Travel: Destination Australia - Getting That Snap Happy; Feeling in the Wondrous Outback There's an Abundance of Adventure and Stunning Scenery in Australia's Northern Territory. MARTIN KEENE Reports

The News Letter (Belfast, Northern Ireland), March 28, 2002 | Go to article overview

Travel: Destination Australia - Getting That Snap Happy; Feeling in the Wondrous Outback There's an Abundance of Adventure and Stunning Scenery in Australia's Northern Territory. MARTIN KEENE Reports


Byline: MARTIN KEENE

IT may be more than 14 years, two sequels and countless repeats since Linda Kozlowski listened, eyes agog, to the exploits of Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee, but the third star of Australia's most popular film is still playing to a discerning audience in the Northern Territory.

The Kakadu National Park - listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site - is nature in the raw, with vast wetlands, lush monsoon forests, towering sandstone escarpments and a bewildering array of wildlife.

Almost the size of East Anglia, and within easy reach of Darwin, it is aboriginal land and visited by 200,000 people a year. There are a handful of hotels - but most visitors use a camper van or pitch a tent.

Once hunted nearly to extinction, crocodiles are part of the lure of the Northern Territory. There are two sorts, the smaller freshwater ones, which have narrow snouts and are harmless to humans, and the larger saltwater crocodiles, which are to be taken very seriously. They sit quite comfortably at the top of the food chain and are happy to eat, well, just about anything, including people, and the signs near rivers and billabongs warning of the dangers are not tourist souvenirs and should not be ignored.

There's plenty of chance to see crocodiles looking for breakfast on the regular dawn cruise on the Yellow Water Billabong. And there's a lot to spot above the water - sea eagles, kingfishers, the Jabiru stork, paper bark trees, as well as anglers in aluminium boats in search of the much-prized barramundi.

Elsewhere in the park, there is some well-preserved aboriginal art on sacred sites that were first used more than 50,000 years ago. The most easily accessible are at Ubirr and Nourlangie.

From Darwin, the Stuart Highway runs south to Alice Springs and on to Adelaide. Passing through the heart of the outback, it stretches from the horizon behind to the one in front - it's fast, flat and very empty.

The most frequent users are road trains - lorries with three or four trailers carrying fuel, goods and animals to Darwin and to the remote settlements far off the beaten track.

There are roadhouses every couple of hours with fuel, food and accommodation. But venture off this road and there may be no filling stations for 300 miles, along desert tracks that are suitable only for four-wheel-drive vehicles - and then only for part of the year.

The Nitmiluk National Park is home to the Katherine Gorge - a stunning geological fault running through the Arnhem Plateau with a sequence of 13 gorges separated by rapids.

Canoeing and boat tours along the gorge are a joint venture between a local travel operator, Travel North (http://www.travelnorth.com.au) and the gorge's traditional owners, the Jawoyn Aboriginal People.

Like everywhere else in Australia, the gorge is totally free of graffiti, vandalism and litter. …

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Travel: Destination Australia - Getting That Snap Happy; Feeling in the Wondrous Outback There's an Abundance of Adventure and Stunning Scenery in Australia's Northern Territory. MARTIN KEENE Reports
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