Crocodiles and cicadas
We opt for a more leisurely cruise and hike through Nitmiluk – formerly Katherine – Gorge, guided by some of its traditional owners, the Jawoyn people. Sheer sandstone cliffs surround us and birdsongs and calls of the cicada, for which the Gorge is named, bounce off their walls. Small freshwater crocodiles laze harmlessly on the river edge – though a two-and-a-half-metre saltie was trapped just the week before.
Another excellent meal, a few more drinks in the lounge and we return to our cabin to find the beds turned down, a mint on the pillow, and it’s off to sleep – or not – to the sway and rattle of the carriage.
As we rise in the morning, the Ghan is not far north of Alice Springs and our next excursions: perhaps an exploration of the Alice, a mountain bike ride in and around the Todd River, or even an optional flight over Uluru. We opt for the Simpsons Gap Discovery Walk.
Again, it’s a great choice. According to the Arrernte Aboriginal people, the gap, which they knew as Rungutjirpa, was the Dreamtime home of a group of giant goanna ancestors. Several dreaming trails and stories cross the site and it’s easy to feel the spirituality of the place – and impossible not to be awed by its beauty and serenity.
Suddenly the drone of a didgeridoo fills the canyon. It is our excellent bus driver Andrew, who has led us on walks through the surrounding mulga and introduced us to many of the 40 rare and relict plants that surround the gap. He gives us a short lesson on how to play the tricky indigenous instrument and someone dubs him ‘Didgeri-Drew’.