Lower Pool Koolpin Gorge, sunrise. See anything moving…?

Early morning outback selfie…Frightening….

OK, outback adventure, third and final installment, promise…Thanks for sticking it out…Up early, into Koolpin Gorge…Not psyched to climb all the way back up into the third pool, due to fatigue and general bad juju…Water calm, clear…hmmm… inviting….No Crocs evident, anyone up for a morning dip with the Salties…? What are the odds….?  A thousand times safer than the drive out here, statistically speaking, I’m sure….So there we were, feeding up “crumbed children” to the Crocs…(see the attached video evidence…) Some example of a father you are Dr Nolan…….I mean really…! Guards and lookouts posted, a quick dip…. no limbs lost, or even skinned up….Sublime…and a real wake-up, I guarantee…

Now, how can you say no…?
Fresh and baited

A fool’s bathtub…
Some rules are just begging to be broken


(Copy the above link to see shockingly bad parenting…LIVE!!)

The famous Archer Fish, spits water 6 ft to hit prey

Refreshed,  it was time to head back towards civilization, or at least a paved road. Miles to go, and miles to go……

The Sickness Country, sure looks nice to me…

Another oddity, this tree is in full flower, after having dropped all it’s leaves…

On the way out we stopped and saw some remains of Uranium mining, stopped in 1964. The area is riddled with unsafe mine sites and shafts, enter at your own risk…

The road out

River ford

Gunlom Falls

Next stop, Gunlom Falls, famous for having been a scene in the first Crocodile Dundee film, as well as the plunge pools above the main falls. It’s just a drive up to the campground and popular on weekends, but a beautiful spot indeed… Of course, being Australia, it just has to be a bit weirder…We were at the beach here, and I was about to jump in from a rock when I noticed this massive snake under water right below me, four feet long, as thick as my forearm, ISYN! Later, we learned from a ranger that it was most likely a harmless File Snake…but still…I mean REALLY, I think this country is trying to kill me….

Look again….a very large snake, 4 feet, right below….

 It seemed a bit better to climb up above the falls to swim. And it was; perfect cool pools under the tropical heat…

Above Gunlom Falls

Perfect plunge pools

Aussie outback rangers
Future Bogans at play….

Eucalypt savanna

 Back on the road again, out the southern entrance to Kakadu, then turning north towards Litchfield NP and in a few more days Darwin…

Wild Horses, aka Brumbies

Emerald Springs Roadhouse

Outback Art

 After a hot six hour drive, we made it into Litchfield NP. Not as remote as Kakadu, and a popular weekend destination for Darwinians…but the falls are fantastic, as good as Kakadu. We spend two nights camping rough, exploring and swimming…same old same old…

That sure feels good…Buley Rockhole


Water equals life…

Florence Falls

A monsoonal rainforest pocket
Excellent Aussie infrastructure

Falls approach

Florence Falls morning, all to ourselves

Snorkeling the pools

Wild paradise

A Flying Fox bat colony

River Pandanus Palms

The Lost City, limestone bluffs out in Nowhere, NT

Tolmer Falls; sacred, no entry allowed

Wangi Falls
A Golden Orb spider; huge, scary, harmless

Possibly a Brown Snake; non-descript, but extremely poisonous

Nankeen Night Heron
Carpenteria Palm rainforest above Wangi Falls

Above the falls

My wonderful young men; Luke 14, Aidan 10

Feral Hogs, a big problem wherever they’re found

 Getting closer to Darwin, we came upon a large field of Magnetic Termite mounds. A different species than the Cathedral, they actually orient their thin mounds North to South, keeping one side of the nest in the shade all day long. Internal temperature recordings confirm that this keeps the nest dramatically cooler than a random or East-West orientation…fascinating stuff….!

Magnetic Termite mound

Parap Markets

 After eight nights camping in the bush, and seeing many amazing things, it was finally back to Darwin for a final night. At least we had more markets, Asian food, swimming pools and souvenir hunting as compensation. And no more peanut butter and jelly!

Laotian savory rice pancakes, served with sweetened coconut water as syrup..Nice brekkie…!

Local street buskers
Darwin wave pool

 After all that swimming, the boys were still dying to try the Darwin wave pool…It was OK, but not exactly Florence Falls.

Vietnamese dinner…oh, yeah
East Point bluffs

 Our last day, we crammed in as much sight-seeing around Darwin as possible. East Point has a wonderful park with lots of WW2 fortifications. The Mangrove boardwalk was interesting, especially watching the locals spearfishing. We also managed a quick look at the Art Museum of the Northern Territory and Botanical Gardens ( both highly recommended and free..)

Darwin from East Point

Mangrove boardwalk

Spearfishing success    
Dinner…note the homemade spear, with rebar

WW2 gun emplacement

Glossy Ibis

Returning the Beast

Darwin Airport

 Finally, we were out of time and winging our way back home to Brisbane. It all seemed another world after the remoteness and timeless silence of Kakadu and the outback Northern Territory. After eleven days and ten nights out, I have to admit , it felt good to sleep in my own bed and get back into a comfortable routine. But the memories of unstructured hours in the wilds of the Top End with my two rapidly growing sons will bond us forever, and become the stuff of family legend and tall tales for years hence.  We are truly fortunate to have had those precious days and nights alone together. And our best wishes for you all reading is to be able to share similar time and experiences with your loved ones. The are growing up so very fast. Safe travels!  Luke, Aidan and DDU…


Wings over the Outback

Back home in Brissie

Great trip Dad, whoo-hoo….Where to next….?

 In part two, we are up early and heading for the Yellow Water Billabong sunrise wetland tour. It’s popular, and an excellent way to get out on the wetlands that are so much a part of Kakadu. The tour is part of a hotel and restaurant complex that’s owned and operated by the local “traditional owners” or Aboriginal groups of Kakadu. In fact, they own the park and lease it back to the government. It provides much needed income and jobs, keeping the younger generations providing stewardship and working out on the traditional lands, So, win-win all around. The guides are well versed in all the local lore, flora and fauna, so you even learn something while on vacation. Triple win!

Sunrise on Yellow Water. Yes, that’s a croc’s head floating on the R, 3 o’clock… 

 As the sun begins to rise, the bird life becomes fantastically active. For a brief 30 minutes the air vibrates with the sound of thousands of Whistling Ducks coming in waves to roost for the day. On a two hour tour we probably saw 40 bird species, wetland, waterfowl and some tropical woodland species. Kingfishers everywhere…My cheap little cell phone camera could not hope to catch the intricate beauty of this environment. I think I need to upgrade soon….

Guide Nathaniel, very knowlegable about the wetlands

A nice croc sunning
DDU in my natural habitat
Giant Waterlillies

 A bonus to the sunrise tour is that it comes with a full-on Aussie breakfast; bacon, eggs and fresh fruit..oh, and coffee….coffee…..:-O…. Highly recommended if you ever find yourself in Kakadu NP.

Now it was time to hit the 4WD tracks and get out into the backcountry. Jim Jim Falls, 20 km up a corrugated, red dirt road, then 10 km more down a rutted goat path…Atrocious roads for such a major site… In fairness, it had only been open a few weeks due to high water and croc surveys. Twin Falls down the same road was still closed.

Back Country Beast


(Copy the browser link above for some cool Aussie 4WD adventures; short but sweet….!)

Hiking into Jim Jim Falls

After a wild and wooly last 10 km 4WD ride into the falls, you hike the last 1 km with the roaring sound of the falls increasing as you approach, it’s pretty fantastic as it unfolds.

Jim Jim Falls
The Top End has a distinct tropical monsoonal climate, hot and dry winters (May – September) and hotter and extremely wet in the summer (October- April). In fact the local Aboriginals recognize six distinct seasons, with the build up and wind down of the Wet.. Most of the park is closed in the full-on Wet, as roads can be under 6-8 ft of water for months sometimes.  It’s now early in the Dry and the massive torrent that flows over these escarpments has slowed to a safe level. The rangers have been busy putting in temporary bridges and boardwalks that are again lifted out before the Wet begins.

 It’s hard to fathom how large and impressive this waterfall is from pictures. The canyon walls are sheer and 400-600 ft high, crowding in overhead. The base plunge pool is around 150 yards across, the depths coal black and slightly eerie….With a cool breeze blowing off the falls and down the canyon, the 90 degree heat dissolves and you are standing in a shady, glistening cathedral of sorts that is among the most impressive I’ve ever seen…The water is crystal clear, cold and full of schools of fish. Having packed in a mask and snorkel, we were able to explore an intricate word of underwater boulders, timber snags and sandy ridges that felt almost Caribbean.

Almost enclosed by the towering cliffs
Hard to mistake the meaning…

 Coming back down canyon you see plenty of warnings to be croc aware. During the Wet, these canyons are inundated with brackish water coming upstream in flood. Estuarine crocs (Salties) come up river feeding. As the waters recede, many are trapped high in the canyons, and they get mighty hungry. The rangers have a very precise method of clearing the pools for swimming, but there’s no guarantee…They must do five seperate night floats, shining high-powered lights looking for eye shine. They also set baited croc traps for several weeks. Finally, once things seem safe, they leave behind small bouys which the crocs will attack to drive interlopers out of their territory- leaving telltale toothmarks on the bouy. It all makes for some very spooky pool plunging for sure, but I guess that’s part of the thrill!

A Croc trap, baited and waiting
A Croc buoy, the final line of defense
Hiking out…limbs intact…

 Soon it was back on the backroads, heading through the escarpment country…First stop Maguk Falls, a long aquamarine pool headed by a gently sloping cascade. Crystal clear, cold and full of fish….The approach trail, 1 km through a lush, riperian tropical rainforest pocket in the 90 degree heat only added to the anticipation.

 The open eucalypt savanna that dominates the uplands along the escarpment ridge is an ecosystem that depends on annual fires. The Aborigines have burnt seasonally for millenia, calling it a clean-up…The understory stays open and the grasses thrive. Through the walls of dense smoke Whistling and Black kites, large raptors, are seen diving in groups at the newly exposed meals of snake and lizard…

Maguk Falls plunge

Oh, Yeah….!

Typically excellent Aussie infrastructure, removable for the Wet

Catherdral termite mound

 After a cool dip we encountered a field of Catherdral Termites and their fascinating mounds. They harvest and store grasses inside. These tiny insects, less than a quarter of an inch long, but numbering in the millions, create colonies that last for up to a century. The shell is a hard, rough sandy consistency, strong enough for Luke to climb!

Old Mine Jeep

 Our camp for the next night was the remote Koolpin Gorge, or Jarrangbarnmi, sacred to the local tribes and lying deep within the “Sickness Country” of SW Kakadu. Here the land rises and trees thin out due to poor soils and less rainfall. There are many ancient legends about dangerous spirits living underground and how you must be respectful not to disturb or anger them. Access is strictly limited by advance permit and the final 10 km is by rough, steep 4WD track, after a 40 km dirt road approach. The campground is primitive, 30 miles from the nearest paved road. Fantastic stars…!

Koolpin Gorge approach, way over the next ridge

 The most amazing thing turns out to be that this is the site of one of the richest Uranium deposits on the planet. The earth here also holds major deposits of Mercury, Lead, and Arsenic. When scientists mapped the deposits, the boundries were almost exactly the defined “Sickness Country” of the local Aborigines! It seems there was a strong basis for their ancient legends after all.

Koolpin Gorge, a tranquil oasis
The “Sickness Country”
The trail leads thru Croc waters

Heading up the gorge into the rough stone country was a bit eerie, truth be told. There were Croc warnings in the lower pools, late afternoon shadows lengthening; on high snake alert, we were alone a long way from anywhere. The rocks, jagged and tumbled. Few birds or signs of life…We all shared a subliminal sense of caution, as if anything could go wrong at any time

 We finally got to an upper pool, supposedly Croc-free. It was deep and dark, steep-walled and a bit unsettling. Pale white toes hung suspended; helpless over the bottomless, cold void. It was too easy to imagine a rouge Croc lunging up from the depths and dragging you under… We did a quick plunge to cool off,  but were relieved to be dried off and heading back down the gorge. The overall effect was the antithesis of the fertile, relaxed and welcoming Maguk Falls of the previous day.

The chill isn’t from the cool water…!
Beautiful, yet strange…
Twilight campfire

Sleeping out under the stars that far off in the Outback was truly magical. Luke and I sat up for hours under a flood of southern stars talking of life, family and friends; the strange constellations turning silently overhead, reinforcing our sense of being oddly displaced and very, very far from our home back in New York….. Well, enough for tonight. In Part 3 we will visit still more falls in Kakadu and Litchfield NPs before a final swing through Darwin and the flight home to Brisbane. I hope you are enjoying the trip as much as I am enjoying the memories. Best until then, DDU.

After a few months of planning I was finally ready to take Luke and Aidan on a boy’s Outback adventure. 10 nights, 9 camping rough in a 2 man mountain tent. 1400 kilometers (850 miles) into the bush. All heat, sweat, stink, dusty roads, snakes and crocs. Also Barramundi fishing, gorge hiking and mountain stream swimming. Throw in a nightly campfire and some ancient aboriginal rock art and it seemed like a great time. And believe me it was! The girls, on hearing the proposed itinerary, deferred. They want their own adventure, one without the snakes and crocs….hopefully, coming soon…

Heading to the airport
Queensland And Northern Territory Air Service

Over Brisbane
An iPad with every seat…Psyched Dad!

Coming into Darwin

Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territory, and has a pop. of less than 100K. Over 50 nationalities make up the population of this small, mellow city; the Australian gateway to Asia. It sits on the tropical Timor Sea, next stop Indonesia… Incredibly, it’s the only population center of any size between Cairns on the far NE coast of Queensland and Perth on the far SW coast of Western Australia, a distance of over 3,000 miles. And it feels at the very ends of the earth too…

Our ride…a fully decked out mine truck, aka the Beast…

Indonesian Chicken Laksa, spicy goodness!  Mindil Beach markets

Weird menu up here….

Weird music too…

A classic Darwin experience is to have dinner among the Asian food stalls at the Mindil Beach markets west of downtown. Only open during the “Dry” between May and October, it’s a free, tropical, open air street fair on Thurs. nights and Sunday afternoons. The fresh Asian food,  tropical fruits, art and crafts are wonderful to enjoy until the sun begins to set. Then everyone walks through the dunes to watch the sun sink into the Timor Sea from the beach. As evening falls and the stars come out, the lights go on and the market pace picks up. We flew in specifically on a Thursday to make sure we got there, a good call…It’s a wonderful, adventurous welcome to the Top End, as the Aussies call this monsoonal upper 1/3 of the Territory.

Easy to feel this way

Mindil Beach
Sunset on the Timor Sea
Mindil Beach twilight

Psi at the hotel pool. Last night of comfort for a while

The next day it was up early, load up on provisions for days in the bush, a bit of site-seeing around Darwin, then off into the wilds. Darwin has a very varied and interesting history. Briefly, it was the only Australian city to be attacked by the Japanese in WW2, and was bombed 64 times with pretty extensive destruction. There are old fortifications all around the strategic points outside the city.  That, however, was only a prelude to the much greater destruction wrought by Mom Nature on Christmas Eve 1974, when Cyclone Tracy scored a direct hit and levelled 80% of the buildings in the area. Many of the old classic examples of tropical architecture were wiped off the map forever, and today’s downtown feels a bit more average and non-descript than one might expect. Natural calamities aside, Darwin retains a very mellow, Margaritaville vibe, like some giant Key West, that is beguiling.

Darwin Harbor and Convention Center

Heritage building, old…

and new…

Road ready…

Out on the Stewart Highway

Drive 40 km east of Darwin and you are really getting into the bush. Things drop off fast… and Kakadu is still 200 km away. First stop, Mary River National Park, where we have a tent space and a skiff rental awaiting. Aidan’s #1 Bucket List for life is to catch a wild Aussie Barramundi; a hard-fighting, aggressive estuarine species highly esteemed by Aussie fisherman. Like Texas bass, for some it’s a religion. I think Aidan just got born-again!

Workin’ it
Heading upriver….getting wilder and wilder….
Aidan’s nice Barra, a dream come true!
Proud papa

Brothers in the wild = lifetime memories…

More crocs….Just before “the mishap”…

As we were intently watching crocs, working our way up this tributary, with dusk falling, I happened to run the outboard motor up onto a rock ledge and stall out, with crocs drifting around the boat, ISYN! After a few frantic minutes, we managed to free the boat and hadn’t snapped the screw or the drive shaft. Thank God to be underway and heading downriver…..It might’ve been a long, hot night; swatting mozzies while waiting to be rescued……(100% true story…and it’s only night one in the bush…whew…!)

Relieved to be underway
Aidan in his element
Mary River NP, dusk

Native bamboo

Next stop Kakadu NP, which is a crown-jewel of the Aussie park system, right up there with Uluru or the Great Barrier Reef for those in the know. It’s very hard to describe briefly, but a few major highlights: it’s one of only four World Heritage sites double-listed in AU for both natural and cultural features. It’s vast, over 7,000 square miles! It’s the largest bird-breeding area in the entire southern hemisphere. With almost 300 bird species, it contains 1/3 of all known Aussie species, and over 10,000 insect species. It has seven or eight major unique eco-systems intact within it’s borders; hundreds of miles of pristine mangrove coastline, seasonal  tropical wetlands, open eucalypt savanna, several entire undisturbed tropical river systems intact from headwaters to coastal estuaries. The park is bisected by a 500 km long, 1000 ft limestone escarpment over which fall some of the most impressive waterfalls on the planet. Oh, and to top it off, it’s the site of the oldest continuous living culture documented on earth. The local Aboriginals, 15 major distinct groups, have been living here for approximately 50- 100,000 years. The limestone escarpments are riddled with an estimated 15-20,000 rock art and sacred sites, less than half of which have been documented. So, all in all, a pretty amazing place to spend some quality adventure time.

Keeping it simple

Near Ubirr (oo-bear)

One less to worry about, Aussie road-kill

Ubirr glade

Ubirr rock art gallery protected by a massive cantilever

Timeless tales, if you know how to read them

Barramundi Xray fish, several thousand years old

A short-eared Rock Wallaby, cat-sized and cute!

Ancient stories painted on rock….

Ubirr is a major art rock site that’s set up and well-managed for the
tourist hordes, an antipodean Sistine Chapel of sorts. It’s set in a stunning shallow valley, surrounded and protected by low limestone cliffs. It’s considered a broken- off outlier from the main escarpment ridge, some 20 miles to the south. This gives it the advantage of sitting at the edge of a vast, flat alluvial flood plain that stretches to the horizon. Another classic Aussie experience, bordering on pilgrimage, is to climb atop Ubirr and contemplate life and time as the sun sets over the floodplain, as it has done daily for eternity. You really do get a sense of the infinite, sitting in a place like this, even though you are unlikely to be totally alone.

Ubirr summit

No place we’d rather be…

Sunset approaches

Sunset crowd overlooking the floodplain
The floodplain below
The wild “stone country” leading back to the escarpment

A golden moment…time, space, eternity….(woo-woo…)

The overall landscape feels alien, exotic. With the heat in this, the cool season, rising to 90+ degrees during the day, it’s reminiscent of the Rift Valley of Africa or somewhere, though I’ve never been. If a herd of elephants came running out of the bush below, it would seem perfectly in keeping with the landscape, oddly enough…But no, only a few foraging kangaroos, a Wedge-tailed Eagle silently soaring the updrafts…a mob of coarsely squawking Sulfur-crested Cockatoos…breaking the enveloping stillness of dusk….
      Well, that was so good, the next day we climbed back up Ubirr to see things in a somewhat different light. No one around; still, beautiful and timeless. Popular, yet still profound..

The Rainbow Serpent…not me, the rock art…

Look up dude…

Overhung cliffs protect the art

Weird rock pattern, not a fossil..
Son-set over Nourlangie Rock, Kakadu NP
Volcanic Rock formation
Aidan in Kakadu

So, that’s a lot of adventure already. I think this trip will require multiple installments to do it justice and not over-tax my readership. Stay tuned for part 2 which will include the Yellow River Billabong sunrise wetland tour and lots of waterfalls. Until then, staying safe and dry in the Outback, Cheers! ddu, Luke and Aidan

Alright, Luke…

Staying in the old dairy workers cottage

So, as promised in Scenic Rim, part 1: Easter weekend, farmstay, 10 kids…Mayhem….and a REALLY great time! 

Main road walking

The Old Farmstead, over 100 years old


The Cedar Glen Farmstay is one of the oldest Eco-lodges in Australia. It sits in the middle of a 1000+ acre working cattle ranch.  In the 1970’s, beef prices were too low, and the family started hosting guests to help pay the bills. They have expanded beyond the main house and have added three other heritage buildings that were on site, or moved from surrounding ranches. The visitors now provide 75% of the farm’s income.

Dr Nolan in his natural habitat…

There are all sorts of outdoor activities on offer; hiking, or bushwalking, 4WD jeep tours, horseback riding, creek dipping, birding. Even boomerang throwing and making billy tea and damper Aussie-style…The ranch sits high up in the Lost World Valley, hard against the northern slopes of the Lamington National Park, so the birding and wildlife watching is superb.
A cute local…

A cute non-local…

The Lost World Valley

Simple but sublime…

Junior fire tender

A really big hit was the twice daily animal feeding and cow milking; chooks, turkeys, piglets, sheep everyone got some attention and the kids loved it.!

Easter Breakfast

The first day the younger kids got horse riding lessons,

Nice form Cate…!

Owen lookin’ good…

It was too muddy to go on the 4WD tour up onto the lookout on top of Jack’s Rocks, so Dad, Luke and Aidan hoofed it up for the views. It was super…and as an added bonus, we bushwacked under the cliffs to a series of caves and scrambled around. A bit worried about snakes, but none encountered, thankfully…too cool per Nigel…Of course, while driving down the road the next day we saw a meter long, very thick and highly poisonous Tiger snake basking right there…so……:-O….!

Jacks Rocks!!

The Lost World Valley below…

A very rough track…

Volcanic rock, not a wall at all
Proud Papa with a tall Luke
Proud Papa with big A
Rainforested ridges of Lamington NP above

Luke scrambling

Aidan going through a tight spot

On the way down we got caught in a soft misting rainstorm, then took an invigorating dip in the creek…Couldn’t get any wetter, and a wonderful way to spend Easter morning. Next, it was off to the cottage to greet the our Tasmanian friends, the Healys, and work on Easter dinner for 14…

Misty Mountain Hop

Happy Easter!!
Boneless leg of Lamb with wild mint gathered at the creek

Easter dinner was a blur of activity, but few pix due to a camera malfunction. Only imagine a torrential rainstorm on a tin-roofed cottage, perfectly cooked legs of lamb on the porch for 14, washed down with copious Aussie Shiraz and Cabs. Now blend in lively conversation and kid mayhem with all seemingly adrift in the starless black night at the very edge of the earth..sublime… Oh, and then being visited/ attacked by a very large and aggressive possum at the height of the party; the final feather in the cap of a perfect evening with friends and family…! Enguarde Mr. Possum….

The evil interloper, Mr Possum…He actually swatted an apple slice out of my hand!

The next morning at least dawned calm and clearing, if not my head…Time to get out and explore…

Morning neighbors..
Rounding up the main event
Country girl-buds

Scene of the crime…
Matt Healy and doc
Matt and Michaela Healy

Saddle up girls…!

Trouble times two…Owen and Hugh

Beauty and the Beast

Riding down the valley

God’s own country

Moms getting a breather…
The elders elect shank’s mare…

The kids with Nigel, ranch manager and owner

Easter picnic

My wonderful five kids….

Cold tub




Georgia and Claire

The kid’s handiwork…Impressive…!

Nigel and the kids, #2 (with ute…)
The back entrance to the park, paradise awaits…!
The road ahead

Ranch perfection…
Heritage country church

After a leisurely lunch creekside, it was time to pack up and head back towards Brisbane. But not before exploring a few miles of winding, Aussie gravel back roads. Country Queensland, a vast, stunning landscape that’s often missed by the casual visitor, but just over that next rise…Familiar, but quirky and unexpected…a wonderful landscape to explore…

Luke gate-tending at a low-water bridge

I worked hard to get this update done tonight, even though it’s a month overdue, because I am fortunate to be taking Luke and Aidan up north to the “Top End” of the continent in only 48 hours. We will land in Darwin, Northern Territory, hire a 4WD and explore the vast tropical National Parks of Mary River, Litchfield and the stunning jewel-in-the-crown, Kakadu. We will be travelling light, fishing and camping rough for 10-12 days. This is serious croc and snake country, but barring any tragic unforseen events, we plan on arriving home safe and sound in a couple of weeks. I promise several DDU’s revealing all that we discover, so do stay tuned!  Best until then, DDU and all the Nolans