ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE BASE TINDAL, Australia — More than 30 Marines paddled down the Katherine Gorge at Nitmiluk National Park near the top end of Australia’s Northern Territory Aug. 29.
The 292,800-acre national park features numerous cultural sites and the gorge, which runs more than eight miles between steep sandstone cliffs that tower more than 230 feet high.
The park is owned by the Jawoyn Aboriginal people and managed by the park and local wildlife commission to allow tourists to visit the national park.
An abundance of Aboriginal art can be seen around the area along stones, cliffs and walls.
It had been a long week for the Marines of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224 who flew in prior to the exercise to help set up networks and workstations for personnel.
The Marines were anxious to get out and see some of the cultural experiences Australia’s Northern Territories had to offer during their first weekend of liberty.
The Single Marine Program coordinated the trip for the squadron in order to increase the quality life for Marines during the deployment.
“We wanted to hit the ground running and get the Marines out of the camp for some constructive recreation,” said Jay Stovall, SMP coordinator. “Nitmiluk tours set us up with a nice lunch and kayaks.”
According to Jay Stovall and Staff Sgt. Daniel Black, quality assurance specialist, coordinating fun and recreational activities for Marines on deployment helps to motivate them.
“I have seen a Marine go from having a bad (Wester Pacific deployment) experience to having a really great WESTPAC experience after going on one trip,” said Black. “It helps them get out and experience what’s outside of base.”
Marines paddled past rocky, sandstone cliffs and freshwater alligator nesting grounds, which warned tourists to stay away from them.
“Everybody got some nice outdoor recreation and exercise, some beautiful pictures of the canyons, gorges and alligator nesting grounds,” said Stovall.
A few Marines even spotted an alligator, approximately four feet in length, resting nearby.
“The alligator was (approximately) 4 or 5 feet long,” said Nate Batten, an SMP kayak trip participant. “It was hard to tell because it blended in with the water pretty well.”
The Katherine Gorge is home to many freshwater alligators that can be seen more during the dry season when the river runs at a shallow depth.
“The alligator showed me all of its nasty teeth,” said Edward Riexinger, SMP kayak trip participant. “I think we got a little too close.”
According to the Marines, the kayaking trip was a perfect way to spend their first weekend in Australia before kicking off Exercise Southern Frontier, a bilateral close-air support exercise meant to enhance training and esprit de corps.
“It was perfect,” said Batten. “It was an outback paradise.”
After a day of recreational kayaking adventures and cultural experiences, the Marines had many enjoyable WESTPAC memories stored for a lifetime.
Originally published: Marines.mil