Into the Kakadu

Corroboree Billabong

About 80 kms south east of Darwin is a little gem. The Corroboree Roadhouse and Caravan Park sits in the Mary River National Park at the entrance to Kakadu N.P. While the roadhouse and tavern roar along all day with travellers and revellers the quaint little tree shaded caravan park out the back is peaceful and quiet. It is too close to Darwin to be a stop off point for the night but its position near the Mary River and the Corroboree Billabong means it is full most days. And it is mostly full with barra fishermen having a weekend in the bush with their families and their boats. It is also the kickoff point for boat trips through the billabong and this is where we were bound in the morning.

Lazy saltie – salties recharge by lying in the sun all day then hunting at night

Corroboree Billabong Wetland Cruises were our host and Evan our guide. The Covid thing still has its tentacles here (the locals while not quite in panic mode are desperate to keep their region safe) and numbers for the tour are low. Only eight on our boat which would normally seat 30. “Please social distance at one small crocodile apart” the signs urge. I did hear a mumble as Scout took the front seats not obeying the unwritten rule of two seats apart per party but excitement had blurred the mind for a moment. Social niceties aside we were off and had the most wonderful one hour and a half. Who knew that a simple billabong could contain such a variety of plant and animal life.

Corroboree Billabong is part of the Mary River wetlands and during the wet season surges with water. We know this because the toilet block at the departure point had a tide mark just below its roofline some four metres above the ground. But this is the “dry” season and the water level was about middle. This billabong is no mere pond of water under a coolabah tree but is a series of long waterholes up to 20 metres deep in places and that contains the largest number of saltwater crocodiles in a water system in the world. It covers some 8,200 hectares and has tributaries and waysides throughout. It also has saltwater crocodiles sunning themselves on every bank and spectacular birdlife at every turn. The water is covered in pink lotus lillies along the edges leading up to pandanus trees which line the banks. These act much as mangroves do at the oceans edge providing a filtering system that keeps the water fresh and balanced. We saw white breasted eagles, whistling kites, snake birds or daters (like cormorants but not), burdekin ducks, kingfishers, egrets – small and intermediate – and swamphens galore.

It was a feast of wildlife and we were educated in the ways of the crocodile. Apparently it is a myth that salties store their kill underwater to return to later – something like a larder. The truth seems to be that they leave it to rot and attract other prey including pigs which will come to the waters edge – much like Uber Eats as Evan said. The crocodile has to be the most evolved creature ever for its habitat. Bony plates on its back for use as solar panels, a heart that can be decreased to two or three beats per minute to allow it to stay underwater for an hour or so and a streamlined sight and hearing system that makes us look amateurish. It will also observe patterns of movement and once established will strike. So don’t go to that same fishing spot at 7am each day or you’ll be dogmeat or more precisely croc meat. Plenty more but I will let you research it further. Suffice it to say we had the most enjoyable morning before sadly returning to shore.

Again we camped under the stars although a short walk did take us to the Corroboree Tavern for a beer, glass of wine and a nice steak sandwich. Roughing it is good. We had intended to spend a couple of days exploring in the Kakadu National Park but found a lot of it closed including the info and visitor centres due to coronavirus and Aboriginal Community concerns. Some sights accessible by 4WD were open but no good for us in our clunky camping car. We passed through Jabiru township at the eastern end then exited south and had another two nights at Edith Falls camp ground just north of Katherine – one of our favourites on the trip thus far. The road home ie Queensland was now ahead of us and we were Mataranka Springs then Daly Waters bound before crossing the border into Queensland.

Kakadu National Park – and managed burn off in the background

PS. Have you heard the one about the father and son crocodiles who came across some naive tourists swimming in the river? The son said “Dad, can we go and have breakfast.” Dad said “Just wait son. We will circle around them for a while.” After swimming a few circles the son says “Dad can we go and have breakfast now?” “Just a few more circles son” says Dad. Finally after they had eaten the son says “Dad. Why do you always say we should circle before eating?” “Because son they always taste better once the poo is out of them”.

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