Travelogue: Australia’s Northern Territory
The dusty savannahs of the outback is must-see for anyone visiting Australia
Many, many years ago I left the UK as an eager backpacker, to embark on a life-changing adventure down under. Australia became my new home for little more than a year. But I never quite found the time to leave the lively east-coast states of New South Wales and Queensland to explore the intriguing Northern Territory. I recently had the chance to travel around this often-overlooked region. I now consider the dusty savannahs of the outback a must-see for anyone wanting to visit Australia.
Nitmiluk and Kakadu national parks
My trip began in the balmy and relaxed city of Darwin – the tropical capital of the Northern Territory. With the highest proportion of Aborigines of any Australian capital, Darwin has a strong Aboriginal history. To get a real insight into the indigenous culture, you need explore the Nitmiluk and Kakadu national parks. A captivating three-hour drive from Darwin took me through the rocky landscape to one of Australia's newest indigenous-owned luxury resorts, Cicada Lodge. Comprising just 18 rooms, indulgence in the remote outback has never been so surprising or constructive. A proportion of the funds generated from Cicada are reinvested in the local communities.
The Jawoyn people
The native Jawoyn people live in the area surrounding Cicada Lodge. Many local people work the lodge, helping to educate the community about the values of work and new cultures. Jawoyn people are welcoming and invited me to experience their illuminating history, beauty and culture as they embrace the new-age environment. Whilst at the lodge, I explored their beautiful territory. The series of gorges on the Katharine River and Edith Falls are particularly dramatic. The spectacular countryside holds great ceremonial significance to the Jawoyn. They are custodians of Nitmiluk National Park, with its ancient rock paintings that can still be admired today. At Cicada I also encountered some of the finest food of my trip, with a chef's-table experience that allowed me to sample some dishes truly unique to the area: kangaroo with aubergine relish, local Barramundi dusted with bush tomatoes, and wattleseed with thyme and sesame. This is even more impressive when you consider that growing plants in a National Park comes with strict conditions. The cunning chef avoids trouble by growing his herbs in one of the lodge's canoes!
The Mary River Wetlands
After my stay at Cicada I clambered into an enormous 4x4 jeep. I had to embrace my inner explorer as we bumped along outback roads to the Mary River Wetlands. As we approached the region I began to feel a curious blend of excitement and fear. The Mary River Wetlands are home to more saltwater crocodiles per square mile than anywhere else in the world. My home here was to be Bamurru Plains, just nine safari suites built amongst the bush fringing the floodplains. Mesh walls allowed us to listen to nearby wallabies and birds in the bush (while keeping out the insects!). They also cleverly encouraged air flow to naturally cool the rooms. This was my kind of camping…
As it is still a working buffalo farm covering 303km², the property encompasses a variety of habitats including vast river frontage, coastal floodplains, woodland and swamp. The station is 10km from Kakadu National Park's western boundary. During certain times of the year, you can see a spectacular muster at the property – the gathering of the livestock – using various vehicles, horses and aircraft. This is genuine outback living. There are no big signs out front, no grand entrance or office to check you in. That said, it is an incredibly stylish way to experience the sights and sounds of the bush. I loved the haunting call of a whistling kite, the raucous cacophony from the blue-winged kookaburras as dawn broke or the sound of a fully grown buffalo splashing its way through the floodplains just a short distance from my bed.
While it took a little time to get used to the netting of my tent, it was the ideal way to experience the local wildlife undisturbed. I greatly enjoyed observing a very excited male wallaby trying to 'woo' a female by pulling her tail. This was all rather amusing to watch from the comfort of my luxurious bed complete with a fluffy pile of pillows. The owner firmly believes in a good night's sleep and no expense is spared on comfort. While a stay here is a little more 'back to basics', creature comforts are in good supply. The lack of Wi-Fi or mobile reception makes it popular with couples and families alike as it brings people closer together. From the infinity pool I also saw a dingo stalking a mob of wallabies. I hadn't quite appreciated how special this had been until the group of the Melbournians I had been enjoying a drink with appeared completely awe-struck by what they had seen, saying how fortunate we had been to see such a sight. It's easy to make friends here, and I particularly enjoyed the large communal dining table – the perfect place to enjoy local cuisine while sharing stories with fellow guests.
Back to reality
After an all-too-brief visit my exhilarating stay came to an end, but the spectacular flight from Bamurru to Darwin certainly eased my pain as I took in some of the most incredible wetlands in the world. As I flew home I reflected on my trip – especially the amazing food! Waistline aside, there are plenty of reasons to head to the largely unexplored regions of the Northern Territory and discover a whole new side to Australian culture.