Sunday, April 11, 2010

Into the Wild - Australia's Northern Territory

WEEKEND TODAY, April 10 - 11, 2010, TRAVEL, PAGE T26
Nellie Huang

PHOTO: Australia's Northern Territory is an adventure wonderland for the anti-spa traveller

Australia's Northern Territory is an adventure wonderland for the anti-spa traveller
BUSH-walking in Australia's back country, in true Crocodile Dundee style, had always been on my bucket list. I was drawn to the country's wilderness, to the idea of traipsing through its scrubland and climbing its rocky terrain, discovering pockets of Aboriginal rock art along the way.

When budget airline JetStar introduced direct flights from Singapore to Darwin, I snagged tickets immediately. Four-and-a-half hours after boarding the plane, my partner and I arrived in Northern Territory's capital, hungry for an adventure.

PHOTO: Witness crocodiles leap from the waters of the Adelaide River .

Day 1
Our guide Alicia welcomed us in a 4x4 packed with all the necessities for a three-day hiking trip in Kakadu National Park, 120km from Darwin.

Covering more than 19,000 sq km, Kakadu is Australia's largest national park, famed for the sprawling Arnhem Land Escarpment, sweeping landscapes and over 5,000 Aboriginal art sites, not to mention thousands of plant species, birds and freshwater crocodiles.

The tour started off easy. Our first stop was Adelaide River, where from a boat, we watched a croc expert lure the massive reptiles into leaping sky high from the murky waters.

Then, it was off to Ubirr Rock. According to Alicia, this is the best Aboriginal rock art site in Kakadu, with most of the paintings dating back two millennia.

The half-hour climb up the rocky slope to the top of Ubirr Rock gave us a spectacular 360-degree view of the lush floodplains and the rocky plateau of Arnhem Land Escarpment in the distance. Alicia pointed out that a scene from the movie Crocodile Dundee was filmed right at this spot.

PHOTO: Clambering up boulders along the ‘Castle’ route (rock Climbing between cliffs).

Day 2
After a peaceful night, we awoke to the sight of a wild horse loitering outside our tent at Kakadu Lodge and Caravan Park. It marked the start of a journey into an Edenesque landscape.

Gubara is a 6km-walk past sandstone cliffs and thick bushes to shady forest pools and small cascades. Taking the "Castle" route, we clambered up boulders to reach a lookout point that offered a view of the rainforest below.

Nestled within it was the paradise of Wallaby Falls. There, freshwater pools had waterbeds laced with tree branches and roots, giving them a land-before-time feel.

We had the entire place to ourselves. As if that was not enough to evoke Eden, there was nook called Garden Of Eden behind Wallaby Falls. We floated in the pools, a delicious respite from the heat of the day, then slept soundly in our two-men tent under a blanket of stars.

PHOTO: Kakadu National Park

Day 3
En route to our final hike in the southern end of Kakadu, we drove by towers of termite mounds. Some reached heights of 5m - amazing considering they were created by such tiny creatures.

Geared for our 13km-trek, we pushed through thick spear grass, crossing a flimsy hanging bridge and increasingly steeper slopes to get to a constellation of obscure waterfalls. At Motor Car Creek, water surged from a height of 25m, tumbling into a magnificently clear rock pool.

Despite coming here during the wet season, we had not experienced a single day of rain. We had been lucky, as Alicia pointed out, but we already knew that, having seen Kakadu at its lush best.

PHOTO: National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia


Getting there: Jetstar flies to Darwin from Singapore for about $500. Other airlines include Qantas, British Airways and Singapore Airlines.

When to go:
There are two main seasons in Kakadu: Dry (April to October) and wet (November to March). Both seasons offer different landscapes and plant life, although the dry season means there is less water in the falls while the wet season might mean flooded roads. The best time to visit is during the transitional periods (April, May, September and October) when temperatures are not extreme, and the crowds are thinner.

PHOTO: City of Darwin, Capital of the Australian Northern Territory.

  • We went on a tour by Wilderness Adventures ( Prices depend on the season. During the wet season, a two-day tour costs A$350 ($453); three-day, A$495. Dry season rates are A$415 and A$525, respectively.
  • Adventure Tours Australia ( is reputed for quality service. Tours range from a day trip to a 24-day overland trip to Perth.
  • Top End Explorer Tours ( caters to travellers looking for comfort with its charter excursions.
  • Kakadu Dreams ( is popular with backpackers.
  • Self-drive tours are feasible. Roads in Kakadu National Park are easy to navigate. For 4x4 and 4WD campervan rentals, check out Prices start from A$50 a day.
By Nellie Huang