Cities: Darwin, Kakadu National Park, Arnhemland
Walking out of the lobby of the SKYCITY Darwin hotel I am immediately greeted with a very strong handshake and the “true-blue” voice of Sab – “G’day Ian, you ready to see the outback, Mate?”
Sab Lord is a local. Born and raised on a cattle station, that is now part of Kakadu National Park, he knows the area, the people and the history. He understands the aboriginal culture and is welcomed into their communities.
Departing Darwin, the largest city and capital of Australia’s Northern Territory, I remember how it was attacked and bombed during World War II, and then devastated by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Despite these difficulties, the locals have an undying spirit and this top end town has been rebuilt with pride.
We drive east into Kakadu National Park, which is about 2 hours from Darwin. We board a small boat, cruise down a croc infested river and soon witness crocodiles, lured by meat on a string, launching out of the water with impressive force and conviction. I have definitely left the civilization of the city behind.
After spotting Jacintas, Crocs, Jabirus and many varieties of Egret and other local wildlife on a sunset cruise along Yellow Waters Billabong, Sab drives me to an amazing area outside Cooinda where he had set up camp. I had the choice of staying in the local hotel or under the stars. Tonight I chose the tent. The barbecue was hot and he quickly added some steaks and prepared a fresh salad, and there we were, dining under the stars.
No sleep-in today. We left camp early and headed for Arnhemland. We met our aboriginal guide, Wilfred, who walked us to the closest hill, and we slowly ascended. Almost at the top, while admiring the expansive views of the outback, we were told to look back and under a rock ledge were some of the most well preserved Aboriginal Rock Art drawings in the Territory. Wilfred explained the meaning and significance of the drawings, which had been passed down for centuries by community elders.
From the bush to bush luxury, the next day I find myself on a 400,000 acre cattle station on the western boundary of Kakadu National Park. Bamurru Plains is a new lodge built on the top corner of the station, overlooking the wetlands. John, the Manager, offers us a cool drink and takes us to the pool deck, where we start to watch the sun set over the wetlands; a fire lit sky against the backdrop of reeds and flowers floats in front of us.
Jo fixes us a gourmet meal in the main house complemented by fine Aussie and Kiwi wines. The talk amongst the other guests revolves around the air boat ride they took earlier in the day; hovering across the wetlands just above the water, they streamed by buffalo, plant life, birds, and crocs – all so close!
I retire to my safari suite, spacious and enclosed in a fine mesh; it allows unsurpassed views of the wetlands. There are birds everywhere, and I fall asleep tonight to their incredible sounds; a perfect day of exploration in the Aussie Bush.
I conclude that three days is ideal to spend at Bamurru Plains – tour the station, explore the wetlands, try one’s luck at fishing and simply enjoy the vastness of the region.
The final leg of my Top End exploration sees me board a 1.5 hour charter flight to the western side of the Territory, to Bullo River Station. This half million acre working cattle station is owned by Marlee and Franz Ranacher who are incredibly welcoming and enthusiastic to share their half a million acre backyard with their guests.
Here, you become part of the station and its daily activities. Surrounded by the station hands, manager and workers, you truly get to know what it means to live and work on a station. Trevor, roughly bearded, rolled cigarette in the corner of his mouth at all times, and a worn and tattered Akubra hat says in a raspy voice, “Hey Ian, how ’bout we catch some Barra?”
Of course he is referring to the Barramundi, a locally prized sport fish that is in abundance around the Territory in the rivers, lakes and bays. As we walk down to the river and I let my first casts fly, the obvious question beckons. What about crocs? As I looked across the other side of the river and saw the remains of a slide in the sand of where a croc had slid into the water Trevor pipes in with “Well I suppose the old girl is down here now,” as he slowly walked back out of the river onto the banks. Needless to say I quickly followed!
We arrived back at the station to the smell of a barbecue; local steaks were sizzling away for dinner. A glass of Chardonnay was placed in my hand and Marlee explained a little of her life story at Bullo. The last of the campfire burns out signaling it is time to turn in.
Following a hearty breakfast, Franz takes me up in the helicopter and explains that there is so much of the station that hasn’t ever been walked on by white man, adding that he is certain there is likely Aboriginal rock art that remains undiscovered.
The chopper lands between some dramatic escarpments that lead to the Cascades; a series of about 10 pools all cascading down to the river. For an authentically rustic outback experience, Franz will set up a camp with barbecue for you and you can spend the night out here – incredible!
The last morning here, after helping to muster the cattle, I took a slow cruise up the gorge. What an unbelievable sight, the mirrored reflection of the trees and escarpments is beyond amazing. Again we found spots that you just don’t believe could exist anywhere; had a great barbecue on the river bank and then headed back, packed up my swag and said good-bye to Bullo and my Top End adventure.