Dragging yourself out of bed at 5am is never easy, especially when you are on holiday. But there are certain occasions when staying in bed for a sleep-in is simply out of the question – because when you wake up in Kakadu National Park, the magic happens at dawn.
Boarding a boat in the dark at the Yellow Water Billabong made us wonder what it was that was going to be so special. Our indigenous guide from Yellow Water Cruises welcomed us all on board and as we settled in, we began to see the sun inch its way into the bottom of the horizon.
As it lifted, and we drifted peacefully out onto Kakadu’s most famous wetland, the mist began to reveal itself in the growing light and the world around us began to wake up.
Slowly, the sounds of birdlife and insects reached our ears and as the light grew, so did the volume. Soon the sky was glowing orange, and the mist transparent enough to make out the flood plains around us covered in lush mangroves, pink and white waterlilies, pandanus and paperbark forests.
And the wildlife was simply breathtaking. Flocks of magpie geese. Proud jabirus. Sea eagles and whistling kites, and even buffalo along the edges of the water. Their calls joined together in chorus and we were all silenced by their song.
But none of us took our eyes away from the water for long, for we were all searching for that one local resident of these waters… the saltwater crocodile.
And it wasn’t long before we drifted into the path of a beauty. Warming him (or her) self in the growing sun on the bank of the billabong, this huge reptile barely gave us a blink as we rested the boat a short distance away. We watched, mesmerised, each of us secretly thinking of this giant’s capabilities but knowing we were entirely safe in the boat.
In the end, he (or she) got bored of us, glided into the water and silently swam away. We were obviously not that interesting.
Our experience was heightened by the narrative of our guide Dean, who had us spellbound by his tales of the lands history and culture. It is hard to bring a landscape any more to life than with stories that reach back to the dreamtime, and the people who are as much a part of it as the native flora and fauna.
Watching this incredible world ‘wake up’ was undoubtedly the highlight of our time in Kakadu. During our stay we experienced incredible moments. However the silence and power of the experience at dawn, when the local wildlife is at their most active and the landscape was glowing in its best light, eclipsed all else.