On his latest adventure Scott McRae takes us to one of his favourite destinations – Australia’s ‘Top End’, the Northern Territory.
To me there is nothing more uniquely Australian than our outback. The red soils, the silent billabongs and gorges, the towering sandstone and granite canyons, the dusty roads that seem to have no end.
The distinctive wildlife that says ‘this is Australia’ is something else that appeals to my love of this particular area which personifies our great nation with an omnipresent connection – the NT.
I have been blessed to visit the Northern Teriitory on many occasions over the years and every visit has been decidedly different, making new, exciting discoveries and friendships on every sojourn. I have had a taste of the rich indigenous lifeline that is ever present in Kakadu and Arnhem Land. The raw beauty of its two World Heritage-listed National Parks. The engaging and vibrant melting pot of Darwin. And of course perhaps the NT’s most famous inhabitants, those awesome prehistoric beasts known as Crocodylus porosus. Seeing those beauties in their own habitat is wild and wondrous.
My most recent journey was again one with new experiences and a totally different tilt to it.
As part of my filming for A Taste of Travel I spent a couple of weeks being hosted by my very own Masterchef, but more importantly a born and bred, and very proud, Territorian.
Lynton Tapp is a Katherine boy with a big grin and a friendly, loving manner to match it. With the exposure he has gained from The Masterchef series and his unabashed love for his true home, he is now an ambassador for the NT and he embraces the charge with gusto.
Our mission was to engage in some of the distinctive tastes and adventures that the NT is famous for and have a lot of fun doing it … Sounds easy doesn’t it?
Our first adventure was with one of the newest operators in The Alice. Outback Cycling has settled nicely into town and is the second of its operations in the NT, with Uluru its other site. With the ever-present blue skies and its relatively flat terrain, cycling is such a great way to explore the city and its surrounds. You can hire a bike from the team and explore a choice of self-guided tour options, or you can hook up with your own personal guide and get some great insight into the history and culture from a knowledgeable local. Lynton knew plenty about the history but our guide came in very handy as this was his town. The highlight for me was discovering the original “Alice Springs”. Although now it’s dry as a bone in the sun, its the exact spot that the town was named for. The Old Telegraph station was also a bit of a treat, with many tales of early settlers overcoming all sorts of obstacles to achieve what was the only real form of overland communication, apart from someone on horse or camel!
When it came to a venue for dinner in The Alice, in fact anywhere in the NT over the next week or so, I was going to be guided by Lynton, as he not only has the connections but also the culinary knowledge that I was sure wouldn’t disappoint. Jimmy Shu’s Hunaman at The Doubletree Hilton was on top of his list, and the aroma that hit me in the face on arrival was absolutely intoxicating. Added to that, the combination of artifacts and atmosphere that the restaurant exuded – I could tell we were on a winner.
Lynton insisted on picking the eye out of the menu and it was nice to get a little running commentary on each dish from him as we devoured some of the tastiest, most innovative and authentic Asian I had ever savoured in this country.
The sensational signature Hunaman Oysters, Punjabi Lamb Cutlets, Green Chicken Curry, Eggplant Pachadi and Meen Moolie. Thai, Nonya and Tamil flavours that took me into a state of gastronomical bliss!
Kings Canyon was our next destination and with the road conditions well maintained it was an easy five and a half hour journey, with plenty of scenic visuals on the way. Kings Canyon Resort is realistically in the middle of nowhere, and close to being in the geographic middle of Australia too.
The resort itself is clean and comfortable and would probably be about a three-and-a-half star establishment, but it’s the canyon itself that delivers what this area is really about. And it is best to get in there on foot, doing one, or all, of the three walks. That’s the only way you can really understand the enormity of its 100 metre tall cliff walls and it’s Bungle Bungle-like bee hives. It’s unique and typically Australia. As real as it gets!
If you do stay overnight I suggest you indulge in another unique experience known as ‘Under a Desert Moon’. Lynton had promised me an indulgent dining experience under the stars and he didn’t disappoint. A five star menu under the Southern stars, surrounded by ghost gums, the crackle of an open fire and the distant howls of the drifting dingoes …
No crowds, no disruptions, just remarkably fresh local produce and equally delightful wines served up by friendly and attentive wait staff. A Michelin star experience without the regal pomp and ceremony.
An early start the next morning was called for before we set of for our next move to Katherine. Just down the road – remember, for outback folk this sometimes means hundreds of kms, but thankfully not today. Lynton was set to give me another unique NT experience with an early morning breaky ride on the back of a camel. Yes the ‘ships of the desert’ were an integral part of outback NT and still have a place today in tourism and for their meat. Years ago, with their Afghan cameleers, they were responsible for many major accomplishments in those pioneering years, and without them many major endeavours would ’t have been achieved.
Kings Creek Station was set up by Ian and Lyn Conway around 1981, and is a working cattle and camel station. Here you can engage in station life in many ways, and your mode of transport is typically outback also – quad bikes, camels or helicopter are available. I would have gone with the chopper but my host had other plans.
Lynton has done his time mustering on his family’s property and wanted me to get a taste of that ‘on ground’ experience, even though ‘on ground’ meant about eight feet above it! Still, it was really special. The terrain was ruggedly beautiful and the morning air was brisk but not uncomfortable. In fact, this was the perfect start to the day.
After an hour sauntering along and taking in the sights, sounds and comedy routines that the baby camels provided, we arrived at our campsite for our authentic bushmans breaky. Billy tea. campfire eggs, pancakes with mouth-watering, wattleseed compound butter, and some delicious camel sausages. I did feel a little uncomfortable devouring those after we’d enjoyed such a pleasant ride, but sitting with a view over the NT outback, that feeling soon passed.
After arriving at our digs in Katherine, I had to give a little nod of approval to my new mate Lynton, or LT as I had affectionately nicknamed him. Cicada Lodge really is one of those aptly named oases in the outback. Sometimes an overused cliché but in this case it was spot on.
Cicada Lodge sits right on the edge of Nitmiluk National Park. A 100% indigenous-owned eco resort that has just won the Unique Accommodation category at the Northern Territory Tourism Awards. Its ‘top end’ accommodation in the Top End, and if you want to have a little splurge in the outback this might just be the destination to do it in.
All 18 rooms are air conditioned, feature distinct and comfortable furnishings and overlook the distant sandstone country above the gorge. With the inclusion of local Indigenous artwork, the rich colours combined with the modern design make for a unique blend.
The cuisine on offer is also top shelf, but definitely reachable. A combination of native Australian foods, fused into a fresh, fashionable menu. It’s all about getting to experience the taste of traditional herbs and fruits, and the freshest local harvest.
So after LT and I had engrossed ourselves in the facilities, food and furnishings of the resort, we made our way down to the gorge itself to get right in amongst the beauty and pure nature that is so abundant here. You can get yourself involved with the local indigenous touring group or you can explore by yourself. The park and the gorge can be experienced via lunch and dinner cruises, canoes, walking, flying or even swimming – no crocs here as Parks and Wildlife do a fantastic job, after the wet season, of removing any that have made their way in.
I had flown it, and partly walked it, previously so Lynton and I hit the water in canoes. The crack of dawn was perfect too – cool, subtle breezes, the sun creeping over the cliffs and a multitude of birdlife rising for the day … It was really an awesome way to experience it and get a real feel for the maze of waterways that have been sculpted from the sandstone over countless eons by the Katherine River.
Having Lynton show me some of the ‘inner sanctum’ of the NT gave me a taste of ‘real’ Australia. I love this country and, as I’ve said many times, we need to embrace what’s so unique to us, and right in our backyard.
This story will continue as we make our way further north, but for now, I have other fish to fry …
If you want to get the latest info and get your own taste of the NT head to www.travelNT.com