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The Savannah Way is a collection of roads linking a tourist route from Broome to Cairns. Leaving Mataranka, Elsey NP the Roper Highway is an unsealed road alternate route which of course we chose to follow. This route follows closer to the Gulf of Carpentaria although still travelling inland.

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The road out of Mataranka

The road out of Mataranka

The Roper Highway travels through very remote outback Northern Territory after a refuel in Mataranka we headed off with some big distances to cover. At Roper Bar, a small Aboriginal Community that have a small store and campground, we decided to take the side trip to Ngukurr Aboriginal Community to visit their Arts centre.

Holly pointing out a Kookaburra in the

Holly pointing out a Kookaburra in the

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This required crossing the Roper River Causeway and heading through the remote aboriginal community of Ngukurr. The kids were thrilled to see some horses on the footy oval in the middle of town.

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A croc at the arts centre

A croc at the arts centre

The arts centre had some really cool eclectic artworks with different styles rather than a specific traditional style. I wanted to buy a couple of items but they were outside my budget. Whilst looking at the art one of the indigenous ladies had the three children playing games on her phone. It was a nice afternoon drive but this meant that we had no option but to stay at Roper Bar which had average facilities at a very high price – but we had to pay. Roper Bar was near the Roper River but there are crocodiles in the river so swimming is not possible.

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Roper Bar camp

Roper Bar camp

Our next stop was Mataranka – a small town next to the Elsey National Park this National Park was established from the purchase of Elsey Station which is famous due to the Australian classic ‘We of the Never Never’.

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The Elsey NP is set on the Roper River and has a lovely camp bushy campground. We decided to camp there for two nights to enjoy the site the first being the Bitter Springs. We all had fun swimming in the amazing Bitter Springs a creek fed by a thermal hot spring from the Artesian that is approx. 32.C and has a crystal clear water flowing with quite a strong current which you float 250m downstream then get out and float around again. The kids loved it.

Holly underwater in the Bitter Springs searching for turtles

Holly underwater in the Bitter Springs searching for turtles

Aaron floating in the spring

Aaron floating in the spring

We visited Mataranka Homestead which has the replica home from ‘We of the Never Never’ the classic Australian autobiographical novel of Jeaniee Gunn written about her life experiences moving from Melbourne to Mataranka in 1902 – quite a lifestyle change! This area is remote and quite wild now …reading the book has lovely descriptions of her adventures on an outback cattle station with bush men and indigenous community. In the book she describes the outback:

“Land of the Never Never; in that elusive land with an elusive name – a land of dangers and hardships, privations, yet loved as few lands are loved – a land that bewitches her people with strange spells and mysteries until they call sweet bitter and bitter sweet. Called the Never Never because they who have lived in it Never Never voluntarily leave it and too many Never Never do leave it. But we who have lived in it, and loved it, and left it, know that our hearts can Never Never rest away from it.” Jeaniee Gunn

I loved that part of the book and the outback Northern Territory is definitely beautiful country, the red earth and the blue sky framed with gum trees…but she forgot to mention the red dirt that you can Never Never escape!

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A replica bed from the movie set

A replica bed from the movie set

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Mataranka Homestead adjacent to Elsey NP and has another Hot Spring Pool. When we arrived it was a bit like the hot spring scene from Cocoon minus the aliens. (ie lots of elderly people…Andrew and I did not notice any youthful beneficial side effects from the water!) Thankfully some other children arrived to join our family in bringing down the average age in the hot springs and the children all had a ball splashing around all afternoon in the balmy water.

Maternal Hot Pool

Maternal Hot Pool

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Later that evening we came back to the homestead for the evening entertainment which included a family of five singing followed by Nathan Griggs…champion whip cracker…this was very entertaining and hilarious show cracking his whips his finale was whips on fire to the tune of ‘great balls of fire!’ outback entertainment is a cultural experience for the whole family!

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After the amazing Kakadu we started to head south and decided to return to Edith Falls for an easy stopover and we were lucky enough to get a camp for the night where we could stay hitched (one less thing to do in the morning).

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At the falls we met Wayne a guy from Melbourne who plays the didgeridoo and travels around Northern Australia to collect hollow wood from termites to make his own didgeridoo instruments. He played for the kids and was amazing he also promised us a didgeridoo when we returned to Melbourne.

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At Edith Falls we enjoyed a swim and the children were excited to see a Bower Bird in its nest dancing.

The next day we realised that in addition to the groceries we needed to buy some adult beverages and the shops are not open until 2pm due to alcohol restrictions…the Savannah Way route we are taking traverses Aboriginal Lands and has alcohol restrictions and mostly completely dry so if we missed this chance it might not be anything until Cape York.

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We packed early and headed into Katherine to get the shopping and see if we had long to wait…we managed to keep busy. Andrew went for a hair cut and convinced Aaron to have one too after five months (about time) then we got the worst news you can get whilst travelling in a camper trailer…Aaron had head lice, so the girls had a haircut aswell (no nasties spotted) and we purchased the requisite supplies then headed to Katherine Big 4 caravan park for an unscheduled stop over.

The spa at Katherine Big4

The spa at Katherine Big4

Three after hair cuts!

Three after hair cuts!

There were lots of lovely birds at the Katherine Big4 we spotted a number of Blue Winged Kookaburras and some Rainbow lorikeets.

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Katherine Big 4 have a swimming pool and we got busy washing all the sheets and any other item we thought might harbour lice eggs determined to ensure we did not have a recurrence – Especially as we were headed into remote Gulf Country and not all camps would have facilities to wash!

After a busy twentyfour hours we refuelled ready to hit the road again and we gave the Patrol and Tambo a wash – the first since leaving Broome!

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Kakadu NP is huge and so we moved camp to the Cooinda Lodge Caravan Park in the southern part of the park so that we were based closer to the Yellow Water Cruise for our 6.45am start. From here we visited the Nourlangie (Burunggui) site and walked the loop to see the views and more amazing rock art…the scenery in Kakadu is truly beautiful words can’t describe these sites…and I am not sure the photos do it justice either.

Camp at Cooinda

Camp at Cooinda

It was another really hot day but we all enjoyed a walk around the rock art and the Sandy Billabong, which had beautiful views and plenty of birds for Aaron and Holly to spot and identify. The top of this walk we enjoyed views out over to Arnhem Land and the sacred dreaming sites – this is one of the most sacred aboriginal sites in Australia.

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Views from Nourlangi

Views from Nourlangi

View across to Arnhem Land sacred site

View across to Arnhem Land sacred site

The Lightening Dreaming Man

The Lightening Dreaming Man

Thankfully we returned to our camp at Cooinda Lodge which had a very fresh (read freezing) swimming pool, which was great for the kids after a big day of sight seeing in the sweltering heat – they met some nice kids Aiden and Madison at the pool. After a swim it was an early night before our Yellow Water Cruise.

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We were up early and had three excited kids waiting to board the cruise boat. We chose the sunrise cruise, as this is when the water is yellow – sunset and sunrise – and the scenery is really spectacular. When we arrived at the boat there was an eerie mist over the water.

The view over yellow water wetlands

The view over yellow water wetlands

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Sunrise Yellow Water affect

Sunrise Yellow Water affect

The tour was fantastic we all enjoyed the scenery, birds and crocodile spotting. In stark contrast to the crocodiles we saw at Adelaide River these crocs did not approach the boat or even flinch at our presence…more calm and natural. We did see one crocodile try and catch a large Egrit that was having trouble swallowing a fish but as the crocs got close he just stepped back out of the water in time to avoid the snap! We could see he was a sneaky and skilled hunter moving very close before revealing himself.

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We were treated to seeing several Azure Kingfishers, Brolgas, Greater Egrets, Magpie Geese, Whistling Ducks, a couple of huge White Bellied Sea Eagles, Jacana (also called Jesus birds because they walk on water as they cruise over the lilly pads) and a couple of beautiful Jabiru or Black Necked Stalk (Australia’s only stalk) amongst many other birds. It was a morning to remember but two hours sitting still on a boat was a tall order and the kids teamed up with their new friends and were ready for breakfast feast back at the resort.

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White Bellied Eagle

White Bellied Eagles

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Jabiru in dance

Jabiru in dance

Cool croc on the yellow water cruise

Cool croc on the yellow water cruise

Azure kingfisher

Azure kingfisher – photo credit Aaron

Our last stop in Kakadu was Koolpin Gorge (now called Jarrangbarnmi). This gorge requires separate permits as there are limited camp sites. It is sort of remote accessible only by 4×4 and there is no mobile service. The area is also restricted to protect some rare the flora and fauna found only around this gorge. With our permit in hand we collected the gate key and set off.

View on the drive into Jarrangbarnmi (Koolpin)

View on the drive into Jarrangbarnmi (Koolpin)

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The drive into Koolpin was a fair 4×4 track – some tight winding corners but nothing to difficult on the way out we passed closed uranium and asbestos mines – this area has long been the ‘sickness country’ by the Aboriginals where spirits in the rock should not be disturbed! Not a coincidence. We were excited to arrive and be the only campers at the camp ground.

The walk into Kaolin

The walk into Kaolin

The croc sign and croc trap - a deterrent from swimming

The croc sign and croc trap – a deterrent from swimming

Hiking back to camp

Hiking back to camp

After camp set up we hiked to the gorge past the first lower pool which had these signs and a croc trap…the pool may contain crocs YIKES! We walked to the upper pools (crocs done climb rocks) deemed safe for swimming. We had the whole gorge to ourselves…a rare treat in Kakadu! The waterfalls were not flowing and the high water marks indicate just how much water moves through here in the wet. We all enjoyed a special swim and some peaceful time enjoying the amazing environment. Another amazing day we are so lucky!

Koolpin Gorge upper pool

Koolpin Gorge upper pool

Camp at Kaolin

Camp at Kaolin

Andrew and Bianca in camp

Andrew and Bianca in camp

As we were leaving Kakadu we visited Gunlom Falls but unfortunately the top pool was closed due to smoke from burning off. It was another hot day so could not resist a VERY quick dip in the lower pool…a quick dip as there was the croc risk sign! This was our last adventure in Kakadu we didn’t see it all, there is too much to see but we loved Kakadu it is a special place… we headed south back towards Katherine.

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View from the bottom of Gunlom Falls

View from the bottom of Gunlom Falls

We were excited to be arriving in the town of Jabiru in the Northern part of Kakadu National Park. Kakadu had a big reputation as a National Park – World Heritage Listing for the natural and cultural significance and therefore we had big expectations and we weren’t disappointed.

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Kakadu is amazing the scenery, the birds and animals, the aboriginal culture and what surprised me is that the area has such diverse landscape….huge rocky escarpments, flood plains, rivers and lagoons and it is huge covering nearly 20,000 sqkms large amounts of Kakadu. We camped at the Kakadu Lodge and Caravan Park an obvious choice for us as it was really hot and they have a swimming pool for the kids.

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Listening to the ranger

Listening to the ranger

The special rainbow serpent rock art

The special rainbow serpent rock art

Ubirr Rock Art

Ubirr Rock Art

Long necked turtle

Long necked turtle

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Our first day in Kakadu we visited Ubirr, for a guided Ranger Talk , which was really great explaining about the different types of art around Ubirr and some of the Dreaming stories that the art represents. Two hours in the heat was a big ask for the kids but they were amazing respectfully listening the whole time… and several older couples comment on how well behaved the kids were – we were proud! One lovely lady shared her biscuits and lollies as we had not brought snacks. From Ubirr Rock there is an amazing view over some of the wetlands and across to Arnhem Land.

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Ubirr View

Ubirr View

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Rock Wallaby near Ubirr

Rock Wallaby near Ubirr

Kakadu has three aboriginal groups who are the traditional owners of the land the which the park covers being the Jawoyn, Manilakarr and Bunidj. The explanations of the rock art and the Dreamtime stories that have been passed down with generations were really fascinating. And having seen so much rock art is was really good to have the cultural significance explained. The rock art in the area is unique and different from the rock art we saw throughout the Kimberley.

View of Cahills

View of Cahills

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Cheeky crocs at Cahills

Cheeky crocs at Cahills

North of Ubirr is Cahills Crossing of the East Alligator River into Arnhem Land. The East Alligator river has tidal water movement and at low tide you can cross the causeway and it is a spectacle for tourists because you can see a number of crocodiles that come down hoping to catch fish on the crossing at low tide. You can also see a number of brave (or stupid) tourists getting rather close to the crocodiles. We had lunch and watched the crocodiles at the crossing too.

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Whilst in Jabiru I was fortunate enough to have an amazing 1 hour flight over Kakadu and Arnhem Land. The kids waved me off very jealous and I enjoyed a peaceful hour with the most mind blowing views. Seeing the wet lands, the Alligator Rivers and the Arnhem escarpment from the air was truly spectacular – many thanks again to Lisa and Quin for the generous birthday gift.

Family photo before the flight

Family photo before the flight

safety briefing!

safety briefing!

Selfie

Selfie

View of the rivers from the air

View of the rivers from the air

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East Alligator River

East Alligator River 

The view of Arnhem Land Escarpment

The view of Arnhem Land Escarpment

Burning off in Arnhem Land

Burning off in Arnhem Land

That afternoon we got a permit to enter Arnhem Land to visit the Oenpelli (now called Kanbarlanja) and see the Oenpelli Art Gallery and workshop – the children met some artists and were hugely impressed at their very steady hand. It was incredible to watch their fine line painted using traditional pandanus leaves as a brush.

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The artworks were amazing. The indigenous women of this area have always weaved using pandanus leaves and there were some beautiful baskets and traditional dillie bags which were used to carry items. I bought a small bowl as a souvenir of our little adventure into Arnhem Land. Our original travel plans we had hoped to visit Cobourg Peninsula however we are running short of time and without anywhere for the kids to swim we couldn’t justify the long journey.

Fires in Arnhem Land

Fires in Arnhem Land

The road into Arnhem Land

The road into Arnhem Land

Oenpelli Art Gallery

Oenpelli Art Gallery

We had just a taste of Arnhem Land – it is really stunning landscape– we agreed we will have to come back another time to visit such beautiful country and the people.

Border Store Thai for dinner - Yum!

Border Store Thai for dinner – Yum!

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Kakadu at sunset

Kakadu at sunset

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Kids at Sunset

Kids at Sunset

Back across Cahills Crossing and we had a quick Thai meal at the Boarder Store before heading up Ubirr Rock for sunset views and photos with approx. 200 other tourists…it was amazing. This is a site made famous by the Crocodile Dundee movie and so spectacular – one of those views that has a spiritual feeling – after the photos we all sat in silence taking in the scenery.

Back across Cahills Crossing and we had a quick Thai meal at the Boarder Store before heading up Ubirr Rock for sunset views and photos with approx. 200 other tourists…it was amazing. This is a site made famous by the Crocodile Dundee movie and so spectacular – one of those views that has a spiritual feeling – after the photos we all sat in silence taking in the scenery.

We packed camp and took the trailer to get new tyres on the way out of Darwin just to be sure they were safe for the trip home. After the tyres we headed up the road past Humpty Doo a small town outside Darwin….famous for the large Humpty Dumpty…which we thought was hilarious!

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Around the corner we found the BIG Crocodile…as we were driving to visit Fogg Dam and The Crocodile Jumping Cruise on the Adelaide River.

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Initially against the idea of feeding wild crocodiles….feeding wild animals is not really appropriate especially dangerous  wild animals…but we had some friends tell us it was a ‘must see’ tourist attraction (thanks Jeremy) and it was quite amazing to get up close and personal with some small and some not so small ‘Salties’ or Estuarine Crocodiles. We arrived and we were ushered down a small platform to sit on a fairly small boat as there was a crocodile right near the pontoon.

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The tour guide reminded us to keep arms in the boat…but were we all certain to do that after we saw the crocs jumping up to grab the meat on the end of a stick…they were jumping vertically 2/3 of their body length…amazing and scary and really fast. As we travelled down the river crocodiles came out and approached the boat – looking for the feed. These tour operators have been doing this for 30 years but somehow I think the government will stop their tourism licence soon.

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The largest Croc we saw was called ‘Brutas’ he is estimated at 5.8m and weighing over a tonne and approximately 80years old. As he grabbed for his piece of buffalo he hit the boat and it moved.so he was pretty big alright. I doubt anyone would be safe on this river even in a boat. We felt safe but I was happy to be back on land. It was another timely reminder about being ‘croc wise’ and staying away from waters edge anywhere there might be a risk.

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This is Brutas coming for his piece of flesh buffalo meat!

A crocodile on the bank of the river

A crocodile on the bank of the river

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After the excitement of the crocodile jumping we drove out to the nearby Fogg Dam lagoon water reserve which had a number of birds and beautiful water lilies. The road in along the dam had signs saying do not stop or exit vehicle near water due to crocodiles!

Road into Fog Dam

Road into Fog Dam

Water lilies on Fog Dam were beautiful

Water lilies on Fog Dam were beautiful

We had lunch and enjoyed the view before driving on to Kakadu.


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We packed camp early to avoid the heat and finally set off for Darwin. When we arrived we decided to camp at the Freespirit Caravan Park…which had reasonable Wiki Camp reviews and the children wanted to go there for some reason.

Arriving at Mindil Beach

Arriving at Mindil Beach

We set up met our neighbours and their three kids, had a quick dip at the pool and set off for the famous Mindil Beach Market. The market is held Sunday and Thursdays during the dry has a huge selection of cheap food of all variety and several performers…which amazing and entertained the children…we marvelled at the Emdee playing five didgeridoos with an amazing drummer, a man fire twirling but by far the favourite was Mick’s Whip Show…a classic Mick cracks stock whips and sings a song about his tricks to the tune of the Devo classic ‘whip it song’.

Kids watching the fire twirling

Kids watching the fire twirling

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Aaron also got up and had a go at cracking the whip and he wasn’t too bad..it is much harder than it looks.

Aaron having a go at the whip cracking

Aaron having a go at the whip cracking

We had a yummy dinner of Thai food followed by sorbet that was so delicious and Holly and Bianca purchased a bag each and I bought and dress…as you do. The other entertainment at Mindil Beach is the amazing sunset shared by hundreds of others on the beachfront.

Family selfie at Mindil Beach

Family selfie at Mindil Beach

Sunset at Mindil Beach

Sunset at Mindil Beach

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After an action packed night we headed back to camp… we had not yet adjusted to N.T time so the children slept in which was a bonus!

We got the bikes down for the children as we planned to stay a few days and on Aaron’s first lap around he discovered Sam, Emily and Josie were camped on the other side of bushes behind our camp (friends we had met at El Questro). The children were thrilled to catch up again and were quickly off riding to the jumping pillow.

Jumping pillow fun

Jumping pillow fun

Boys on the bikes

Boys on the bikes

After we dragged them away we headed out for some shopping for much needed groceries and a few other key items including a battery charger for the camera gifted to Aaron. When we returned to camp it was off to the pool for a swim with the other kids whilst Andrew took the car in to have the ‘Koni shock absorbers’ replaced – a total bonus they were replaced under warranty.

Girls at the pool

Girls at the pool

Whilst in Darwin we made the most free sights and activities around the city one of the highlights the Palmerston Waterslide Park where we bumped into Luke with Jesse and Pippa again. The water park had a HUGE water slide.

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Ready for slide action

Ready for slide action

Holly was not sure at first but after the first time she was off and the kids and Andrew spent an hour riding the slides. For me it was scary the first time and terrifying the second…very fast. After a few rides Bianca moved to the water play paddle pool with Pippa and I had to leave the slide and watch the little ones. We all had an awesome time cooling off and having fun.

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The next day we visited Territory Wild Wildlife park learning about all the various birds, reptiles and mammal species endemic to the Northern Territory. The park was fantastic (similar to Healesville Sanctuary) but in the heat they had a bus train to carry you from one exhibit to another. We loved the ranger talks about the freshwater fish and rays, the birds of prey and the huge bird aviary where we learned about the northern Blue Kookaburra – which live together with their extended family three generations and up to 12 birds! Holly loved the turtles.

On the train at Territory Wild

On the train at Territory Wild

It was another great day but really tiring for the kids (still on WA time) we got home,had a quick dinner, then had a lovely visit from Lorraine and Terry the parents of an old school friend who were staying at the same caravan park.

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In the bush at Territory Wild

In the bush at Territory Wild

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Fresh water sting ray

Fresh water sting ray

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The next day we visited Darwin Museum with all the history of the Cyclone Tracey which devastated Darwin on Christmas day 1974 and lots of WWII history. They had an awesome collection of local birds, lizards and bugs on display in the natural history section which we loved too.

Replica house ruins from Cyclone Tracey.

Replica house ruins from Cyclone Tracey.

At the museum we met ‘Sweetheart’ a huge Estuarine saltwater crocodile that was accidentally killed when they caught him to remove and relocate from an area – he weighed 780kgs and measured 5.1m. We also watch the ‘Croc wise warnings’ making sure we were prepared for the rest of our ‘top end’ travels. Aaron loved the natural science section which had many of the birds we had seen on our travels.

Aaron and Holly with Sweetheart the Crocodile.

Aaron and Holly with Sweetheart the Crocodile.

A lucky bonus our visit coincided with the ‘Telstra Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art’ finalists exhibition which had some extraordinary and really beautiful art works.

Very cool weaving Ute at the indigenous art exhibition

Very cool weaving Ute at the indigenous art exhibition

After another jam packed day we were all tired and we decided to head out for dinner (yay no cooking!) to the Darwin Trailer Boat Club which is by the beach in town and we enjoyed dinner watching the sunset. We were surprised that despite crocodile warnings there were people walking ankle deep water on the beach edge.

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Our last day in Darwin the children visited the caravan park kids club (they begged us) and then we drove around a few sights and did some shopping we checked out the waterfront fake beach/pool and visited the World War II oil storage tunnels – amazing tunnels that were built and classified to secret until the 1990s. Very interesting with a huge amount of world war history but being hot and being in underground a little claustrophobic.

Recycled art in the WWII storage tunnels

Recycled art in the WWII storage tunnels

WWII oil storage tunnels

WWII oil storage tunnels – they were a kilometre long

Darwins fake beach water front

Darwin’s fake beach water front was pretty cool

After six great days in Darwin we needed to keep moving we loved Darwin it had a great feel and we could easily have stayed longer.