Joan Larsen Encore: Lost in Another World – Exploring Australia’s Top End

Posted on June 24, 2015


By Joan Larsen


1a-mapWe were young and adventurous when this wilderness beckoned us.  Crocodile Dundee walked in our footsteps sometime later… but we paved the way.  For the most part, the roads in the Top End were not paved.  The largest national park in Australia lies there, a “must-be-seen” wilderness called Kakadu… a journey to a world from another time.  We were draped in wide-brimmed hats as the sun bears down in the day, but cools down in the evening.


3-dogsA stop at the only town – well, not so much a town as a bar called Humpty Doo (but on the map) was the drawing card as they never ran out of liquid.  Wide open except for a roof, prominent signs said “NO DOGS ALLOWED”.   Every person drinking beer had at least one dog lying by his feet.  Sometimes two.  Both man and beast had to get out of the sun and find liquid nourishment – and lots of it.  Beer never tasted so good!


4-buffaloWithin the park in those early days, there was one place to sleep.  The “dining room” had burned down the night before – which added its own flavor to our experience.  There were a row of 8 trailers, unscathed by the flames.  They were to be ours.  I had never been in a trailer before, but after seeing the huge water buffaloes with large curving horns roaming the sparse jungle, suddenly any place with a door seemed perfectly fine.  By nightfall, hundreds of kangaroos, silhouetted by the moon, hopped in all directions.  Our guides piled us in jeeps with spotlights, running us in circles, spotlight roaming high and low, so we could see that kangaroos were just some of the wildlife that call this place home.   We spotted many birds and animals on tree branches, and running on the ground, and the eyes of the salt water crocs lounging a stone’s throw away on the edge of the Yellow Waters Billabong.  There was no way to measure their length but 18 feet seems to be about normal.   As we soon found out, our trailer was smack in the middle of the world’s largest nature paradise. 

And this wondrous place was to be our own.  We saw no human visitors other than our small group of excited adventurers, keen to “see it all”.  And readers get to see a few of the wildlife I was lucky to photograph there:






10b-frilledlizardTo be sure you see it all — and know the names of the birds and animals you are seeing – be sure to have an experienced nature guide.  Mine, obviously taking a vacation from Cirque de Soleil, leaped out of the jeep and climbed a tree with no branches to cling to, edging up with his knees to incredible heights.  In minutes he had pulled down the elusive 3 foot long frilled lizard, one of the quirkiest sights of nature.  When this unique creature feels threatened, it rises on its hind legs, opens its yellow-colored mouth, unfurls a colorful pleated Elizabethan-style neck ruff that encircles its head – and then produces a hiss that he gave the full treatment to.  He was threatened, and his mouth – full of teeth – was enough to make you want to run for the hills.  But the guide said that when he opens his mouth and unfurls that frill, his jaw locks tight and he is all “show” and no action.  However, to show him off at closer range, the guide held our frilled lizard behind the neck and I used two hands to hold his back end.  It took all my strength as this guy was all muscle.  When let loose, he turned tail, ruff still open, and bolted, legs splaying left and right, until he reached the tree he calls home.  You may call him ugly but his body, his skills, make him a wonder of nature.

Our days there exploring were full of new wonders, never seen even in photos before.  Though aborigines had lived there for centuries in this other world,  the sensation of feeling outside the world all of us live in will never stop stirring our memories.

Wanting to see the respected listing of the top 10 waterfalls in our world, one has to go to all continents.  Whether Jim Jim Falls is ranging with water or reduced to a mere trickle, you find your breath taken away with the spectacle.  During the rainy season, the force of the water flows through, plunging down into the gorge, literally forcing the earth’s surface to tremble.  In front of the towering canyon, thick fog swirls because of the strong winds, leaving a lasting impression on the adventurer who has travelled so far to see Jim Jim. 



13-crossingAgain, it is best to have a guide as we had to overcome a 60km section of dirt road in four-wheel jeep.  The last 10- km of the road passes through several small streams flowing from nearly steep ledges.  Lastly, you walk on a not so easy trail to the falls – wonderful – through a monsoon forest clearing where there are many large boulders.  There is excitement in your final achievement when you find yourself at the bottom of the falls at a pool of crystal-clear water that you can swim in.  (However, once you have seen 19-foot salt water crocs’ mouths, I decided to pass that treat up!)  Ohh…  in the wet season the falls are high, but the trip by small plane or helicopter should be a “must”.  Usually, the most beautiful places in the world take considerable “doing” to get to.  However, Jim Jim Falls is worth the time.  You will find it having a place in your heart forever after.


One final thing:  Kakadu National Park is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List for the large number of cultural and natural values.   Have I returned since that first time? How could I resist… of course.  More than once.


Travel is the only thing you buy

that makes you rich.



JoanAvatar2Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth.  But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again.  She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”