EX­PLOR­ING ARN­HEM LAND

Stretch­ing across the north-eastern cor­ner of the North­ern Ter­ri­tory, this re­mote wilder­ness is home to one of the old­est sur­viv­ing cul­tures on Earth. Out­back Spirit will show you the Aus­tralia few ever get to see.

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“Arn­hem Land is sa­cred Abo­rig­i­nal land and very few out­siders have ever been lucky enough to ex­pe­ri­ence it,” says An­dre El­lis, co-founder and co-owner of Out­back Spirit, the only tour com­pany with unique per­mis­sion to travel from Nhu­lun­buy in the east across the top of Arn­hem Land to get to the western Cobourg Penin­sula. El­lis has a deep con­nec­tion to Coun­try – Out­back Spirit worked in con­sul­ta­tion with tra­di­tional own­ers and the North­ern Land Coun­cil to build a net­work of lux­ury lodges and de­sign au­then­tic cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences for the 13-day Arn­hem Land Wilder­ness Ad­ven­ture. Here are a few un­for­get­table high­lights.

Wel­come to Coun­try

The Yol­ngu peo­ple have lived in Arn­hem Land for more than 60,000 years. In Yir­rkala, wit­ness­ing the Wel­come to Coun­try cer­e­mony on the sand of Cape Wir­rwawuy, you can feel the sense of time­less­ness. “This is true cul­tural im­mer­sion,” says El­lis. Bush medicine and an­cient tra­di­tions re­main strong here – lo­cals share sto­ries of kin­ship and cus­tom in this place where the Abo­rig­i­nal land rights move­ment first be­gan.

Ara­fura Swamp

Early in the morn­ing, as mist slowly burns off un­der the bright sun, a bil­l­abong thrums to life. Brol­gas dance on spindly legs and mag­pie geese skim across the top of wa­ter rip­pled by stealthy crocs. This is Ara­fura Swamp, a vast wet­land cul­tur­ally sa­cred to lo­cal Indige­nous peo­ple. Out­back Spirit has built a stun­ning sa­fari camp here, at a place called Mur­wangi. Over­look­ing a tran­quil la­goon, it’s exclusive to Out­back Spirit guests and barely makes a foot­print on the pris­tine land­scape.

Tro­phy Fish­ing

The wild Tomkin­son and Liver­pool rivers are brim­ming with bar­ra­mundi, long­tail tuna and giant trevally – the prizes of Aus­tralian fish­ing. Out­back Spirit has unique li­cences and per­mis­sion from tra­di­tional own­ers to fish these rivers; you can’t just turn up and cast a line. From a state-of-the-art Ocean Master boat, try your hand then have the chef back at the aptly named Bar­ra­mundi Lodge cook up your catch. Fish­ing not your thing? The cruise out is still an ex­traor­di­nary jour­ney into na­ture.

An­cient Rock Art

The cave walls whis­per at Mount Bor­radaile. In­side some of the best-pre­served rock-art gal­leries in Aus­tralia, fan­tas­ti­cally bright scenes tell tales of first con­tact with Europeans. A six-me­tre, ochre-coloured rain­bow ser­pent snakes across one sand­stone roof – he’s been here for thousands of years. At the Ma­jor Art “gallery”, hand­prints still vivid in yel­low and red speak of the peo­ple who give this place a pow­er­ful sense of spirit. In cul­tural cen­tres vis­ited on the 13-day jour­ney, you’ll see how Indige­nous art lives on.

Sea and Sa­fari

In one of the least in­hab­ited spots on Earth, on the Cobourg Penin­sula, sits Seven Spirit Bay Wilder­ness Lodge. From this lux­u­ri­ously trop­i­cal, palm-shaded haven over­look­ing Coral Bay, sail into the wa­ters of Garig Gu­nak Barlu Na­tional Park, where dol­phins and dugongs swim with croc­o­diles, then visit his­toric Vic­to­ria Set­tle­ment at Port Ess­ing­ton. Next, join a nat­u­ral­ist guide on an open-back 4WD to visit sur­round­ing bush­land and ex­traor­di­nary nypa palms. “It’s a sur­real spot – red out­back meets turquoise coast,” says El­lis. Magic.

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Ali­son Bergner and Tris­tan Mor­ri­son used to think “lo­cal” meant “from Aus­tralia”. The cou­ple from Wol­lon­gong, south of Syd­ney, had their eyes opened dur­ing a hol­i­day in Tas­ma­nia, which in­spired them to make the jump across the ditch to start up Bry­her (bry­her­food.com), a li­censed café. Named af­ter an is­land off the coast of Corn­wall on which they lived and worked, Bry­her strives to use prod­ucts so lo­cal you can al­most see them growing, in­clud­ing toma­toes from Tas­ma­nian Nat­u­ral Gar­lic & Toma­toes, herbs from Thirl­stane Gar­dens and sour­dough from Apiece. Most of the menu moves with the sea­sons (“Some­times we may have just a few serves of some­thing in­ter­est­ing that we found at the Har­vest mar­ket,” says Mor­ri­son) but nostal­gic favourites such as boiled eggs with sol­diers and cheesy rarebit are per­ma­nent fix­tures. cliffs along the South Esk River from the King’s Bridge in West Launce­s­ton. The one-kilo­me­tre track starts near Still­wa­ter so fill your­self with a slow-cooked pork and kim­chi break­fast omelette be­fore you set off.

Parts of the gorge can feel like a retro ski re­sort in the off-sea­son – or Keller­man’s from Dirty Danc­ing if you squint hard enough – thanks to the tow­er­ing pines and the chair­lift silently drift­ing over­head. Stroll through the Cliff Grounds, keep­ing an eye out for pea­cocks and pademel­ons milling about be­tween the rhodo­den­drons and giant se­quoias, and over the Alexan­dra Sus­pen­sion Bridge to the lawns be­side the 50-me­tre swim­ming pool – the per­fect place to pic­nic. For the en­er­getic, the Zig Zag Track takes you to the clifftops for spec­tac­u­lar views.

STEP BACK IN TIME

If there’s room in your suit­case for sou­venirs of the non-ed­i­ble kind, call into Vin­tage Red Fox (64 Ta­mar Street; 0400 468 419), op­po­site City Park, to browse this trea­sure-trove of fash­ion, jew­ellery and an­tiques. It’s like walk­ing into your grand­mother’s boudoir – if your nanna was El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor or Jean Har­low. Pos­si­ble finds at the store are beaded evening gowns, qual­ity wool­lens, leather goods and ac­ces­sories sourced from all over the world. There used to be an ad­join­ing café that sold the city’s best lum­ber­jack cake but owner Tanya Chantler has closed it to fo­cus her en­er­gies on the an­tiques busi­ness. But you can still en­joy a take­away brew while brows­ing. “I’ve re­tained the ma­chine to sell cof­fee – and sat­isfy my own ad­dic­tion,” says Chantler.

EN­JOY THE HIGH LIFE

His­toric Highfield House (high­field­house­bandb.com.au) is up a hill (what isn’t in Launce­s­ton?) but oth­er­wise it’s one of the most con­ve­nient (and pretty) places to base your­self. Set in man­i­cured gar­dens and with bal­conies edged in me­tal lace­work, this stately circa 1860 man­sion has six suites that of­fer a glimpse into the city’s past. Tra­di­tional de­tails – in­clud­ing wide-board tim­ber floors, orig­i­nal ceil­ing roses and cast-iron fire­places – mix well with mod­ern up­dates such as cowhide rugs and pot­ted plants. For break­fast, a con­ti­nen­tal spread of fresh fruit, bread, crois­sants, eggs, cheeses and ce­re­als (in­clud­ing gluten­free), cof­fee and tea is served on sil­ver plat­ters and cake stands in the din­ing room or sunny court­yard.

(Clock­wise from top) Ali­son Bergner and Tris­tan Mor­ri­son of Bry­her; re­lax at Highfield House; hunt for trea­sures at Vin­tage Red Fox

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