ADVENTURES AT THE TOP OF DOWN UNDER
Australia’s Northern Territory)
The Northern Territory of Australia – sometimes lost in the cachet of other well-known Australia destinations – is flush with unique historical, cultural, and adventure opportunities that include Fishing, Touring, Aboriginals, Crocodiles, Fabulous Long-legged birds, Fly-Ins, Paradise Resorts and Lodges, Waterfalls, Bush Tucker,
My own goals for a recent visit to the “Top of Down Under” were simple: Catch lots of fish in the area’s rivers and ocean waters; learn more about the Aboriginal people who inhabit the area in abundant numbers; avoid the numerous deadly snakes, spiders, and sea creatures for which Australia is known; and, finally, avoid donating blood to the dreaded “mozzies”.
Well, mate, my tally was positive on all counts — even though the fishing provided a scary aspect: Saltwater crocodiles, MANY saltwater crocodiles, along the shore and swimming around our boat the whole time we fished on the Mary River southeast of Darwin! More about that later.
On a hot May night, the Fall season in Australia, following a pleasant four-hour Qantas flight from Sydney, I landed in Darwin. My glasses immediately fogged over in the 100 per cent humidity when I stepped off the air-conditioned plane.
Darwin, a modern city of some 88,000 with wide ethnic diversity boasts pleasant office buildings, nice homes, lovely shops, open air markets, varied eateries and kiosks, as well as fine accommodations, restaurants and night life.
Almost the proverbial “stone’s throw” from New Guinea and Indonesia, across the Timor Sea, Darwin has served as gateway (and protector) to this part of the world with the finest and deepest harbor in Australia, as well as excellent airports and support facilities (legacies of the heroic role that Northern Australia played in World War II). Darwin’s harbor-bottom is strewn with the hulks of sunken ships and memories of Japanese bombing raids.
Arnhem Land, occupying a large part of the Northern Territory is one of the “cradles” of the Aboriginal civilization, and in whose bosom lie many of the secrets of their 50,000 year existence.
As is my wont, I arranged to go fishing for barramundi, on the Mary River, about three hours from Darwin, near Kakadu National Park.
Our base was the Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge. As we headed to the nearby boat launching site at Shady Camp, a Brown Snake, second most venomous snake in the world, skittered across the dirt road in front of us. We got out to get a closer look, from a safe distance, and the snake quickly went its way into the brush alongside the road.
Our fishing target that day were barramundi – the legendary fish that has sustained the Aboriginal people since time immemorial, and today makes for angler’s Nirvana. (Barramundi means “big scales” in the Aboriginal language, and this fish, which can grow to almost two meters and over sixty pounds makes delicious eating).
I was lucky to catch a “barra” weighing over 23 pounds, and a meter-plus in length. As we reeled our fish to the boat, the movement of the “salties” — ancient reptiles, ambush predators — in their mottled black, brown, and yellowish-tinged hides, were daunting as they swam around the boat in hopes of grabbing the fish — the net — or, equally likely, an unwary angler. The largest “saltie” we saw was about 15 feet — 4 to 5 meters or so. And there were lots of them! (And they were definitely not in a Disney setting, although a nearby “tourist attraction” on a large boat does lure them to jump up and grab a piece of meat off a stick).
When we headed back to the boat launch ramp at the end of the afternoon, the tide had gone out and the water had become too shallow to get all the way to the landing. So we had to take off our shoes and wade ashore through sucking, gray muck, with a chance of stepping on a cone snail. The dirt ramp was absolutely scorching from the sun’s heat, and I had to hop from one bare foot to the other like a gecko.
I was further enthralled by a cruise of the unspoiled wetlands of the Mary River, from the Mary River Reserve – Rockhole. On this cruise, we learned about myriad bush plants like the Lotus Lily, that served as foods, medicines, and utensils to the Aboriginal people. Millions of birds found here include herons, brolgas, egrets, jabaroos, and ducks, as well as “flying foxes”, fruit bats that often drop off of the tree from which they hang, into the maw of a waiting croc.
At the end of the day, Point Stuart Wilderness Lodge grilled and fried our barramundi, and then followed the delight of sitting around a crackling fire with newfound Aboriginal friends, the “Gulpu Wilderness Dancers,” happy to share stories and information about the mystical spirits that inhabit the earth.
The Aboriginal group also taught us the mozzie dance, and gave those who wished an opportunity to blow on the didgeridoo.
One of the “performers,” Kevin Guruwiwi, became my friend in very short order. Kevin was the one who leaned over, when my camera flash didn’t go off, saying, “I guess the spirits didn’t want you to take that picture.” I asked him what to do about the mosquitoes (“mozzies”), and he told me to go and find a termite mound and burn it in order to keep the mozzies away.
“WE DON’T OWN THE LAND… THE LAND OWNS US.”
More important, I learned that Kevin was a native artist, who told me about Aboriginal life and art, the role of the rainbow serpent, the goanna, the king monitor, and other Aboriginal tales and customs. Equally important, Kevin made a painting of a barramundi for me. The most important message that Kevin conveyed in one way or another was, “To use and appreciate nature to the fullest,” and, “We don’t own the land… The land owns us.”
Other adventures in the Northern Territory included two different fly-ins to outposts reachable only by air or water from Darwin: The Cape Don Experience and lighthouse on the Cobourg Peninsula; and Seven Spirit Lodge in Seven Spirit Bay — areas literally in the wilderness, but with very modern and luxurious accommodations and activities.
THE PRISTINE BALANCE OF NATURE
Everywhere we went, we saw constant evidence of the incredible diversity, balance and pristine quality of nature when left to its own designs. The colors, the fragrances, the sights and sounds, the moods, the emotional and physical challenges and rewards that this untouched area of Australia offers, outpace any adjectives.
When we were in Darwin, we stayed at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. Other adventure activities you can enjoy when you’re in The Northern Territory of Australia include camping, hiking, jeeping, cruising, visiting petroglyphs, or seeking and eating some bush tucker.
And, except for the evening at Shady Camp, the mosquitoes were no problem at all. Nevertheless, I wore my excellent ExOfficio BuzzOff® clothing most of the time – hat, shirt, pants – because of BuzzOff’s high sun protective factor, coolness, anti-insect properties, lightweight, quick-drying, and stylish, to boot.
I eagerly await the opportunity to return to the “Top of Down Under” and gain further insight and joy from the experiences unique to this area.
If you go:
Story and photos by Naomi K. Cissy ShapiroTags: