We woke with the sun and lugged our backpacks down Mitchell Street in Darwin to the Adventure Tours office. Before long a truck with their logo emblazoned on the side pulled over and we hopped on. We were on our way to Litchfield National Park, the beginning of a three-day adventure in the wild of the Northern Territory. Our companions were a fellow young Canadian, two older women, two Italian honeymooners, and our tour guide, a mid-50’s eccentric surfer-dude named Rob.
We drove for a couple of hours, flying past stands of tall termite mounds, sand palms, and several recently burned areas, through Bachelor and on to Florence Falls.
I stepped out of the truck, my first experience out of the city and in the nature of Australia, with images in my head of snakes and spiders jumping out at me around every turn. Instead, my first wildlife encounter was much more positive and a lot more welcome:
The water was cold and clear and clean. It was refreshing in the mid-30 degree Celsius heat, though I was a bit unnerved as the bottom seemed non-existent. We swam up and under the falls and behind it. Before too long we were off again to another watering hole and another dip.
We must have spent a maximum of 20 minutes at the Buley Rockhole, a series of waterholes that were fairly crowded with families from Darwin out for the day and other tour groups. We jumped in and out and back onto the truck to head on back to Bachelor for lunch—hot dogs.
After I’d eaten my first hot dog in four years, we jumped back on the truck and headed to perhaps one of the most anticipated events of our tour—a “Cul Cul,” or a “Welcome to the country” from the Limilngan – Wulna people, the aboriginal, traditional owners of the land. The Cul Cul would give us luck and protect us while we visited the land.
To start the ritual, a young girl would first spit water on our heads. She told us that this was definitely a tamer ritual in comparison to some other groups living in the Northern Territory. Further south some aboriginal groups regularly wiped the sweat of elderly women who hadn’t bathed in days on visitors to protect them in the land. She led us around as we learned more about the vegetation and the ways the aboriginal people use the land. Here is one of their ground ovens:
Including this 1.5 meter tall Jabiru—who is actually a Black-necked stork, but is referred to as a Jabiru in Australia: