie the leg, or thigh-plus-drumstick. As well as being economical and flavoursome, Marylands are versatile; they can be roasted or they can be jointed into two pieces and braised or pot-roasted.

Our varieties of braised chicken Maryland dishes have include another simplified version of coq au vin. However, unlike our so-called ‘deconstructed’ version, this time we have taken pains to record quantities of ingredients as we go, to establish a recipe which will produce a consistently delicious meal.

Here is how we plate it up, followed by the recipe, which produces enough for two generous dinner servings.

Ingredients

1 tbsp brandy
125ml red wine
125ml chicken stock
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf (small if fresh)
1 sprig parsley
generous grind of black pepper
2 or 3 trimmed chicken Maryland pieces (recipe assumes a total weight of about 600g after obvious fat has been trimmed)
40g trimmed bacon, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
white part of a leek, halved lengthways then finely sliced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
60g button mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper

Method

  1. Place brandy, wine, stock, herbs and black pepper in a small saucepan, cover, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. Separate drumsticks and thighs and lightly brown the chicken pieces in the olive oil in a heavy-based oven-proof pan; set aside and season lightly.
  3. Add bacon to the pan, sauté for 5 minutes and drain on some paper towel. Wipe out the pan.
  4. Heat oven to 150C.
  5. Melt butter in the pan, add leek and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté for a further 5 minutes.
  6. Add bacon to the pan. Strain the contents of the small saucepan and add to the pan. Add the chicken pieces, bring dish to the boil, turn chicken pieces, cover with a lid and transfer to the oven.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes, turning chicken once or twice and adjusting seasoning after 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, turn the oven off and place the chicken on an oven-proof dish.
  8. Place the chicken in the cooling oven. Heat the sauce over heat, allow it to reduce a little. Lightly thicken the sauce to your own taste.
  9. Serve chicken pieces and spoon over with sauce.

   

   

   

Cheers for now!
Rick Grounds

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Cauliflower gives goulash a happy-face lift

I first cooked beef goulash a little over five years ago, inspired by a dish I had eaten at a restaurant in Salzburg, Austria in May 2014. After a couple of attempts, I settled on a recipe and included it in a post about some beef dishes we had sampled during our travels.

Although I liked the goulash, Maggie was not so keen on the flavour of the paprika, an essential ingredient in any dish by that name. However, she tolerated its appearance on our home-dining menu just once each year thereafter, if only for the dumpling which sat on top of each filled ramekin.

Goulash 3

Between last year’s batch and getting ready to prepare a meal of goulash once this year’s winter had set in, I had made some significant changes to my diet, in order to lower my blood sugar level by reducing my consumption of carbohydrates. So, I wanted to reduce the proportion of potato and flour in the mixture for the dumplings but without detracting from what they contribute to the flavour and texture of the finished dish.

My solution was to use some cauliflower in place of some of the potato and, thanks to the relative ‘lightness’ of the cauli, I could probably get away with less flour. Then, as I set about the task, I decided to cater for my dear wife by reducing the volume of red-pepper additives, both paprika and cayenne.

I am pleased to say that the result was so agreeable that Maggie suggested we make a batch again soon. Which we did, using slightly wider ramekins, topped with smaller dollops of dumpling and thus leaving room for the bubbling juices to push up and cook the dumplings evenly.

So, hear is the amended recipe, which has secured the place of beef goulash in our winter menu for many years to come. Happy cook, happy kitchen-hand!

Ingredients

1-2 tbsp olive oil
500g gravy beef (weight after meat is trimmed), cut into 3cm cubes
salt and pepper
1 medium brown onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
¼ cup each of chicken stock and beef stock
1¼ tsp sweet paprika
<¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup tomato passata
200g potato suitable for mashing
100g cauliflower florets
15g butter
60ml milk
70ml self-raising flour
60ml grated pecorino or parmesan
20ml chopped parsley

Method

  1. Heat a little oil in a heavy-based, non-stick pan over moderate heat, and brown the beef in two or three batches. Remove beef from pan and season with salt and pepper. Wipe pan clean of any burnt meat juices.
  2. Preheat oven to 150C (less if your oven cooks hot).
  3. Add onion, garlic and sufficient olive oil to the pan and sauté for about 4 minutes. Add carrot and sauté for a further 4 minutes. Add paprika and cayenne and stir for 1 minute. Transfer onion mix to an oven-proof baking dish, over moderate heat.
  4.  Add browned meat, stock and passata and bring to the boil. Transfer to oven and cook for about 1½ hours, stirring occasionally, until the beef is just tender. Adjust seasoning after one hour of cooking. Remove goulash from the oven and uncover the dish so it can cool a little.
  5. When the beef is nearly cooked and tender, peel the potato, cut into chunks and cover with plenty of salted, cold water. Bring to the boil and cook for 9 minutes. Add cauliflower, return to a simmer and cook for a further 10 minutes
  6. Drain the two vegetables well, return to the pan, add the butter then, when it has melted, add milk and mash until smooth. Transfer to a mixing bowl, add the flour, cheese and parsley and stir to combine well.
  7. Increase oven temperature to 170C and place an oven rack one level above mid-point.
  8. Divide the beef and its sauce evenly between 3 or 4 ramekins (ours are 12cm in diameter and 6cm high. Use a grapefruit spoon to add four or five small dollops of the dumpling mix to each ramekin, spray with cooking oil and bake for about 20 minutes or until the dumplings are golden.

Cheers for now!
Rick Grounds

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Is cauliflower the most versatile vegetable?

One evening when Maggie was a child, her mother compelled her to eat a serving of cauliflower. It was a mistake her mother only made once! Fast-forward to 10 years ago, when a small, best-of-season cauli caught Maggie’s attention. She just had to have it and she has been happy to eat cauliflower ever since.

Our first shared meal of cauliflower used it as a puree in concert with some seared scallops and one of Maggie’s favourite offal options, black pudding. To consolidate her changed attitude, I soon followed up with cauliflower soufflé, a dish I had been making for more than 25 years. That went down well too!

Since then, we have continued to find new ways to use cauliflower. We have also found that, if we introduce the topic of this deceptively-plain veggie to a conversation with friends or colleagues, we soon hear about yet another cooking-and-serving method. And, when we went on a two-week tour of China last year, only eggplant (aubergine) competed with cauliflower for the status of ‘most celebrated vegetable’ in the meals we were served.

It is all a far cry from the soggy, bland ‘cauliflower cheese’ that was a standard item in hot buffets offered in Australian dining spaces in the 1950s and ’60s! (If you search ‘cauliflower cheese recipe australia’, you’ll discover how popular this dish remains here, albeit with some nods to contemporary tastes and fashions.)

Anyway, to cut to the chase, we recently started buying economical packets of frozen scallop meat, then thawing a handful at a time to use as the main ingredient in a light Saturday-lunch-for-two. In this context, I went off in search of a suitable recipe for a cauliflower puree to serve alongside a batch of seared scallops.

This is the recipe we began with and this was the end result:

We spread a generous spoonful of the puree on the base of a warmed bowl, topped it with some of the seared scallops and then added pieces of just-crisp prosciutto. The flavours and textures worked together brilliantly!

For the puree, we made three slight modifications to the recipe. We reduced the proportion of butter by about 20%; there was still plenty. We added a generous pinch or two of freshly-ground black pepper. And, we also added any residual cooking liquid so as to not overwhelm the cauliflower with too much lemon juice; each to their own taste.

I suspect our next new cauliflower effort will be a soup made with blue cheese, inspired by a lovely dish I had for lunch when we were staying near Uluru-Kata Tjuta recently.

Cheers for now!
Rick Grounds

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Top time in the Top End: Litchfield day tour

As we dragged ourselves out of bed for yet another depart-at-dawn journey, I was grumbling – half to pity myself, half to blame my wife – about having to go out on a third  boat cruise to gaze at an animal whose main quality as a tourist attraction was its capacity to hunt down and kill any tourist foolish enough to trespass on its territory.

Little did I know that I was about to have one of the most remarkable wildlife experiences available in Australia, for our tour operator happened to be one of the few that is invited to take its customers to the Adelaide River for a cruise with the man known as Pat.

Pat is a very different bloke, a ‘true Territorian’ as our driver/guide described him. He has worked with crocodiles for more than 30 years; never wears shoes (a podiatrist would weep to see his feet); has a beard down to his navel; and his hat looks like a moth-plague visited for lunch. But he has an affinity and profound respect for these reptiles and he knows how to wrangle them into putting on a breathtaking display.

The crocs in the stretch of river east of Darwin where tours are allowed to operate – four licenses in all – know the sound of Pat’s boat engine and it wasn’t long before one alpha male made himself visible. If looks could kill …

Pat used fresh chicken carcasses suspended on string from a pole to entice the crocodile to jump out of the water. (Although the boat was encircled in a waist-high, thick metal-pipe mesh, Pat assured us that the croc was quite capable of jumping on board if it so desired.) A crocodile’s teeth are perfect for crushing another animal to death in one bit but not so efficient at biting. So, we had plenty of time to take our photos before it managed to pull the carcass into its mouth.

Once the male had its fill, one of its mates appeared on the scene for its feeding opportunity. However, she was taking great pains to ensure that she didn’t become the male’s main course for lunch. She would look at the carcass, look at the male to check for signs of an attack, look at the carcass, back to the male, and so it continued until she felt safe enough to focus on the meal at hand.

In Maggie’s next two photos, a female’s jaw was about 1.5 metres from her iPhone. Nice dental work!

   

Once we’d all taken our ration of croc shots – we got up close to four or five and saw several others – Pat turned his attention to another prey-seeking species – kites. While preparing the carcasses that morning, he had filled a small bucket with pieces of fatty skin. Now, he called out to the kites in a mixture of English and the local Aboriginal language and 30 or more appeared.

Pat then grabbed handfuls of the chicken skin and threw it across the water for the kites to swoop in and grab some. They would take it one talon and transfer it their mouth in a split-second, on the wing. You can see how it worked in this video:

 

Our next destination was Litchfield National Park, which is located south of Darwin, so we had to back-track a little. As we did, I wondered if the balance of the day’s itinerary was going to struggle for air but, in the expert care of our driver/guide, it worked out pretty well.

Soon after we entered Litchfield, we stopped to view two types of giant termite mounds. (The termites are small but they sure know how to construct an edifice.)


The next photos are of mounds made by termites which are commonly called ‘magnetic termites’. They’re not really but you learn more about them and the termites who build the ‘cathedral’ mounds here.

   

From the termite-mound site, we drove down to Wangi Falls, one of Litchfield’s popular waterfalls. After a refreshing help-yourself picnic lunch of salad, meats, cheese and fruit, we had free time to explore the falls area, which was busy with a mix of tourists and local families on a Saturday outing.

Although it was the dry season, the falls had plenty of flow due to the capacity of the sandstone rock in the adjacent plateau to absorb water during the wet season and then release it steadily afterwards.

Maggie and I are not big on swimming but we found a spot to sit comfortably and dangle our legs knee-deep in the fresh water of the rock pool at the base of the falls. It was a very warm day, so it was very soothing for our feet!

Before we headed back to our tour van, I took one of the paths around the rock pool to an idyllic patch of rainforest, which immediately brought to mind a rainforest Maggie and I had visited on the Frankland River in Tasmania in March 2018.

       

Frankland River rainforest, Tasmania

The Frankland River is more than 3,500 kilometres from Litchfield, in the cool temperate zone. Just goes to show, that the structure of a a rainforest is a factor of rain firstly, and other factors after that.

From Wangi Falls, we stopped briefly to view Florence Falls, which are small and beautiful, with a very popular rock pool. However, being so soon after the winter solstice, we didn’t have time to walk down to see them up close.

Besides, we had a scheduled rendezvous with one last Northern Territory sunset, overlooking Darwin’s Fannie Bay. We were treated to some bubbles and cooked prawns, as we toasted an outstanding day trip.

But, wait! There’s more! On our flight home to Melbourne the next day, we had some wonderful views of the Simpson Desert, to our east, which lies in parts of the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia.

 

We had never seen it before because, when we fly to Singapore and beyond, the flight path lies further to the west. It was a spectacular way to finish to one of our most deeply-satisfying travel adventures.

Cheers for now!
Rick Grounds

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Top time in the Top End: Kakadu National Park

The final days of our journey through the centre of Australia were spent in two more of the Northern Territory’s wonderful national parks.

The first of these was Kakadu National Park, which we visited on a two-day coach tour. Kakadu has important facts in common with Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. It is owned by the local Aboriginal people; is leased back to the federal government under a joint-management agreement; and it has a dual-listing as a world heritage site, for both natural and cultural qualities. You can find out more about the park here, including the fact that it is about half the entire size of Switzerland!

After a brief stop at a pub for morning tea – it’s an ‘outback Australia’ thing – we and 19 other members of the tour group squeezed ourselves into three light planes for a one-hour flight over stretches of the park. There we are, smiling for the camera aboard that small aircraft, as captured by one of our tour-buddies!


Kakadu has two two main physical elements: the massive sandstone Arnhem Plateau, which we first met at Nitmiluk NP; and its extensive network of rivers, floodplains and wetlands, fed by the annual monsoonal rains. Here are some of the views we had of these features.

   

           

After our scenic flight and a bite of lunch, we got to see one of the wetland areas at close quarters on a cruise around Yellow Water Billabong. (Btw, if you search Wikipedia for the meaning of ‘billabong’, the entry includes just one photo – Yellow Water!)

The airborne object in this photo from our tour is not another small plane. Maggie captured a dragon-fly in mid-flight!


Of course, where there is water in the Top End, there will be animals lurking. And not just any animals. I’m talking about saltwater crocodile-type animals, as in the centre of the photo on the right. It had been a cold night and our tour guide explained that the crocs were not yet on the move; they needed another hour of warm sunshine to recharge their batteries.

We weren’t about to check the veracity of that statement! (That’s a My cousin Vinny allusion, dear readers.)

        

And here is our tour guide, Dennis, son of a New Zealand man and a significant local Aboriginal woman. His commentary was full of interesting information. He also had a classic Australian sense of humour, ie dry and razor-sharp, and his impersonations of a crocodile putting an end to a human life were worth the admission fee alone!


Here are some more scenes from our extensive journey around the billabong. The birds in the last photo of this group are magpie geese. They are not shielding themselves from the hot tropical sun. They are hiding from birds of prey, of which there is an abundant supply in this rich environment!

   

   

Kakadu’s world heritage listing for cultural reasons derives from two main factors: the fact that the indigenous people of the area have a continuous history of active connection going back many tens of thousands of years; and the park’s vast collection of rock art.

Our tour itinerary included two of the three main rock art sites which are readily accessible to visitors. It was an interesting enough experience but we would have gained a more meaningful appreciation if we’d had the time available to go on one of the in-depth viewings led by one of the park’s expert rangers. You can learn more about the rock art in Kakadu here.

   

 

The last item on our Kakadu itinerary was a boat trip along the East Alligator River, led by Roman, son of a European man and a local Aboriginal woman.

It wasn’t long before we saw why this otherwise peaceful river was given its (erroneous) moniker by a British explore in the 1820s

   

Roman was particularly knowledgeable about the area’s flora and the numerous uses made of it by the traditional occupants. His explanation of how a spear was made was especially interesting; pity I didn’t capture it in a video to share with you!


The East Alligator River marks the boundary between Kakadu and Arnhem Land, a vast area in which traditional indigenous culture and practices continue strongly. For this reason, outsiders cannot visit Arnhem Land without a permit. That said, commercial tour groups are generally welcome and our time with Roman included a brief visit to the river’s eastern shore.

   

We definitely enjoyed our visit to Kakadu but, in two days, we barely scratched the surface of this vast and diverse area. Any person who has a special interest in, say, rock art, birdlife, geology or tropical flora, would be well-advised to allow several days for their explorations.

Next stop, Litchfield National Park!

Cheers for now!
Rick Grounds

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