Return to Dreamtime by Air 2005 – Part 1

Dreamtime by Air 2005 – Part 6

(Click on photographs to see a larger version. Note: Some file sizes are quite large; not recommended for people using a dial-up connection.)

Previous installment is here.

A map of the trip is here.

Tuesday 16 August 2005 – Darwin to Smith Point

Darwin (S12 24.88 E130 52.60) -> Smith Point (S11 09.0 E132 09.0)

After an early breakfast at the fine Holiday Inn buffet (where we were able to get lots of fresh fruit), we were airborne around 9AM.

Coast between Darwin and Cobourg PeninsulaPort EssendonWe flew from Darwin with the Tiwi Islands well off in the distance, to the Cobourg Peninsula. There is a lot of blue water and sandy beach down there, however swimming wouldn’t be a good idea because of the crocodiles. We landed at Smith Point on the Arafura Sea. The dirt strip had plenty of room, and not much in the way of facilities. We had visited here in 2003 on a previous air tour. (Photo left: Coast between Darwin and Cobourg Peninsula; right: Port Essendon.)

Garig Gunak Barlu National Park is pronounced Gah-rig Goon-uk Bar-loo. It was previously known as Gurig National Park and Cobourg Marine Park. It is about 570 km (by road) northeast of Darwin on the Cobourg Peninsula. You wouldn’t want to drive it.

The Park includes the entire Peninsula, the surrounding waters of the Arafura Sea and Van Diemen Gulf, and some of the neighbouring islands. It covers about 4,500 sq. km. Cobourg Peninsula is the only National Park in the Northern Territory which contains adjoining land and marine areas.

Garig Gunak Barlu National Park is steeped in the ancient traditional culture of the four Aboriginal clans – Agalda, Mudjunbalmi, Bgaindjgar and Muran.

We were driven the few kilometres to the jetty and beach where the boat was to leave. This is by the ranger station and tiny store.

View Port Essington (-11 16S 132 09E) by boat on a day trip. We carried reef shoes, in case we had to get ashore over a sharp bottom, but didn’t need them.

The boat trip was longer than we expected, and we travelled faster than we expected. We had a possible sight of Irrawaddy dolphin in the waters. We certainly sighted some sort of dolphin. We looked also for banteng (Indonesian cattle) on the land, but didn’t sight them. Did see indications they were there.

Remains of Victoria SettlementRemains of Victoria SettlementOn a lonely cliff top overlooking Port Essington stands the stark remains of Victoria Settlement (-11 22S 132 09E). I believe the aboriginal name is Ngardigawunyanggi. This British settlement dating from 1838 is accessible by boat from Black Point. Victoria Settlement was the first of two failed attempts at settling the Cobourg Peninsula. A group of British soldiers, some with families, arrived in 1838 and spent 11 years establishing the settlement. The settlers built a governors residence, one of the first elevated houses ever built, a hospital, church, military and married quarters with distinctive round Cornish chimneys. Isolation and disease eventually drove the inhabitants out and the ruins are all that remain. (Photos left and right: Remains of Victoria Settlement.)

Toilet with damaged roof, Victoria SettlementCyclone damageAs we walked to the settlement you could clearly see the path of destruction left by a hurricane earlier in the year. Trees blown over all over the place, and the bush stripped back unlike a normal tropical area. The long-drop toilet had mostly lost its roof. (Photo left: Toilet with damaged roof; right: Cyclone damage.)

The sturdy stone remains of the old settlement seemed to have survived without more damage than time provided. Items like the powder magazine are intact, but for many others only the fireplace and wall remained. The buildings must have been very typical of British construction. They were however spread out over a very large area. The plan had been to eventually grow the settlement into something far more major.

There were a few rusted shipping containers, the equivalent of the modern ones, but about the size of a very large sea chest. Parts of the rock jetty still survive, ensmalled by storm and wave.

Cliff at Victoria SettlementArms storeOn the beach you could see remains of thick base glass bottles. The old bakery remained in fairly good condition, albeit without a roof and with damage to the stone walls. (Photo left: Cliff at Victoria Settlement; right: Arms store, Victoria Settlement.)

We walked back to the boat and headed off to another area for a very nice picnic lunch. An isolated spot, with a small sand beach, and a picnic table. We did see some birds waiting in trees, including what looked to me like a young sea eagle.

We returned to the Ranger Station, and had a good look around the displays about the area. We had visited here in 2003. David put in some time with the ranger and a guide book trying to identify the dolphins we had seen. We didn’t manage to get any photos, but David had some video.

Back at the huts, most of us took a walk along the foreshore in the low tide. Interesting rock colours. Offshore you could see low reef formations that would make bringing in a boat a problem.

Cobourg Beach HutSpa tub near beach hutsOvernight in Cobourg Beach Huts wilderness cabins near Smith Point (-11 07S 132 08E). Overlooking the entrance to Port Essington (-11 16S 132 09E), the huts are situated only metres from a sandy beach. Do pay attention to warnings about estuarine crocodiles (salties). Complete with solar electric power, gas stove, fridge, kitchen utensils and linen, the huts provide rustic accommodation with separate bush shower and toilets. There is even a small spa tub on the foreshore, that wasn’t there last time.
(Photo left: Cobourg Beach Hut; right: Spa tub near beach huts.)
has some great photos of the area and a good map.

We were provided with a extensive barbecue meal at the fireplace on the point. We were very well treated by the people here in this isolated area, some of them were familiar to us from our 2003 stay.

Continued in part 7…

Page last updated 23 January 2007