Written by Lucie
In 2012 the Adventure Gang hadn’t officially formed. However, this story documents the beginning of the Gang and the adventures of Mark, Lucie, Caroline, Jake and Lorelei in the Northern Territories on a birthday trip for Mark: the Jatbula Trail in Nitmiluk National Park.
We set off for our hike on the morning of Wednesday 6th June, 2012. We first stopped at a local farm (read: Lorelei attempted to drive straight into this guy’s house) where we bought bananas, cucumbers (one of which looked rather like a penis), and dried mango. Even though this stop was only a kilometre or two down the road from our night’s accommodation we were already glad to be out of the car because Mark had left wet trainers/sneakers/runners sunbathing in the back. Gross. Further into the town of Katherine we stopped to see the flight of Venus across the sun, something we won’t again witness in our lives. Then we went to the Woolworths for some hiking supplies, including several kilos of cheese. Mark also bought some replacement sunglasses because, in a single day of being on holiday he had also snapped his pair.
And then it was hike time! Sort of. We’d arranged to leave our car at the Katherine Visitor Centre and get a shuttle bus to the start of the hike. However, we then had a big stress when we were told that we couldn’t leave the car there and had to spend the next half hour trying to find some accurate information and change our plans. Finally we worked it out and decided to drive to the start of the hike and leave the car at Nitmuluk. Before we could get there though we had some more stress with regards to getting the key code for our accommodation in Darwin after the hike was done. For some reason this was way harder than it should have been.
How it should have been:
Us: “Hi, we’re staying at Gecko Beach in a few days and would like the key code now as we won’t be arriving until late at night.”
Them: “Sure thing! Here is the code ******.”
Us: “Thanks, bye.”
How it was:
Us: “Hi, we’re staying at Gecko Beach in a few days and would like the key code now as we won’t be arriving until late at night.”
Them: “Wtf? Who are you? Why are you phoning me? I’m on holiday in Perth and the owner lives in Scotland, and that is my home address not the address of the place. Arrgh!”
*Much time and stress. Difficult harvest of strange green fruit, which turned out to be rank. More time and stress.*
Them: “Here’s the code ******.”
Us: “Why was that so hard?”
Then we arrived at Nitmuluk! We signed in, people had ice creams, we jumped on a boat and everything was awesome.
Our first sight of unbelievable awesomeness came courtesy of the Northern Rockhole. I don’t think words can adequately explain just how beautiful that place was. Along a shrubby path suddenly you hit a small shaded beach, sat peacefully in front of a gorgeous, deep bluey-green lake with a cascading waterfall. We could have stayed there for a week, instead of just an hour. But, in our hour we saw a water monitor and a water snake, we swam, Mark and Jake played in the waterfall and Jake played at jumping in. The Northern Rockhole was also the site of the first cheese fridge, our first hiking lunch (where Mark managed to spill half our sprouts by thinking it was a good idea to throw a cucumber at the open box) and was where Mark managed to break his second pair of sunglasses, a whole 3 hours after he had bought them. Silly boy.
After a difficult goodbye to the Northern Rockhole we continued on our way to Biddlecombe Cascades which was to be our home for the night. Our private (lucky for Caroline who, immediately on getting into the water managed to flash a boob) swimming pool, despite being a pain to get to, was warm, beautiful and had a colony of spiders. This was the site of the first bum slide, and I think everyone will agree that that was the start of some magnificent things to come! Mark and Jake had fun traversing and Jake was delighted by his air pocket behind the waterfall. Lorelei also freaked out when a yabbie nipped her toe.
On the way back from our swim we met Glen (the bird guy), Don (who was pretty ripped for an old guy, and liked to show it off), and Matthew (the journalist who was going to do a Nitmuluk travel write up for the Sydney Age). There was an awesome sunset where Lorelei shared the spoils of her melon harvesting but there were way too many mosquitos.
Our campsite was nice, flat, the toilet wasn’t miles away and had about a thousand caterpillars on one leaf who all fell off if you touched them: “abandon ship!” After dinner we had birthday number one for Mark: cards and nuts from Caroline and a makeshift barabrith birthday cake with matches for candles and a round of song.
Our second day on the trail started out surprising well rested for all and very excitingly for Jake who found some flies were getting a bit too friendly with him in the bathroom! Yuck.
Quickly moving on, we headed towards the river, but away from the previous night’s swimming spot and got back into the rhythm. Sometime before lunch we went on an epic rock scrambling mission to see some Aboriginal art – including the guy with the head of a kangaroo and enormous testicles – and had a fun climb (up and down) with some awesome views at the top. We also found some ‘caves’ that looked like they might be cool to investigate but on a closer look they were pretty small and boring, and also perhaps a little deadly.
We found some more termite mounds on this day and back on the trail we played Categories for quite a long time. Lucie also lost her camera at some point, probably when rock climbing.
The campground for Thursday night was Crystal Falls Campsite, right next to the river. It was beautiful and relaxing, but a little soggy underfoot sometimes. And there were TONS of spiders! The river proved to be a very useful cheese fridge. Whilst Mark was out for a swim Jake was calling to him to look for the cheese, at which point Glen – who was closer to the cheese fridge – called back asking if Jake wanted him to bring it over. Jake then swiftly changed his mind and left the poor guy rather confused, and probably thinking that we were right idiots!
A little while later Jake was taking a dip and suddenly started shouting. He was over by the cheese fridge but what he had found was not cheese but beer! Two bottles of Jake’s tasty homebrew as a special birthday treat for Mark! Mark was clearly delighted and we spent a very happy couple of hours playing Banagrams, in the sun, drinking said tasty beer.
There was also a big freak out about the river crossing that was set to start our Friday.
Friday started off a little earlier for some than others with Jake making himself a 5am pasta feast. But once we were we all up, about and ready to leave our day started off proper with the river crossing. *Cue scary music*. It was actually really easy, and good fun, and then we were on our way. The first leg of the hike offered us a brilliant view looking straight down on to the Crystal Falls which we hadn’t actually been able to see before. We also came across the first checkpoint for the hike and then spent many hours playing ‘Twenty’ Questions.
Day three of the hike went via the amphitheatre which is basically a big gulley with a bunch of Aboriginal rock art. As seems to be standard, there was a rather sexual feel to the paintings. A seductive woman who ‘lures men with her dance’ stood proudly showing off her anatomically misplaced breasts (they were on top of her shoulders), and a bloke with an enormous penis was on the other side of the rock.
Jake also made a grasshopper commit suicide at the top of the gully.
We were very proud to be the first group to make it to 17 Mile Falls and spent some time choosing the best camp spot. This was actually pretty tricky as the whole area was ashy and full of ants. After the tents had been erected and we’d had a spot of lunch we made our way down to the water where Caroline, in an attempt to not give Mark and Lucie a free tittie shot nearly flashed an entire group of 6 hikers! Once in the water we found out that although this spot wasn’t the best for swimming it did have a lot of stuff to play on. To start with there was a great bum slide, which had room to progress up the skill scale, although unfortunately the more advanced levels were only for members of the Big Butt Club. There was also a series of holes in the rock around the bum slide (next to the waterfall) and so we invented 5 friends, 1 waterhole. This was a momentous occasion as first Caroline and Lucie tested it out and one by one the rest of the party joined in. There was also a great ‘frog incident’ whereby Lorelei freaked out because of this tiny little green frog and nearly concussed Caroline!
After lots of water play time we made our way up the cliff to read on some rocks overlooking the 17 Mile Falls and soaked up the last of the day’s sun. Mark was a bit grumpy because for some reason he’d decided to venture there without shoes and it was not comfy walking.
Over dinner we of course played Best and Worst and there was a beautiful view of the stars and the Milky Way for anyone waiting to use the toilet (that had a huge St Andrew’s cross spider and a locust in it!).
The big day starting with a little bit of annoyance due to the lack of progress in getting packed up and ready to leave, but that was quickly dissipated as we got into our stride for another gorgeous day of hiking. Our first treat of the day came fairly early, whilst we were walking through a dappled and almost eerily mysterious wood. The light was a hazy greeny-silver and you could imagine elves moving soundlessly between the trees. It was quite fitting that as we caught up with Don, Matthew and Glen they motioned for us to stay quiet and there, through the trees, was a magnificent wild boar (or maybe a pig). It seemed really large and darkly coloured and was gentling walking along.
As the beast moved away we continued on with a little bit of wonder and gradually the day took on a more normal tone. We spent most of the trail time playing Name That Tune and got the full story of Jake’s sticky solenoid issues.
We powered through Edith River Crossing but started to slow down as both Lucie and Lorelei dropped the pace due to their various injuries (Lorelei with her tendonitis and Lucie with a bruised achilles).
Saturday was also the day to sing the Mud Song and make a video going through the marshes.
The birthday night was spent at Sandy Camp Pool. This was a gorgeous treasure island of a camp site, and it was easy to imagine buried treasure, old beached galleons with barnacle encrusted sides and hidden villages nestled amongst the treetops.
Being slightly less romantic the camp site was a beach with coarse and cool pale sand shaded by trees with overhanging boughs and vines. The beach gave way to a rocky embankment at the back and a large, still lake to the front. The lake started with a small pool which fed a short waterfall. This is turn formed a small rocky paddling pool which widened out into the lush deep pool which looked like ideal croc territory.
After being assured that there would be no crocodiles and that we wouldn’t have been allowed to get to Sandy Camp Pool if there were, we slowly started to venture in. Then there was a yell and Lorelei literally launched herself out of the water after something “this big” (maybe 12 inches) swam underneath her.
Clearly it was not a crocodile. Well, maybe a baby freshie but certainly nothing dangerous. It did convince us to continue playing in the top pool and waterfall for a while longer though. Fortunately, this allowed us to discover a few key things: firstly this waterfall contained not one, but two water holes! It wasn’t as impressive as ‘five friends, one waterhole’ but one did make a great cheese fridge (for what was now some very dodgy, very squishy cheese) or a spa whirlpool. Secondly, through the combined efforts of our bodies we managed to partially stop and divert the flow of this waterfall which made us feel pretty pleased with ourselves, it was almost like we were gods! Forces of nature will yield to our will! Generally it was just quite a fun little spot.
When our confidence had crept up sufficiently we ventured out into the deep for a proper swim. On reaching the opposite bank Lucie decided she fancied a bit of a rest to soak up the sun and enjoy the beauty of this spot. She had spotted a very convenient looking large tree trunk that was partially submerged and was just going to sit on it when there was an incredible ‘crack!’ and the trunk gave way. It did settle a little lower in the lagoon’s greeny depths and this time provided a stable seat, although with considerably less sunbathing opportunity than hoped. There was a pure white heron to look at though.
Once our desire for water had been sated we make our way back to our home for the night for some chill out time. The tents were erected with fly sheets only since it was so warm and with the sandy floor almost functioning like a memory foam mattress a few happy hours were spent lounging in the (insect-free) shade reading, napping, or getting massaged.
Once a little recouped and, more importantly, hungry we ventured out for some snacks; crumbled crackers, questionable cheese, apple slices and penis cucumber slices.
As the sun slowly started to dip we brought out the cards and Bananagrams and languished in the peace, beauty and friendship of our last night on the trail. We fell asleep looking up at the moon and stars and watching their progression across the sky.
Sunday morning was bittersweet as we knew it was our last. After discovering the nests of green-arsed ants we set off down the river to Edith River South Checkpoint. At this point Mark, Jake and Lorelei savoured the last of the beef jerky and other treats of the trail were dug out and enjoyed. As we wound our way down to the end of the trail Lucie’s hike boots also decided the time had come and both vomited up their metal supports within about 15 minutes of each other.
We reached Sweetwater Pool where the wonders of the Front-Row Bomb and Triple Bomb were born.
But alas! A travesty occurred. Day Walkers.
As we moved on out we bid farewell to our trail companions and reached Edith Falls which was a magnificent pool halfway up a cliff and flanked on both sides by cascading waterfalls. After a quick cool down and go around the whirlpool bit Caroline and Lucie set off to get the car. On completing the hike they were transported by bus (whilst devouring Nutella wraps) back to the car where they retrieved Mark’s dry-and-no-longer-smelly trainers from under the car and started the long drive back to the others. After calling in a bottle shop for some surprise refreshments, nearly dying when overtaking a road train resulted in a hair raising close call, and driving through lots of little bush fires they finally made it back to Lorelei, Jake and Mark who had almost given up on them but were happy playing Bananagrams. We cracked out the beer and hit the road bound for Darwin.
Total Distance: 61.7km
We took our lives into our hands when we stopped for dinner in Pine Creek because this outback town was definitely the site of a massacre in the 1970s. However, we all survived our time in the Lazy Lizard, despite the pretty awful pizza, and were entertained by the choice of beer (Fosters or Castlemaine XXXX anyone?).
We arrived to Darwin and our house at Gecko Beach and after a warm shower, with soap!, fell into bed.