Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Northern Territory: Come down to Earth

Uluru is one of the most spiritual places on earth, with every lizard track in the ochre-red soil, every nuance of light, and every nook and cranny of the rock itself catching your eye and impacting on your senses.

From the mournful notes of the didgeridoo, played around the fire on a distant sand dune as an appetiser to the incredible gourmet experience that is Tali Wiru, the feeling of place is omnipresent, with the stories of the dreaming coming to life as vividly as the 60,000 light stems creating the Field of Light do; an experience that moves some people to tears.

If you’re looking for instant gratification, Kakadu may elude you. Carved and sculpted over countless eons, the prehistoric vistas of this UNESCO World Heritage site are ancient even to those who have lived there for tens of thousands of years.

Vast marshy wetlands surrounded by stark sandstone cliffs have withstood the test of time and stand proud, oblivious to your presence. The sight of a massive grazing brontosaurus would not be out of place in this otherworldly landscape.

Today you can tour these timeless monoliths with an indigenous guide, learning some of the mysteries and stories of the Dreamtime and discover the myths behind the stunning frescos painted by the ancestors.

Easily visited during the day from either Darwin or Katherine, scenic Litchfield National Park is ideal for either long or short stay visitors with picnic facilities for day visitors and camping options for long-stayers who can’t get enough. Bring the family and swim, hike or fish in these tranquil surrounds.

You don’t have to go after nature in the NT – it comes to you. Spending time “glamping” at any one of the superbly appointed safari camps or coastal resorts is an experience only the NT can deliver. Two examples include Murwangi and Groote Eylandt.

Heat comes in a range of sights and flavours in the Northern Territory. There is even the odd blazing light show at sunrise and sunset. Darwin’s wet season delivers plenty of water to Australia’s thirsty Top End, and in conjunction with these downpours is nature’s own atmospheric spectacular in the form of awe-inspiring lighting and tummy-rumbling thunder. Unless you’ve seen Darwin in nature’s grip, the power of the tropical storm is hard to imagine.

In a culinary sense, the region’s “beer and barra” reputation has morphed into condensation-laced cocktails on the waterfront and Greek-spiced seafood alongside hot and sour fish at the city’s hottest Vietnamese, Chow, or industrial-chic Korean barbecue at urban sweetheart Little Miss Korea. The city moves en masse to sunset-gilded Mindil Beach every Sunday to gossip in deck chairs and dip spoons into green pandan pudding or rocket-topped pizzas, woodfired right here in the markets. While locals have been spoiled by local freshness from Darwin’s multiple markets for ages, the restaurants are now working together in co-ops, with new-generation ideas on how to keep ingredients local and food miles low. From Alleycat Patisserie’s hipster cronuts to Eat at Martin’s vibrant vegetarian creations, Darwin has added new soul and eagerness to its gastronomic offerings. Then there are the Hanuman restaurants in Darwin and Alice Springs.

Elsewhere, Tasting the NT is a dining experience you can’t have anywhere else. Sampling the natural foods of the indigenous people is a window to their rich and ancient culture that has sustained them for thousands of years while empires in the rest of the world have grown and crumbled many times over.

Ayers Rock Resort has launched a new Bush Tucker Trail that takes guests on a journey of Indigenous flavour discovery as they try signature dishes incorporating bush ingredients at every restaurant throughout the Resort. Experience flavours such as Lemon Myrtle, Kakadu Plum, Bush Tomato and Wattleseed in a range of meals. In addition to menu items, a number of Bush Tucker cocktails have also been developed.

Then there’s Parrtjima - a Festival in Light - the first authentic indigenous light festival of its kind in the world. It features Australia's biggest-ever light show installation, with more than 2.5km of the MacDonnell Ranges being illuminated as part of the event. The contemporary and traditional indigenous art will light up Alice Springs. A featured installation will be a series of large illuminated 1950's-style circle skirts featuring the watercolour artwork of Lenie Namatjira, granddaughter of renowned artist Albert Namatjira.

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