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17 August 2006 - Katherine to Batchelor
We were quickly clear of Katherine on the Stuart Highway north towards Batchelor, near Litchfield National Park and about 90 kilometres south of Darwin. The countryside was reasonably flat and completely covered in eucalyptus woodland with spear grass understory. Much of the woodland had been burned fairly recently and there was a lot of smoke around indicating fires still burning. Apparently the dry-season burning time has ended in this part of the Northern Territory and we were seeing bushfires, not land-management burning. One patch of woodland had been burnt by a hot fire which had crisped the leaves of even 20 metre high trees.
Termite nests were present in large numbers among the trees. Two types were common; small "pencils" less than a metre tall and large (2-3 metres high and 1-2 metres across) cathedral termite nests which look like cathedral spires.
There was a significant change in vegetation as we moved north towards the northern portion of the Northern Territory. Pandanus palms became reasonably common in patches where there was sufficient water and an understory of palms growing up to about 1.5 metres high became common in the eucalyptus woodland. Some palms had been burnt but fire had damaged only a few of the lower fronds. Kapok trees remained common in patches; more usually around rock outcrops but sometimes in bushland.
The road from the Stuart Highway into Batchelor was quite rough - 50 kph was the highest comfortable speed for some of the 12 kilometres. Batchelor itself is small (population about 600) with a single general store, two petrol stations and the resort/caravan park where we were staying. The town must have been more active when nearby Rum Jungle uranium mine was working but that closed down years ago when the ore body was exhausted. The caravan park had a variety of tropical trees and palms growing among the sites and the bird chorus at sunset and sunrise was remarkable for its variety and volume.