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On the Trail of 'Crocodile Dundee' in Australia

October 04, 1987|DAWN BURNS | Burns is an Australian free-lance writer. and

JABIRU, Australia — If you've seen the film, now could be the time to get into the act.

Ever since Paul Hogan became a hit with American audiences as "Crocodile Dundee" in last year's hugely successful movie, people have been following his trail around Australia's Northern Territory.

Not crocodiles or 35-degree temperatures or even the Big Wet (when it can rain for months) seem to slow down the flow of visitors. It's all part of the adventure--and the romance--that is the top part of Australia.

Within three hours' drive of the Northern Territory's capital of Darwin you can be in the heart of Kakadu National Park where most of "Crocodile Dundee" was shot. Our first night there was like something straight out of the movie.

Just at dusk we parked our rented motor home beside a water hole. Pink waterlilies dotted the surface of the water as a huge golden moon eased itself over the horizon. We heard no sound except the call of the water birds and a gentle crunching as three buffalos, standing knee-deep in water on the opposite bank, munched on some waterlily pads.

That small camping spot, just past the ranger station in Kakadu National Park, is called by the aboriginal name of Malabanbandju. It is only one of the many simple camping areas around the top of the Northern Territory.

Transportation for Rent

Depending upon your spirit of adventure, you can rent an ordinary car and stay in the motels along the track, or rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle and camping equipment and go bush. As a compromise between the two, you can rent a motor home, as we did. At campsites you can plug into electricity or you can find more out-of-the-way places to spend the night.

The drive from Darwin along Arnhem Highway to Kakadu offers a taste of the delights to come, if you know where to look. About 100 kilometers out of Darwin is the turnoff to Fogg Dam. It is a great place to walk around the wetlands and see some of your first water birds. Not many people go there. Egret and jabiru strut the muddy shallows and the long-legged, red-topped jacana birds walk on the water across the lily pads--no wonder they are sometimes called the Jesus bird.

Once past the signs assuring that you have entered Kakadu National Park, one of the first places people stop, even if only for cold territory beer, is the South Alligator Motor Inn. Air-conditioned motel units are built around the swimming pool where tourists wallow and read books and sip beverages. There is also a camping area, powered van sites, a shop and a dining room. Things can be quite civilized in the Northern Territory if that is what you want.

At the ranger station in Kakadu you can get maps of the free camping areas and the marked walks. Whether you pitch a tent or park a van, you wake to the sound of birds calling--a flock of black cockatoos screeching overhead and the gentle cluck of a pair of pygmy geese on a billabong (a river's backwater pond).

In the early morning, while it is still relatively cool, you can walk along some of the trails set out by National Parks and Wildlife crews. We didn't see any other people on some of our early morning walks; just birds and a few buffalo in the distance that were far more nervous than we were and took off in a cloud of dust.

And no, we didn't come face to face with a crocodile, but then neither did we swim in the areas where notices told us not to. The notices are there, along river banks and beside billabongs, because this is the natural habitat of the saltwater crocodile, the world's largest surviving reptile. Treat them with respect and you will have no problems.

Crocodile Cruise

If you want to see crocodiles (most tourists do), river boat cruises are run from the motels just for that purpose. Along Yellow Waters Lagoon in Kakadu you can take a cruise to see bird life and crocs.

You can book the cruise at the pleasant Cooinda Motel in the shade of huge old mango and frangipani trees. The motel's shady beer garden is the local watering hole. Tourists and aborigines sit in the shade drinking beers and Cokes, children play under the trees and sprinklers rain down cool water to keep the grass green.

You can plug into the motel's powered camping sites or head down to the Yellow Waters Lagoon and the national parks free camping area. Light a fire, barbecue some lamb chops, and be ready for the first of the day's lagoon cruises. They start at 7 a.m. as mist rises from the water. The earlier you start in Kakadu, the more wildlife you see.

If you are a bird fancier, this two-hour cruise will blow your mind. In the first hour we saw 20 types of birds. It was a great value for $12 (Australian). No wonder that Kakadu National Park was placed on the World Heritage list a couple of years ago.

Jabiru stalked the banks on long red legs, a shake-necked darter stood perfectly reflected in the water with wings spread to dry, pygmy geese paddled about in pairs, water lilies bloomed.

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