Picture the scene.
I'm sitting in a 4.5m Tinny with three very cool women who are fishing in the middle of Tommycut Creek in the Northern Territory. The nearest township is over 120km's away. This is remote NT wilderness, boat access only, an hour and a half trip from Shady Camp. Most definitely crocodile country and everyone around here, people and creatures, knows who's boss of this place.
It's the final day of competition at the 2015 Shady Ladies Classic. High noon. It's been a slow morning of slack lines, the fish aren't biting yet and the sun is scorching. I'm here to photograph the event and we're waiting for the tide to turn. The only sound is the the chatter of the birds and the plop of lures skillfully flicked in search of Barramundi.
Out of nowhere, a deep distant wop wop wop sound breaks the serenity. All eyes look to the sky. There's barely a cloud to be seen and we spot it immediately, a shiny golden helicopter cutting through the air and heading our way.
The women look in my direction as the Skipper announces my ride had arrived. My heart starts to race and i'm grinning from ear to ear. She's kidding right? Definitely not. Soon the chopper is hovering over the water off the starboard side of our tinny. The wind is intense but the relief from the heat is glorious.
I'm informed that Tony, the husband of the Skipper, is a chopper pilot. He'd flown down from Darwin for the afternoon and did i "want to go up and get some shots of the competition?"
There had been talk of it on Day 1 but I'd dismissed it as just that. Talk.
I looked at the Skipper. "Is this really happening?"
I took a deep breath and said "ahh hell yeah!" There was no way i was gonna miss out on something like this.
We searched for a place along the bank that was both safe to land the chopper and safe for the boat to drop me off. It was low tide on a river full of crocs. The riverbank was high and the mud they told me, was like quicksand if you had the misfortune to find yourself in it. Not a good situation. After a couple of attempts we aborted and i switched to the Marshall boat so the girls could keep fishing. The fellas soon found a spot that they figured was best and Tony stood watch for crocs from the bank. The Marshall's manoeuvred the boat.
To say i was shitting myself is an understatement. My adrenaline was pumping and i was quickly thinking of what camera gear i needed to take with me, how to get up that river bank without getting stuck and potentially eaten, and i was pushing a massive fear of heights to the back of my mind. I'd sort out the croc dodging first, then worry about the heights issue.
This was gonna be tricky. With everyone in position, I took a deep breath and leapt with my camera bag strapped to my back towards what looked like solid pebbly sand above the water. Epic. Fail. With a thud i was up to my belly button in mud. Thick, sludgy, sticky mud and i couldn't move. I was barefoot and in shorts and i felt the crawling of things/critters/crabs and who knows what on my feet and legs in the mud. i tried to lift my feet. Nothing...fuck. I looked back at the boat but the top of the bank was closer so i began what i consider to be my most ungraceful moment to date. It was like freestyle swimming through mud. Kinda swimming, kinda crawling pulling myself up, legs deep in the mud, arms flailing and woman wailing. Or squealing. Whatever. It was freaky and i had no shame. I grabbed for the small soft mangrove roots and what looked like a rock to pull myself up towards Tony. The "rock" was a pile of mud that disintegrated in my hand but i managed to get a good hold of the roots. The Marshalls were in hysterics back in the boat but i didn't care. My focus was on Tony and getting up the bank. He told me later on i'd screamed "Don't leave me i'm scared!" BAHAhahahahahaha. What a goose. Too funny.
After what felt like an eternity I made it. With half my body caked in mud i was mindful of the mess i was about to create in the chopper so i used the long grass to remove as much as i could (Thanks for the tip Nathan!) It was far from perfect but it would have to do. I ducked under the rotors, loaded the camera gear and myself into the chopper.
The next 20mins were some of the best of my life.
I got used to the no doors situation by not thinking of how high i really was and once i trusted the seat belt would hold me, i was able to really take in the scenery, lean clear of the door and get some sweet shots with my camera of the action below. The rivers and creeks with the ocean in the distance, the competitors scattered throughout, the dry floodplains, the stunning colours and the sheer scale and beauty of the Mary River and Kakadu National Parks. It was all around me and it honestly took my breath away.
We landed at the mouth of Tommycut Creek at low tide. A stunning sight to see from the air. The vast mud flat we'd been avoiding for days was there in all it's glory and i understood now, how a boat we'd towed out, had become stranded a few days earlier.
My return to the Marshall's boat back on the water was much smoother than my departure. There was no mud swimming this time but I was now covered in a layer of dried mud and my camera gear had taken a hiding from the mess created while changing lenses in the air. I didn't care. The clean up would be worth it. I'd just had an amazing adventure and seen the most beautiful, sacred country from the best seat in the house.
Thank you Darwin Game Fishing Club for the opportunity, all of the competitors for sharing your stories, your awesome fishing tips and your wicked company, Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge for looking after us and Tony for taking me up in the chopper and giving me an experience i'll never forget.