Few non-indigenous Australians have visited the Northern Territory’s Coburg Peninsula. The remote bulge of country thrusting into the Arafura Sea 350km north-east of Darwin is the very top of the Top End.
I’ve been there, and found the sense of isolation, immersion in the environment and pure wonderment unequalled even by the magnificent abandoned wastes of our vast Red Centre deserts. It’s this part of the world, Arnhem Land, that truly grabs the soul, stirring visitors seeking a raw uncompromising encounter with unsullied Australian nature.
The region lies beyond Kakadu’s well-admired massive waterfalls and fascinating rock art, abutting its easternmost border and stretching on to the western coastal shores of the Gulf and the town of Nhulunbuy, also known as Gove. Nothing in this awe-inspiring land of close to 100,000sq.km strikes the neophyte intruder more harshly than the pest-ridden climate that must be endured, the treacherous terrain and, at its peak, the volcanic heat – all of which, once challenged, go to make up the most exhilarating of life experiences. Now, the tenderfoot nevertheless keen to make the trek is happily hosted in new facilities that make it all possible, with ease.
Glamping, once an effete word coined for glam camping, has come into its own across the Territory as a welcome, real and practical means of allowing otherwise cosseted western adventurers to thrill to the charms of this harsh, wild, totally alluring land with still the basic essentials of a comfy bed, protection from the elements (and wildlife), good bathing facilities and easy sustenance. Today the visitor can have it all, the rough with the smooth, pleasure without pain.
New glamping opportunities are opening up: mini settlements of screened tents with individual bathing facilities, central compounds for meals, or barbecue areas, a base for striking out on tours with Aboriginal guides – still with the rustic appeal essential for feeling close to it all, and in small-scale style for intimacy. The intense ruggedness of the Territory can be encountered with a minimum of robustness or, for the elderly and less fit, physical exposure.
BANUBANU WILDERNESS BEACH RETREAT, on Bremer Island 15 minutes’ flight from Gove, is due to re-open next month with a suite of upgrades including a new restaurant, plunge pool and six eco safari tents (picture). Known for its untouched beaches, lush tropical surrounds and abundant sea life, Banubanu offers fishing and mud-crabbing experiences off the pristine coast of eastern Arnhem Land. An escape from the hustle of modern life, it hosts just 14 guests to enjoy the space and freedom of natural beaches, abundant sea life, rich Yolgnu culture and lush tropical surrounds in a truly tranquil location. Fly from Darwin or Cairns into Gove.
COOINDA LODGE and CAMPING, KAKADU, launches its new glamping village this month, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Kakadu’s declaration as our precious National Park. Dreaming@Home Billabong features 20 upmarket environmentally-friendly tents configured for couples or families, with queen or bunk-bed options, outdoor deck for star-gazing and shared cooking and bathroom facilities. The Lodge’s rooms too have been fully refurbished with new bathrooms, air-conditioning and furnishings, upgrading comfort and facilities. The settlement also provides temporary camping and caravan sites. All guests can access the Lodge’s restaurant, bar, shop and two swimming pools.
Cooinda means Yellow Water, named for the adjacent amazing waterlily-strewn – croc-lurking – billabong 250km east of Darwin. At the heart of the national park, it offers attractions such as Yellow Waters cruises, 4WD adventure touring, scenic charter flights and nearby Warradjan cultural centre, established by the traditional owners for better appreciating the history and meaning of the many surrounding wonders. It’s ideally located for trips to Nourlangie rock art site and tours to Jim Jim Falls, Twin Falls and other noted waterfalls and rockpools.
A WEALTH OF FESTIVALS is scheduled this year throughout the NT Dry Season: Kakadu Bird Week, 28/9 to 7/10; Katherine Bird Festival 12-15/10; Tropical Light in Darwin, late October (by Bruce Munro, creator of Uluru’s “Field of Light” installation); Australian Opera at Uluru 2/11; and ongoing arts trails, open-air cinema and exhibitions. The Ghan’s 90th anniversary tour from 4/8 is already booked out.
Ensure up-to-date details beginning at www.tourismtopend.com.au and consult travel agents.
Travel Editor, Susie Boswell