Who said you can never go back?
The mirror surface of Yellow Water Billabong at sunrise reflects the early morning sky, pale blue with light wispy clouds promising a hot and perfect, spring day. We are a group of 33 British travellers, plus one tour director from Sydney. I've been here many times before, in The Wet, in The Dry, but it has been twenty years since my last visit, and this November morning is something special. The water lilies seem more plentiful, with large pink flowers like Kakadu Tulips opening to the sun. The sea eagles are large, more majestic than I remember, and the little kingfishers are flitting from branch to branch so quickly, they are just a blur of azure blue and golden orange. Their colours are a promise of our day to come. As we float down towards the South Alligator River, I can see the vault above our heads begin to shake off the pale edge of morning. It will be 35 by midday and the Top End sun will beat down on our heads with a fierceness that only drives us on. We brave this heat because we seek an experience that is unique in all Australia. This is the Northern Territory, this is Gagudju country, and it's glorious.
Much later, on our four-week marathon tour of Australia, I asked my 33 passengers what was the highlight for them? For so many, it was this cruise. Of course, they were hoping to see crocodiles, but the birdlife was unexpected - jacanas hopping across waxy lily pads, jabirus with their yellow eyes and red legs picking through the shallows, the Darters drying their wings on a low branch, and the bumpy-headed magpie geese, gathered together in a show of force against the crocodilian marauders.
My return to this country after two decades was also unexpected. Perhaps it's true that you can't go home again. People change. You've changed. But, you can go back, back to a timeless place like Yellow Water and see new things, see more than you remember, because the things you've seen before are renewed, endlessly, in a cycle of Nature at its best. The rivers and billabongs of Kakadu epitomise this. Time is motionless there, it hangs suspended like these lilies on the silver spread of water, bobbing gently in the wash from our flat-bottomed boat, a reminder to us all that true beauty is simple and serene.