At around 7am we drove through Cahill’s Crossing. The tide was at a complete low and there was only 20cm of water flowing across the causeway. The cars that have been washed off were in full view – one on its side and the other upside down.
We were off into Arnhem Land and the first section from Cahill’s to Oenpelli is through some of the most spectacular scenery you’ll see – rock outcrops on one side and an endless floodplain wetland stretching out lush and green as far as you can see.
The road was pretty ordinary with some bad flood damage but we eventually turned off the main road (that continues to Maningrida and then, if you’re lucky with access, on for 700+kms to Nhulunbuy across in east Arnhem). Once on the road up along the Cobourg Peninsular, the road improved markedly although there were some washouts which were pretty nasty deep gutters across the track. We pulled into Wunyu Beach which was only a short – but overgrown – track down to the coastline. We found a turtle nest with egg shells indicating recent hatchlings had emerged.
We pulled into the Black Point Ranger Station after a good few hours of driving but we’d been taking it easy so we (and the Hilux) arrived in one piece. There were two camping areas – one for generators and one not. At first we made the obvious decision to camp where there were no generators but then after driving around and seeing a full no-generator campground and an empty generator campground – we changed our mind. We got a nice shady camp to escape the heat during the day and also got a site with a shade sail and picnic table.
Our site looked out over an open grassland area which the Endangered Banteng cattle used very regularly going by the cow poo everywhere. The Banteng from nearby Indonesia were released decades ago and kept breeding up in the wild. They are now almost extinct in their own country and Cobourg has one of the largest wild populations left in the world. Very important conservation-wise – of course for the right price you can go up on safari and shoot one up there as well….in the national park….a good, lucrative business for the Traditional Owners at least.
The next morning we took the scenic coastal drive around the beaches and headlands – a spectacular tour that gives a real feel for being in such a remote northern region. The birds like Beach Stone Curlews, Ospreys and Brolgas were easily spotted. We spotted a Banteng in the open grassland flats known as “Banteng Plain”…go figure….we tried to get a photo but he was a flighty beast (probably because he had been hunted before) and was quick to disappear into the coastal scrub. The shells on the beaches we stopped at to explore were amazing – many were whole shells – perfectly intact – that we just don’t see anywhere else. We made it back to the main road and cut across to Caiman Creek where we thought we’d have a fish. The tide was low and the sandflats had a crocodile feel about them so we kept an eye out. No luck with fishing but the local knowledge suggested the fish come on the bite “half-tide rising” so we were on the wrong time.
We spent some time looking through the ranger station information centre which has great information and resources about the wildlife and cultural connections to the land. A favourite feature was the timber boat on display – not much more than a canoe really. A fisherman from Timor was out on the ocean when his motor caught fire – he put the fire out but couldn’t get back to shore. He drifted for almost a month before finally reaching land and setting out to get a lift back to his village – shouldn’t be too difficult except he was in Australia having landed just near our campsite. Pretty amazing survival story and another indication of how far north we are – only a stone’s throw to Timor, PNG, Asia!
It’s also a bit of a frontier with Border Security signs and military exercises. People smuggling, drug running, all kinds of illegal activity could be occurring and no one is around to see it. Two large Navy Helicopters came in very low over our campsite just after dark with only a single green flashing light for us to spot them. The next day we passed an Army group and asked what they were doing with the choppers – they were a bit embarrassed that the choppers were Navy and they didn’t tell the Army people (who were running their own tactical exercise) that they would be doing low flying drills. So it’s all in good hands on the northern front.….
The next day we set out to “catch a feed” with the local ranger telling us to search the rock platforms for mud crabs and crack some oysters off the rocks. The crabs were nowhere to be found after searching a few good areas. The oysters, however, were excellent – large, fresh, tasty oysters. Very much a highlight for Josh and the boys – not much interest to Amy. We even found a small pearl in one which was a keeper.
We decided to fish off Smith Point so we could be up on a rock ledge away from snapping jaws. Would you believe that as we pulled up the first thing we saw was a large saltwater croc floating out on the ocean.
We shifted our fishing to the beach near our camp and Amy pulled in a nice Trevally to open the scoring. We only managed a parrot fish otherwise and the fish we’d named Trev had a name-change to “lunch”.
We had also collected some cockles that were common in the tidal rock pools and took them back to camp to cook on the hot coals. The fish was excellent and the cockles had a beautiful salty ocean flavour. In amongst it all we managed to pull off a great damper which was popular as bread supplies ran low.
We could’ve stayed up at Garig Gunak Barlu for weeks it was just such a peaceful, isolated and enjoyable place. A boat would be great because there were reefs just offshore that would be teeming with fish. Plus being out on the water to see the dugongs, dolphins and turtles would be great – maybe another time.
For us it was a case, after five days in a beautiful wilderness, of planning a return trip and making sure we arrived for a nice low-water crossing of Cahill’s.