One size fits all in Australia

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Australia accommodates everyone’s idea of a perfect holiday -from four-year-olds to grannies, reports Pippa Jacks

Three milestone birthdays seemed a good enough reason for three generations of one British family to make a long-awaited antipodean journey together.

With his mother Annette turning 60 just a week before his own 40th birthday, and his partner Livia about to hit 30, musician and publisher Jarvis Smith planned a multi-generational, three-week tour of the Northern Territory and Queensland. Also joining the party was four-year-old daughter Sophia, her maternal grandmother Gill, and Livia’s sister Millie.

Admitting that the trip was ambitious and mindful of its environmental impact, Jarvis explains: “Because of the long-haul flights, we were keen to see as much as possible. Above all it was the Aboriginal significance of the Northern Territory and the ecological importance of the Great Barrier Reef that excited us. There could be no more memorable way to mark our birthdays than by sharing these experiences.”

The Top End
The first leg of Jarvis’s family odyssey was a flight from London via Singapore to Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory. This is only half the size of neighbouring Western Australia, yet is still so vast that Spain, Italy and France would all fit comfortably inside it.

Two very different regions, the tropical Top End and the arid Red Centre, encompass some of Australia’s greatest biodiversity, much of which is well looked after within the territory’s 24 national parks and 73 nature reserves.

Historic Darwin was the perfect starting point to explore the Top End, including the forests and wetlands of Kakadu and Arnhem Land, and the gorges and rivers of the Katherine region. With a population of just 120,000 and a laid-back, multicultural atmosphere, the Smith party found Darwin the ideal place to unwind after a long flight.

The city’s natural harbour is even larger than Sydney’s, edged with marinas and bays where the family enjoyed freshly caught barramundi and soft-shell mud crab at Jarvis’s 40th and Annette’s 60th joint birthday lunch. “I tried the succulent Moreton bay bugs, which tasted rather like lobster. It was the best seafood I’ve ever had,” enthuses Livia.
Darwin’s beaches are off-limits for swimming due to saltwater crocodiles and jellyfish, but regeneration of a former industrial site has created a man-made lagoon and wave pool where the family could swim. A big hit with Sophia was Aquascene in Doctors Gully, where for a few dollars visitors can hand-feed hundreds of milkfish, catfish and bream at high tide.

Djilpin art dancer, Darwin Festival

The Smiths were fortunate to be in town for the annual August Darwin Festival, 18 days of art, music and comedy. Another highlight was Mindil beach sunset market (every Thursday and Sunday between April and October), where they joined hundreds lured to the beach by entertainers and delicious food stalls.

From Darwin, the family set off to find the wilder side of the Top End, driving 250km east to tropical Kakadu national park in a six-berth Maui camper van. With five adults and a small child in one van, Annette admits they had to be super tidy and considerate during their four nights on the road: “We grandmothers had to top and tail to make more space in our bed, but it was great fun.”

Jarvis advises hiring from Maui or sister company Britz, both of which take their environmental responsibilities seriously. They encourage customers to volunteer on an environmental project during their holiday, and Maui claims to have the most fuel-efficient fleet on the road. Customers are asked to stay only five nights in any one place; to leave areas as clean, or cleaner, than they found them; and to dispose of all rubbish and drainage liquids appropriately. Jarvis chose eco-certified campgrounds listed on the Northern Territory tourist board website where possible: “Many used solar power and had very advanced recycling facilities to minimise their impact.”

The family was frequently joined at dinner by the wallabies and wallaroos that bound around the national park. They went bushwalking and on a billabong cruise to try to spot some of the other 66 mammals, 120 reptiles and 290 birds that make Kakadu their home.

Nourlangie Rock Kakadu

The Northern Territory is ‘Crocodile Dundee country’: it has around 150,000 saltwater crocs and 100,000 freshwater ones, making a ratio of almost one crocodile to every human. It was on a cruise on Yellow Water billabong in Kakadu that Sophia saw the freshwater version of her favourite animal up close: “A really, really big crocodile, he had very rough skin and I watched him eat his lunch.”

At sites such as Nanguluwur and Nourlangie they marvelled at Aboriginal rock paintings depicting creation stories dating back as far as 20,000 years; at Bowali cultural centre and Warradjan Aboriginal cultural centre they learnt more about the indigenous people who have lived in Kakadu for 50,000 years.

A short drive south from Kakadu to Nitmiluk national park brought the group to the spectacular Katherine gorge, formed from not one but 13 gorges, carved into the sandstone by the Katherine river over a billion years. The family joined a breakfast cruise to explore the rockpools, waterfalls and sandy beaches hidden in the gorge’s shadow, with a guide pointing out the canyon’s flora and fauna along the way. “The wildlife was incredible. I saw five different species of kingfisher in one morning,” says Jarvis. “Before the tour, I wouldn’t have been able to distinguish one from another.”

 

To read more about the Jarvis’s Australian adventure, be sure to log onto CD-Traveller this Thursday (May 17)!

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