The Aboriginal Art Of Australia’s Kakadu National Park

Aboritinal Art in Kakadu National Park
Kraig Becker

Australia’s vast and wild Northern Territory holds a number of wonders for visitors to discover, not the least of which is Kakadu National Park. Spread out across more than 7600 square miles, the park is the true embodiment of the Outback with a rugged and unforgiving landscape that includes some of the most breathtaking scenery that can be found anywhere on the entire continent. But Kakadu is more than just pretty scenery as it also holds important keys to understanding Australia’s past in the form of Aboriginal art that is scrawled across rock faces throughout the region. That artwork offers important insights into the history of the indigenous people who have inhabited Australia for more than 40,000 years and continue to have a lasting impact on the country.

Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, Kakadu is one of the rare destinations that earned that distinction by scoring points for being significant both for its cultural and natural wonders. Travelers need only visit the spectacular Jim Jim Falls and Twin Falls to understand why the park earned the nod in the area of natural significance, as those locations are postcard-perfect representations of just how beautiful our planet can be. Both places require a little work to reach, but the payoff in both cases is a stunning waterfall dropping majestically into a serene pool of water.

Kakadu’s historical and cultural significance is also found at the sites of Nourlangie and Ubirr, where Aboriginal artwork adorns the rock faces in spectacular fashion. Since Australia’s indigenous tribes had no written language they would often leave messages for one another in the form of pictures on the sides of cliff faces. Those images could convey important messages such as which animals lived in an area and which were best to eat. Other images represented characters from Aboriginal legends, which were typically passed along orally from one generation to the next. Those characters gained a level of immortality by surviving on the rocks in Kakadu for hundreds of years.

The artwork that is found in Kakadu is simple in design but often surprisingly detailed. The artists tended to draw what they saw around them, so much of what is depicted on the rocks there is straight out of the daily lives of the Aboriginals. For example, at the Ubirr site there are numerous drawings of fish, the very distinct outline of a kangaroo, a couple of turtles and even a white man. That particular image clearly reflects the growing interaction with the Aboriginals and the strange outsiders who began visiting their lands just a few hundred years ago. The simple figure is depicted using white paint, which was surely no coincidence, and he is clearly wearing shoes and standing with his hands in his pockets, something that the indigenous people had no knowledge of prior to Europeans coming to their country.

Aboriginal Art in Kakadu National Park
Kraig Becker

Each of the images was created using ochre, a colorful mineral that is plentiful throughout the region. The soft material comes in a variety of yellows, whites and reds, although the industrious artists found ways of creating still other colors by mixing it with animal fats and other natural resources around them. In Aboriginal tradition, it was forbidden for female members of the tribe to gather the ochre, although they could use it in their artwork once the males had taken it from the earth. The location of the ochre pits remain sacred ground to the original inhabitants of Australia even to this day and some are still used for collecting the mineral for use in traditional ceremonies.

Because it can’t be carbon dated it is impossible to know exactly how old the artwork at Ubirr and Nourlangie actually is. But judging from what is on the wall it is possible to estimate an approximate age. For instance, Europeans haven’t been living in Australia for all that long, relatively speaking, so the image of the white man is probably no older than 300 years. On the other hand, visitors to Ubirr will notice an image of a Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger, which have been extinct on the continent for at least 2000 years.

While the artwork in Kakadu has survived for centuries it remains a fragile piece of history that could be easily lost forever. The original artists never meant for their works to stay on the rocks indefinitely, as they were often erased or painted over with new artwork much like a blackboard. The images found in the national park have survived through the years in part because most of them are sheltered from the elements by overhanging rocks. That natural protection has kept this aspect of Aboriginal culture alive and on display for visitors to Kakadu to appreciate generations after the artwork was originally created.

Australia’s Aboriginal tribes wandered the country for millennia before Europeans began to arrive. Those indigenous peoples had an intimate relationship with the land and that shows through in their artwork and the places that they painted those indelible images. In Kakadu, where the landscapes are so beautiful and dramatic, that connection with the Earth can still be felt. It is as ageless as the artwork that marks the passage of time, sending us a message from the past that is undeniably powerful and humbling at the same time.

Aboriginal Art in Kakadu National Park
Kraig Becker

Australia Invites You To Do The Outback Your Way

Vist Australia with the Outback Your Way promotionThe Northern Territory of Australia is inviting travelers to explore the Outback Your Way with limited-time promotions designed to make it easier and more affordable than ever to visit that famous part of the world. The promotions include a variety of great options such as free flights, discounted accommodations and other upgrades designed to enhance the experience.

The Outback Your Way program is designed to give travelers flexibility when exploring the Northern Territory without emptying their wallets in the process. For example, one of the most popular destinations in the Outback is Uluru, also known as Ayer’s Rock, the iconic sandstone formation that has been sacred to the Aboriginal tribes for thousands of years. As part of this new promotion, when visitors book a three-night stay at the Desert Gardens Hotel, they receive a free tour of Kata Tjuta National Park, the location of that landmark. Similarly, travelers who book three-night stays in the Crown Plaza, in either Alice Springs or Darwin, also receive free touring options as part of those packages as well.

Those looking to explore the Outback in a completely different way can travel from Darwin to Alice Springs aboard the legendary Ghan Railway. The package includes two nights stay in both cities, a wildlife tour and a visit to the West MacDonnell Ranges, as well as a number of other activities. Traveling by train across Australia’s countryside is an unbelievable way to experience the natural beauty of the place and when booked six months in advance, travelers receive a $500 discount.

Other special deals that fall under the Outback Your Way promotion include a free helicopter flight over Uluru, complimentary internal flights when booking a comprehensive Australian travel package, a free sunset dinner cruise and much more.

If you’ve been planning an Australian vacation for some time but have been waiting for just the right opportunity, then you’ll definitely want to check out the Outback Your Way website. This is the perfect time to head down under and experience everything Australia has to offer.

[Photo Credit: Huntster via WikiMedia]

5 Of The World’s Best Places For Viewing The Night Skies

milky wayIf you grow up in Southern California, school field trips to the Griffith Observatory are practically a requirement. For whatever reason, I always found the Planetarium more frightening than enlightening, especially in the sixth grade, when David Fink threw up on me on the bus ride home.

Despite many youthful camping trips with my family, I also can’t recall ever paying attention to the night skies (possibly because many of these trips were in the cloudy Pacific Northwest). Fast-forward 20-odd years, and to a solo camping trip on Kauai’s North Shore. It was my last night and the rainclouds had finally blown away. I stared up at the starry sky awestruck. It’s the first time l ever really noticed the stars, due to the lack of light and environmental pollution. I’ve been a stargazer ever since, and coincidentally, many of my travels have taken me to some of the world’s best locations for it.

Below, my picks for top-notch night skies, no student chaperone required:

Atacama Desert
, Chile

This stark, Altiplano region in Chile’s far north is the driest desert on earth, as well as home to the some of the clearest night skies on the planet. You don’t need anything (other than perhaps a great camera) to appreciate the stars, but a stargazing tour, offered by various hotels, hostels and outfitters throughout the town of San Pedro de Atacama, is well worth it.

I highly recommend the Astronomy Tour offered by the Alto Atacama Hotel & Spa, located just outside of San Pedro proper. For hotel guests only, this two-year-old program is led by one of the property’s guides, a naturalist and astronomer. The hotel has its own observation deck and a seriously badass telescope; you won’t be disappointed even if stargazing isn’t your thing. In addition to learning the constellations of ancient Quechua myth such as the Llama and Condor, you’ll have incredible views of the Milky Way, and be able to see telescopic images of Sirius and Alpha Centauri with a lens so powerful you can actually see a ring of flame flickering from their surface.

%Gallery-157717%alto atacama observatoryExmouth, Western Australia
Uluru (aka the former Ayers Rock, which now goes by its Aboriginal name) is considered Australia’s best stargazing, due to its location in exactly the middle of nowhere. In reality, the Outback in general has night skies completely untainted by pollution. But as I’ve discovered after many years of visiting Australia, the only bad places to stargaze are urban areas. The skies are also stellar above remote coastal regions, most notably in Western Australia (which is vast and sparsely populated).

The best skies I’ve seen are in Exmouth, located along the Ningaloo Reef. At Sal Salis, a coastal luxury safari camp, an observation platform and stargazing talk will help you make sense of the Southern sky. Be prepared for striking views of the Milky Way stretching across the horizon, seemingly close enough to touch.
mauna kea
Mauna Kea, Hawaii
In 1991, the year of the Total Solar Eclipse, hundreds of thousands of visitors flocked to the Big Island’s Mauna Kea Observatory – located at the top of the volcano – to watch the sky grow dark mid-morning. I was waiting tables on Maui, so all I noticed was a brief dimming, in conjunction with some of my tables pulling a dine-and-dash. A visit to the volcano, however, will assure you stunning views if you take a Sunset and Stargazing Tour offered by Mauna Kea Summit Adventures. Day visitors can hike, and even ski in winter.

Bryce Canyon, Utah
This national park, known for its bizarre rock spires (called “hoodoos”) and twisting red canyons, is spectacular regardless of time of day or season. On moonless nights, however, over 7,500 stars are visible, and park rangers and volunteer astronomers lead Night Sky programs that include multimedia presentations and high-power telescopes; schedules and topics change with the seasons.
aurora borealis
Churchill, Manitoba
Located on the southwestern shore of Hudson Bay on the fringe of the Arctic Circle, the village of Churchill is famous for three things: polar bears, beluga whales and the Northern Lights. Its location beneath the Auroral Oval means the “best and most Northern Lights displays on the planet,” according to Churchill’s website, and you don’t need to sign up for a tour to enjoy the show. Save that for the polar bear viewing.

[Photo credits: Atacama, Frank Budweg; Mauna Kea, Flickr user sambouchard418;Aurora Borealis, Flickr user Bruce Guenter]

Lonely Planet names top 10 cities for 2012

Lonely Planet picks its Top 10 Cities for 2012Earlier this week popular travel guide publisher Lonely Planet announced their selections for the top 10 cities to visit in 2012, with a few obvious choices making the list. For example, London, which will host the 2012 Olympic Games, was unsurprisingly given a nod, while Hong Kong and Orlando, two perennially popular destinations, earned the distinction as well. Other cities making their way into the Lonely Planet spotlight include Santiago, Chile; Muscat, Oman; and Cádiz, Spain, each of which is lauded for their cosmopolitan flair, cultural diversions, and vibrant nightlife.

Adventure travelers looking for a great base of operations will want to take particular note of the inclusion of Darwin, Australia on the LP list. Located in that country’s Northern Territory, the city of 125,000 is praised for its buzzing art scene, great cuisine, and laid back atmosphere. What was once a remote frontier town has grown into a fantastic urban destination that remains below the radar for many travelers. At least for now.

Outdoor enthusiasts will find a lot to love in Darwin and the Northern Territory in general. The place is well known for its fantastic fishing, with anglers visiting from around the globe to try their hand at landing the famed barramundi. Near by Litchfield National Park offers fantastic hiking and camping, not to mention some of the most amazing waterfalls and freshwater pools around, while a visit to the Tiwi Islands immerses travelers in Aboriginal culture. Other featured activities include sailing, backpacking, and swimming, with plenty of great outdoor destinations available to indulge the whims of even the most adventurous travelers.

And once they’ve finished exploring the Northern Territory’s wild side, visitors can return to Darwin and take a stroll through an art museum or wander the popular Mindil Beach Sunset Market. Afterwards they can sit waterside and enjoy a world-class meal, complete with fresh seafood and smooth wines, before taking in the city’s eclectic nightlife or retiring to a comfortable hotel for the evening. Who says that adventure travel doesn’t allow you to spoil yourself too?

Joining Darwin, and the other cities already mentioned, on the Lonely Planet list are Bangalore, India; Stockholm, Sweden; and Guimarães, Portugal. To view the complete list and read why the cities were chosen, click here.

[Photo courtesy Tourism NT]

Want to win a trip to Australia’s Northern Territory? Hie thee to Twitter.

Here at Gadling, we’re not above shameless self-promotion. Particularly when the prize is a free trip to Australia for one lucky winner.

Our blogger-at-large, Andrew Evans, just returned from a month-long trip to Australia and he’s hosting a Twitter-based contest to send a winner (plus a friend) on a similar journey.

The best part? Entering is simple. Just tweet @WheresAndrew with the reason that the Northern Territory is the place you’d most like to visit in Australia. Be sure to include the hashtag #Takeme2NT or your entry won’t count – that leaves just 130 characters!

The rules are fairly simple. You must follow Andrew on Twitter, Fan the Northern Territorry on Facebook, and compose a tweet answering the above question.

The winner of the “best tweet” (decided by an external body in the Northern Territory) will win two round-trip tickets from the winner’s nearest flight departure city to either Darwin or Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia and a five-day rental of a Britz 4WD camper van.

Hurry, the contest ends February 11. Full contest details are avaiable here.