15 June 2014

Adrian's Recount of Camping at Jagged Heads on Groote Eylandt

It was 7am Saturday morning and Casey was already in the kitchen preparing hamburger patties for our evening camp-fire-cooked meal. Wary of getting in her way, I decided to head out the front and load the camping essentials into the back of the Troopy.

We started heading for the most northern recreational area of Groote Eylandt called Jagged Head. Once again, we (perhaps stupidly) decided to go the journey alone. Although, as we’ve now learnt how easy it is to find ourselves in a sticky (or in our case, sandy) situation, we teed up a check-in with our neighbour,  just in case we ran into some trouble. ‘So if we’re not back by 3pm on the Sunday, we're probably somewhere we shouldn’t be’ I joking shouted over the fence. Whilst I say ‘joking’, troublingly, the possibility of not making it back in time was a very realistic one.

For me, the exciting part of the weekend began at the turnoff to Jagged Head; 30km of unsealed road with overgrown woodland jam-packed on both sides and muddy swamps still lingering from the wet season. Whilst these features of the bush could effortlessly lead my Troopy to its muddy tomb, there's something quite brilliant about meandering through the dense bush and coastal sand dunes on tracks where many would not dare to go.

For the most part, getting to our destination required first gear and four-wheel-drive due to the steep rocky inclines and soft muddy descents. During the few occasions that we could loosen our tight grips and give our eyes a break from focusing on what was directly in front of us, we’d slow up and admire randomly seeded salmon gums that had popped up amongst the standard, tired-looking eucalypt. Their soft pink colouring looked peculiar amongst the dull grey. Although I enjoy admiring the eucalypts, I can’t help but cringe as their unruly branches scratch along every surface of my car. As it’s freshly painted body squeals with each jab, I reassure myself, ‘it’s ok, that one will buff out’.  I could go on for paragraphs describing an assortment of stressful situations we experienced before reaching our destination, but I'd feel as though I was having déjà vu (see previous post). So I’ll just get straight to the moment we arrived.

We arrived at our campsite around lunch-time. With Casey being organised as she is, she immediately produced a spread of pre-made sandwiches. As we sat propped up on our object of choice, we devoured our lunch whilst deciding which way to venture first. We agreed on a rocky outcrop just metres from where we'd set up camp.

 This rocky island is called Little Jagged and is about the size of a football field. It stands about 15 metres tall and unless you’re willing to risk becoming a croc’s entree, it’s only safely accessible at low tide. We potter around setting up our camp site until the water lowers just below knee height. We wandered over bare foot, not knowing that some of the sharpest rocks known to man are waiting as soon as we reach the other side. It was either turn back or scuttle across the 15m long intrusion.  Before we’d really thought it through, we were both down on all fours trying to evenly distribute our weight to avoid puncture wounds. We shuffled along in a crab-like fashion whilst ‘oh-a-oooing’ in unison right up until we reached the sand on the other side. As we rub our swollen heels and soothed them in the cool sand, Wilson toddled over the rocks with great poise. He strutted straight past us, which lead us to start up our usual Wilson impersonations. ‘What’s wrong with you two, keep up!’ badgered ‘Wilson’. He can be such a jerk sometimes!

We were swallowed by the island as towers of rock shot up around us. We walked through narrow gaps between expansive rock face until we came to water. The ocean entered over some shallow lying rocks, creating a large pool of icy cold water. As I went to dive head first off nature’s version of the perfect diving platform, Casey stopped me. Concerned for my safety as usual, she shouted ‘what if there are crocs in there?’ Damn it, she’s got a good point, I thought quickly. ‘Wilson! In you go,’ I said cheerfully, as if trying to convince him that today was his lucky day. He swam around in a few polar-bear-like circles, oblivious to the potential danger. He risked his life for us and all he received in return was a handful of liver treats later that night. Silly old Willy!

Wilson and I ventured further north towards the open sea; where Casey would not dare. I discovered a large open clam shell (no pearl of course) and immediately after kneeling down to get a better look I heard a sweet little voice say ‘I think you better bring that back with you’. ‘ Casey, it weighs 10kg and I’ll have to clamber over all these rocks… I could hurt myself!’ I called back unconvincingly. ‘But I wants it, it will be my precious,’ she sniggered, emphasising ‘precious’ as if she’d morphed into Gollum from Lord of the Rings within a matter of seconds. ‘Oh, OK!’ I sighed. I was well and truly over carrying it from the moment I pick it up. I knew all too well that I’d mowing around it within a matter of weeks and it would become another of Casey’s ‘one-day I will’ projects. I try to kid myself by thinking ‘who knows, maybe she’ll surprise me and make something amazing out of this’. I carefully lug the clam around whilst Casey and Wilson jump unrestrainedly from rock to rock. I’m all too aware that the ridges along the outside of the clam have the potential to sever a toe. ‘Why did I give in?’ I thought, as I pitied myself  while trying not to think about the glass-like rock ahead.

As the sun started to go down and the stars took centre-stage, I decided it was probably time to start a fire. I brought along my new ‘camp BBQ’ consisting of three star pickets and an old cast iron hot plate borrowed from our neighbour.
The fire was roaring in no time, which meant it was time for Casey's awarding winning burgers (the best I’ve ever tasted anyway, without being too bias). As we ate tea in silence, we found it hard to take our eyes of the glimmering milky way; a site I can say with all honesty, I will never tired of setting eyes upon.

After a cup of billy tea and a few (well, OK, a lot) of marshmallows, it was time to make our way to bed; the roof of the Troopy. I’d laid a piece of ply over my roof cage which was about 2.5 metres long and threw our mattresses up there; ready for a night under the stars. There was a slight breeze coming from the north east, which thankfully kept the mosquitos at bay. Although Wilson’s bark woke us up during various times of the night, we couldn’t get too cross at him, as it gave us the chance to view the Milky Way in its shifted position each time. Every so often I would shine a torch beam down over the ocean near the rocks, in the hope of seeing a pair of red sparkling croc eyes shining back at me.

We woke to see the sun rise over the rocks and I started my day with my usual Weetbix. I do 4 in case you’re wondering. After slurping down a cup of hot coffee, I was fully awake and raring to go exploring again. We planned to continue along the northern road until we reached the much anticipated Jagged Head. We drove onto the first beach which was heavily littered with sea blown rubbish and debris.

This unoriginal landmark is known as ‘The Thong Tree’ to all frequent campers. Although you’d assume the thongs were the contribution of forgetful beach-goers, sadly that’s not the case. They’ve set sail from Indonesia and over many months have settled on our shores, along with tonnes of other crap. To many beach goers, it would be a very disappointing sight, but to an artist, it’s more or less a haven for creativity. To me, what seemed like endless rubbish at first, turned out to be a goldmine after finding something I liked. Casey on the other hand had bright eyes for a particular type of shell and was determined to find the perfect specimen. A chambered nautilus shell; favoured by many-a-tourist for its pearly inner-shell and glorious size.

Casey seemed to be having a little too much fun rummaging through the sand and ston,e and before I knew it, she was out of sight. Wilson and I wandered after her, a little concerned that she was getting too far away from the first aid kit. We eventually coaxed her back into the car and pushed on up through the sand dunes which was probably the most exciting drive of the journey. The sand was reasonably compact which made driving a little quicker. We were going up and down like roller coaster. Wilson was shifting his weight all over the place, trying to anticipate the movements of the car. ‘Who’s the steady one now?’ we smirked as if paying Wilson back for being such a smug jerk earlier. We slowed every now and then at the tops of the dunes to take in the brimming scenery; which included Jagged Head. There is a shallow body of water spanning about 100 metres, making it only just inaccessible by car. I hope to go there one day by boat and see the jagged rock formations up close; for which it gets its name.

We drove another couple of kilometres until the road ended and we were stopped at an unsigned area. It looked like a playground, with rocky sandstone rising up over a few 100 metres with eroded channels going every which way, forcing water into enticing shallow pools. We wandered around and found a small cave with a few scattered Indigenous paintings. They were basic line pictures of dugout canoes and a hand spray; far less spectacular than the cave paintings found in the centre of the island. Whilst I built a small fire to fry up some bacon and eggs, Casey snuck off with her hand reel. She returned soon after, cursing the rocks for snagging her line, so we decided to go find oysters instead. I became so engrossed in knocking oysters off rocks that I completely lost track of time. Even more worryingly, I had gotten so carried away I disregarded the fact that I was waist-deep in croc territory. I was lucky not to be taken for supper whilst greedily scavenging my own.   

On the way home, we decided to stop at one more beach to look for an exquisite nautilus shell. So far, all the shells we have come across have had small clips or imperfections, so we continue our search. During our exploration, we were greeted by an Indigenous man who worked for the land council. He said he was just ‘checking up’ on campers, but it looked to us like he was joining the sun and sea just as much as we were. It wasn’t long before we waved him on that we decided to leave our self. As we got back in the car to leave, I had a brief, but ruinous lapse in judgment whilst manoeuvring my car along the sand. ‘Oh, no, no again!’ I can just imagine you all saying, whilst chuckling to yourself. Oh, yes. Once again I had gotten us bogged. Three times a fool, I had  decided to take a wide U-turn down on to the beach on the high tide. The sand was extremely soft and without letting my tyres down, I’d quickly found myself inside a sandpit once more. With the ocean at my tail, I reversed the back wheels into the shallows. My right foot suddenly became lead, as I drove the entire stretch of the beach with sand spinning up onto my windshield. I could feel the tail of the Troopy slipping further and further toward the cool water whilst my stress levels reached boiling point. Once again I found myself down on hand and knee, digging away at the sand in a desperate attempt to get lucky once more.  Casey decided to wait on the nearby road in case the land council returned. After receiving a number of bites from a persistent sand-fly, she retreated to the sand. In doing so, she spotted the council car parked at the next beach along, about one kilometre away. She began flalling her arms in a desperate attempt to get the man’s attention, whilst attempting to run the stretch of sand between them. She was about 400m away from him by the time he reached his car; she thought she was too late. Of course that wasn’t the case, as any woman in a hot pink bikini flalling her arms wildly would capture anyones attention. The man got in his car and drove to the distressed young lass, before giving her a lift back to me and my woeful Troopy.  Casey hopped out of the car with a big grin.The Indigenous man didn’t say as much as a hello before climbing into the driver’s seat of my Troopy and calmly accessing the situation whilst behind the wheel. His slow movements suggested he had all the time in the world and that he had done this many times before. I admired his patience, as he allowed the car to slowly crawl over the sand, whilst he used little to no acceleration at all. He swayed the car back and forth over the sand, working down the lumps like a massage therapist, until the tires were sitting above the sand again. I thanked him with a handshake and he left as quickly and as silently as he had arrived moments earlier. In the space of about 15 minute, I feel as though I have learnt so much from a man that didn’t have to speak a word.

With it getting close to our 3pm check-in time, we didn’t stop to admire any salmon gums as we snaked our way out of the bush. As soon as we reached the highway we called our neighbour and said that thanks to an Indigenous man (unfortunately name unknown) we don’t require rescuing this time around. What an amazing weekend.

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