Gapyear.com writer Dave Owen has just returned from an epic trip to Australia’s Northern Territory, home to some of the country’s most astounding natural sights. While there he took a 5-day adventure tour around the ‘Top End’ with Wayoutback, a tour company that specialises in unique, small group tours into the Australian Outback.
Along the way he experienced some incredible highlights, like swimming under Jim Jim Falls, watching the sun set from Ubirr Rock, and spotting wild saltwater crocodiles on a river cruise in Kakadu National Park.
I caught up with Dave to ask him a few questions about his trip.
Welcome back, Dave! Tell us your first impressions of the Outback.
It was clear straight away that I had never been anywhere else like it. After driving half an hour out from Darwin (capital city of the Northern Territory) it already felt really remote and wild. Flat plains of trees flanked the road and seemed to stretch forever. It was dry season, so you could see the scorch marks and blackened vegetation where they’d performed controlled burns to prevent wildfires. The whole journey down there the guide was pointing out all this amazing wildlife: cockatoos, hawks, termites, wild horses. I knew straight away this was going to be a real adventure.
And how about your tour group and guide, what were they like?
It was a real mix of people, all different ages and backgrounds. I expected most of the group would be backpackers from the UK, but there were people from the Netherlands and Ireland, plenty of Aussies. It worked well to have a diverse group, including friends, couples, and solo travellers. Everybody got along really well.
Our guide was absolutely brilliant. She wasn’t just knowledgeable about everything, she was really keen to share everything she knew, whether it was indigenous Dreamtime stories or facts about termites. That knowledge also meant she knew all the best spots and when to get there to make sure they weren’t too crowded. She also looked after us really well, cooking our meals and helping people get to the harder-to-reach places.
What was your favourite part of the trip?
We were there at the end of the dry season, so we were in Kakadu National Park for the first storm of the season. The whole group had climbed to the top of Ubirr to watch the sunset. In front of us was this amazing view of the sun slipping behind the horizon, and at the same time a storm began to roll in across the park, lightning flashing in the distance. We stayed up there until it was nearly dark, watching it for as long as we could, before running back to the bus. As we drove back to camp the storm hit us: lightning flashing everywhere, rain lashing the windscreen, the hot road pouring with steam. It was absolutely incredible, and really showed how wild this place remains.
Sounds amazing! Any other highlights?
So many! Kakadu is absolutely packed with amazing natural sights. I loved climbing the rocky path into Jim Jim Falls and swimming in the pool there – it felt so hidden away. I also loved the Yellow Water Boat Cruise, spotting wild saltwater crocodiles just a few feet from the boat. They’re bloody massive!
Katherine Gorge was absolutely beautiful, especially at sunrise, and I also loved the Top Didj Cultural Experience. It was interesting to speak to an indigenous person, learn about his culture, and also have a go at some traditional indigenous art and spear hunting. Unfortunately I was total rubbish at both, I’m pretty sure I would die in the bush.
Awesome. So what type of person is this trip best for?
I think it’s for anybody who wants a taste of the real Australia. If you’re quite an adventurous person who’s interested in nature and not looking to spend your time relaxing on a beach (there are better places in Australia for that!), this is the trip for you. It’s also for people who are interested in the traditions of the indigenous people, as you visit some really important sites and get to learn loads about it.
It’s also perfect for anybody who’s quite short on time, as it packs so much into just five days. There were several people on the tour who had just taken some time off work to be there, and were going back as soon as it was over.
Any special tips for someone thinking of doing this experience?
My main advice would be to embrace the fact that it’s an adventure tour and not a luxury tour. You’re staying in permanent camps (more like glamping), and they get you up early most days to make sure you get to the sights before they’re crowded. There’s also a lot of driving, but it’s totally worth it.
Make sure you bring a big water bottle that you can refill along the way, a torch so you can get to the toilet in the camps without falling over, and a small towel you can take out with you to all the swimming holes and waterfalls.
Finally, what would you say to the parents of people who are considering this trip?
My mum was worried about crocodiles and snakes and spiders. The Northern Territory has a lot of them! We did see a lot of crocodiles, but there are warning signs everywhere and the guide was always making sure we were being safe. I only saw two snakes, both while I was on the bus, and I didn’t see any dangerous spiders at all.
The guide was determined to look after everybody, whether it was dealing with cuts and bruises or making sure any dietary requirements were met. It was very safe.