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Arnhem Land and Torres Strait

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Arnhem Land

Arnhem Land fans out across 97,000 square kilometres of the Northern Territory's far eastern corner and is one of our country's most timeless and haunting environments. It's Australia's largest Aboriginal reserve — four times the size of Kakadu — and entry permits are necessary. Visitors may take part in four-wheel drive tours during the dry season. At other times the only way to access the area is by air.

Jason Dundas joined Max Davidson, who has been taking fully guided tours into Arnhem Land's lush Mount Borradaile region for more than 20 years. The tours don't follow a set itinerary; rather you choose what you want to do.

The diverse experience is all about reliving and relating the spirit of Aboriginal culture which encompasses more than 50,000 years. Ancient rock paintings, including the amazing Rainbow Serpent, show Indigenous history and the Dreamtime, the spiritual foundation of their culture.

Max has found that visitors thoroughly enjoy being among the nature and wilderness, far away from anything manmade.

There are more than 200 species of bird to be seen. The colourful Jesus bird walks on lily pads and seeing brolgas performing their mating dance is something you will never forget. Mt Borradaile has a large wild boar population and you can see 6m-long saltwater crocodiles in the waterways. Swimming in billabongs is strictly prohibited but high rocky outcrop pools are safe for a dip.

After a huge day of exploring, Max's bush tents, at his Mt Borradaile campsite provide a great place to spend the night. Accommodation is in twin-share tents with 240V power and external lighting.

There is a kitchen, dining area, library and briefing. Permanent toilet and shower blocks with hot and cold water ensure your comfort. Home-style meals are served and picnic lunches and refreshments are provided for day excursions.

Torres Strait

The northern Australian adventure need not stop on the mainland. At the tip of Cape York, roughly 274 palm-fringed small islands make up the Torres Strait, the waterway separating far northern Australia's Cape York Peninsula and Papua New Guinea. They've been part of Queensland since 1872, but have special status fitting the native Melanesian land rights, administered by the Torres Strait Regional Authority.

Torres Strait is a 150km-wide sliver of shallow waters and rocky reefs with about 25,000 people living on 20 of the islands. Every day is like Sunday and they enjoy fishing and some locals are engaged in a declining pearling industry.

The hilly Thursday Island is the administrative centre and is Australia's most northerly town.

Peddell's Thursday Island tours take the 45-minute crossing from Cape York's Seisia Harbour twice every day, except on Sunday. There's time to enjoy the magnificent scenery and do some bird spotting — Torres Strait pigeons, lesser frigates and booby birds looking for breakfast. You pass close to a number of islands with sheltered bays and golden beaches covered in turtle tracks.

For a bit of fun you can call in to TI Hardware, rent a moke for the day, then zip around and see all there is to see.

For an authentic dose of Torres Strait culture, you must explore the outer islands. Poruma is a little gem. Almost 100km from the mainland, Poruma is part of Australia but feels very different. Islanders are Melanesian, closer to the people of Papua New Guinea than to Australian Aboriginals.

Taking pride of place at the western end of the island is Poruma Island Resort. Thatched guest suites combine original island style with modern comforts. The open plan includes master bedroom, living room on the beach, plunge pool and bath garden. Sunsets are spectacular!

After trying the refreshing lap pools, you might be ready to do a spot of cray fishing.


Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory and the Torres Strait off Queensland.


Davidson's Arnhem Land Safaris are $1950 per person twin share. The three-day safaris include all meals, tented accommodation and permit costs.

Peddells Thursday Island Tours return ferry transfers are $104 for adults and $52 for children.

Poruma Island Resort suites are $650 a night twin-share, including all meals.

Prices correct at October 1, 2009.

For further information

Davidson's Arnhem Land Safaris
PO Box 41905
Casuarina 0811
Ph: (08) 8927 5240
Fax: (08) 8945 0919

Peddell's Tours
Engineers Wharf
Thursday Island 4875
Ph: (07) 4069 1551
Fax: (07) 4069 1365

TI Hardware
Douglas & Blackall Streets
Thursday Island 4875
Ph: (07) 4069 1548
Fax: (07) 4069 1858

Poruma Island Resort
Poruma 4875
Ph: (07) 4090 0170
Fax: (07) 4090 0190

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