Outback Adventure

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With the Australian dollar exchange rate diving, it’s worth revisiting unique holiday experiences we can enjoy at home in Australia.

One of the best is a three-day kayak and camp safari on the Katherine River, 300km south of Darwin. You’ll come back a changed person.

The trip offers Outback adventure for youngsters, elderly, and the physically challenged – although operators Gecko Canoeing offer other tours, including for advanced participants. The first time I tried this trip I told them I’d go along for just the first day’s journey of the three-day tour. By the time I waved the group goodbye from the riverbank in the evening I’d enjoyed some truly breathtaking experiences, regretted having to depart, couldn’t wait to return.

Kayaking, camping, crocodiles: they’re three of the main elements that make this trip so enervating, a unique eco-experience in the NT wilderness. Typically, a party of eight explores along 55km of the river west of Katherine Gorge. Group leaders Jen and Mick are accredited Savannah guides, environmentally knowledgeable and skilled. You’re supposed to be roughing it, but it’s pretty cruisy: the hard work’s taken care of by your hosts!

We assemble for early morning coffee and are issued with lifejackets, helmets and waterproof sacks for our belongings. When our canoes hit the water we find the river’s perfect: wide enough for swift-flowing progress, narrow enough to enjoy the bush atmosphere of pandanus, palms and paperbarks forming a shady arc overhead, and bird species twittering in the trees. It has rapids challenging and fun to frolic in, but not dangerous; the green thicket on the banks gives way to golden fine-sand beaches perfect for overnighting.

Being a beginner’s no problem; with our guide’s help we soon learn to paddle and let the current carry us along while we marvel at bird life overhead and dappled sunshine dancing in the branches. Rounding a bend, we encounter a crocodile just metres away, sunning on a mid-stream bank. We know “freshies” won’t attack us; the creature’s mighty and awesome and strikes a tingle in our spines as we paddle by, thrilled at the sight.

We take time out to boil a billy, enjoy a healthy lunch that materialises from the depths of Jen’s canoe, refresh with a dip in the shallows and play in a turbulent natural waterslide in the rapids. At nightfall, Jen’s canoe produces foldout tables, sleeping bags and a camp oven for our lamp-lit roast lamb dinner under the stars. We range in age from eight to 80 but we’re already mates, swapping stories and laughs and popping a cork or three. See www.geckocanoeing.com.au or www.travelnt.com. Fly Virgin Blue to Darwin and hire a vehicle for a terrific road trip south, with great attractions on a sealed road all the way.

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