A Journey to the Top End
Author Margot Windenburg from Inspiring Journeys
Date 18 Mar 2021
Having travelled to Australia many times I have personally been lucky enough to explore most of this beautiful and welcoming country, and the warm people, spectacular landscapes and vibrant culture are all things that keep me coming back for more. Many first-time visitors to Australia only get to explore a small part of the continent, so if you are looking for the ultimate adventure to start your love affair with Australia then the trip that should be on the top of list is Inspiring Journey’s Kakadu’s Ancient Secrets.
This small group tour in the Northern Territory covers a fair bit of ground around the ‘Top End’ of Australia, covering all the “must-see” areas of this region. The trip harmonises the area’s natural beauty and wildlife with the local and indigenous culture and its significance within the region. It is the perfect trip for those with an interest in nature, anthropology, and wildlife.
Starting in Darwin our small group stepped onboard an incredibly comfortable, well-appointed 4WD vehicle designed for the terrain in the region. We enjoyed a warm welcome onboard from our experienced Journey Director, Gordon, whose knowledge about the Northern Territory made the trip truly immersive and special. Small group travel is one of the best ways to take an adventure through this breathtaking and vast landscape and one of the things I enjoyed the most was listening to Gordon’s endearing commentary, sharing tales about our location in the Australian Outback and where we were travelling next. His in-depth information and stories about travelling in the Top End made us all feel like locals, imparting insider knowledge about each destination we visited! The best way that I could describe it was that it was like listening to an addictive audio guidebook or a travel podcast all about your surroundings and what is around the corner, personalised with every possible question answered.
One of the benefits of travelling in a small group over travelling independently became clear to me; I could take twenty independent trips to the Northern Territory, Australia and the experience wouldn’t come close to the insights I gained listening to our Journey Director on this one trip. Travelling all that way and missing something that was right in front of you would be a travesty.
Litchfield & Kakadu National Parks
One of the first highlights on the trip is Litchfield National Park with a stop at Wangi Falls for a chance to jump in and take a swim in the crystal-clear pool beneath the falls. This location, and several others on this trip were featured in the iconic Aussie movie Crocodile Dundee, and if you have seen it you will instantly recognize many locations during the trip. This refreshing and picturesque pool set the tone for the many Northern Territory highlights we would experience over the next few days.
The following day took us to Kakadu National Park, and I highly recommend taking the optional scenic flight for a bird’s eye view of the lush wetlands and magnificent wildlife. Seeing the beauty of Kakadu from both the ground and sky reflects the enormity of this pristine wilderness area. From the sky, you can see the crocodiles in the billabongs and floodplains surrounded by scenic landscapes. From the ground you see the remarkable flora and fauna up close; the entire park is overwhelmed by abundant natural beauty. This experience comes close to the spectacular wildlife and habitats you’d find on an African safari, only on a smaller scale.
From here, after an evening of sipping wine and reflecting on what we saw at Kakadu, we travelled to Nourlangie, or Burrungkuy in the local indigenous language, arriving armed with unique insights and insider knowledge about what we were going to see. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed rock art site is famed for its indigenous rock art, offering a fascinating record of thousands of years of Aboriginal life. Once we arrived, we took a short walk to the Aboriginal rock-art sites where we were guided through the main open air galleries, whose rock walls are adorned with paintings dating back over 20,000 years. The stories behind these sites are particularly interesting. Several offer insights into the cultural norms that have been passed down for generations and reflect how the Aboriginal people have survived and carried on their traditions for thousands of years.
The next day we travelled to Katherine, along the way we stopped at Top Didj, a unique Aboriginal cultural experience and art gallery, where we met Manuel Pamkal who greeted us with a welcoming song on the didgeridoo. Manuel was born and raised near the King River southeast of Katherine and shared the stories of his upbringing and life including how he was taught the traditional bark painting art called rarrk. Manuel showed us how to create our own rarrk painting using a special brush from a reed called Julk. It was much harder than I had ever thought it would be! We also learned to throw a spear, and how to make a fire using friction. Wallabies were roaming freely on-site, posing obligingly for pictures.
That evening we travelled to Katherine Gorge for a special sunset dinner cruise on the Katherine River. Watching the sun as it set along the gorge was the perfect finish to the trip, as the soaring rock walls changed colour and presented the most beautiful backdrop for a dinner of exquisite local cuisine.
On our last day, we stopped at Edith Falls, where some of the group who were training for some intense mountain climbs hiked up to another swimming spot at the top of the falls. One of the things that I like about this trip is that both active people or people who are less active will enjoy it, there are several opportunities for hikes, climbs, and swimming, or you can sit back and soak in all the breathtaking natural beauty surrounding you.
On arrival in Darwin, we said a tearful goodbye to our Journey Director Gordon who had shared so much of his knowledge with us and helped to create a once in a lifetime experience and memories of a trip discovering the Northern Territory’s Top End I will never forget.