Aboriginal Australia

Arnhemland: Luxury in the Outback
By Jeff Burdick
  |  Gorp.com

My most memorable—and startling—billabong moment occurred during my stay in Arnhemland, the vast Aboriginal territory directly east of Kakadu. So relaxing was one sunset cruise that a teenager lazily dragged his hand in the water. Not four feet away, the dragonlike head of a crocodile suddenly surfaced. The teenager quickly removed his hand, but for the next three minutes, the crocodile fixed its dark green eyes on our boat and slowly rose and fell on the water's surface with each inflation of its lungs. From the size of its head, our guide estimated it was at least 10 feet long.

Arnhemland offers everything that Kakadu does—wild landscapes, exotic wildlife, and abundant Aboriginal rock art—but with far fewer visitors. Whereas Kakadu welcomes more than 300,000 visitors each year, the Aborigines of Arnhemland limit visitors to just three wilderness camps, the largest of which averages just 15 guests per night.

A Mural of Aboriginal Culture
This large camp belongs to Davidson's Arnhemland Safaris. Located 15 miles from Van Diemen Gulf in the Mount Barradaile valley, the camp represents but a small human footprint in an otherwise completely wild setting. All supplies are either flown or driven in from Darwin. By outback standards, the camp is luxurious. It has its own dirt runway. Every Jackeroo tent contains a pair of cots. Showers have hot and cold water fed by a natural spring. Mosquito netting encloses the dining room, and during my stay, the camp kitchen produced excellent food in copious quantities ranging from porterhouse steaks to Japanese sushi.

Guests choose from a menu of daytime activities ranging from fishing outings and bore hunts to billabong cruises and evening dips at a natural rain-fed swimming pool. The most memorable activities for me were the daily bush hikes to a number of dramatic caves and overhangs filled with seldom-seen Aboriginal wall art painted thousands of years ago. To reach them, we'd skirt duck-filled ponds and see many exotic tropical birds. But the dazzling art galleries of Arnhemland surpassed anything else I saw in Australia. Oftentimes, different epochs of art layered one atop another to create a dazzling historical mural of Aboriginal culture.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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