Armed with an elementary understanding of this connection to the land, I set off in search of wilderness. My first stop is Fogg Dam, a magical wetland reserve just one hour (70km) east of Darwin. Watching flocks of birds dance above the waterlilies, my mind wanders back to the stories of the Dreaming, to the ancestral creatures said to have created this landscape and the animals that embody their spirits today. And then I briefly think about the crocs that are surely lingering just below the surface.
Why Exploring The Northern Territory Is Easy
6 September 2019
Read Time: 4.9 mins
The Dreaming comes to life in a trove of Top End treasures
I’m standing at the top of a waterfall looking into a gorge. The spray from the wind has a welcome cooling effect in the warm sunshine. Birds squawk as they sweep above the trees and the gushing water rumbles below to complete nature’s melodic orchestra.
It’s just past 10am and already I’ve sat down to breakfast at Sweet Brew & Co in Darwin and driven to Litchfield National Park. Just 90 minutes and 145km later, I’m standing on top of the world. I’ve still got plans to check out the termite mounds before a picnic and dip at Buley Rockhole.
Before coming to the Top End, I’d rather ignorantly imagined the landscape to be dictated by sweeping plains and that the only way to get a taste of this wonderful place would be by tackling it in a 4WD with weeks to spare. How wrong I was. In fact, in just a few days you can tick off the Northern Territory’s flowing waterfalls and swimming holes, beautiful wetlands, rugged coastline and magical indigenous heritage, not to mention the burgeoning foodie scene in Darwin.
I’m here at the start of the dry season, when most roads are open, and it’s remarkably easy to get around. If you’re not a fan of driving, or tackling puddles in the wet season, there are tour options for every price point that operate year round, too.
Any good Top End itinerary should start in the frontier city – at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT), to be exact. Housing some excellent interactive exhibits on Darwin’s history, from devastating Cyclone Tracy to Sweetheart, the biggest croc caught (at the time), MAGNT also offers an introduction to Indigenous art and the Dreaming, the ideal place to find your feet before venturing further afield.
To Indigenous Australians, the land is everything; it’s Mother Nature, it’s food, it’s culture, it’s spirit and most of all it’s intricately tied to their identity. They believe the land and everything in it were created when ancestral spirits awoke at the beginning of time, a period they call the Dreaming or Dreamtime. Dreamtime stories explain everything from how sites became sacred and the spirits said to reside there to the consequences of one’s actions.
Speaking of crocs, if you’re a keen fisher, a fishing charter on the Adelaide River, also an hour east of Darwin, comes with the promise of not only the chance to catch a mighty barramundi, but an even better chance of seeing crocodiles sunbathing on the banks. This is also where you’ll find the famed jumping crocodile cruise.
Further south, a 3.5-hour (345km) drive from the capital brings you to Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, 30 minutes outside Katherine. Nitmiluk Gorge is made up of 13 separate gorges carved by the Katherine River. The local Jawoyn people believe Bolung, the rainbow serpent, lives here.
Taking care not to disturb him – avoid swimming in, fishing and drinking from the second gorge – we cruise through silently. Stretching 12km and lined with 70m-high sheer rock faces, the gorge is perhaps best admired from above. The one-hour moderate walk to Baruwei Lookout is worth it. Standing at the summit, any remaining thoughts of traffic noise or the stresses of work and city life fade away.
On my last evening in the NT, I wind up with friends on the beach at Fannie Bay for one of Darwin’s famous sunsets. After a whirlwind trip through the Territory’s national parks learning of the ancient stories written in the landscape, the rock formations along the shoreline suddenly have more meaning. Is that an image in the swirling patterns? How must it have looked here at the beginning of time? The connection many Indigenous Australians have with nature is spiritual beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I set off home, determined to appreciate Mother Nature more than ever, but above all else, respect her.