The sun is setting on another glorious day in the Northern Territory’s remote Cobourg Peninsula. I’m sipping a Green Ant gin and tonic, watching a flock of black cockatoos drifting gracefully across the sky, while Mr F quenches his thirst with a bottle of Great Northern. Guests are comparing notes on their latest adventures as we taste freshly-caught queenie, done sashimi style, when a ripple of excitement breaks the gentle patter of the afternoon. Out on the picture-perfect bay, a large crocodile is silently cruising towards the mangroves – distinctive nostrils and eyes visible above the waterline. Welcome to Seven Spirit Bay. An oasis of luxury in this remote corner of Australia, where the real NT is never far away.
The resort is 200 kilometres north east of Darwin in the Garig Gunak Barlu National Park, accessible only by air. We arrive in an eight-seater plane from Darwin (our luggage paired down to the mandatory 15 kg). Other guests have made their way in by private plane or helicopter. As one does.
Wow! The lodge is set on an embankment, overlooking the still blue waters of Coral Bay (Seven Spirit Bay refers to the seasons of the indigenous calendar) and is surrounded by well-tended tropical gardens. Beyond that – it’s dense bushland. It really is remote!
In his welcome briefing, the resort manager asks us to be wary of snakes when walking to and from our villas. We’re also asked to stay away from the beach because there are crocodiles. Obviously, there’s no swimming, except in the pool. This is the Northern Territory, people. There are dangerous critters out there. The water is sooo blue and it’s sooo hot, but that’s just too bad. Safety first.
The villas are dotted through the bushland around the central lodge – stylishly rustic with air conditioning and mozzie screens. Ours overlooks Coral Bay, an ideal spot for enjoying sunset. It’s a short stroll to the lodge for meals, but we still encounter plenty of wildlife en route. One evening, there’s a Night Tiger, otherwise known as a brown tree snake, on the path outside out villa (we were warned). Another evening, it’s a Children’s python (named after the British zoologist, John Children). Neither of these snakes are terribly venomous, but I didn’t know that at the time! They certainly gave me a nasty fright and ensured that I carried at torch every night on the way home from dinner.
Stuff to do
The lodge offers a program of activities including safari drives into the bushland, where you might spot a beaded bee-eater, buffalo or banteng (wild Indonesian cattle). There’s also an excursion to the nearby colonial settlement of Victoria, which was built as a military outpost in 1838 to check the aspirations of rival imperialists. There were also hopes the tiny village would become a Singapore-style trading hub, but the miserable conditions and isolation led to the settlement being abandonned to the sea cucumber fishermen and the buffalo hunters, 11 years later.
Fishing is probably the most popular pursuit in this part of Australia. The waters here teem with giant jewfish, king fish and queenies, while the estuaries are full of much-sought after barramundi. Chances are, you’ll catch more than a snag if you drop your line in. Even better – going out on a guided fishing trip means you’ve got someone who actually knows where the fish are lurking and can do all the fussing around with lines, lures and other tricky stuff. Everyone manages to land a fish on the afternoon that we go ocean fishing, but nothing impressive enough to keep for the chef. Looks like it will be duck confit for dinner.
We also try our hand at estuary fishing in nearby Trepang Creek. Once again, I enjoy the luxury of having a guide to sort out lines and lures, and a radar to find fish. Under Alex’s expert tutelage I pull in three mangrove jacks as we potter towards the mouth of the creek – a world record as far as I’m concerned. Mr F lands a barra – that looks enormous, but is deemed undersized and returned to the creek. Enough fish caught, we motor to the mouth of the creek, where our guide has previously spotted a four metre croc. Sure enough, it’s lazing in the shallow water. But the big surprise – it’s not alone. Another croc, possibly twice the size, is nearby. While the boat idles at a safe distance Mr F scrambles the drone for a better look. He’s just got the device into position when the bigger croc launches itself out of the water, driving the younger croc towards us.
We make a hasty retreat, and soon enough we’re back in the sanctuary of the lodge, tucking into a smoked chicken salad with quinoa and toasted wattle seed, sharing tales of our croc encounter with fellow guests, but my heart is still racing. We might be staying in a stylish resort, but we are most definitely in the real NT here!
Oh, did I mention there’s no WIFI or mobile phone coverage. It says so on the website, but I must have missed that page. My fingers twitched when the manager revealed we’d be completely off the grid for four days. Mr F went very quiet when he realised there was no way to watch the rugby final. No WIFI at all? A digital detox. It’s what we’re all here for, right? No, but OK.
I hadn’t told the kids we were going to be off the grid. They probably didn’t even know where we were. Something might happen! As it turned out nothing happened. I was allowed to use the satellite phone to call my Mum for mothers’ day, and when we did contact the kids, they hadn’t even noticed we were missing. And I have to admit it was liberating to be incommunicado for a few days.
The beautiful tranquillity, the stagging night sky, the crocodiles, the enthusiastic staff (I’m tucking their stories away for a future novel) and the friendly guests that we shared this moment in time with.
Pack sturdy walking shoes and long pants for bush walks – everything spikes or bites around here. Long sleeves and a good hat are essential for fishing.