TOP END AD­VEN­TURE

Camp­ing in the Kim­ber­ley dur­ing a trip from Broome to Dar­win in­volves sleep­ing in swags and swimming in pools at the end of gorges. Just watch out for crocs!

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - MOVIE REVIEWS -

IN the off sea­son he is a wran­gler at a crocodile farm but right now, our guide Dave is run­ning over the rocks through a Kim­ber­ley gorge in his bare feet. He points to the plants and flow­ers that would help us sur­vive in the wild – as food and pharmacy – and oth­ers than can be used as sand­pa­per or kin­dling to stoke a fire.

On our trek along the leg­endary Gibb River Rd, he has picked up snakes from the road and moved them out of the way of trucks. And along river­banks, he knows where the fresh­wa­ter croc­o­diles have made their nests and laid eggs so we can avoid them.

But the most amaz­ing thing about Dave McMa­hon, 27, is that he trained as a fine din­ing chef in an ear­lier life. We are not only the safest tour group up here but also the best fed.

It is un­der the shade of gi­ant boab trees and ghost gums that we camp our way across the Kim­ber­ley and into the Bun­gle Bun­gles from Broome on our way to Dar­win, sleep­ing in swags un­der mozzie nets and swimming in cool pools at the pointy-end of the gorges.

As dusk gath­ers, sun­sets are watched in awestruck si­lence from look­outs on top of rock for­ma­tions that have been here for 1.8 bil­lion years while black cock­a­toos and black kites fly above.

Then with just a fold-up ta­ble for a kitchen, a trailer that seems like a food Tardis (be­cause it never runs empty) and a camp fire as a stove, back at camp Dave cre­ates feasts of which Tus­can bar­ra­mundi on night num­ber one was only the first.

You can do the Kim­ber­ley almost with­out tast­ing the red dust th­ese days. It caters for the lux­ury trav­eller with es­tab­lished ac­com­mo­da­tion in sa­fari tents and cab­ins or home­steads and day trips to dip in and out of the gorges be­fore head­ing back to a real bed and hot show­ers. But you would never dis­cover the sur­pris­ing joy of sleep­ing in a swag un­der the bright­est stars and wak­ing up with the dawn cho­rus.

I wouldn’t have be­lieved it ei­ther – but we are sleep­ing nine hours a night or more and wak­ing up rested and re­laxed and un­both­ered by any nas­ties other than a snuf­fling around the camp­site one night that we put down to a cu­ri­ous wal­laby. Or a snorer from another tent...

As well as be­ing the safest and best-fed, we can also lay claim to be­ing prob­a­bly the small­est tour group do­ing the trek. There are five of us plus Dave. With no ve­hi­cles larger than a six-seater Landcruise­r, fam­ily company Ven­ture North can cater for tai­lor-made trips like ours.

The 11-day itin­er­ary was drawn up by my four fel­low trav­ellers, Bren­ton and Kaaren and Greg and Ruth, to­gether with Ven­ture North and then opened up to fill the fi­nal two seats. It was The Tai­lor, a South Aus­tralian-based company that tai­lors hol­i­days, who rec­om­mended Ven­ture North. Then I saw the trip ad­ver­tised on Ven­ture North’s web­site and here I am on an ad­ven­ture that in­vari­ably draws the com­ment from friends and col­leagues: “Oh, I would love to do that.” Do it!

The Kim­ber­ley is another world – peace­ful, slow and full of magic.

On the first night at Wind­jana Gorge, we count 33 fresh­wa­ter crocs, about twice as many as the num­ber of peo­ple camp­ing here for the night. It means the show­ers and toi­lets are almost empty.

George, one of the vol­un­teers with en­vi­able jobs of keep­ing an eye on the camp­sites and col­lect­ing the fees, is pack­ing up his trailer home the next day after his month-long stint is up.

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