Venture North camp, started by brothers Hugh and Aaron Gange who grew up in the bush farther south, is eco-luxe, meaning you get a tent, a comfortable mattress on a metal frame and a bathroom block with outdoor showers and loos. The camp has eight tents and can sleep up to 16. The site cannot be surpassed; nor can the food.
The camp, in Garig Gunak, sits atop red cliffs overlooking a stupendously beautiful beach. The only bummer is that you can walk, but not swim, at those beaches, the crocodile population being what it is. But as I sat drinking fine Australian wines, eating gourmet food and watching a glorious sunset as 16-foot crocs watched me from the beach below, the thrill of the place was worth the no-swim sacrifice.
Hugh Gange was our guide, and on our first afternoon he told us we were heading to the beach to go mud crab hunting. Wielding a stick with metal prongs on the end, Hugh showed the girls how to identify tide line rocks under which the crabs hide.
Within 15 minutes we had caught four huge crabs. Hugh then whipped out a hammer and a mallet, exhibiting how to shuck the oysters we got straight off the rocks. This was easy pickings, and despite shouts of, "Oooh, gross," and "No way," the girls were soon banging away and securing our hors d'oeuvres.
Hugh, a modern Aussie bloke, then took to the camp's open-air gourmet kitchen and whipped up crab stir-fried in a wok with chili and steamed crab with garlic butter for the girls. He then did the same with the giant, fresh oysters, leaving some raw and cooking others in the British Kirkpatrick style with bacon and cheese.
We spent our days at Venture North gathering food on the shore, fishing in one of the most abundant marine areas on Earth and visiting the ruins of a Victorian English settlement. Hugh explained how 80 miserable settlers built houses, hospitals and cottage industries, then died, one by one, of scurvy and malaria.
The neighboring Aborigines had tried to teach them to chew the leaves of the quinine tree (cure for malaria) and line their houses with melaleuca bark (natural bug repellent), to lick the citrus-tasting bellies of green ants (vitamin C) and eat the Kakadu plum (a fruit with a huge concentration of vitamin C), but the settlers thought this behavior primitive.
At dark, I would retire to my tent and listen to the girls in theirs next door, giggling and talking about the fish that had practically jumped in the boat, how they felt they ought to always gather their own food, and how, after all, they didn't really miss their cellphones.