A Top-End Juxtaposition of Wilderness and Luxury
With thousands of acres of untouched bush, mangrove, and jungle behind it and gorgeous waters and deserted beaches in front, this exceptional wilderness habitat is located in northern Australia’s “lop End” within the 50,000-year-old homeland of some of the last Aboriginal tribes still leading a traditional life.
Vast tracts of their land have been leased to the state to be managed as Gurig National Park, except for this resort and the land that surrounds it on the tip of the Coburg Peninsula, a finger of land pointing north toward Indonesia.
Accessible only by air, this remote pocket of comfort and civilization demonstrates an environmental sensitivity everywhere—the simple buildings, for example, are made of natural materials. Resident guides take guests fishing, and on bush walks and coastal tours. Or take a predawn hike to celebrate something as simple and magical as a sunrise.
Seven Spirit Bay takes its name from the cycle of seven seasons in northern Australian Aboriginal tradition: lightning, thundering, rainmaking, greening, wind storming, fire raging, and cloudless blue. If you’re lucky, every day will be cloudless blue.
Over the Top Down Under
On the world radar of superior wilderness areas, the 8,000-square-mile Kakadu National Park is a small but significant blip, still remote and little known despite its use as the outback location for Crocodile Dundee.
For now, its frontier freshness remains intact, and the resident population of 15-foot “saltie” and “freshie” crocodiles (the latter unique to these parts) still laze undisturbed in the shallows of the pristine river and marshland ecosystem.
In 1981 Kakadu received the rare double honor of being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its natural wonders as well as for the 5,000 rock paintings that grace its sandstone caves—“the greatest body of rock art in the world,” according to the local museum.
The paintings can be classified into three distinct periods of Aboriginal history, and date back from 30 to more than 25,000 years. Ubirr, 27 miles north of park headquarters, is one of the most visited outcrops; in its cavelike “galleries,” images record life from the Stone Age to the 20th century.
Over the Top: Hunting and Gathering
All but unknown to the outside world, Bathurst and its sister island, Melville, are the ancestral home of Australia’s Tiwi Aborigines and provide the most fascinating cultural experience Australia has to offer.
Tiwi means “chosen people,” and for 40,000 years this culture developed separately from other Aboriginal groups, escaping the colonization suffered by those on the continent just 50 miles away—even the early Catholic missionaries were culturally lenient, allowing many Tiwi beliefs to coexist with the newly imposed religion.
Today, non-Tiwi can visit the islands only as part of Tiwi-owned and-operated tours. Local guides assist in total immersion: four-wheel-drive forays into Bathurst bushland in search of traditional “tucker” for lunch may turn up bandicoot, wallaby, some nice carpet snake, or—why not?—mangrove worms.
After a rib-rattling jeep ride to the very edge of Australia, pull up on a magnificent beach facing the Timor Sea and Indonesia. The nearby Indonesian archipelago is reflected in the local textile crafts, with batik patterns still being created by local cooperatives.
Where the Oldest Living Rain Forest on Earth Meets the Great Barrier Reef
Two of Australia’s World Heritage sites, the Wet Tropics Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, come together at Cape Tribulation, so named in 1770 by a peeved Captain James Cook “because here began all my troubles” when his ship hit a coral bed.
Protected within the Cape Tribulation and Daintree National Parks and believed to have been the evolutionary cradle for much of Australia’s unique wildlife, the cape’s rain forest contains trees that are 3000 years old, and many can be traced back over 120 million years. Dinosaurs have disappeared, but little else seems to have changed.
To immerse yourself entirely in this jungle exotica, choose from two outstanding eco-tourism properties that comfortably coexist within miles of each other. Progressive forerunners in the design of environmental lodges, both Silky Oaks and Coconut Beach Lodge are swathed in their own private jungle. Naturalists on staff will point out the unique ecology’, and a concentration of flora and fauna species that has no parallel on earth.