Every trip should have a luxury component. For this one, it was a weekend away to Nitmiluk with my sister.
For Christmas this year, Doc gave me a night at Cicada Lodge, and a helicopter ride over all 13 gorges ending with a visit to a remote art site and a swim in a private swimming hole. For somebody who insisted he was hopeless at buying presents and needed a list when I met him, he’s certainly come a long way!!
We added an extra night so we’d have the whole weekend to relax and explore, and left Darwin at lunch time on Friday. Slightly worryingly, we quickly hit rain – lots of rain. Not what you want to see when you’re planning a helicopter ride!!
We stopped for something to eat at the Adelaide River Hotel – home of Charlie the Buffalo of Crocodile Dundee fame (just as well I like cheesy garlic bread, there wasn’t much vegetarian food on the menu). And then the wind picked up – even worse news when you’re planning a helicopter ride!!!
It was like that all the way down. Light rain, heavy rain, wind, wind and rain. We were getting more concerned by the minute about that helicopter ride.
But when we arrived and checked in we were less concerned about having to spend the whole weekend at the resort. The room was beautiful, with a balcony looking straight out into the national park.
Even better, we were greeted with a complimentary drink of bubbly on arrival, followed by more drinks and canapes on the deck by the pool. We then retired to our room with more champagne and biscuits and cheese, and sat watching a wallaby with a joey in her pouch right by the balcony.
I guess we would survive if we couldn’t go out on the helicopter next morning.
But when I woke up in the morning there was a beautiful blue, clear sky.
Following a swim and an amazing breakfast by the pool we headed off to the helipad, where we were greeted by … a kid from the local primary school who tried to insist he was our pilot.
We waited, and looked around, but nobody jumped out of the bushes yelling “you’ve been punk’d”, so we got into the helicopter with “Baby Chopper” (yes, that was his nickname, seems we weren’t the only ones who thought he looked very young), and off we went.
It’s only from the air that you can really appreciate the magnificence and vastness of the Australian outback. And how much water there is in the wet season!
From the air we could not only see how full all 13 gorges were (apparently they’re even fuller now), but also all the streams, creeks, and waterfalls feeding into them. Waterfalls that don’t even exist in the dry were rushing with water, forming deep, clear pools where even the crocodiles don’t venture.
Which is just as well because we went for a swim in one, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Sitting in the front of a helicopter, with an open doorway beside me, was a rather exhilarating experience. A feeling which was heightened massively when Baby Chopper pointed out a small picnic bench on the rocks below us and said that’s where we were going to land.
As we got closer, the picnic bench turned into a platform, still tiny, but seemingly just big enough to land a helicopter. Baby Chopper was certainly earning his money. And I’m sure Eleanor wasn’t the only passenger he’s had who threatened to throw up all over the back of his head.
But she didn’t throw up, and we made it onto the landing pad perfectly.
We were at a remote art site, beside the flowing waters of the Katherine River, where crystal clear water cascaded over rock falls, and into pools safe from crocodiles. So of course, after looking at the ancient art and marvelling at what it represented, and how people travelled and lived in this landscape, we went for a swim.
At a place so remote it can only be reached by helicopter, where the crystal clear water was refreshing and free of crocodiles, and where ancient history and culture hung over everything.
It was heaven. And something I would do again in an instant.