We make our way toward UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park. Our first stop en route is Fogg Dam Reserve. Fogg Dam has year-round water coverage, which assures its position as an important feeding and roosting site for a wide variety of water birds, as well as other animals. Little, Intermediate and Great egrets, Pied herons, Glossy ibis, Royal spoonbill, Little Black and Little Pied cormorants, Comb-crested jacanas, Australian darters and Jabiru storks are just some of the birds that can be seen feeding, fighting and breeding at Fogg Dam.
A short detour off the highway is the beautiful Leaning Tree Lagoon. This billabong is often covered in water lilies, making it a popular quick stop for photographers.
We leave the main road to enter Kakadu via the Old Darwin Road. Our last stop for today is a pristine waterfall, in Maguk (Barramundi) Gorge.
A one-kilometre walk through sub-monsoon rain forest leads to the base of a beautiful plunge pool. Maguk Gorge is a natural wonder of crystal-clear water surrounded by towering rock walls, the ideal place to enjoy a refreshing swim in paradise.
We’ll enjoy one of the Top End’s famous sunsets, before settling in for a relaxing night at our exclusive permanent bush camp.
Departing the northern region of Kakadu National Park, we cross the infamous Cahill’s Crossing on the East Alligator River and enter Arnhem Land.
A 15-kilometre scenic drive to the Gunbalanya Indigenous Community provides some of the best driving views in the Top End, taking in floodplains, billabongs and the Arnhem Land escarpment. Gunbalanya is the Aboriginal name for the Oenpelli settlement (which was originally a mission). The area includes the floodplains of the East Alligator River that are covered by water from December to April and a rocky sandstone plateau rising up to 200 metres above the plains.
Upon arrival at Gunbalanya you will visit the Injalak Arts and Crafts Centre. Visitors to Injalak will experience the traditional culture of the Kunwinjku people. Here you have the opportunity to experience traditional art in an intimate setting where you can get to know the artist and see firsthand how artworks are created.
Opened in 1989, Injalak Arts is a nonprofit Aboriginal-owned social enterprise whose members are the artists and community. Injalak artists produce traditional art inspired by ancient Dreamtime stories, the nearby rock art galleries and an unbroken link between the present generation of Kunwinjku people and their ancestors.
At the Injalak Arts and Crafts Centre there is an opportunity to browse and purchase a range of affordable art in different mediums and styles reflective of the ingenuity of the Kunwinjku people. Injalak caters to both the affordable and fine art markets. Artworks available include paintings on paper and bark, carvings, artefacts such as clap sticks, didgeridoos mimi poles and lorrkons, fibre works such as baskets and grass pandanus floor mats, and special edition prints.
While we are here an Aboriginal guide will show you excellent examples of rock art on Injalak Hill (Long Tom Dreaming or Kurrkabal). This area is documented as having some of the best rock art examples in Western Arnhem Land – some say in all of Australia. The main rock gallery is the visitor’s first contact with rock art, and is the most intense. It is an extensive shelter featuring layered paintings created over thousands of years.
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. 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. The view from the top of the hill is simply breathtaking, looking out across the floodplains and around the Arnhemland escarpment – an amazing spot to have lunch in the shade of one the many overhanging ledges.
After leaving Injalak we head on to Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris. Davidson’s is situated in the northwest corner of Arnhem Land and adjacent to Kakadu National Park and the Cobourg Peninsula in Australia’s Northern Territory. This landscape is a vast subtropical savannah that has been described as a national treasure trove of artifacts of ancient human occupation, and a pristine wilderness area hosting myriad ecosystems and wildlife.
Access to the Davidson’s safari lodge is by 4WD vehicle or flight. The camp is fully licensed and has a wide selection of wines, spirits and beer. The facilities are situated in a natural bush setting. The heart of the lodge is a new and tastefully furnished communal space including a dining area, lounge, bar, library, internet area and a large outdoor deck for alfresco dining, all overlooking the sandstone-paved pool.
Today is spent exploring and enjoying the incredible unique environment around Davidson’s Arnhemland Safaris.
This location at Mt Borradaile is a registered aboriginal sacred site in an exclusively-leased 700-square-kilometre area nestled against the Arnhem Land escarpment. Its rugged ranges, fringed by idyllic billabongs, floodplains, paper bark swamps and monsoonal rain forests, form an amazingly beautiful wilderness.
Mt Borradaile is still owned and managed by its traditional custodians, the Amurdak people, whose inhabitation of the area dates back for 50,000 years. The story of their ancestry is evident in the many tools, ceremonial grounds and rock art paintings visible – and still being uncovered – today. Valleys, overhangs and caves offer magnificent galleries of rock art as well as occupation and burial sites.
While at Davidson’s we enjoy a range of activities and attractions, such as fishing, viewing Aboriginal art, and a billabong cruise.
After leaving Davidson’s we head on to Bamurru Plains, an exclusive lodge and wildlife experience on the magnificent Mary River floodplains. Located on Swim Creek Station, this safari-style camp is surrounded by savannah woodland teeming with an amazing assortment of wildlife, reptiles and birds. The accommodation is comfortable freestanding bungalows that are spacious and screened to let in the sounds of the floodplains. The camp also boasts a large dining area with commanding views across the vast wetlands, a 10-metre infinity pool and a library.
The focus of your stay at Bamurru is the environment around you and the wildlife and bird life for which it is home. Each individual safari bungalow is designed to blend with the surroundings and immerse guests in the sights and sounds of the bush around you, whether it is the haunting call of a Whistling kite, the raucous cacophony from the Blue-winged kookaburras as dawn breaks or the sound of a full grown buffalo splashing its way through the floodplains just a short distance from your bed. The morning chorus of tens of thousands of Magpie geese, after which the camp is named, is an experience in itself.
The Mary River catchments are home to some 236 species of birds, many of which are found at Bamurru Plains. The significance of this particular property comes in the variety of habitat: Black soil floodplains, paper bark swamps, savannah woodland, river mangroves and coastal beaches support an extraordinary diversity of bird life.
A morning airboat adventure on the floodplains is an exhilarating and perfect start to the day, and the only way to truly experience the amazing environment around Bamurru Plains.
While at the camp we enjoy a variety of activities. The floodplains of the Mary River region form one of the most significant ecosystems in Australia. Dominated by the climatic extremes of the tropical monsoon, the wetlands and savannah woodlands that fringe the coastal regions between Darwin and Kakadu National Park harbour an extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna. This place is home to thousands of Magpie geese, Plumed whistling ducks, egrets, ibis and a host of other birds, not to mention wild buffalo and wallabies.
We continue to enjoy the sights and experiences of Bamurru Plains this morning, and then after lunch make our return journey to Darwin.
We end the day with a dramatic sunset over the floodplains while enjoying a glass of wine.