Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Ghan - Katherine Gorge

One of the features of the trip on the Ghan are the side trips. The first opportunity occurs in the afternoon when the train arrives in the small town of Katherine. A variety of trips are offered including helicopter trips ($205), cruises ($75), canoeing ($58), golf ($45), shuttle to the gorge ($25) and shuttle to Katherine itself ($14).  I considered trying the canoe trip but remembered that the last time I went canoeing I got quite wet so I went for the shuttle to the gorge.

Three people went for the helicopter ride. The main attraction is the Katherine Gorge and there are actually 13 gorges. The helicopter ride allows you to see all of them.

Buses lined up to take passengers to the various attractions.

Downtown Katherine. Aborigines appear to be a sizable proportion of the population, more so than in Darwin. The women in particular seem to prefer sitting on the ground rather than on nearby benches. I was told that they are not poor and have money for whatever they need.

The road to the gorge.

Geologists suspect that these hills are full of valuable minerals but the local aborigines who own the land will not allow any prospecting. 

We arrived at the visitors center and I was given a map that showed an hour walk to a high point overlooking the first gorge. I set off down this path in 90 degree heat.

These sail coverings are brilliant.

Katherine has much the same weather as Darwin and so has two seasons, wet and dry. The wet was supposed to start in a couple of weeks so it was looking pretty dry out there.

Flying foxes. It seemed as if every tree near the river had a flock of these creatures so there had to be millions of them hanging upside down.

The cruise boats and the canoes.

A creek flowing into the Katherine River.

Tame kangaroos that don't take too much notice of you provided you don't go too close.

The start of the gorge.

It took about 20 minutes to walk to the bottom of a flight of steep steps that took me up to the viewing point. The climb was not easy in the 90 degree heat and I stopped for a rest at intervals on the way up.

Cruise boats in the gorge. I spoke later on the train to a fellow passenger who had gone on the cruise and she said she had thoroughly enjoyed it.

It is difficult to describe but I felt some sense that I was in a very old and very powerful place. I've never experienced anything like it before. Very weird.

I thought I had a picture of some canoes coming down the river but apparently not. The bus driver told us on the return journey that crocodiles have been known to come up to the gorge. At the start of the tourist season they have to search the river for crocs before they will allow canoes on the river. It made me glad I was on dry land but if ever I came back, I would do the canoe thing.

Before you get off the train, the announcer warns you to take plenty of water, a hat and sunscreen. I only had the water but I was glad to have it. By the time I got back to the visitor center, I had finished the whole bottle. By the way, this short squat bottle was just small enough to work with the cold water dispenser in the Ghan sleeping car.

The river floods quite often. If you can click on the photo you will see the flood height was nearly 8 meters  (or is it 18 meters? ) in 1974.
A salmon gum. The colour changes over the course of the yrar and turns orange at one stage.

The verandah at the visitor center. It overlooks the river and there were a few people out there enjoying a cold drink in the hot afternoon sun.

Also at the visitors center. The driver asked us to be back in an hour and the walk took about 45 minutes.

The visitors center has an exhibition which gives you information about the gorge and the history of the aborigines in the area. The bus driver said that some recent research has indicated that the local tribe of aborigines is one of the oldest known examples of a group of people and their descendants living in the same area in the world.

This is an exhibit that shows the path of the gorge which extends for 8 miles (12 km). The sides can be 200 feet high.

Recently the Federal Government forced cigarette manufacturers to sell their cigarettes in plain wrappers. Not surprisingly the cigarette firms have challenged the law and it will be interesting to see how it turns out. So here is a vending machine where you can by your fags (Oz slang) in a plain wrapper. The campaign to cut back on smoking seems to be working since you don't see too many people smoking these days. Mostly it's young girls who you still see smoking.

Statue to the outback stock men. It really is an incredibly detailed bronze casting.

Downtown Katherine. In the recent floods part of Katherine were under 6 feet of water. The volume of water in these floods has to be enormous.

If you want to buy alcohol in the Northern Territory you have to produce photo id. They are not looking for proof of age but whether your name is on a list of people who have an alcohol problem and are not allowed to buy alcohol. I would have to show some id, probably a passport.

While looking for a website about Aborigines and alcohol and found this interesting web site which offers a different perspective to the issue.

The bus driver gave a very interesting commentary on the twenty mile drive out to the gorge and back. He originally lived in Brisbane but when he and his wife came to Katherine on a drive round Australia, they stopped and never left. It just shows that people look for different things since while I am glad I had a chance to see the place, it's not for me. The heat and humidity is too much.

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