"The Australian Outback is an untamed wilderness, rugged, unforgiving and teeming with bird and animal life. Join Sally Farquhar from Territory Discoveries as she embarks on a five day jaunt through wondrous Kakadu, Arnhem Land and the spectacular Cobourg Peninsula."
Dreaming of an escape from the concrete jungle? Looking for an alternative to the traditional cocktails on the beach style holiday? Prefer the idea of tackling something a bit more adventurous?
The Australian Outback is an untamed wilderness, rugged, unforgiving and teeming with bird and animal life. Join Sally Farquhar from Territory Discoveries as she embarks on a five day jaunt through wondrous Kakadu, Arnhem Land and the spectacular Cobourg Peninsula.
Day 1 - In the beginning
– Filled with excitement and anticipation, I was picked up from my hotel in Darwin
at 7am and introduced to my fellow travellers and guide Hugh, with whom I would share the next five days of outback adventure.
We drove out through the Adelaide River Wetlands and our first stop was at the Fogg Dam Conservation Reserve. With approximately 275 bird species to be found within the borders of Kakadu National Park
and its surrounds, this area is a great place to spot a few of them. We observed the Comb-Crested Jacana, more commonly know as the “Jesus Bird” because of its ability to seemingly walk on water. Other species such as Green Pygmy Geese, Australian White Ibis, Jabiru, Crimson Finch, Forest Kingfisher, Royal Spoonbill and my favourite the Rainbow Bee Eater, were also on show.
Upon entering Kakadu National Park
, our next stop was the Mamukala Wetlands, an introduction to the wetland areas found in the National Park and fantastic spot to view the Magpie Geese that congregate there.
Further along we visited the Bowali Visitor Centre which has all the information you need for travelling in Kakadu National Park. There is a very informative habitat display and a great audio-visual presentation which is a must see if you have the time.
After lunch, our next stop was Nourlangie Rock where we spent the afternoon exploring and learning about the area. According to local Aboriginal culture, the area was originally used by the Warramal Clan, but the clan has since died out so caretaker responsibility has fallen to the other Aboriginal owners in surrounding regions. For the rock art lover, the Anbangbang Rock Shelter and Anbangbang Main Gallery are well worth a look. I have been to this rock art site many times, yet I am still drawn to painting of the Creation Ancestor Namarrgon the “Lightning Man” who is responsible for the violent thunder storms every “tropical summer season”, he really is quite a fascinating character.
The Nawalandja Lookout can be reached with a steep climb, but it’s surprisingly smooth, once at the top you get a stunning panoramic view of the Arnhem Land
escarpment and Nourlangie Rock. After taking in the view we travelled into Jabiru to our accommodation at Lakeview Park
. We stayed in the Bush Bungalows which are pleasant, clean and you share the bathroom facilities with one other bungalow, they are within easy walking distance. That night we gathered in the well equipped barbeque area for a nice cold beer and fresh Barramundi, who could ask for more?
Day 2 – Art, scenery, wildlife and champagne sunsets
- The day began lazily as we had to wait for the water levels at Cahill’s Crossing on the East Alligator River to be a little safer to cross the river into Arnhem Land
. Fortunately, we arrived to find the tide was going out and our timing for crossing was perfect. As we crossed, in clear view was the reason it is intelligent to check the tides before crossing and adhere to them at all costs - a vehicle upside down on one side of the crossing after being washed off by rushing waters earlier in the year.
From here on, our journey took an off-road path, but our Toyota Sahara 4WD Land Cruiser handled the unsealed roads perfectly. The beautiful scenery on our way to the Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) Aboriginal community allowed time to pass too quickly, and it wasn’t long before we had collected our Aboriginal guide Wilfred and begun the drive to Injalak Hill. With no marked track to assist, Wilfred took us up the hill cautiously to visit the rock art and burial sites on the rocky outcrop. It was absolutely fascinating and Wilfred was so forthcoming in answering all our questions about his culture, his amazing sense of humour kept us entertained and informed throughout the duration of his tour.
With much reluctance from our group, we were rounded up and taken gradually back down the hill and back to the Injalak Art and Crafts Centre in the community. We had lunch and were given plenty of time to wander around the centre and watch the local artists in action.
After our extraordinary time at Gunbalanya we then had the long drive on a dusty road for about three hours that took us to the Venture North Coastal Camp. The camp is located in the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park on the remote Cobourg Peninsula and only fifteen vehicles are allowed into the Park at any one time, so I was looking forward to being away from the crowds and exploring an area renowned for its variety of wildlife, birdlife and marine life.
It turned out to be the most fascinating three hour journey I have ever had in my life - and I have done plenty of long distance travel. At one stage, our guide Hugh slowed down the car when he spotted a lizard in the middle of the road. It made a mad dash for the bush, but Hugh was too nimble and after a short pursuit, came back proudly holding a Frilled Neck Lizard for photo opportunities.
Further down the track, we came across a Water Buffalo just standing in the road. As we moved closer, the powerful creature dashed into the bush and hid from view, but the brief encounter was still an amazing sight to see.
At dusk, we arrived at our coastal camp ground and after a quick tour of the facilities, Hugh provided champagne and snacks to enjoy as the sun set over the bay, completing a perfect day.
Day 3 – Settlements and seafood
- Eager to see what the day had in store, we hopped onto the Venture North boat, where skipper Brendon and Hugh took us out into Port Essington and across to the Victoria Settlement. The settlement was established by the British in 1838, in their third attempt to settle on the Cobourg Peninsula in the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park. They abandoned the site in 1849, after toiling unsuccessfully for eleven years to establish a colony.
Back on the boat, we had some time to try our hand at fishing. We stuck out some rods and waited enthusiastically, eventually managing to land a Queenfish, affectionately known as the “Queenie” by the Northern Territorians. Hugh skilfully filleted the fish and it was cooked back at camp for lunch, the delicious flesh proving the adage that there is nothing like freshly caught fish.
After a busy schedule, the afternoon was offered as leisure time, and I took advantage of the opportunity to lie in a hammock and read a book surrounded by the serenity of the bay. Later in the day, Hugh took us down to the exposed reef where we enjoyed fresh oysters, collected cockels and tried unsuccessfully to hunt up some mud crabs. After that it was back to the camp chair with a beer in hand to watch the sun sink slowly into the sea, lighting up the sky in beautiful shades of spectacular colours.
Day 4 – Mud crab and snap happy
- The group made an early start to the day as we tried to source the elusive mud crab. However, in the end it was our experienced guide Hugh that managed to capture a crab sizeable enough to keep, while the rest of us were left to ponder our ineptness.
Exploration was the theme for the day as we took to the eastern side of the park, driving through Australia’s first recognised RAMSAR wetlands area. The wetlands are of international importance and an important destination for migratory birds to Australia.
We visited some of the northern beaches, stopping at the aptly named Shell Beach, with hundreds of interesting shells scattered along the stretch of sand.
After lunch we ventured to Black Point, near the ranger station, and also had a wander through the small cultural centre, which was surprisingly informative for such a small display area. We went out to Smith Point, the site of the Smith Point Beacon, which was completed in 1845 and was used as a navigation tool for shipping in that era.
Once it cooled down in the late afternoon, I accompanied one of my fellow tourists to the beach and armed with our cameras, we set about taking as many photos as possible to record our adventure.
We arrived back at the camp just in time to enjoy drinks, mud crab and cockels with our travelling companions. This was followed by a night of laughs and tall tales around the glowing bonfire as the vast sea of stars stretched out above us, lighting up the night sky.
Day 5 – Farewell to new friends, but memories remain
- Reluctant to end our adventure, our group dragged its collective feet as we packed and prolonged breakfast for as long as possible on our final day. The journey back out of Arnhem Land
provided more highlights, with the discovery of a pair of dingoes and two banteng, a large ungulate originally imported for the Victoria Settlement from Bali in Indonesia, where they are now extinct.
We stopped at the Ubirr Rock Art Site and wandered through the many galleries, getting a great insight into the different types of rock art found in Kakadu National Park. In the main gallery is a painting of a “white fella” who looks like he has his hands in his pockets and a pipe in his mouth - this is well known as “contact art”.
Just around the side of the main gallery was a painting of the Tasmanian Tiger, which became extinct on the mainland approximately 2-3000 years ago according to archaeological evidence. The climb up to the Ubirr Lookout was steep and not as easy as it looked, but it was well worth the view over the Nadab Floodplains and escarpment at the top.
Arriving later in the evening into Darwin
, I exchanged contact details with new friends before being dropped back at my hotel, satisfied and content with the journey and what I had experienced on every day. To escape the crowds that we may experience in our everyday life and to do something culturally unique and camp in the Top End, I highly recommend this tour – it was a fantastic adventure. Find dates, prices and more information on Venture North's 5-day Kakadu, Arnhem Land and Cobourg tour