“Journeying here is about cruising the outback’s savannahs, wetlands, and escarpments, all filled with abundant wildlife.”
We fly on a Cessna over Australia’s largest national park, and, beneath us, crocodiles scuttle into the East Alligator River with nothing on the horizon. From the sky, I observe the vastness of Kakadu’s wilderness, and I am once again fascinated by Australia’s magnitude.
I am travelling across Australia’s remote Northern Territory, which lies in the central north area of the country between Western Australia and Queensland. It is the third-largest Australian federal division, yet the least populated, and houses the country’s highest proportion of Aboriginal people.
We get off the Cessna and head back to the red-dirt tracks of Kakadu’s wild outback, driving 200km from Darwin in a 4WD and camping along the way on the top of our car. Journeying here is about cruising the outback’s savannahs, wetlands, and escarpments, all filled with abundant wildlife. We drive through the old Jim Jim road, hike up to Gunlom waterfalls, and continue towards the Twin falls—an extraordinary gorge on the South Alligator River.
Among these dramatic views is one of the world’s longest- surviving cultural landscapes, which dates back more than 60,000 years. There is a shift in the scenery as we head further east on the Arnhem Highway, and observe the wetlands, floodplains, and savannah woodlands hand over the baton to the “stone country”. Some of Australia’s most important indigenous artworks on rocks and in caves as ancient as 25,000 years old have been found and preserved within this part of Kakadu National Park, which is precisely why Kakadu has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage since 1981.
There is so much more beyond Kakadu. Our trip to the Northern Territory had also been motivated by a deep desire to see Uluru, previously named by colonists as Ayers Rock, which is the sandstone monolith sacred to the Aborigines. We fly once more: this time to the heart of the Territory to see a giant rock rising improbably from the desert of Uluru- Kata Tjuta National Park. Surrounded by the world’s biggest collection of nothingness, Uluru is 335km southwest of Alice Springs—the only town of note in the interior, and over a thousand miles off the usual coastal tourist route. It’s a long way to go for one rock.
As it turns out, it’s much more than a rock. Our guide from Longitude 131°, the superb hotel where we stay, explains that Uluru is a collection of different sites related to the journeys of the ancestors. I watch Uluru, also a UNESCO World Heritage site, and Kata Tjuta from different perspectives during a sunrise hike around it and during a sunset helicopter flight. It’s immediately clear to me why these massive rocks hold such profound significance to the Pitjantjatjara Anangu, the Aboriginal people of the area.
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This story appears in the February 2020 issue of Indonesia Tatler. For the full story, grab the copy at your nearest newsstand, or subscribe here.
Photographed by: Max Haensel