Kakadu in the wet season – to go or not to go?

Mention ‘wet season’ in the tropics, and I usually think it would be better to visit in the dry – isn’t sightseeing hard in the rain? But when I had the opportunity to visit Kakadu with a couple of friends in February (wet season is Oct/Nov to Mar/Apr) and I took it. Here’s the pro’s and con’s of going in the wet season.

  • There’s not many other visitors. This can mean that the tours from Darwin don’t run as frequently, although we didn’t find it difficult to get the dates we wanted. We found it meant we were travelling with, and running into, only a few other people. And for one amazing day it was just the three of us and the local guides, incredible for such a well visited area. We had Ubirr and the stunning rock art to ourselves, climbed to the lookout and could see to the horizon without being able to see another vehicle or person, an amazing privilege.

  • Some of the roads will be flooded and and the areas that can be reached are more restricted than in the dry. Exactly what will be accessible will not be very predictable in advance, as it depends on the amount and timing of rain each year. The locals and tour operators know which areas will flood more than others, and which ones are pretty much guaranteed to be inaccessible. We thought the road closures were a great bonus, because we then transferred to small shallow bottomed boats and cruised serenely through flooded forests of soaring paperbark trees – we were floating in nature’s cathedral.

  • Its harder to see the crocodiles. We all want to see crocodiles in Kakadu (as long as we are safely out of the water), and they are still there in the wet, but with all that extra water, it’s much easier for them to hide from us.  They’re not sitting under the bush on the bank, as the bank has disappeared under water. And its the season when they are protecting their young in their nests, another reason to hide themselves more than normal. So we did not see a single croc (except for a stuffed one at the hotel). Apparently its a rare day when you don’t see at least one in one of the billabongs, but you will definitely see more in the dry season.


  • It’s not just the roads that can flood, its the walking paths to the famous rock art sites. If the water levels are particularly high, more of the rock art sites might be closed. The paths don’t even have to be flooded, the water just needs to have risen close enough in the vicinity, to make it possible for a croc to move in close by and decide the track is a good hunting spot. We were fortunate that the water levels weren’t that high during our visit, so we had no problems getting to some amazing rock art. And much as we would’ve liked to have seen crocs from a boat, we did not want to see one while we were walking.

  • One area virtually guaranteed to be inaccessible all wet season is the waterfall area, particularly Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls, running off the escarpment. Of course the waterfalls are at their most spectacular during the wet. The solution is a scenic flight, which not only allows a spectacular view of the whole western escarpment and the spectacular falls, but also a perspective of the splendour of the whole park, with the rock formations rising above the green wetlands. In the dry season the roads run right up to the base of the falls, the waterfalls will be very diminished or even dry but they have spectacular rock pools for swimming at their base.

  • The locals say the timing of the wet and dry seasons are very predictable, but how heavy the rain, how frequently, in which parts of the season, cannot be predicted. So a wet season visit could be days of continual downpour, or just an evening thunderstorm. We were very lucky, we had clear blue skies and no rain at all, which is very unusual weather, so I can’t promise that you’ll be as lucky. We went with the assumption that it would rain, we had rain jackets, and the weather was going to be hot no matter what,  so we wouldn’t mind if we got soaked – but we were fortunate enough to not even have to test that. All I can say is, I’d love to go back again, any season.

Street Art of Shoreditch, London

I have always thought that one of the classic signs of the gentrification of a previously run-down urban area is the commercialisation of graffiti. When there is as much quality street art as there is tagging, and when local businesses hire street artists to do their branding, then I’m fairly sure I am in a trendy area with edge (and good cafes). Which usually makes for a fun and interesting urban streetscape. Shoreditch is a great example, I love walking the streets here, checking out the creativity of the street art as well as the hipster score of the bars and cafes.

Street art and Trains, Shoreditch, London
Street art and Trains, Shoreditch, London

great place to park a train?

Scary! Shoreditch, London
Scary! Shoreditch, London

The local businesses definitely embrace and commercialise the grit and grunge successfully.

To transition from grunge to upmarket, I wander down the street to the beautiful architecture of Spitalfields market. Originally the site of the leading fresh fruit and vegetable market in London, it keep expanding for 309 years until finally being forced out into a new location in 1991 (New Spitalfields Market, 23 Sherrin Road, Leyton, London, E10 5SQ).

Meanwhile Old SpitalFields Market (Brushfield Street, Spitalfields, London E1 6AA, Liverpool St tube) has developed into a 7-day a week upmarket arts and crafts market, particularly good for jewellery and hipster clothing, in the heart of the banking district of London.
The appropriate finish for this transition to trendy mass market Shoreditch is surely to pull up a seat at Jamie Oliver’s Canteen in Spitalfields- I recommend a home made pie washed down with artisanal cider.



Hoxton Hotel – an east end hipster haunt in London

When I booked the Hoxton Hotel for my short stopover in London, I didn’t realise it was such a hipster joint. But even better than that, it’s great value, fun, and in a great location near to Old Street tube.

Apparently I turned up during London Fashion Week (not something I have marked in my diary). “How on earth did you get a room here during LFW?” ask my local London (hipster) friends. Truth is, I have no idea, I just booked it on their website a few weeks earlier. Maybe someone had just cancelled, maybe I was just lucky? When I booked it seemed like a great price for a decent hotel in a fun part of London. Only later did I realise what a cool pricing policy they have.

There’s the periodic £1 room sales. And there’s the pricing policy that starts around £59 six months in advance and rises to about £199 one day in advance. This is a really good place to plan ahead for.

The staff are friendly and professional, theres no attitude oozing around here. I arrive looking like a frumpy backpacker (probably because I am), and they treat me as warmly as the guests that look like they might be LFW stars.

The decor and rooms are funky but also very well equipped and practical. I love the iconic rock/paper/scissors pillows, and the white-on-white wall art.The bed is very comfortable and the bathroom downright luxurious. A great touch is the Hoxton Guide, a credit card sized fold out map with staff recommendations on local bars, restaurants, shopping, art, music and “looking good”.

And they have the best room service breakfast I’ve come across, in terms of having items and quality I actually want to eat for breakfast. Instead of filling out a form and hanging it on the doorknob, I mark my choices on a recyclable brown paper bag, and voila, next morning there is my yogurt, banana and juice ready and waiting by my door – and it’s free.

And for the sociable, there’s the Hoxton Grill and Bar on the ground floor, a very popular place indeed to hang out on a weekend. And yet still a great place to have a delightful porridge breakfast in peace the next morning. I’ll be back.


Columbia Road Markets – more than just a flowery story

I need to start with a confession – I lived in London for 10 years and I never visited Columbia Rd Markets. So on this short stopover, I finally find out what I’ve been missing. And I am impressed.

I find the Columbia Road markets, perhaps not so surprisingly, on a blocked off part of Columbia Rd on a sunny autumn Sunday morning in the East End of London (every Sunday from 8am to 3pmish is the official line). For a few blocks it is a crowded lane of wall to wall flower stalls, ringing with the calls of the charismatic stall holders – plenty of cockney, and maybe a little bit of mockney, but who cares, it’s all atmosphere! And on this unusually sunny day, the flowers seemed to glow with a brightness and depth of colour that seemed more tropical than english, a beautiful way to calm a hangover. But it is popular, and therefore quite crowded, so it’s best to just go with the flow of the crowd.

Also lining the street, behind the stalls, are rows of wonderful old terrace houses with brightly colourful shops lining the street level, just like another row of flowers. There is plenty enough to keep me browsing the art, craft, fashion, jewellery and homewares for hours, and most are boutique and unique, not high street chain stores. My favourite part is Ezra St, branching off from Colombia Rd, with more pubs and cafes to enjoy. And clearly many people come here for a sunday brunch, a catch up with friends, a coffee in the sun; it all helps create a very friendly relaxed vibe. I settle into a communal table outside Lili Vanilli bakery, a cafe with lovely coffee and food, and a charmingly disorganised and chaotic atmosphere – is this the Fawlty’s of Columbia Road markets? I think I’ll get another coffee and have a think about that.

#fridayfaces – kids in cuba

Stopping in the middle of the hills between and Trinidad, Cuba to buy a roadside lunch from a local house, we end up at a local party to celebrate National Honour Teachers Day – teachers, parents, children, food, wine, music, dancing – it was a pretty cool afternoon with some warm and welcoming people.

country children, Cuba 2008
country children, Cuba 2008

looking back at photos of the faces of people I come across in my travels take me right back to that time and place.