If you have limited time in Australia and want to meet the local wildlife, explore the Australian bush and taste some delicious local cuisine, then a private one day tour is the best way to do it. We first came across Sydney Guided tours and their “Nature and Wildlife: Australia in One Day” tour via their Youtube channel and we keen to see if the offering was as good as it looked so we sent writer Joanne Karcz along to find out…
Matt, of Sydney Guided Tours, cocks his head. “That’s a kookaburra,” he says pointing to the source of the laughing bird in the distance. We’re walking through the Australian bush on a track at the back of the northern Sydney suburb of Berowra.
Only a few minutes in and already I’ve tasted a “bush lolly” and learnt how Aboriginal people used red resin from grass trees to waterproof Coolamons, the shallow oval wooden vessels they used to carry food or water. I’ve rubbed leaves with water to create a foamy soap and discovered that, mixed with water, the gum of a Sydney Redgum works as an anticoagulant.
Having spent much of his life in and around the bush, Matt knows his plants and bushcraft. It’s what led him to start “Sydney Guided Tours” and in particular this “Nature and Wildlife: Australia in One Day” tour.
Bending down, he points to the barely visible outline of a woman carved into a flat sandstone rock. When the sun shines at a certain angle, the Aboriginal carving would be clearer. Matt is unsure of the meaning of the artwork. Anyway, as he says, it’s not his story to tell.
What he can tell me is that a moth larva chomping its way between the layers of bark caused the squiggly grey lines on the smooth silvery grey trunk of the scribbly gum. I run my fingers over the distinctive markings.
Back in the car, we drive through local streets, past suburban houses and schools. On this tour, guests can expect a local experience, far from the usual tourist haunts.
Matt assesses the interests of his guests and adapts each tour according to their needs and interests. Want Tim Tams to take home? Easy. Want to body surf? Certainly. Want to see the carvings in the valley below? Let’s go.
Our group of three are interested in nature, and Aboriginal Art. We get that in spades. Matt detours down a side road. Leaning against a black metal paling fence, he points down towards a rocky ledge on the bank of the Hawkesbury River. Carved into a sandstone ledge is a large stingray.
It’s been a while since our morning coffee, and we all readily agree to pull off the narrow winding road lined with tall eucalypts for a takeaway coffee. At Saddles, the restaurant named for the row of saddle-seats lining the bar, overlooks a manmade lake where black swans and wood ducks glide across the smooth water.
Coffee in hand, we drive to our next stop. Below us, the wide Hawkesbury River curls around a mangrove swamp as it flows slowly towards the sea. A motorboat, just a speck on the water, leaves a white trail in its wake.
After experiencing the bush, it’s time to get close to wildlife. In the Walkabout Wildlife Park, a large swamp wallaby lies sprawled on a rock. I approach, intrigued by its black furry front paws with long smooth claws resting on the sand. An emu stalks by, so close that I could touch the iridescent blue of its neck.
A cheeky little eastern grey kangaroo hops quietly along behind me. I kneel down so it can sniff my hand. Finding nothing of interest, it moves on.
The ears and legs of a large joey poke out from its mother’s pouch. A dingo stands up and stretches in its enclosure while the wombat sleeps on. Two kookaburras stand side by side on a branch, raise their beaks to the sky and begin their raucous laugh.
The loud chorus of cicadas meets my ears as I step out of the car at our next stop. Bending down to avoid overhanging branches, I follow Matt along a narrow sandy bush track. It opens onto an expanse of smooth flat sandstone surrounded by scraggly trees and low scrub.
There’s a carving near my feet. The large elongated figure has a series of circles on the ends of stalks radiating like a crown from its head. Close by is the outline of a person with a boomerang near their hand, a couple of large kangaroos, a fish and surprisingly, a little penguin.
We leave the bush now for the beach and lunch. The early afternoon sun beats down on the sparsely populated beach. We seat ourselves outside at a table underneath a tall tree. As we await our seafood lunch, I watch a young mum enter the coastal pool with her little boy. Surfers lie on their boards waiting for the right wave.
While we’re not interested in swimming, that’s always an option on this flexible tour. Instead, we walk around the headland to a wide flat rock platform. For years, waves have washed and swirled over the rock smoothing it in places and creating little holes in other parts.
Cliffs tower above me, the sandstone weathered into lacey patterns. On my left, the blue sea stretches to the horizon. Besides the waves crashing rhythmically on the rocks and the occasional seagull calling out, it’s quiet and peaceful. Apart from a couple of fishermen, we have the place to ourselves.
So far, we’ve seen Aboriginal carvings that are thousands of years old, some indistinct, others clearly visible. On our last stop of the day, we visit an award-winning Aboriginal Artist to view contemporary Aboriginal art. It feels odd walking into someone’s lounge room, but Garry Purchase has an easy welcoming nature and we quickly feel at home.
His works decorate the walls of his living rooms. Leading us from one painting to another, Garry describes the thought behind the works. All have a story.
In my favourite piece, small meticulously placed dots in various shades of blue spiral around the dark canvas creating a whirlpool effect. Garry’s totem is the whale and, in this work, a grey whale dives into the middle of the whirlpool. Garry painted this work in three days without a break. He’s entering it into the upcoming Telstra Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards. I hope he wins.
Today has been special. I thought I knew my local area well, but Matt took me to lookouts and bush tracks I didn’t know existed. He taught me things about the bush I’d never heard before. I got up close and personal with Australian wildlife and possibly best of all I met Garry Purchase, an inspiring and talented Aboriginal artist.
Need to know
All of the tours Matt offers are private experiences and tailored to each guest.
Cost: from $376pp
When: Available daily although you need to book early to secure your preferred date in high season.
Maximum guests: Groups of up to 10 can be accommodated.
Joanne Karcz was a guest of Sydney Guided Tours.