Thursday, October 24, 2013
A Weekend Adventure: Travel Australia-style
Australia by Christopher Schoenborn
There’s nothing like overseas adventure travel in Australia. I love the fact that the country is eleven times the size of France, but has just one third the people. This makes it a great place to do long road trips and Kakadu Family Adventure Tours. Outside the confines of the cities, the wide open land and sky roll away beckoning as if infinity itself were offering you an invitation to come see what it’s like. Australian outback adventures redefine your sense of scale, even if you’ve only got a weekend to make them happen.
I was backpacking across Australia, heading for Indonesia, and I arrived in Darwin on a Friday afternoon. My friend Kelly, who lives there, greeted me at the bus station with a bright idea. Since my flight to Bali was leaving Monday, he’d take a weekend and show me one of the best tours of Australia that you could manage in a few days: a trip out to Kakadu National Park, “Just around the corner” from Darwin, meaning a “mere” 3-hour drive. It seemed like a big trip, regardless, but Kelly works at the best tour company for Australia, so he had the whole thing mapped out.
One thing he couldn’t map out, though, was the weather. We immediately hopped into his van, and were on our adventure almost as soon as I’d stepped off a 20-hour bus ride from Alice Springs. It was supposed to be the dry season, but about a hundred kilometres past the endearingly named town of Humpty Doo, the skies opened up in a titanic show of lightning, thunder, and rain that gave the impression the whole of the nearby Arafura Sea was being dumped on us.“Australian adventure tours always seem to begin with a bit of adversity,” Kelly reassured me. “Just means it’s all uphill from here.” He maneuvered us expertly to a high spot along the road, and we waited it out, flashes of lightning silhouetting wiry outback trees through the deluge.
The delay meant we arrived at our camp after dark. Luckily, the skies cleared as we pitched our tent under the Australian night sky. My weekend of outback Australia adventures was to begin in earnest very early the next day, far different from the holidays in Gran Canaria I spent with my family in Spain last year, when most of us would wake up so late. Still, we paused to admire what seemed like a billion stars floating in a swarm against the brightest Milky Way I’ve ever seen.
The next day, we met Kelly’s friend Ned, an Aboriginal tour guide whose ancestors had been tracking on this land for tens of thousands of years. “Getting the most of what you can from the outback is all about the adventure travel company you keep,” Kelly mentioned as I shook Ned’s hand. Indeed, his knowledge of the land and its people was encyclopaedic, and my experience would not have been the same without such an excellent local guide.
Ned took me and Kelly to the rock art site at Nourlangie, also known as Burrunggui. We arrived early enough to catch a glimpse of some of the rock wallabies that inhabit the cliffs. Ned explained a myth that tells of two Aboriginal Creation Ancestors, in the form of these rock wallabies, who created Nourlangie Rock, which towers above Anbangbang Billabong.
He also mentioned that geologists will tell you it’s a chunk of ancient sea floor uplifted by tectonic forces. Regardless, it’s one of the main canvasses for the world’s most amazing collection of indigenous art. Some 5,000 paintings that depict animal and human forms and arcane rituals are concentrated in Kakadu. So many, that the area enjoys protection as a World Heritage Site. We then climbed Nourlangie Rock for amazing views up and down the Kakadu escarpment: thousands of square kilometres of unspoiled wilderness lay below us.
The next destination we took was the Yellow Water region, along the South Alligator River, a wetland world famous for its bird and animal life. Kakadu represents one of the largest protected tracts of land in the Northern Territories. The creatures seem to appreciate having so much undisturbed space. We spotted egrets and whistling kites circling above the billabong, and lurking just at its surface, massive crocodiles. As dusk approached, we spotted a pack of Dingo.
Lots of Australian adventure tour packages from Darwin advertise excursions to canyons and waterfalls. Don’t miss them! On day two of our jaunt, Ned, Kelly, and I took a long 4-wheel drive trek into the heart of Kakadu to see some of the more spectacular examples, Jim Jim and Twin Falls. This is where Friday’s rain paid off. The road had dried just barely enough to be passable (in the depths of the rainy season, you have to fly) but the extra shot of water pumped the falls up to their full glory. Jim Jim was a short but difficult trek up a narrow canyon. Just where the gorge walls came together, a 200-meter high deluge plunged like a river that had lost its footing and slipped over the edge of the world. I wondered if anything could match this grandeur, but Twin Falls’ double cataract plummeting into a deep green pool measured up. It certainly helped that we were able to enjoy the view lounging on a golden sand beach close by.
I don’t remember much of the drive back to Darwin. We’d been so busy, I slept nearly the whole way. I usually like to take a much slower approach, but with the right guides, my quick trip into the outback proved a complete winner.
MichaelRoberts’ search for the best tour company in Australia has led him far and wide on numerous expeditions. He’s been adventure traveling to Australia ever since childhood on many Kakadu Family Adventure Tours and it made such an impression, he became a travel writer just so he can visit the country every chance he gets.