Changing Seasons

16 November 2010

Discover pristine wilderness and unspoilt beauty

For many years, after trips to the Top End we would make our last campsite at the Daly River Mango Farm Tourist Park, prior to returning to Geelong. But for the last few years, we have stayed there for virtually our entire time in the NT.


While prices in Darwin and other Top End locations have increased steadily each year, the long-term site fees at Mango Farm have remained very reasonable. This is a pleasant surprise considering that costs associated with running a holiday park in an isolated location are higher than in built-up areas and the electricity is produced across the river using diesel-powered generators.


Other tourists are also staying longer than they used to. One factor we have noticed that may contribute to this is that a vehicle remains unused for weeks, so fuel costs are reduced to running the boat.


Although we do drive into Darwin for supplies, by getting others to pick up items on their trips and buying other necessities across the river at the store in Nauiyu, it is possible to stay for extended periods without undue expense. In fact, in 2007 when we dropped in for two weeks in May we stayed until October! In 2008, we stayed from late May until mid November. We were involved in assisting an Aboriginal family project to set up indigenous tours to their traditional lands, west of the Daly River.


In the beginning, having heard about the Daly River as a place that had retained a lot of its original natural beauty, we decided to go there with the intention of exploring its length downstream – a bit over 90km to the Timor Sea.


We first crossed the river where groups of Aboriginal children and young adults were happily cooling off as shallow, gurgling waters flow beneath the concrete culverts – offering a bit of safety from crocodiles. They grinned and waved back at us. The short stretch of gravel road beyond was lined with dry, stunted eucalypts, which being late in the dry season had discarded much of their foliage. There was a harsh feeling to the country.


We turned off and followed the river to the closed Mango Farm gate. Tourist season was over and the mango picking was in progress. In fact, on that first occasion we had to phone ahead and get permission from the owners just to come through the front gate.


We assured them that we would not be expecting any service, as they were busy picking mangos. This meant the licensed bistro was closed, but showers, toilets, swimming pool and all those facilities were still available. We were also advised that if there were any expected rise in the river, we should go. Such an event would close the river crossing, and once closed it might be five to six months before we could leave!


As the driveway meanders along with the river on one side and the mango orchard on the other, ahead can be seen a tall patch of dark green forest – like an oasis at that time of year. What you are seeing are the huge original mango trees over the residential area.


Being October, the Top End was into the ‘build-up’ time of high humidity, so we wanted a campsite with 24-hour power to run our air-conditioner. We had the river to ourselves, which meant we could wander around looking and photographing the wildlife and birds.


We quietly trolled a lure in the wide, peaceful waters in the hope of catching a barra, which we did. We could leave our boat, motor and fuel tied to the Mango Farm floating pontoon to use whenever we wished with no security concerns.


The property is a commercial mango farm with a separate tourist park, but it is also an historic site with Jesuit ruins from 1886. The original mango trees planted from India form a huge leafy canopy, shutting off the sky to the original residences. These trees were planted about 1913 when the agricultural pioneer James Parry was redeveloping the property. It now has two National Trust Listings and is a registered Australian Heritage site.


So that’s how it was when we first set out to try to explore and understand the Daly. Other regulars appear puzzled by us and I have been asked, “Why do we go there, since we don’t fish for barramundi day after day,” implying that enjoying the environment was insufficient reason. Well, during the season when the bistro is open some days we do enjoy a meal without Jeanette having to prepare it. And Friday nights barra ’n’ chips not only saves us from being serious about chasing the fish, we don’t have to fillet or cook it, either!


There are happy hours somewhere within the park every evening to join in with if we so choose, and on Sunday mornings as the church bells peel out from across the river, a group cooks bacon and eggs breakfast over an open fire. Another regular event is the potluck dinner, consisting of numerous park guests bringing along a plate of food and drinks to the camp kitchen, where everyone has a smorgasbord dinner, lots of laughter and great company.


The owners, Gary and Rhonda Higgins, particularly enjoy these evenings as they give them the opportunity to mix and mingle with their guests, without doing all the work. In fact, that is one important difference with this park: there are no employees, only Gary and Rhonda to get everything done. For some time, when we observed guests driving around in the Mango Farm utility emptying rubbish bins and replacing bin liners, I wondered what was going on. Eventually I inquired if there was a roster of people to do this work, to which Gary replied, “I don’t know! The bins just get emptied and I don’t question who by”. The regulars had simply organised it themselves. The same is true of meeting the mail plane in Nauiyu twice a week, then hand delivering the mail to each camp.


Again we extended our stay when we learned that Peppimenarti, one of the Aboriginal communities west of the Daly River, had decided to hold an open day on the first of September. Being a closed community of approximately 100 people, we could not visit any other time so this opportunity was not to be missed.


All the women and children are involved in artwork, and the people of Peppimenarti made everyone very welcome and demonstrated every detail of their art, particularly the basket weaving for which they are known worldwide. They crushed ochre to obtain colours, they boiled the roots of various plants to make dyes, and as all their basket-ware is sold via outside agents they were not trying to get us to buy anything, they were simply allowing us to see their craft. All the paintings were sold, including the children’s – about 90% of them to two men who arrived in a helicopter before the open day even started. Amazing how word gets around.


There is also an art gallery across the river in Nauiyu, and the Catholic Mission Church there is adorned with Aboriginal art on the inside walls and at the pulpit. The public are welcome to go in to view, as the church is always open.


The Nauiyu community host an annual art event and public art auction called the Merrepen Art Festival, which on the Saturday night the 21st of June incorporated an outdoor music concert. Seven hundred people attended on the banks of the Daly River at the Crossing. The Walkabout Chef had prepared basket meals of bush tucker at $15 each that included a chair or blanket to sit on.


An inflated screen at the back of a stage positioned the audience to view the sun going down over the river. It was a magnificent setting! A classical guitarist played from the time the audience were allowed in until the first official performance.


A group of local Aboriginal ladies conducted a ceremony to welcome us all, and before the actual concert began Aboriginal dancers from Peppimenarti and Emu Point performed a welcoming dance. The Melbourne Ad Hoc String Collective, fresh from a successful overseas tour, produced sweet musical notes to fill the river valley. Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu, the blind Aboriginal musician from Elcho Island (who has been in concert with Elton John), took the stage with his associates on bass and guitar. As he played his guitar and sang in his native tongue, a translation of the lyrics was displayed on the inflated screen at the rear of the stage so all could follow the stories of the dreaming of his people.


A series of arrangements prepared by Geoffrey included the Ad Hoc String Collective. If you enjoy serious music, you do not need further description from me, but some women wept as the strange, haunting voice described what the singer had never seen.


Base-camped at Mango Farm, we have mobile phone coverage, wireless broadband coverage and TV, so we are not totally isolated from the outside world. Each day there are photos to be checked and filed, cameras to be emptied, and batteries to be recharged. But leaving the human-generated entertainment behind, we soak up the river, the waterholes and billabongs, the animals, birds, insects, sunrises, sunsets, and the changing seasons.




Approximately 222km from Darwin: take the Sturt Hwy south, turn right at Dorat Rd, then turn off at Daly River Road.




Tourism Top End
6 Bennett ST, Darwin, NT
(08) 8980-6000




Cabins, powered sites, swimming pool, bistro, licensed to sell alcohol. Freehold property (BYO alcohol permitted)
1800 000 576


(08) 8978 2461/0428 735 630


Dick & Carol Perry
Some limited powered sites, and unpowered sites


Woolianna Rd
Daly River, NT
(08) 8978 2478
E: [email protected]




Off the bitumen road between Daly River and Adelaide River. 4WD recommended.


On the Douglas River. (Very social natural hot springs, lands of the Wagiman people, small fee).


Indigenous Tours West of the Daly River Dingo and Lucy arrange the tour to your requirements. On traditional lands, permits provided, also can conduct big boar hunting safaris.


Litchfield National Park 4WD access off the Daly River Rd. (Mango Farm can supply GPS references.)




Aboriginal Art and Workshop Nauiyu Community, Daly River


Internal decorations and religious motifs done by Aboriginal artists. Public welcome.


Malak Malak people traditional land, public is welcome to view. You can drive completely around the billabong in a 2WD vehicle. Located beside the Daly River Rd, opposite the turnoff to Nauiyu community.


Off the Daly River Rd, then off the Wooloiana Rd.


Bomber airstrip, 2WD access. Off the Douglas Rd.

By Ken and Jeanette Sellars