Northern Australia: Darwin and the Top End
In Australia's untamed northern reaches, if you've got the time, you can hang with crocodiles and wild kangaroos for $20 to $30 a day
Besides crocs and walks (and nights so clear the Milky Way streaks the sky like the stripe on a billiard ball), tourists come to Darwin in search of Aborigines, Australia's oldest natives, who have dwelt in the region for some 40,000 years. The Top End is certainly the best place to learn about them, since Kakadu borders the vast Aboriginal territory called Arnhem Land. Tours there are too pricey and require permission, but Australians are mindful of their heritage, so nearly every organized tour to Kakadu includes a lesson in "bush tucker" (food found in the wilderness), Aboriginal traditions, or a visit to sacred sites such as Ubirr and Nourlangie, where you find rock art of untold antiquity.
This paradise won't last forever. In 2004, a proposed rail link between sleepy Darwin and the rest of Oz is poised to generate a deluge of industry and big money. Worse, in March 2001 the unstoppable cane toad, an alien species that poisons its predators, arrived in Kakadu. With Australian currency at a historic low and the ancient ecosystem of the Top End teetering on upheaval, there will probably never be a better time to go to this inexpensive wonderland. And if you're like many travelers, you'll certainly find no good time to leave it.
Keeping up with the Indiana Joneses
For Northern Territory tourist information (including Uluru/Ayers Rock to the far south of Darwin), visit northernterritory.com or ntholidays.com. Unless otherwise indicated, when calling from the U.S. precede all telephone numbers in this article with 011-61-8.
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