I met Rachel about four months into my Australian adventure at my host mom’s yoga party. At the party, I was a few drinks deep and feeling really social (yes, I was drunk at a yoga party… weird, I know). Rachel mentioned that she wanted to go up to Northern Territory, Australia to visit her sister and do some exploring, and after only knowing each other for about an hour; I quickly offered to go with her. You know when you say things but you don’t really know if they will ever happen, especially when you’re under the influence of one too many glasses of wine? This was one of those things. Yes, I obviously wanted to experience the outback but at that time, I was more interested in joining the hippies in Byron Bay or snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef instead. As the months went by however, Rachel was on top of trip planning like nobody’s business and suddenly I had a flight booked to Darwin in August for one week.
Before I knew it, Rachel and I were getting tipsy over glasses of champagne as we soared through the clouds above Australia. While on the plane, we struck up a conversation with the gentleman in front of us who happened to be a pilot for Qantas. He was headed to Darwin for a big Qantas party and invited us to join him that evening, so we did (YOLO right?). The minute we landed in Darwin we had to convince Rachel’s sister to go to the Qantas party and once that was done (it didn’t take long) we had to power shop for ‘French-themed’ clothing for the party. After getting ready, we headed down to Monsoons, which was a packed bar located on Mitchell Street in downtown Darwin. Now… all I remember was that the night involved a lot of wine, some dude dressed up as a mime, and my red lipstick smashed on the road only to be discovered the next morning. It also lead to the absolute worst hangover I have ever had in my entire life and a whole day in Darwin trying to revive myself by the pool followed by sleep. Being hungover, on a vacation, in a city you don’t have a lot of time in, sucks… a lot.
On the Monday, Rachel and I woke up at the crack of dawn with all of our camping gear and headed back to Mitchell Street to meet our tour guide for five days of adventuring through the outback. We chose to go with Adventure Tours and had the best tour guide known to man, a Kiwi who had left New Zealand a long time ago to start a new life in the outback. After we picked up everyone, young, old, families, solo travelers, we headed off into the unknown.
Now, we did a lot. I won’t go in to detail about every single thing that we did during the five-day tour because it would be a never-ending blog post. I will just highlight my favourite parts of the tour, which is going to be hard since it was all pretty awesome.
First of all… I am not as outdoorsy as I would have liked to think I am. My motto for the whole trip was, “I am a strong, independent woman and I can do this”. Rachel’s motto was “This is the dream, this is the dream” (in a very sarcastic voice – even though it really was the dream). Our first night of camping involved me running out of our tent, screaming because there was a rather large lizard right beside my head. We also had to sleep on a wooden bench that night and neither of us brought pillows. Does this give you a rough idea as to how good of a camper I am?
My first highlight was getting to go to Ubirr, which was located in Kakadu National Park. The rock art was incredible. We were looking at art that had been painted on the rocks thousands of years ago, learning about their stories and what they meant. We also hiked up to the top of Ubirr and had an incredible view. I remember sitting there just staring out into the distance and being enamored by the openness of it all, with the fact that there were no buildings, houses, or roads in site. It was just a whole lot of nature. I felt like I was posing for a National Geographic Magazine photo shoot.
My second highlight, and probably favourite (even though we really shouldn’t pick favourites) was swimming in Jim Jim Falls, which was also located in Kakadu National Park. First of all, someone drowned while swimming in Jim Jim Falls only a month before we arrived and this kind of freaked me out. We had also met some Aboriginals who believed it was “Rainbow Serpent” (a mythological creature from Aboriginal legends) that caused the death in order to keep tourists out of the water. I wasn’t too keen on swimming there at that point. When we arrived however, my tour guide dove in, followed by another young guy on our tour. Rachel was giving me a hard time about it so I jumped in too. I felt like I had just jumped in a pool of ice… it was the coldest water I had ever been in before. The basin of the waterfall is actually rather large and the water is black so you have no idea what you’re swimming with… hideous. I was halfway across by the time Rachel actually made it in the water. We swam all the way to the end and sat on a ledge where the water was only a slight trickle (we wouldn’t have been able to go there in the wet season). I remember how proud of myself I was after swimming the whole distance. Here I was, floating in the most beautiful fresh water (you got used to the cold), staring up over six hundred feet at these massive walls of rock, the sun shining on me… I was in paradise. I was in a place that not very many people will ever get to experience. It really was the dream and I really did feel like a strong, independent woman for conquering it.
The last major highlight for me was sleeping under the stars on our last night there. When you think of Australia and the outback, you think of poisonous snakes and spiders, things that want to kill you… knowing the whole time that we had to do this on our last night scared me. I had been hoping the whole time that we really didn’t have to do such a thing. As it turns out, we didn’t. Our last campsite ended up having tents but guess what? Everyone decided to sleep under the stars anyways (perfect, just perfect). Even though it was freezing that night and there was a possibility that a wild animal or insect was going to kill me (I am being dramatic… the chances were slim), which prevented me from getting a lot of sleep… I am so glad I did it. All I had was a sleeping bag and someone’s old airplane pillow but I was happy. We were in the middle of nowhere and the sky was pitch black, lit up by millions of stars, it felt magical. I reflected on so many things that night as it was also almost the end of my year in Australia. I thought about what a year it had been and all of the memories I had made. I didn’t want to go home, I wasn’t ready.
That week, I had seen crocodiles in the wild, swam in some of the most beautiful places on earth, including waterfalls and hot springs, ate a lot of beet root and dijon mustard sandwiches (not a bad combo), made new friends, realized I am not a great camper, kayaked in the Katherine Gorge, had some encounters with wild snakes, and realized that this was one of the best trips of my life. If you would have asked me before I arrived in Australia, if I was going to go up to Darwin and experience the outback… I would have told you absolutely not. It was a little bit expensive but it was worth every penny. I saw some of the most amazing sunsets on the planet… whether I was sitting on Mindil Beach after the market or standing in the middle of nowhere watching it set over the outback, they were epic. I would recommend Darwin and Kakadu to anyone who is looking for a little adventure, anyone who loves nature and anyone who is intrigued by the spiritual aspect of it all.