In South America we tossed the budget aside for a five-day tour into the Brazilian Pantanal jungle where we given a 95% chance of spotting jaguar in the wild. We saw four and never regretted the splashout.
South Africa was made forever memorable by a diversion to three days of luxury in a game park where we wined and dined with a passing parade of wildlife, culminating in a being mobbed by elephants.
In Darwin, helifishing was on the agenda. Daughter Amber was treating fiancé Dean for his birthday and the women in Tony’s life – four daughters et moi – chipped in to send him along too for Fathers’ Day and his birthday.
We were a bit concerned about the trip because, as we had been told a hundred times in the north, “the barra aren’t biting mate because there was no f@ck!ng wet”.
With high hopes we set off with Sam the chopper pilot on what turned out to be a terrific fun day. Admittedly the wetlands bordering Kakadu were on the dry side but we had fun buzzing pigs and buffalo. Crocodiles were waiting in the waterways, a snowplough rested in the heat and we saw the devastation being caused by rampant mimosa that multiplied exuberantly through the wetlands after someone dumped seed-containing soil from the Darwin botanic gardens.
Once again we shake our heads over the stupidity of land management in city-green offices: grab the land for national parks but have no effective, funded programs to rid tracts of Australia of destructive feral fauna and flora.
Our first lagoons stop was a frightening experience with a 5m croc. Tony, upstream, noticed lilies moving as something edged towards the rest of us downstream. When the croc poked its head up he said “Boo” behind it. The startled croc splashed off; Amber surprised it a little further along and the terrified lizard almost walked on water to get away.
No fish were biting. We jumped in the chopper and landed on a little spit out into part of the Mary River. Barra were swirling and jumping but not biting. Off we went to another one of Mary’s arms, about 20m wide on a flat plain.
Here I had my Jaws experience. About 8m from where I was fishing and daydreaming a monstrous head appeared silently out of the water. I think it had a fish in its mouth as it eyed me – and then the rest of the body and tail rose with a splashing swirl before disappearing.
I gaped in astonishment, vividly reminded of the scene in the movie when Brody is feeding burley aft and the monster silently surfaces with toothy mouth opening like Luna Park. Like Brody, I slowly took two steps back. He said those memorable, understated words “You’ve gotta get a bigger boat.” I said something a bit more direct.
Sam and Dean had seen the tail as the croc swirled. We agreed it was 5m plus.
Tony caught a decent barramundi (PICTURE ABOVE) that flicked itself off the hook on to a ledge at the bottom of the bank. Croc or no croc, it wasn’t getting away. He shot down, grabbed it and leapt out again faster than he has moved since I nearly set fire to Isabel.
At our next stop at a creek mouth Tony landed another barra and a golden snapper; Amber hauled in a barra and we headed home reasonably happy, except for a slightly disappointed Dean who uttered that other movie line “I will be back”.
We might too. It’s a brilliant experience and more so when the barra are biting in the run-off. That’s when it’s too wet to even use the incongruous snowplough to fix fences. The rest of the year it does the trick.