Day 46-49 – Jatbula Trail, Nitmiluk National Park

Day 1: We’d woken up super early and pre-arranged a car drop off at the end of the trail with the wonderful Cecilia and the gang from Tindall so we headed out with the troops at 6am to get us to the visitor centre to get our passes and to get the kids off to school on time. We got ourselves organised, said goodbye and jumped on the ferry to cross the river and begin the track. We walked through some impressively burnt scrub and got to the first marked campsite (Biddlecombe Cascades) with heaps of time to spare – which was lucky, as it was entirely burnt out and super exposed to the very hot midday heat. We checked out map and decided to push on to the second campsite and get the second day’s walking done in the hottest part of the day, which was tough but we managed in pretty good time. It was a spectacular walk but we were pretty exhausted by the end of it, so the relief of reaching camp Crystal Falls to dump our packs on the ground and jump in the water was awesome. It was a beautiful spot too – lots of shade in a spot right next to the rocks of the tiered falls with lots of little pools and rocks to relax on. We made the most of the afternoon by napping, washing and eating. The sun went down and the temperature dropped ever so slightly, so we pitched our tents and fell asleep looking up at the stars.

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Our typical Jatbula track view – charred markers and all

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We peer pressured Smash into kicking over an assumedly abandoned termite mount and she was mortified to find it filled with termites so rebuilt it. This was her effort. Success.

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Smoke haze

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Rob having a well deserved nap at camp

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Sunset at Crystal Falls

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Sunrise at Crystal Falls – so smokey!

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Smash’s incredible dirt sock tan

Day 2: It was super smokey when we woke up and the colours were all dusty and pastel from the fires and the morning sunlight – pretty spectacular. We packed up our gear and got walking around 7am after some breakfast. Most of the first half of the walk was on a plateau that followed the steep ravine of the creeks and rivers that Crystal Falls lead in to, and it was extremely burnt from the fires. We went past a number of smouldering stumps and felled trees. Pretty intense how hot the day got given that we didn’t see a scrap of greenery until we reached The Amphitheatre – a beautiful little tropical pocket tucked down in the rocks with a small waterfall and creek, with lots of rock art on the walls around the waterfall. We had an explore and cooled off in the shade before scrambling back up to our packs and walking the last little stretch to 17 Mile Falls, our campsite for the night. We had a great view of the falls as we followed the track around to the west and the campsite was quite exposed, but we managed to find pockets of shade tucked in amongst the rocks overlooking the beautiful swimming spots at the top of the falls. We whiled away the afternoon writing, sleeping, eating and swimming, and managed to spot a water monitor soaking up the sun on the rocks before he climbed back up to his hidey hole. The sun set with a spectacular red orange glow on the horizon and Rob cooked up a feast of veggies and cous cous. A fire flared up around a few trees on the other side of the falls but in the dark it was hard to tell how close or far away it actually was. We figured that the land was so burnt out that it didn’t have much fuel to travel with, and that we were camped right next to a huge amount of water, so we weren’t too worried – but the orange flickering sky was pretty eerie. Smash and I had a face off with a huge toad sitting in the middle of the path on the way back from the toilet but he eventually cleared the way without too much poking and prodding! It took a while to get to sleep because the sand we were sleeping on in the tent was still really warm from the sun earlier in the day, but we managed!

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Rob on a mission

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Rock paintings at the Amphitheatre

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So dry and so hot

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An effective fire break

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A different sort of paradise 2 months on, Dad!

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The best feeling after a long morning of walking

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Water monitor friend

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17 Mile Falls, at the top near the campsite

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17 Mile Falls from afar

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Ready for bed by sundown

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17 Mile Falls at sunset

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Rob and Smash escaping the sun at 17 Mile Falls

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Day 3: Got up before sunrise and packed up and breakfasted quickly so we could get walking before it got too hot – today was going to be a fairly long distance stretch, potentially with scarce water, so we wanted to get going as soon as we could. More flat, burnt out plateaus until we reached the Edith River Crossing area and got into a bit more greenery and shade following the creeks and rivers and marshland. Edith River Crossing wasn’t flowing so no water there – thankfully we had all filled up everything we could at the campsite but I’m pretty sure we were all dry by the time we reached Sandy Camp at about midday. It was indeed sandy – but most importantly, shade! Lots of shade. We chilled out on the sand next to the water and chatted, listened to music, snacked (too hot for lunch!), swam again, washed, went for the occasional walk, and generally just passed the time until the afternoon when the sun was less intense. Smash and Rob terrorised some legless lizards that were swimming around in the rock pools near the small waterfall leading in to the water near the campsite. We cooked up a pesto pasta for dinner which was awesome, and demolished some biscuits before calling it for the night and getting some rest before an even earlier start the following day.

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Beautiful colours at sunrise

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Sandy Camp

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The definition of our afternoon spent at Sandy Camp. Perfect.

Day 4: Up at 5am and we got walking with our headtorches in the dark because it was another long day (the next campsite was only 4km from the end of the track where we’d parked the car at Edith Falls, and we were bracing ourselves for some pretty burnt out terrain, so we figured we’d skip the next camp and do the whole stretch in one go). It was beautiful walking in the cool pre-dawn temperature. I say cool but I guess it was still about 28 degrees, but compared to what would have been about 41-42 degrees in the hottest parts of the day it felt lovely. The sunrise through the trees was spectacular too, and even as it began to warm up we had some intermittent shade and greenery alongside Edith River South, which we were following all day until we reached Sweetwater Pool (the campsite we were skipping past). Good thing we’d left nice and early because it was about 10am when we reached Sweetwater, which was supposed to be one of the loveliest spots to stop, but it was absolutely burnt out and pretty exposed even that early in the day. We had a quick dip and snacked and continued along the river for the next leg of the day’s walking. Lots of black cockatoos being very talkative in the treetops, a couple of wild pigs in the distance, insanely huge camel dung, dingo tracks – lots of things to see along the way during the day! We passed some day trippers who were walking to Sweetwater Pool from Edith Falls to do some swimming and they commented on the ridiculous amount of flies that were following us along the track. Rob in particular had a garrison of them and was getting pretty decimated by the march flies at this point in the day, but Smash was on patrol to thwack them if they landed. The temperature was insane and we were drenched in sweat and pretty tired from the very early start, so reaching the end of the trail and the start of the short track down to Edith Falls was a relief for sure. Edith Falls was beautiful too – busy, and it was weird seeing other people after the 4 fuels days without anyone on the trail but us. The water was wonderfully cool and we soaked our grimy legs and sweaty shirts and lounged around people watching. I climbed up the falls to the top pool and had a walk around, nearly stepping on the tail of a huge water monitor that had been enjoying the sun until I got all up in his space by accident and gave him a small heart attack. I edged away and gave him some space and he seemed to calm down after a few minutes, so I wandered back down to Smash and Rob and Smash ninja-style killed the biggest march fly I had ever seen that had been hanging around the three of us for a while. Impressive. Eventually we swam back over to our packs and put them on one last time, and scrambled up the hill and back down to the car park and lower falls area. We met Ranger Rod, who was keen to hear about how the hike was and what we thought of the middle sections that he hadn’t seen since the fires. He was pretty devastated to find out how widespread the fire was, and impressed that we had made it in 4 days – but agreed that it was probably the best way to do it given the heat and the lack of shade. He’d actually done the whole 62km trail in one day earlier in the dry season, oddly enough on the same day that my mum and dad had done it with two of their friends, and remembered running in to them at one of the campsites and chatting to them. Impressive though – he’d left Nitmiluk at 5am in the dark, walked about 7km per hour (big long strides and a very quick pace, he said) and stopped every hour or two for a 5-10 minute break. Insane! He said he made it back to Edith Falls at about 8pm, but the last 3 hours were a major battle and he’d had a few moments where he had to stop and take control of his mind and body to push on without just sitting down and not getting up til the following morning. Quite an effort. Rob got us some icy poles from the kiosk which tasted fantastic and were cold, which was the main thing, and we changed into some fresh clothes and got in the car headed back up north to Humpty Doo to have a shower, put our feet up and sleep! Rob hadn’t had a taste of Darwin’s markets, so we diverted to Mindil Beach to get a smoothie and some dinner, which was a welcome meal and cold drink after the walk, and the sunset was spectacular as expected.. but the crowds even on a Sunday were overwhelming, so we got back in the car and retreated back to the comfort of Humpty Doo and our wonderful hosts.

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Beautiful sunrise through the smoke

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More striking colours

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A masterpiece from a nearby camel – full sized camera lens cap for scale

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Sweetwater Pool – a quick break for a swim

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But not so keen to stay overnight – campsite is pictured dead centre. Entirely burnt out.

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Tracking dingoes

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The lookout over Edith Falls

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Edith Falls – a much needed swim

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Back to the car

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Edith River

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