Trek Tours Australia Kakadu Explorer Trek

KAKADU : The best trek our guides have ever done
Story by Matt Sykes
Guide looking at map in Kakadu

One of our most experienced guides Brad studying a map with Joel looking on
(Photo: Jackie Crane)

 

Kakadu is a place that all Trek Tours’ guides want to work. It’s like a badge of honour though, you have to be working with the company for a time before the opportunity presents itself. Everyone knows it’s different up there, more real somehow. You’re off-track, carrying everything in and everything out. It’s just you and an ancient landscape, for nine days.
 

When you see guides returning from a stint ‘Up North’ they have a certain glow about them, like they’ve just stepped out of another world. But being the unassuming and humble characters that they are they don’t tell you much, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that such experiences are hard to explain. You’ll hear Brad talk about the Aboriginal culture and rock art sites, places that must be felt first-hand.
Studying natures beauties in Kakadu

Brad in his element, studying nature’s tiny beauties (Photo: Jackie Crane)

 

We heard back from a guest recently, Madeleine, who walked the Kakadu Explorer last year. She described it as an awe-inspiring and life-changing experience. So much so that she was ‘still drawing from the energy of the experience’ a year later. As a tour company we can only do so much to facilitate a deep experience but when you work with places like Kakadu, the land kind of takes you over and all you have to do is go along with it. Guests that open themselves up benefit the most.
 

When you look at scenes like the one below it’s hard to imagine not being deeply affected by such a place. Those ripples in the foreground rock were laid millions and millions of years ago. The gorge has been cut by water, an element that people from Australia’s south would typically see as soft and gentle. It looks still and serene now but when we’re walking in Tasmania over summer this dry river becomes a raging torrent. Contemplating unfathomable periods of time and natural processes are just one of the joys of the Kakadu Explorer.

Deep Time in Kakadu
Deep time (Photo: Jackie Crane)

 

The traditional custodians of this Country are the Bininj and Mungguy people. (Bininj in the north of Kakadu National Park and Mungguy in the south) Their cultural connections to this landscape go back more than 50,000 years. (1) Some of the rock art that you’ll be lucky enough to experience on the trip traces their heritage. In 1981 Kakadu’s ancient cultural values, as well as its natural values, were celebrated by being added to the World Heritage list. (2) On top of that, Kakadu forms part of Australia’s largest national park, ‘covering almost 20,000 square kilometres. That’s nearly half the size of Switzerland’. (1) It’s a big, old place.
 

On some walks there’s moments when time seems to stand still. Everything just slows down, your senses are alive but your mind is calm. Kakadu has more than it’s fair share of these moments. The images below are a couple of such examples, captured by past guest Jackie Crane.

Time standing still in Kakadu
Time standing still (Photo: Jackie Crane)

 

Dusk in Kakadu
Dusk (Photo: Jackie Crane)

 

Timing is everything out here and we sync our Kakadu walks to fit the seasons. Our trips occur during Wurrgeng, a period from mid-June to mid-August that the Bininj/Mungguy people regard as ‘cold weather’ time. Mind you, cold weather is relative -‘humidity is low, daytime temperatures are around 30°C and night-time temperatures are around 17°C’. (3) We set out early in the morning and aim to be out of the heat, possibly even bathing in a waterhole or two, before it gets too hot.
Interestingly the Traditional Owners recognise six seasons in this region. My favourite is “Knock ‘em down storm season”!

Gudjewg (Monsoon Season) – December to March
Banggerreng (Knock ‘em down storm season) – April
Yegge (Cooler but still humid season) – May to mid-June
Wurrgeng (Cold weather season) – mid-June to mid-August
Gurrung (Hot dry weather) – mid-August to mid-October
Gunumeleng (Pre-monsoon storm season) – mid-October to late-December (3)

 

Afternoon siesta in Kakadu
Sacred ritual, the team enjoying an afternoon siesta (Photo: Jackie Crane)

You know the feeling when you’ve been walking all day and you arrive at camp, take your pack off and you sit in stillness reflecting upon the memories that you’ve just created. Everyone finds their own space.
 

One of the beautiful things in Kakadu is being able to a light a fire at night. Nothing outrageous, just a modest flame to cook some tucker and sit by, mesmerised. Yep, Kakadu is a treasure and we love sharing it with people. At the same time that it changes your life, it changes ours’.

Camp Oven in Kakadu
Camp oven on simmer (Photo: Jackie Crane)

 

For more information about our 9 day Kakadu Explorer Trek please visit here – https://www.trektoursaustralia.com.au/tour/kakadu-explorer-walking-tours/

References
(1) Parks Australia (2013-2016) Introduction to Bininj/Mungguy culture. Accessed on June 2 2016 from http://www.parksaustralia.gov.au/kakadu/people/culture.html

(2) Commonwealth of Australia (2016) World Heritage Listing and RAMSAR Convention on wetlands. Accessed on June 2 2016 from https://www.environment.gov.au/topics/national-parks/kakadu-national-park/world-heritage-listing

(3) Commonwealth of Australia (2016) Seasons of Kakadu. Accessed on June 2 2016 from https://www.environment

Trek Tours Australia Jatbula Trail

JATBULA : How the trail came to be
Story by Matt Sykes
Stunning Waterfall Jatbula Trail

One of the many stunning waterfalls (Photo courtesy of Holger Strie)

 

This weekend Trek Tours Australia is excited to kick off the Jatbula walking season. With 2016 departures near capacity and 2017 already filling up we thought we’d introduce you to this incredible walk and delve into its origin.
 
The land claim
 
In 1989 a fella named Peter Jatbula was instrumental in the Jawoyn peoples’ land claim for Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) in the Northern Territory. (Pronounced “Nit-me-look”, which translates as the Cicada Place (1)). Peter was one of the Traditional Owners who submitted the claim ten years earlier and when he passed away it was fitting for the Jatbula Trail to be renamed in his memory. He’s remembered as one of the old people who really knew ‘about their country very well’ and how to care for it. (2)
 
The trail follows a chain of waterholes from Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) to Leliyn (Edith Falls), which Jawoyn people have been walking for generations. Peter Jatbula walked this pathway with his family, some of whom still live in the area and are active in caring for country. It’s the cultural heritage of Nitmiluk National Park that is transforming this place into one of the most sought after walking destinations in Australia.
 
Jatbula Trail Lily Pond

Lily pond (Photograph courtesy of Trek Tours)

 

Nitmiluk National Park
 
What was interesting about the Jawoyn peoples’ land claim, apart from being an epic battle, was that as soon as they had ownership the Aboriginal community leased it back to the NT government and established a jointly managed national park. This meant that the Jawoyn people and Parks Australia would work ‘together, solving problems, sharing decision making and exchanging knowledge, skills and information.’ (3) Peter Ross, District Manager of the Savannah Gulf Region, explains that Parks and Wildlife manage the day-to-day operations within the park but strategic decisions about new developments, like signage and campgrounds, are made in consultation with Traditional Owners. (4) By the way, this wasn’t the first example of joint management in Australia. Kakadu takes that cake. Tjoritja / West MacDonnell National Park, home of our beloved Larapinta Trail, is also run under joint management.
 
The evolution of the Jatbula Trail
 
In the 2000’s there were around 600-700 people walking the trail. Now there’s almost double that (3). But that doesn’t mean if you come on one of Trek’s trips that you’re going to be surrounded by crowds of people. The structure of the landscape simply means that there’s limited room for growth, making it an exclusive experience. Trek Tours consciously restricts group sizes to 12 people to maintain that sense of intimacy. Each night you’re camping in close proximity to waterholes (crocodile-free!) in secluded locations tucked into the natural landscape.
 

Out on the Plains Jatbula Trail
Out on the plains (Photo courtesy of Jacob Robinson)

 
Jawoyn Culture
 
One of the highlights of the Jatbula Trail is the stop that we make at The Amphitheatre, a little pocket of rainforest that is home to some incredible Jawoyn rock art. The artworks connect to the Jawoyn Creation stories, and one figure in particular ‘Bula’. One of Trek’s guides, Jacob, describes some of the art figures as having dreadlocks just like his, but to really feel the significance of the place you have to be there.
A way to learn more about Jawoyn culture would be to time your booking with the Barunga Festival. The annual event, staged on the Queen’s birthday, gives people the opportunity to learn more about traditional culture as well as the broader Katherine region. ‘The 31st annual Barunga Festival will highlight the role, influence and importance of women in community life’, with headline music acts including the likes of Courtney Barnett and Gurumul. (5)
 
The Weather
 
Trek Tours’ trips centre on the season of Malaparr (June, July, August). Traditionally this is understood as the middle of the dry period when temperatures are much cooler, including mild nights. (6) Perfect walking conditions.

Cleansing of the Soles Jatbula Trail
“Cleansing of the soles” (Photo courtesy of Jacob)

Final words

It’s interesting to contemplate how political events have shaped Australia’s tourism industry. Around the same time that the Jawoyn people were fighting their land claim, the Franklin Dam was being contested in Tasmania. This later event is believed to have led to the establishment of the walking tourism industry as we know it today – the first private bushwalking huts were built within an Australian national park back in 1987. Next year the now legendary Cradle Huts of the Overland Track, designed by architect Ken Latona and town planner Joan Masterman, will celebrate their 30th anniversary. The Jatbula trail shares a similar origin but one that is intrinsically connected to Aboriginal people and culture.
In a small way Trek Tours continues the legacy of environmental and cultural advocacy in Australia, building deeper awareness one step at a time.

Gecko Jatbula Trail
A tiny gecko saying “goodnight” (Photograph courtesy of Holger Strie)

 

References

(1) Cicada Lodge (2016) Nitmiluk pronunciation and basic history. Accessed May 25 2016 from http://www.cicadalodge.com.au/the-region/

(2) Jocelyn, from the Jawoyn Association Aboriginal Corporation. Pers. comm. May 26 2016.

(3) Commonwealth of Australia (2016) Joint Management definition. Accessed May 25 2016 from http://www.environment.gov.au/topics/national-parks/kakadu-national-park/management-and-conservation/park-management

(4) Peter Ross, pers. comm. May 25 2016.

(5) Skinnyfish Music (2013) Event details. Accessed on May 25 2016 from http://barungafestival.com.au/index.php/2016-music-line-up-announced/

(6) Bureau of Meterology (2014) Jawoyn Seasonal Calendar. Accessed on May 25 2016 from http://www.bom.gov.au/iwk/jawoyn/index.shtml (Originally sourced from Reid, A. (1995) Banksias and Bilbies – Seasons of Australia)
 
Links

Jatbula Information Sheet
https://nt.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0020/200594/jatbula-trail.pdf

Trek Larapinta Bush Life

BUSH LIFE : A Day in the Life of a Trek Larapinta Guest
Photos by David Slater (6-day guest, 2015). Story by Matt Sykes

 

Native Peach Damper

Native Peach (Quandong) Damper, (In his recent book ‘Dark Emu’ Bruce Pascoe provides evidence that Aboriginal people were the world’s first bakers, reputedly preceding the Egyptians by thousands of years).

 

The concept for this week’s blog post is to experience a day in the life of a Trek Larapinta guest, with a little foodie twist. We must thank David Slater, an enthusiastic guest from last season, who was generous in making some beautiful photos available.
Trek Larapinta toes the line between the luxuries of modern “glamping” and the simplicities of traditional bush camping. Holger and Richard, the owners of the company are more inclined towards roughing it, but they well understand what guests are looking for. As a past client put it, “we didn’t want all the bells and whistles, just a few”.

 

Omlette

“Sonder Sunrise” omelette, with Native Basil

 

Before we set out walking each day, we put on a good old-fashioned spread of cereal, fruit and toast for guests. There’s plunger coffee, a pot of black tea and fruit juices to match. Or in the case of the “Sonder Sunrise” (a life-changing night walk finishing with a spectacular 360° view of the desert waking up), you’ll return to an epic brunch.
Bush Banana
Bush banana (Marsdenia australis)

 

When we get out on the track there might be the odd sweet bickie or lolly that jumps out of a hidden compartment in your guide’s packs. (Think Hermione Granger’s bag of tricks) But then if you’re lucky we might come across some seasonal bush food, like a bush banana for instance. Peter Latz, an expert in desert plants and their uses by Aboriginal people, explains:

‘This is an important and favoured food throughout the area [central Australia]. The only parts of the plant not eaten at some stage are the stems and fine roots. The sweet flowers and the young fruits are eaten raw, and are the most favoured portions. When mature, and consisting mainly of the seeds and their plumes, the fruits are either coked and eaten whole, or the seeds discarded and only the thick outer rind eaten in its raw state.’ (1)

When Rene Redzepi came over from Denmark to set up his pop-up restaurant NOMA Sydney, it was these unique qualities of Australian native foods that he was trying to harness. Bush coconuts are another curiosity. They commonly grow on Bloodwood (Corymbia opaca) trees after a particular insect lays its larvae and the tree is fooled by not recognising it as a foreign body. (You’ll just have to come on one of tours to hear the full story, especially the gender roles of this particular insect.) Bush coconuts have a texture similar to an oyster but with the earthy flavours of a nut.

 

Lunch Spread Ormiston Gorge

Lunch spread in Ormiston Gorge

 

Just as you’re getting hungry a classic Trek Larapinta lunch spread will magically pop-up before your eyes. Some wraps and crackers, salad, cheese, tofu and sliced meat make regular appearances. And don’t worry if you’re GF (gluten free) we’ll be sure to have some rice cakes on hand. One memorable picnicking story dates back to the time that Hermannsburg Mission was in full swing, in the very late 1800s, early 1900s. A special celebration called for a week-long “picnic holiday” where the whole Mission community, over a hundred people, travelled to Palm Valley. They must have had a wonderful time because the camping adventure was repeated again several years later. Interestingly, scientists have now learnt that the Red Cabbage Palms (Livistonia mariae) of Palm Valley were transported from northern Australia sometime between 7000-30,000 years ago, reinforced by an ancient Aboriginal story that has been passed down for thousands of years. Perhaps the science of the two cultures is not so different?
Campfire chairs

The sun passes through the sky a few more degrees and its golden light starts to make the desert sparkle. Shadows lengthen and the group makes a journey back to camp. When you’ve had time to settle back in and throw on a warm layer, you end up around the campfire distilling the day’s sights, beauty and comedy. Some bickies and cheese are laid out, and a BYO glass of wine perhaps.

Campfire night

As darkness falls you’ll hear a shout from the kitchen that dinner’s ready. Your tummy will be grumbling after a challenging day’s walking but whatever your guide cooks up, its sure to hit the spot (Just a little tip, save room for dessert!). The night is yours to whittle away as you like, yarning around the fire or even reading a book. When the time comes you’re welcome to sleep outside in your swag, under the ancient painting of light and shadow that is the Milky Way, or retreat to your private quarters, a spacious safari tent. Good night, sleep tight.

Swags
David’s wife Helen with book in-hand, making the most of Bush Life.

 

References

(1) Latz, P. (2004) ‘Bushfires and Bushtucker: Aboriginal plant use in central Australia’ IAD Press, Alice Springs.

(2) Latz, P. (2014) ‘Blind Moses’ Self-published, Alice Springs.

Spectacular Mt Giles with Trek Larapinta

View from Mt Giles

Kristine recently joined Trek Larapinta to explore the stunning Mt Giles – a spectacular, remote trek, especially for those that want to explore some more of what Central Australia has to offer and just beyond the Larapinta Trail. Check out her blog to see some beautiful scenery and read about her wonderful adventure:

Mt Giles Explorer Trek »

Trek Larapinta TJORITJA (West MacDonnell Ranges) – Camping Traditions

TJORITJA (West MacDonnell Ranges): A convergence of camping traditions
Story by Matt Sykes.

The author acknowledges the Arrernte people and their ancestors as the traditional owners of Tjoritja (the West MacDonnell Ranges) where this article is set.

Warning: This story contains images of Aboriginal people who have passed away.

 

Fire Pit Ormiston
Lounging around the fire pit after a day trekking the Pinta – Ormiston Creek camp.
(Photo courtesy of guest David Slater, 2015).

 

The tradition of camping in Tjoritja goes back tens of thousands of years (pronounced Choritja by Spencer & Gillen (1)). Although Arrernte and non-Aboriginal peoples’ relationship with campsite settings like Ormiston Creek (pictured above) differ, the magnetic attraction of these places is the same. As a company, Trek Larapinta prides itself on low impact, site-specific standing camps which are dismantled in the off-season leaving no trace. In many cases, our net environmental impact could be argued to be positive because of the clearing of weeds like Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) that we undertake and the “watering” of trees. In the same way that Arrernte people use bush materials and careful consideration of their environment, we also try to blend our camps into their surrounds. This blog post provides a snapshot of the evolution of camping within the broader region of the Larapinta Trail.

 

Introduction of European camping traditions

We often talk about the introduction of foreign plants, animals and people to Australia, but it’s also interesting to contemplate the introduction of certain cultural traditions, like camping. What’s even more interesting is when you start to see the environment shape those foreign traditions. For example, the birth of the “swag” – a rolled up bed carried on one’s back – became a vital tool for itinerant European men roaming the land in search of work in the 1800s, as typified by McCubbin’s painting ‘Down on his luck’. Not only did the Australian environment (geographic, social, economic and political) shape this camping icon, the swag has become a cornerstone of Australian identity. Our unofficial national anthem ‘Waltzing Matilda’ by Banjo Patterson sees a swagman as its ill-fated hero.

But instead of discussing European camping traditions in Australia, this article will acknowledge Tjoritja’s original camping traditions and track how the two are converging.

 

Down on his luckjpg

‘Down on his luck’, Frederick McCubbin (1889) (2)

 

The evolution of Arrernte camp architecture

Without accessible records of Arrernte culture before European arrival, we are left to track the evolution of their camping traditions through the diary entries and photographs of early European explorers. In 1860, John McDouall Stuart, ‘with two other men and a dozen horses … spent three days finding their way through the MacDonnell Ranges’. (3) He was the first European to venture into the region. However, it wasn’t until 1877 when the Hermannsburg Mission was established and the Lutheran missionaries began living with Arrernte people that we first start to get insights into traditional camp life. Most notably Carl Strehlow (1871-1922) documented Arrernte language, cultural practices and ceremonial artefacts in more detail than any person before him and since. His work now forms the foundations of the Strehlow Research Centre in Alice Springs, much of which is not publicly accessible.

Spencer and Gillen were explorers of the same period. Paul Memmott describes one of their photographs in his book ‘Gunyah, Goondie and Wurley: The Aboriginal Architecture of Australia’

‘An Arrernte domiciliary group photographed in 1896 near the present-day site of Alice Springs, in front of a domed shelter constructed of heavy limbs and clad with grass. This is probably a polygamous family, comprising a man with two wives and their respective children. The man is scraping back a spear shaft with a stone adze while the women are grinding seeds to make cakes. The boy is making his own toy spear. Photograph by Spencer & Gillen from Museum Victoria and SA Museum.’ (4)

 

Aboriginal family

 

This is likely to be a staged scene but you still get an insight into the materials and construction methods that the Arrernte adapted from their arid environment. Another image, below, taken a generation later by Pastor Reidel (another Hermannsburg missionary) shows a camp architecture rapidly evolving.

 

Aboriginal camp

 

Memmott describes,
‘Lutheran Mission Village on the outskirts of Alice Springs, October 1923. Grass-thatching techniques had been adopted by the Western Arrernte people for their semi-sedentary mission lifestyle. Photograph by Pastor J. Riedel. Image courtesy of Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Lutheran collection (image number N6492.27).’ (4)

The next transition towards sedentary living can be seen in the shaping of town camps on the fringe of Alice Springs. In 1989, Paul Memmott ‘was commissioned by Tangentyere Council to carry out a study of Aboriginal social problems in four Alice Springs Town Camps … and produce Social Planning Reports on each of them.’ (5)

In the camp architecture you see a partial departure from traditional materials and construction techniques. Acknowledging the very real social issues associated with these changes, you can still see the richness of the Arrernte peoples’ camping tradition. For example, in the left hand side of photograph below, notice the piling of foliage on the shade shelter and the structure’s timber supports. These are the same fundamental techniques employed by their ancestors.

A question arises, if Arrernte town camp architecture sits somewhere between Aboriginal and European traditions, what can non-Aboriginal campers learn from the ways they have blended the two?

 

Alice Springs Town Camp

Alice Springs Town Camp, c1989 (5)

 

Converging traditions, one environment

The above question is something that we’re considering in the design of Trek Larapinta’s newest standing camp. Careful attention is being paid as we work with the Central Land Council and NT Parks & Wildlife in the camp’s siting. Like our existing camps, paths and structures are being positioned to fit in amongst the existing immediate landscape, whilst connecting to views of the epic surrounds, including stunning sunset views of Rwetyepme (Mount Sonder). We are seeking to use local organic materials (gravel, stone, timber) alongside canvas tents and tarps, as well as modern kitchen appliances, solar technology and water storage.

The goal is not to copy Arrernte architects. That is not necessary or desirable. We have other materials and construction techniques at our disposal, which have been proven through their own heritage. Rather we are responding to the same environments that the desert’s first people have responded to. It is the environment that drives us, and so we as the current generation of Tjoritja campers should listen to its subtleties and adapt, in our own way.

 

Pioneer Creek Camp - Copy

Pioneer Creek camp, our canvas tents resemble traditional Arrernte dome shelters.

Trek Larapinta New camp Plan

Masterplan for Trek Larapinta’s newest bush camp, Design by Matt Sykes.

 

Links

http://hermannsburg.com.au/
http://www.magnt.net.au/#!strehlow-research-centre/c125s
http://opbg.com.au/
http://www.aerc.uq.edu.au/

 

References

(1) Strehlow, J. (2011) ‘The Tale of Frieda Keysser, Frieda Keysser and Carl Strehlow: An Historical Biography’, Volume 1: 1875-1910, Wild Cat Press, London.

(2) National Gallery of Victoria (2016) Image of F. McCubbin’s painting ‘Down on his luck’. Accessed on April 27 2016 from http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/australianimpressionism/education/insights_national.html

(3) Latz, P. (2014) ‘Blind Moses’ Self-published, Alice Springs.

(4) Memmott, P. (2007) ‘Gunyah, Goondie and Wurley: The Aboriginal Architecture of Australia’ University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, QLD.

(5) The University of Queensland (2016) Photo of Alice Springs town camp. Accessed April 27 2016 from http://www.aerc.uq.edu.au/tangentyere-council-alice-springs-town-camps