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.
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.