Discover West Arnhem Land and the Top End on an exclusive journey, as you venture into some of Australia’s wildest, yet iconic national parks punctuated with lesser visited reaches.
Explore the untouched wilderness of Arnhem Land where you will search for ‘sugarbags’ and weave with the local Jawoyn ladies. To be immersed in one of the most culturally intact Aboriginal nations in Australia is such a rare privilege. Canoe through Katherine Gorge and hike to remote waterholes. Enjoy privileged VIP access to sites restricted heavily by permits – limiting numbers to you and your group. Hear the rush of thunderous waterfalls, relax in natural horizon pools, snorkel in swimming holes amongst turtles and unique species of fish. Be educated by your Indigenous guide, as you delve into the world of Aboriginal x-ray art dating back over 20,000 years. Birdlife on the floodplains and in the wetlands will impress even the most avid twitchers. A beautiful journey through the ancient and the ecological world, breaking down cultural barriers and entwining culture and nature side by side.
Depart the Darwin Hilton this morning at 07.00am, as you set off for your Arnhem land and Top End safari. Today’s journey today takes us three hours south to Katherine, before veering another hour east to the Aboriginal community of Wugularr. En route to Katherine, your first stop this morning will be at Edith Falls in the Nitmiluk National Park. Rock art sites dot the park and dreaming stories bring the silent gorge walls to life. The sandstone and riverine communities of Edith Falls provide a habitat for a diverse range of flora and fauna. Set off on foot as you embark on the moderate 2.7km loop walk to the top of the falls which offers great photography and swimming opportunities in a waterfall and pandanus-fringed plunge pool that is beautifully secluded.
Following a picnic lunch, you will travel into Katherine and visit Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts & Culture Centre, where you can learn more about the art and culture of the region. The main gallery hosts visual arts exhibitions showcasing the work of Northern Territory Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists. The centre is underpinned by a ‘two way’ learning philosophy. That is, they reflect and tell the stories about the unique cultures of the Katherine region, including those that have developed from Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives.
Continuing on, travel to the southern edge of Arnhem Land to Wugularr (also known as Beswick), your home for the next two nights. Wugularr sits on the banks of the Waterhouse River approximately 116km, South East of Katherine and 31kms from the Barunga Community. This evening, set off on a local history walk around the community billabong for a fascinating insight into this remote Aboriginal community. The privilege to spend two nights here, offers a rare opportunity to experience a taste of local Indigenous life. (L,D)
2 nights Wugularr – Cabin
Today, you will be joined by some of the local Jawoyn ladies and head ‘out bush’. Each trip out bush is different and will depend on the time of year. Learn about bush medicine, foraging, and of course bush tucker. One of the highlights will be going in search for some ‘sugarbag,’ which is the honey from the native stingless bees – it’s a favourite food out here and very delicious! Learn how to make traditional baskets weaved from pandanus and coloured with natural bush dyes. You will also do some more scenic touring through this impressive and wild landscape, areas almost untouched making it a true privilege to explore. You will be led to the local swimming hole and gorge, which will be sure to take your breath away with their majestic beauty and sheer size. (B,L,D)
Before departing Wugularr this morning, explore the community run Ghunmarn Culture Centre and Gallery, where you will witness genuine Aboriginal art produced by the local communities. It is an outstanding opportunity to draw near to the great artistic traditions of Arnhem Land. Here, you can meet some of the local artists and also view and purchase artwork made by people in community. It is then time to farewell your hosts and head back to Katherine. Your next stop will be at the Katherine Hot Springs for a quick dip and morning tea. These natural thermal springs are along the banks of the Katherine River and comprise of a series of clear pools framed by native vegetation.
Once, the main pool was simply an indentation at the edge of the Katherine River, but now the area is a place to relax, enjoy swimming in the pools and wander along scenic walking tracks.
Continuing on, travel out to Katherine Gorge and check into your accommodation for the night. Following lunch, you will collect some canoes for a leisurely afternoon exploring Katherine Gorge by canoe. Canoeing through this pristine wilderness area enables you to experience the gorge at its best. All canoeing trips begin with a scenic journey by boat through Nitmiluk’s first gorge, before canoeists take to the waters to explore the second gorge and beyond. Push off from the riverbank, fasten your lifejacket, and get your paddles going for an unforgettable journey through stunning landscapes. Experience both the tranquility of river life and the noise of its natural inhabitants, as dramatic cliffs plunge down to the Katherine River. Greet the incredible array of wildlife, as you glide along Katherine River. Spot eagles and Black Cockatoos perching in the tree canopy, and Cormorants and Freshwater Crocodiles along the riverbanks. Move through a diverse and stunning natural world, from lush pandanus to paperbark forests. Be awed by extraordinary waterfalls and dramatic rock formations. (B,L,D)
Overnight Nitmiluk – Cabin
**Please note our May departure will be a Katherine River Cruise as canoeing is not available at this time of year**
After breakfast, make your way to the world heritage listed Kakadu National Park, keeping away from the traditional tourist trails. Covering almost 20,000 square km of exceptional natural beauty and unique biodiversity, Kakadu is one of very few places World Heritage listed for both its cultural and its natural values. Kakadu is home to the Bininj and Mungguy Aboriginal people who have inhabited this area for thousands of years. Your first stop in Kakadu will be the little known Moline Rockhole, a special permit area in which only a few select operators are permitted to access; guaranteeing minimal crowds. The small waterfall and waterhole below the falls, is a great place to cool down and relax. Jump into the water with snorkels, so you can explore the underwater world, home to a variety of species such as fish and turtle.
Continue on to your next destination, Gunlom Falls, another stunning swimming hole. This picturesque waterfall is one of the most beautiful in Kakadu. Its cascading waters and pristine crystal clear plunge pool are a highlight of Kakadu and are spectacular for photography. For those more adventurous, a 20-minute climb to the rock pools above the falls leads to a naturally occurring ‘infinity pool’ with sweeping views across the bushland of Kakadu. Continue north along the Kakadu Highway to your accommodation at Cooinda. Your lodge sits beneath a canopy of trees beside Yellow Water Billabong, where crocodiles and birds are seen on the flood plain amongst Paperbark, Pandanus and Fresh Water Mangroves. (B,L,D)
2 nights Cooinda Lodge – Lodge Room or similar
**Please note for our May departure, accommodation will be at the Crocodile Hotel**
At dawn, join a two hour sunrise cruise on the famous Yellow Water Billabong. Home to crocodiles, wild horses, buffalo and other wildlife, keep your eyes peeled for a closer look at a rich variety of wildlife. The vast range of resident birdlife includes jacana, egrets, jabiru, sea eagles, magpie geese and many other native species.
Paperbark forests, pandanus and fresh water mangroves line the shore. The surface of the billabong is dotted with beautiful pink and white waterlilies. Learn about the wildlife on the billabong from your knowledgeable guides, who will make this an educational experience. Next, you will travel into one of Kakadu’s lesser known and more authentic sites, Barramundi Gorge (also known as Maguk). Maguk is a pristine natural waterfall and plunge pool at the base of steep gorge walls. Spot the spangled drongos and rainbow pitas in the rainforest, swim with the black bream in the plunge pool and marvel at the majestic endemic Anbinik trees along the rocky slopes.
As you take the one hour hike into Maguk, the path will evolve along with the surrounding landscape before your eyes; starting out as a tropical forest boardwalk, transitioning into a striking sandy savanna strip, and then morphing into a rocky track to reflect the surrounding escarpments. Travellers of all ages and fitness levels can enjoy the walking trail, with sandy patches, large rocks to clamber over, and stepping-stone water crossings keeping you on your toes.
Take in the towering escarpments and pandanus-lined pools, and take a dip in the soothingly cool waters in the large plunge pool below the falls and discover an array of aquatic life. Local’s tip: snap up top spot under the cascades – having the waterfall massage tired shoulders is the Territorian’s version of a day spa treatment.
Continuing further north to Nourlangie Rock, one of Kakadu’s oldest Aboriginal occupation sights. Here you’ll find some of the world’s oldest and most impressive rock art, and spectacular views of the Arnhem Land escarpment.
Burrungkuy (Nourlangie) is one reason why Kakadu is World Heritage-listed for outstanding cultural values. This famous site, with its stunning rock paintings, documents life in the region from 20,000 years ago to the first contact with European explorers.
This 1.5 km walk through ancient rock-art sites and savannah bushland, invites you to take a visual journey through time to an outdoor cultural museum where paintings, shelters and artefacts present traditional ways of life from numerous epochs.
Just down the road from Nourlangie is Nawurlandja Lookout. A short climb takes us up the sloping sandstone to provide views of the sun setting across Anbangbang Billabong, Nourlangie Rock and the lookout surveys the impressive Arnhem Land escarpment with its sandstone cliffs and expansive savannah woodlands. (B,L,D)
Today you will travel to Cahill’s Crossing where the East Alligator River separates Kakadu from Arnhem Land. Arnhem Land comprises of vast amounts of Aboriginal owned land (approximately 100,000 square km) where many local people still practice their traditional ways. Access is strictly regulated through a permit system. After crossing the river into Arnhem Land, a 15 km scenic drive to Gunbalanya (also known as Oenpelli) meaning ‘Stone Country’ Aboriginal community, provides some of the best driving views in the Top End with floodplains covered in bird life and water lilies running up alongside the Arnhem Land escarpment. Once reaching Gunbalanya, your first stop is the Injalak Arts and Crafts Centre where you have the opportunity to meet and see traditional local artists in action. Injalak Arts has over 200 active members – artists and weavers from Gunbalanya and surrounding outstations. These Indigenous community art centres play an important role in the artistic and cultural life of traditional Aboriginal artists living in remote communities. Injalak Arts is an outstanding example of a community organisation that is 100% Aboriginal owned and delivers positive social, economic and cultural outcomes for its members.
This art centre has a reputation for producing fine quality Aboriginal works with many displayed in galleries around Australia and overseas. You will then be joined by a local Aboriginal guide for a hike around the Injalak Hill rock art sites. A moderate climb takes us up into one of the most spectacular Aboriginal rock art sites in Australia. Spend several hours exploring the many rock shelters which are covered in Aboriginal x-ray art dating back over 20,000 years. Relax under the shelters as your Indigenous guide shares and interprets the stories of their ancestors and helps you to understand the meaning behind this ancient tradition.
The main gallery is the first contact with rock art and is the most intense. It is an extensive shelter featuring layered paintings created over thousands of years. Other rock art gallery sites visited include Yingana or Warramurruggunddji, (the Creation Mother) and Andungun (this was told to Charles Mountford) a namarnde (evil) spirit who kills and eats people.
The rock art on Injalak Hill reveals facets of Pre-Estuarine, Estuarine and Contact periods identifying them as between 100 and 8,000 years old. Injalak Hill likely had continuous occupation. In 1912, the Aboriginal Protectorate Baldwin Spencer noted people heading up the hill every evening with smouldering fire sticks. This helps to explain why Injalak Hill boasts such extensive rock art galleries.
After travelling back into Kakadu for lunch, see Ubirr Rock, one of Kakadu’s most well preserved rock-art sites and featured in the movie Crocodile Dundee. Traditionally, people camped beneath Ubirr’s cool rocky shelters and used the plants and animals of the nearby floodplain and East Alligator River for food, tools and medicine. The smooth stone surfaces were perfect for painting on.
Much of the art here features fish, turtles, goanna and other important food animals. At the main gallery, a painting of a thylacine (the Tasmanian tiger, which became extinct on the mainland more than two thousand years ago) is a rare treat, and gives an idea of the age of some of this art.
Ubirr’s rock art is considered among the best in the world, with fine examples of x-ray painting, as well as contact art from the time when Indigenous people first encountered Europeans. Stories about behaviour and law are told at the Mabuyu, Narmarrkan Sisters and Rainbow Serpent paintings.
Marvel at the intricate layers of paintings and come away filled with wonder. A walk to the top of Ubirr offers great views across the Nadab floodplain into Arnhem Land. Gaze out over the floodplains, woodlands and dark ribbons of rainforest, and let the spirit and serenity of Kakadu envelop you.
Next, you will begin to make your way back towards Darwin. Your last stop in Kakadu will be at the Mamukala Wetlands, home to a variety of bird species. Mamukala wetlands is a bird-lover’s dream. This short walk allows bird-watchers to see an astonishing variety of bird life. Nestled into the paperbarks is an observation platform that allows you to quietly view the birdlife, there is also a mural that illustrates the seasonal changes that occur throughout the year.
With large numbers of magpie geese, kites, comb-crested jacanas, cormorants, willie wagtails, purple swamp hens, finches and kingfishers that congregate in this magnificent billabong, this makes for one of the best birdwatching areas in Kakadu.
If you are lucky, you may even spot an agile wallaby or the occasional crocodile loitering around the edge of the billabong.
Arrive the Hilton Darwin at approximately 06.30pm. (Accommodation not included). (B,L)
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**Please note that this tour can be organised on request for private departures.
* Pricing is subject to change at anytime until full payment has been received.
* A minimum of 4 adults is required to guarantee this departure.
A non-refundable deposit of $1000 AUD per person is required to secure your place. Final payment is due no later than 60 days prior to departure. Travel insurance is mandatory for travelling with Crooked Compass. For full terms and conditions, please click here.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.