Turn the June holidays into an Outback adventure, discover the wild side of Australia's Northern Territory
Mark Malby, email@example.com
With school holidays fast approaching, many parents may be scratching their heads right now, wondering where to go. Depending on the size and age of your posse, there will be the usual destinations: The grandparents in Malacca, kid-friendly resorts in Bintan or Phuket, and for the more flush, perhaps Disneyland in Hong Kong, Tokyo, or Anaheim. It's the "safe" and mostly familiar destinations that grab the lion's share, but if you're up for something more offbeat, step off the well-worn track.
Australia's Tropical North
A Jabiru stork at sunset
What's a family vacation without a little adventure, and Australia's northern Outback offers it in droves. From man-eating crocodiles to 20,000 year old rock art to termite mounds 6m tall, the vast green stretches of Kakadu are the extreme opposite of any theme park.
As the gateway to this wilderness, Darwin itself is a surprisingly family-friendly place. No rough-housing frontier town is this — but a pleasant, mid-sized Australian city with an easy charm and a surprising array of attractions. Even within the city limits, you'll still come across exotica such as chortling cockatoos, night-time possums, and — in the wet season — the odd crocodile in a swimming pool.
One must-see, especially for the kids, is Aquascene, where once a day masses of hungry fish ride in from sea on the incoming tide. Spectators toss bread and wade into the churning waters for a spectacle that's part Underwater World and part feeding frenzy. Nearby Doctor's Gully also offers a primeval forest home to a squawking colony of fruit bats.
For a more intense feeding experience, catch the live crocodile shows at Crocodylus Park. "Salties", as they're fondly called, are among the world's most ferocious predators — a fact that's sure not to be lost on the kids. At the Darwin Museum, they can gawk over the stuffed remains of 'Sweetheart' (a 5.4 m crocodile), who gained fame during life by trying to eat the motors off local fishing boats.
In addition to wildlife, beaches, lawn bowling, and sailing, Darwin boasts a lively arts scene. There are local theatre productions, and the memorable Darwin Deckchair Cinema offers a chance to watch movies under the stars. With the kids asleep, mum and dad can even slip off to the MGM Grand Casino, or one of the many local pubs and clubs.
Join an adventure tour in Kakadu and try to spot a kookabura.
No trip to Darwin is complete without a visit to Kakadu National Park. With young kids, a day-trip might suffice. But the best way to explore the park's highlights is over a few leisurely days, either staying at park lodges or — for the more intrepid — camping.
Wilderness camping is not for the uninitiated, however. One excellent option is a guided camping tour through one of the 'adventure companies' based in Darwin. Not only will you see the best of Kakadu at economical prices, it will give your children the chance to wake up in a tent, swim in waterfalls, tend campfires and sample some exotic local fare. Kangaroo, crocodile, or camel steaks, anyone?
Slipping south of Darwin, one of the first features you'll notice are nature's highrises — the giant Cathedral termite mounds which can soar three times human height. This is just the beginning of Kakadu's striking landscapes, which range from the tablelands of Nawurlandja Lookout to the 200m waterfall of Jim Jim Falls.
Even in the dry season, there's plenty of water around — and the rivers and billabongs make focal points for the park's wildlife. Birds abound — so bring some binoculars and an Aussie bird book, and compete with your children on who can sight the most. It's also worth visiting the Aboriginal rock paintings at Nourlangie, which are far older than the pyramids.
The advantage of staying in the park is that you get to see Kakadu at all times of day. A sunset Yellow Water Walk, for instance offers some spectacular wildlife views — including the strangely prehistoric Jabiru stork. If it's crocodiles you're looking for, then try an afternoon's boating on the Adelaide River. You're almost guaranteed to see a few of the deceptively sluggish reptiles on the shore. Remember not to let your kids trail their hands in the water!
With wildlife and adventures, chances are, a trip to Darwin and Kakadu will linger in your children's memories more than another beach vacation or meeting Mickey Mouse.
From TODAY, Traveller – Thursday, 28-May-2009