Aurukun Wetlands- Breathtaking Beauty

There really is a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. Why not come and see for yourself.

There really is a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. Why not come and see for yourself.

By Tim O’Reilly
In this piece, we offer you an insight into what makes a Wetland Charter on board the MV Pikkuw so special. A chance to glimpse some of the more positive aspects of the Aurukun community and the Wik people residing there. The community, despite its widely reported social difficulties, can be a hub of amazing people, cultural integrity and broad smiles.
The people of Aurukun, in building their own charter boat are for the first time welcoming outsiders to share in their unique culture and expansive water wonderland. A place so unaltered by human hands, visitors can not help but immerse themselves totally in their surroundings.
Cruising the endless waterways, which snake their way into Archer Bay is an activity enjoyed by an increasing number of people from all walks of life. Doing so in the company of knowledgeable, friendly Wik people is a fascinating way for people to sample a different side to Australia.

Folding the bark back from the Kup Mari.

Folding the bark back from the Kup Mari.

The Wik are proud and colourful people who fought hard for the Native Title granted over their homelands. Many people have heard of the influential decision in 1996, which proved that native title and pastoral rights could co-exist. They take pride in this struggle and are more than happy to share the results with those wishing to learn more.
With the onset of bauxite mining to the north of the community and the potential for more in coming years, the Aurukun residents have realised the need to engage with the outside world. Both economically and socially, this mixture of eco and cultural tourism gives local people a chance to feel pride in what they have on offer.

Let’s sample the kind of product on offer in an Aurukun Wetland Charter. The places and people you might run into along the way and some of the spectacular scenery you will enjoy.
Clients are transported between Cairns to Aurukun either direct on weekdays or via Weipa on weekends. Touching down in Aurukun, it is only 15minutes until clients can expect to be sitting on the top deck, enjoying peace, tranquilly and a cold drink. Chatting away about the coming events as the Pikkuw steams to its overnight anchorage.
Charters can be tailored to suit a wide variety of interest groups. In its three years of operation, Aurukun Wetland Charters has hosted bird watchers, biologists, photographers, philanthropists, journalists, corporate leaders, politicians and plenty of couples looking for a different holiday with friends.
The charter boat operates from early March up until the middle of December. Activities and locations will be varied depending on the time of year (season, temperature, conditions) and focus of the charter. Most charters are from 3 – 6 nights, however timing can be flexible.
Invariably, people are saying that this is a unique product. Relaxation is the key to a great holiday and every little detail is best taken care of by someone else. The hospitality, the food on offer (e.g. mud crab and barramundi), the friendly nature of crew and local Aurukun guides, help to make people welcome.

One of the beautiful waterholes in the area. The best part is that you have this all to yourself.

One of the beautiful waterholes in the area. The best part is that you have this all to yourself.

Listening to the stories, taking in the easy going and humorous nature of the Wik people, is often a highlight for visitors. Trips are characterised by informal interaction with local people, out and about in their own country, feeling good about themselves. Many have walked away with a slightly altered perspective, which is one of the many slightly unique aspects of this tourism product.
Walking around with people like Dawn Koondumbin, Hersey and Kenlock Yunkaporta and Mavis Nallamatta is like discovering a part of Australia many people do not know exists. Every plant and animal already has a name and often some use or story that goes with it.
There is a wealth of local knowledge and it is fantastic to see people in their own environment, speaking to one another in their native tongue. Many Aurukun people speak both Wik Mungkan and English, so it is interesting to hear the older ladies switch between the two, depending on what the topic is.
Visitors from all walks of life have enjoyed sitting on the bank of Kokialla Ck, listening to the waterfall gargle into a breathtaking swimming pool, watching Hersey mix up a damper. For most of the year, native sugar-bee hives are accessible and the delicate, delicious honey goes well with damper fresh from the coals. The Watson River, Orchid Ck and Kokialla Ck are scenically stunning waterways.

Upper Archer River

What a majestic river. What an amazing array of routs and possibilities arise in this ‘choose your own adventure’ which is the Archer River.
Tenders whizzing over hectares of shallow sand flats scattered around a maze of mangrove encrusted islands. Huge milkfish scuttle off in the shallow water below while above, sulpha-crested cockatoos screech off into the distance. A sweet smell of flowering melaleuca and grevillea trees brings thousands of punch-drunk, red winged parrots and rainbow lorikeets. Like fighter jets they missile off at almost impossible speed through the branches.
The Archer changes an enormous amount between the wet and dry seasons. In the latter wet-season months, the river is a torrent of dirty water and stranded paperbark forests. In the latter dry season, salt water pushes further and further upstream, changing the river’s dynamics as it goes.
The Archer River is one of those places that appear incredible no matter which season you view it in. So much sand and timber shift each and every year. It is constantly evolving, changing paths, scouring banks and displacing log jams. The wetlands that surround Aurukun are enormous. For anywhere up to five or six months of the year, all the dirt roads that connect this countryside are impassable.

Sunset over the Ward River.

Sunset over the Ward River.

The charter boat makes use of a vast network of waterways and Gulf coastline to reach those out of the way spots and does so in relative comfort. Being shallow draft, the Pikkuw can get right up these river systems and its twin-hulled design means the boat is incredibly stable.
Being owned by the community itself, gives the business unique opportunities to access the land. Aurukun Shire is huge, extending all the way from Cape Keerweer in the south, almost to Weipa in the north and quite a distance inland. Access is always a key factor in the success of a remote charter operation and Aurukun Wetland Charters has this well and truly under control.

To read the rest of this article, be sure to purchase your copy of the 2008 Cape Yorker magazine, available to purchase online.