INTO THE FAR AND WILD
Contributing editor Christine McCabe presents finalists in three more categories in TheAustralian’s 2007 Travel & Tourism Awards
BEST ECO/WILDERNESS EXPERIENCE
ABCDLarapintaEMariaBamurru Plains, Northern Territory: This smart African-style bush camp has set pulses racing among the safari set. Located on the western edge of Kakadu National Park, three hours’ drive from Darwin, Bamurru offers a wild bush luxury hitherto unknown in the Top End. Nine raised safari suites nestle among savanna bush fringing the wildlife-rich Mary River flood plains. There’s no one within cooee — other than buffalo, crocodiles and magpie geese — but service is top notch and the food first class. The flood plains represent one of our richest ecosystems and guests have ample opportunity to drop a line, birdwatch, explore by four-wheel-drive vehicle or airboat, even witness the property’s thrilling buffalo muster, then cool off in Bamurru’s infinity pool. www.bamurruplains.com Bay of Fires walk, Tasmania: Joint winner, with its associated Cradle Mountain Huts Walk, of TheAustralian’s 2005 award in this category, this four-day guided traverse is one of the most spectacular in the country. Tracking ravishing white-sand beaches and wildlife-rich woodland, the Bay of Fires walk includes a stay in a beach camp and accommodation at a stylish eco-friendly lodge perched above the pounding sea and the only building to be found in this remote wilderness setting at the edge of Mt William National Park. The relaxed schedule allows ample time for snorkelling, kayaking or kicking back with a glass of Tasmanian wine. www.bayoffires.com.au Bullo River Station, Northern Territory: Made famous by Sara Henderson, Bullo River Station is run by daughter Marlee and her Austrian-born husband Franz Ranacher. Set near the West Australian border and accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicle or air charter, Bullo is dotted with boab trees and rich with wildlife (migratory birds, buffalo, dingoes and crocodiles). Guests are housed in 12 simply furnished rooms but have the run of the main homestead and swimming pool. Meals are informal (expect barramundi and organic beef) and activities are tailored to suit guests’ needs, from fishing and horse riding to touring rock art sites and observing wildlife. www.bulloriver.com
Trail, Northern Territory: Running 232km from the west of Alice Springs to Mt Sonder (Rwetyepme), tracking the dramatic West MacDonnell Ranges, the Larapinta Trail offers visitors to Australia’s Red Centre an unparalleled opportunity to explore this hauntingly beautiful landscape. Crossing a variety of terrain from craggy ridge lines to sheltered gorges, the trail links popular visitor attractions and can be easily divided into one or two-day sections. While some areas of the trail are suitable for novice bushwalkers, others are remote and should be tackled only by fit, experienced trampers. Several operators, including World Expeditions, offer guided treks along the trail.
www.nt.gov.au/nreta/parks/walks/ larapinta Island Walk, Tasmania: This deservedly popular four-day walk combines the benefits of small-group trekking with a degree of comfort — light packs and stand-out food and wine— that make it the perfect soft eco-adventure. With no more than eight trekkers (and two guides), the group crosses the deserted beaches,
FVoyagesAspectacular coastal paths and forest hinterland cuffing this beautiful island. Trekkers are accommodated in beachfront wilderness camps and the rather grander surrounds of Bernacchi House, where a glass of wine proves a very fine way to end a day exploring Maria Island. www.mariaislandwalk.com.au
Wilson Island, Queensland: Last year’s winner in this category, this beguiling Great Barrier Reef coral cay couldn’t be more travel-poster perfect. With talcum sands and clear waters so rich in marine life you can snorkel from the beach, this eco-certified resort caters to only 12 guests and is located 15km from Voyages Heron Island (daily launch transfers connect the two). Accommodation takes the form of up-market tents with king beds and private verandas enjoying reef and ocean views; solar power provides hot showers and communal meals are taken in the elegant Longhouse.
BEST ADVENTURE TOUR OPERATOR
Aurora Expeditions: Co-founded by mountaineer Greg Mortimer, this familyowned and operated company has established a global reputation for the quality of its expedition-style cruises. This status is due in large part to Aurora’s commitment to the environment and its policy of employing highly qualified staff, including naturalists, historians and earth scientists. Mortimer and
BBalloonCIntrepidcompany co-owner Margaret Werner have accumulated more than three decades of mountaineering and polar travel experience. www.auroraexpeditions.com.au
Aloft, Hunter Valley, NSW: In 1980 Balloon Aloft inaugurated its hot-air ballooning adventures in the picturesque Hunter Valley. Since then the company has gone on to operate from locations in several states and last year was named winner of this hotly contested category. In the Hunter, sunrise flights operate daily (launch sites vary and are dictated by prevailing weather conditions) with the option of a full breakfast at an acclaimed valley restaurant. The fourhour adventure can be expanded to include a range of accommodation packages incorporating wine touring and golf. www.balloonaloft.com Travel: Founded in 1989 with a small portfolio of off-the-beaten track adventures in Asia, the award-winning Intrepid today offers small-group adventures across the world. The road less travelled ethos remains but travellers now choose from trip styles to suit every budget and level of comfort, from small-group adventures and low-cost backpacker journeys to bespoke itineraries. In Australia the company offers tours in Queensland, the Red Centre, Top End, Tasmania, the Kimberley and outback South Australia.
DLord’sEWildernessKakadu and Arnhemland Safaris, Northern Territory: The Lord family has been operating tours of the Top End for more than 16 years and today offers a series of daytrips in air-conditioned fourwheel-drive vehicles escorted by Aboriginal guides. Extended tailor-made tours of Kakadu, Arnhem Land and the Kimberley are also available using a range of accommodation from camping to up-market lodges including Bamurru Plains safari camp. Lord’s is one of a handful of operators granted access to Arnhem Land by traditional owners and the company provides employment to Aborigines in their homelands during the dry season. www.lords-safaris.com Australia: Founded by former Cathay Pacific Airways executive Charles Carlow, Wilderness Australia specialises in tailored safaris using some of Australia’s best hosted accommodation in some of our most beautiful and out-of-theway locations. Lodges, bush camps and outback homesteads are matched with private touring featuring local specialist guides and an array of options, from luxury city stays to scenic flights and charter boat tours. Suggested pre-set itineraries are available but the company’s acknowledged strength lies with organising bespoke programs.
FWorldExpeditions: This world-leading adventure outfit may have its roots in the Himalayas where, in 1975, it became one of the first companies to make trekking available to non-mountaineers, but today its portfolio includes adventure holidays on all continents. From introductory trekking to full-blown mountaineering, and everything in between (cycling, kayaking, cruising, even culinary touring), World Expeditions continues its role as a leading travel innovator. The company’s Community Project program allows travellers to combine a holiday with volunteer work in a range of needy communities.
ABEST INDIGENOUS TOURISM EXPERIENCE
Anangu Waai!, Uluru, Northern Territory: Last year’s winner in this category, this acclaimed company is operated by the traditional owners of Uluru National Park and offers visitors a unique insight into local Aboriginal culture and the importance of the rock in their everyday lives. The company’s selection of tours covers a smorgasbord of activities, from sunset viewings and instruction in the region’s famous dot painting to weapon making, camel trekking and creation stories.
BIgaCKepaDKooljamanWarta, Flinders Ranges, South Australia: Situated in the northern Flinders Ranges, the Aboriginal owned, managed and staffed Iga Warta (place of the native orange tree) introduces visitors to one of Australia’s most striking environments and elements of the local Adnyamathanha culture through day tours, guided walks and overnight camps. Guide Cliff Coulthard, one of South Australia’s first Aboriginal rangers, helps interpret traditional rock art dating back 35,000 years and instructs in elements of bush tucker and bush medicine. www.igawarta.com
Kurl Eco Discovery Tours, Esperance, Western Australia: Kepa (water) kurl (boomerang) is the indigenous name for the town of Esperance and a Kepa Kurl Eco Discovery four-wheel-drive tour enables visitors to enjoy the pristine beaches of this region with a traditional Noongar owner. Explore the rugged coastline and famous Wave Rock together with some of Australia’s southernmost rock art. Dreamtime stories, bush tucker and an understanding of traditional hunting and gathering techniques are explained during the course of a day. Finish with a visit to the wonderful Aboriginal art gallery and gift shop located in Esperance’s Museum Village. www.kepakurl.com.au at Cape Leveque, Western Australia: This remote Aboriginalowned wilderness camp, more than 200km north of Broome on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula, provides a rare opportunity to explore a beautiful, little-known corner of Australia. Accommodation caters to all tastes from Robinson Crusoe-style beach shelters with sand floors and palm-frond ceilings to comfortable safari tents complete with ensuites, large verandas with ocean views and fully equipped kitchens. (There is also a resort restaurant.) Fishing, swimming and snorkelling are all on the agenda; there’s also the option to join a fantastic day-long boat tour operated by a local Aboriginal family. www.kooljaman.com.au
Tours, Northern Territory: This Aboriginal-owned company, operating on Bathurst Island, conducts culturally based, day-long and extended tours led by local guides, providing visitors with an opportunity to learn firsthand about the lives of the Tiwi. Day tours feature time with a range of artists (and the opportunity to buy at island prices), billy tea and damper with the famous Tiwi morning tea ladies and a visit to one of several bush burial sites notable for their striking carved pukamani poles. The day tour includes lunch and a dip in a waterhole. Or camp overnight and join in a traditional hunting and gathering expedition. www.tiwitours.com.au
Aboriginal Cultural Park, Cairns, Queensland: At Caravonica, north of Cairns, the Tjapukai Cultural Park is Australia’s best-known indigenous attraction, offering insights into the culture of the rainforest people of northern Queensland. Beginning life two decades ago as a dance troupe performing in the basement of a shopping centre, Tjapukai is today a sophisticated attraction featuring seven arenas, including the Creation theatre, original dance theatre and an interactive camp village where visitors can try their hand at skills, such as didgeridoo playing.
www.tjapukai.com.au Next week: Best Heritage Tourism, Best Food Experience, Best Winery Restaurant
On the right track: Clockwise from top left, Kooljaman; Bay of Fires walk; Arnhem Land safari; Balloon Aloft; Voyages Wilson Island; Aboriginal dancers at Tjapukai