My Dream Visit to Darwin and Arnhem Land: T-QUAL Tick Race

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Today I caught a croc.

I reached into the depths of its dark home, grabbed it under its neck and reefed it out wrestling with its thrashing tail on the way out.

You can’t come to the Northern Territory without wrestling a croc and it does not matter if it is only a 30cm baby with its mouth taped, it’s still a croc!

baby crocodile
So cute

It’s still a prehistoric creature that has survived ice ages and continued to evolve as a predator to be admired and respected.

I also came close to its snapping jaws of death popping out air as he lurched out of the water to grab and gulp the chunk of meat I held off the stick dangling over its nose.

Crocodiles are a booming industry in the Top End, a growth the locals are keen to keep seeing. It’s not just for the incredible amounts of money it brings into the economy by way of jobs and tourist dollars (everyone who comes to NT wants to see a croc) but also because it helps protect the crocodiles.

saltwater crocodile
Freaky

There are plenty of places in Darwin where you can visit crocs in safe enclosures, but I don’t think any of that could ever compare to seeing them in their natural habitat.

We saw them all the time when working on the pearl farm in Kuri Bay—they are fierce, unnerving, and cunning.

There is something magical about a place that has danger in every corner, a heightened sense of awareness reminding you with each step that you are alive and you need to keep your wits in order to maintain that state of being.

It brings about a tendency to relax more into life, be in awe of it and celebrate it in slightly off-beat ways.

We didn’t get to see a croc in the wild on this section of our T-QUAL race to the Top End, nor did we get to experience much of Darwin. Most of the action happens from May to July during the dry season.

“In Darwin, it is 32 degrees every day. It’s only the varying humidity which makes it cooler or hotter.”

I can’t quote any one person as saying this as it was said by every local person we met.

A place with predictable daily warmth is the place for me.

Darwin is a thriving city thanks to the mining boom and its proximity to Asia. There are festivals, the popular Mindil Beach Markets and the best pub crawl street in Australia – Mitchell Street – as declared by my brother, Stilts. I guarantee he has the market research on that one.

I was so lucky on this stop of the T-QUAL Tick Race to meet up with my brother and his wife Chris. They have lived in Darwin for nearly the past year and it has been that long since we have seen each other.

Darwin harbour sunset cruise
With Stilts

They joined us for our Darwin Harbour sunset cruise. The rain decided to pour in bucket loads, which is not the typical Darwin downpour, so it meant the tropical vivid sunset would not be tonight.

I didn’t care I was in good company with good food and wine, and the Darwin Harbour scenery could not be faulted.

Darwin FreeSpirit Resort

In Darwin we stayed about 15 minutes outside the city centre at the Darwin FreeSpirit Resort.

Darwin FreeSpirit Resort
Darwin FreeSpirit Resort

I loved this camping and caravan park and so do many others, it has won best caravan park in Northern Territory for 2 years running.

It’s set on 28 acres, can accommodate up to 1500 people, has 3 swimming pools, kids’ activities during the day, a restaurant, pub and social activities. It offers so much more than just a cabin or tent space. I love places whose emphasis is on making children happy on their holidays!

You know that when they are happy you can relax with a Mojito! (You can get one during happy hour 4-6pm).

Cheers

The cabins were extremely comfortable to sleep in and I just wish I had more time to rest on the deck surrounded by rainforest.

But, we had more exciting things planned—we were rising earlier than the sun to hop on a small plane and fly over the Kakadu National Park for a quick visit to Arnhem Land with Venture North tours.

Craig visited Kakadu last year, and it has been on my bucket list for many years and I was beyond excited.

Arnhem Land and Kakadu by air

Venture North flights to Arnhem Land
Let’s go!

Arnhem Land is a highly spiritual and sacred Aboriginal area just east of Kakadu. The aboriginal people live in close connection with the land as they have always traditionally done. To visit Arnhem Land you need a special permit and it is what would be considered one of the most off the beaten path experiences in Australia.

It was a rainy morning and there was a small chance we would not be able to go. We waited patiently at the airport for the weather to pass and get the clearance.

Our pilot, Roland soon poked his head around the door with a smile “Are you ready girls? Let’s go!”

small plane flights (2)
Photo shoot fun withA Beach Cottage, Mummy Smiles and Rowland our pilot
small plane flights (1)
Such great fun

The delay meant that our 2 hour tour was scaled back to an hour, but even at such a short amount of time it was worth it.

The seven seater aircraft flew under the low-lying clouds for views of Kakadu and the Adelaide River which from above looked like a slow moving sidewinder.

Darwin coastline
Darwin coastline
Adelaide River Kakadu (1)
Adelaide River
Arnhem Land (16)
Flying altitude
Adelaide River Kakadu (2)
Like a sidewinder
Arnhem Land (17)
We followed the river down low

“This is the best time to visit this area,” our pilot told us.

Even though it was the wet season and many roads impassable it meant the land was lush and green and the waterfalls, that could be reached, were flowing fully.

There was stillness in Arnhem Land that spoke of sacredness. The stories of the escarpment, the trees and animals soon began to speak in whispered tones.

I felt welcome and blessed.

Our Aboriginal guide, Gary greeted us with a shy smile and a softly spoken voice. He shared with us stories of the Dog dreaming, which is how his people came to live in Gunbalanya, this area of Arnhem Land.

Arnhem Land (9)
Our guide Gary– a beautiful soul
Arnhem Land (1)
Stunning Arnhem Land
Arnhem Land
Beautiful Kakadu
Arnhem Land (15)
On the way to visit Dog Dreaming

If you look at the rock below you will see the three legs of the injured dingo. This is where the Dingo, the ancestor of the local people came to rest after she was injured and could walk no further. It’s a very spiritual place.

Arnhem Land (14)
Dog Dreaming– the resting place of the Dingo which is how Gunbalanya began
Arnhem Land (5)
Gary’s childhood watering hole and very spiritual place
Arnhem Land (7)
Purity
wetland wildflowers
Wildflowers
Arnhem Land (4)
So beautiful

Arnhem Land (8)

We stopped at significant spiritual places along the way, the most special being the small waterhole where he would often swim as a child.

It is his spirit’s resting place. Wherever he goes in the world he knows his spirit will always return to this place to rest.

I don’t think I have ever seen a place of such purity. The water looked as if it had never been touched: you could see right through to the bottom and the brightness of the ferns surrounding it made it look jade green. A small waterfall gushed over the rocks into the pool. The water so fresh you could drink it.

Gary invited each of us to crouch down in front of him. He scooped up water and rested his hands on our head, praying in his local dialect. He gathered a large amount of water in his mouth and then sprayed it over our heads and then throwing his hands wide he completed the blessing.

I didn’t need to understand. I felt the power and purity of his spirit transferred with the water.

It was beautiful.

Arnhem Land (11)
The blessing
Arnhem Land (12)
The water spray
Arnhem Land (10)
The hand of friendship

I wished we could have stayed to learn and explore more. Gary invited us back one day to hear more of his stories. The Aboriginal culture is based upon stories that are passed down from generation to explain life and how we all fit together.

“I don’t have many stories to share” one of the members of our group said to Gary. He smiled in disbelief. “Everyone has stories you just have to give birth to them.”

Gary I will be back to this land that few Australians know about, nor will ever make an effort to visit, which is great as it will preserve its sacredness for millions of years more.

I felt sadness that in the Western world we have so lost touch with our spiritual connections to the land and each other. I hope that as Gary’s spirit always finds its way back to the watering hole, we will also one day find our way back to our spiritual source and use that as a way to connect deeply to land and people.

Have you been to Arnhem Land before? or the Northern Territory?What do you love about it?

Disclaimer:The T-QUAL Tick is a sponsored campaign by Tourism Australia. The T-QUAL tick makes it easier for those travelling to Australia–if you see a tourist business with the T-QUAL Tick you know the government has said it is a high quality operation. See T-QUAL approved tourist business here.

12 thoughts on “My Dream Visit to Darwin and Arnhem Land: T-QUAL Tick Race”

  1. Thanks for sharing your great story and photos! We had the good fortune to spend a week in Port Douglas a few years back. We took a guided day trip to the Daintree Rainforest and it really is an amazing experience. Your post brought back lots of great memories. It’s a wonderful country!

    Glenn

    1. The top end of Australia is truly a magical place. I can’t wait to come back and visit. It really made me pay attention to just how vast Australia is and how it offers so much.

    1. It is so just so magical Kristin– visiting here made me feel so lucky to be born in this beautiful country.

      So great to see you again Kristin! I hope things are moving up for you this year.

  2. I`ve been fortunate to travel to the NT twice already. First to visit Uluru and then Darwin & Litchfield NP. Arnhem Land is definitely on my list for the future, so is Kings Canyon and so many other places in the Northern Territory. NT has so much to offer and I can relate to the spiritual side as you mentioned as I experienced it when at Uluru. Lovely photos btw!

    1. Thank you Isabelle! I so hope you can visit Arnhem Land soon–it is truly magical and we only saw the tiniest part of it. I am thirsting for more

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