Tip on : Darwin - 5 years ago
The itinerary for my last day with the AAT Kings tour group changed totally at breakfast this morning when the news surfaced that the entrance to Litchfield National Park was flooded and that we could no longer visit the park or go swimming at Wangi Falls as planned. Mike had been given a report by his boss early this morning that the road into the park was under nearly two metres of water, and had been getting half hourly updates throughout the night - but the latest news was that the water level, although dropping, was still at over a metre and that the road was likely to remain impassable for some time. On board the coach, Mike and Lisa explained that they had discussed the situation, considered all the options and decided that we should go instead to somewhere called the Territory Wildlife Park in Berry Springs, forty Kilometres outside Darwin. This resulted in a number of people with a collective mental age of about five mumbling under their breath and storming off the coach in a huff, claiming that their entire holiday had been ruined and that they wouldn't be going to no boring wildlife park, but the rest of us accepted that there's not much anybody can do about the weather and we headed off towards Berry Springs for our unexpected excursion. Driving out to the Wildlife Park didn't take long, and AAT Kings paid our entrance fee as the storms had stopped us from being able to visit a Crocodile farm yesterday which we had already paid for. We were met by a girl at the entrance, who was altogether too chirpy for that time of the morning, and she explained every tiny detail about how the park worked before handing us all maps and booklets repeating everything she had just said in case we hadn't been listening. Which most of us hadn't, being still asleep. The park is divided into sections representing the three major habitats of Northern Australia - Monsoon Rainforest, Woodlands and Wetlands. Each of these areas is either a self contained environment supported by the creeks, rivers and forests of Berry Springs, or is contained within a geodome or indoors where environmental conditions can be simulated year round. It's all quite impressive, and the management obviously think they're a smaller version of Disneyland as they've even laid on a "train" that trundles around the roads picking people up from out the front of each environment and dropping them off at the next. My main complaint about the day, if any, is that we had to be back at the coach at the ridiculously early time of 12.15, which didn't give us anywhere near enough time to see everything. Why do coach tours do this? We've already paid to get in and the coach isn't using any petrol while it sits in the car park, so why don't they just leave us in the park all day where there are plenty of restaurants and cafes to keep us happy until evening? It's a mystery to me. My favourite area of the park was the aviary - I could've spent the whole day there. This is something unlike anything you've seen before - instead of having birds crammed cruelly into tiny cages with hardly enough room to perch, this place was nothing short of an opportunity to observe the birds going about their daily business. A wooden walkway started at ground level and raised me slowly upward, higher and higher into the rainforest, right up to the canopy where it zigzagged in and out of the trees with birds zooming past my head and landing on my arm if I decided to stick it out. Multiple habitats have been created for various avian species, and every now and then the walkway would lead me into a sort of hide in the sky, where I was able to sit and watch the birds through giant windows looking right out into the forest and often right into their nests in adjoining trees. Eventually, the walkway led me into a huge space-age biodome which was totally cut off from the rest of the forest and through which the treetop walk continued with jaw droppingly beautiful tropical birds flying everywhere. Even when I finally left the biodome, the walk continued through monsoonal rainforest for some twenty minutes before it gently began to slope back down to ground level and finally emerged back onto the road. I really wanted to be five again, so I could get away with screaming "Go again, go again!" For those wishing to experience birds which are more likely to eat you than sit on your shoulder, the park also offers two Birds of Prey shows daily. A couple of handlers stand in the middle of a large grassy area surrounded by a wary looking audience while various Kites, Hawks and Eagles zoom over the crowd with an average headroom of about three centimetres to grab food out of the hands of anybody who happens to have been foolish enough to bring any. The handlers, who are also clearly accomplished comedians and have the crowd in the palm of their hands as all Australian showmen seem to do, make it quite clear that no attempt has been made to train or tame the birds - they simply know where the food is. Nevertheless, Birds of Prey really don't need to do much to look impressive - just the sight of an Eagle soaring majestically out of the distant trees when called, narrowly missing the heads of small children who shall remain emotionally scarred by the experience for the rest of their lives, and grabbing a small piece of meat out of the handler's outstretched fingers before vanishing over the horizon again is enough to impress anybody. Afterwards, various Hawks and Eagles could be found sitting on logs around the outside of the green snacking on great lumps of meat and looking up occasionally as though to say "Yeah? You looking at me?". We were advised, just in case any of us were suffering from terminal stupidity, not to stroke them. Myself, I wasn't even going to look at them funny. In the aquarium, there is an underwater viewing tunnel which runs underneath a billabong (1) in one of the habitats and I was able to get the closest I have ever been to a really mean looking Saltwater Crocodile - albeit on the other side of a sheet of glass. The sign said that Salties can reach speeds of up to forty kilometres an hour on land, so I'm sure he could've taken a run up and smashed through the window if he'd really wanted to eat me anyway - or at least, that's what I'll be telling people when they ask about my brave encounter with a croc. Today has been really relaxing, and I'm really glad we didn't go to Litchfield as planned as this has turned out to be a great day out. The best thing about the Territory Wildlife Park, as far as I'm concerned, is that there are no animals in cages - the Kangaroos and Wallabies seem to just be wandering around in a massive conservation area, quite happy. They seem to be quite ahead of the pack in Australia when it comes to the things that actually count for anything - the environment, animal welfare, Aboriginal rights. In fact, Australia is one of the most forward thinking countries I've visited on my travels, and it really shows. This evening was the last that the AAT Kings group would be spending together - I'm off Westward and the others are all going their separate ways or flying across to Cairns to join another tour heading south. For a farewell meal, we all trotted off to find a nearby restaurant and ended up in an American chain called Sizzlers, which was certainly an experience. For some reason we were expected to line up upon arrival, as though this was a roadside truck stop, and only after having ordered and paid at the till were we approached by a waitress who provided us with cutlery and showed us to our table. The main problem with this arrangement, of course, was that several of us decided that we wanted a desert after we'd finished our main course - this required lining up all over again and confused the hell out of the waitress who was waiting at the end of the line and couldn't quite get her head around the fact that we already had cutlery and a table! Half way through our meal, we were interrupted by a commotion at the next table. It appears that a young mother had taken it upon herself to change her baby on the dining table - yes, you did read that correctly - and this had upset the management somewhat. Australian hospitality might be a wonderful thing, but it does have its limits.