Shackleton & Selous Fellow Drew Kluska lists his ingredients for the ultimate Australian adventure
When Drew Kluska was running a five-star lodge in one of Kenya’s most famous wildlife conservancies in the mid-1990s, he formulated a plan to bring the ingredients of the classic African safari – the wide open spaces, the stylish comforts, the illuminating personal guiding – back to his native Australia. Today, it’s no surprise that our Australian Fellow has established himself as one of the country’s most reputable and amenable travel leaders – open to any suggestion, and with the contacts and ‘pulling power’ to bring virtually any dream to life.
Like Africa, where he spent several years showing visitors the charismatic Big Five animals, Drew has designed his own bucket-list of “Australia’s Big Five”. A consummate tour of the world’s oldest continent might include a couple of days exploring Sydney’s majestic harbour-front, a trip to the Outback to visit legendary landmarks like Uluru and the Flinders Ranges, close encounters with some of the country’s rare marsupial wildlife, and a sun-kissed diving adventure on the Great Barrier Reef. Throw in a few days with some of the most erudite ambassadors from the world’s longest surviving indigenous culture, and this can genuinely fulfill that ultimate travel promise of being “the trip of a lifetime”.
Australia’s oldest and largest city spreads out from its sprawling harbour – without a doubt, one of the world’s most spectacular. For the past 17 years, Drew has been bringing visitors to this glittering waterway: going behind the scenes at its iconic Opera House, arranging luxurious private cruises, climbing to the summit of its breathtaking bridge. Among a host of more personalised experiences are taking a private surf lesson on Bondi Beach, or visiting the exclusive showrooms of Paspaley Pearls – where you can watch renowned designers create some of the world’s most coveted jewellery, and even sample the delicate ‘meat’ of Paspaley’s South Sea Pearls.
Australia’s rare and wondrous creatures are the inspiration for hundreds of wildlife sanctuaries. But after two decades of guiding, Drew has found some of the best wildlife experiences right on his doorstep, in South Australia. Kangaroo Island is regularly described as “Australia’s Galapagos” for its abundant populations of kangaroos and koalas, its stunning birdlife and fearless sea lions and penguins. The island is also blessed with one of Australia’s most celebrated eco-resorts, Southern Ocean Lodge, built into a remote clifftop with boundless views over the Southern Oceans. Drew uses seasoned ranger Craig Wickham who has assembled the most experienced team of wildlife guides on the island, and has access to distinguished experts, such as the world echidna authority, Dr Peggy Rismiller.
3: THE OUTBACK
Growing up in rural South Australia gave Drew a special passion for his home soils – and what dazzling soils they are! In the north of the state, the vibrantly-hued Flinders Ranges are celebrated as the world’s oldest coral reef: a 650-million-year-old granite fortress littered with ancient fossils, Aboriginal legends, and soaring razor-backed peaks and ridges. Drew likes to take guests to Angorichina Station, a 140-year-old sheep station that has built an elegant oasis for six guests who are welcomed like family by Di and Ian Fargher, whose families have been farming here for four generations. Drew has contacts with numerous other ranchers running remote and exclusive homestays from the ‘Top End’ to the astonishing Kimberley, where guests can embark on the ultimate find-yourself adventure among ancient rock paintings, rich fishing grounds and unfettered wilderness – returning each night to the refined luxury and end-of-the-world views of Berkeley River Lodge.
4: GREAT BARRIER REEF
“You’ve got to be on an island to really appreciate the magic of the Great Barrier Reef,” says Drew. It’s no surprise that his two favourite islands lie right in the middle of the world’s most celebrated marine environment. Pristine and beautiful, multi-award-winning Haggerstone Island offers six uniquely handcrafted retreats scattered over a secluded jungle site, with a full menu of diving and fishing adventures aboard the hosts’ 40-foot motor yacht. Lizard Island to the north offers an even farther-flung escape on a 1,000-hectare island with 24 white-sand beaches and a fabulous fringing reef, a range of lavish accommodation, and a world of ocean activities – from diving on legendary Cod Hole, to game-fishing for black marlin, to doing nothing in absolute style.
5: ABORIGINAL CULTURE
In a world of ‘quick dip’ cultural tourism, Drew has built a reputation for coordinating in-depth experiences with some of the Northern Territory’s Aboriginal communities, using his secret book of contacts. Guests enjoy access to a special group of elders and rangers who take great pride in introducing them to the singular wisdom and magic of their ancient culture. Among Drew’s key partners is Venture North, a family-run business of incredible guides who take guests to communities and sacred sites across Arnhem Land and the Cobourg Peninsula – the top of the ‘Top End’ – where they have special permits to visit a number of restricted sites. Drew also enjoys rare access to a handful of indigenous-owned properties, such as Cicada Lodge in the Katherine Gorge – where guests can immerse themselves in the Jawoyn people’s ‘Dreaming’, without relinquishing any of the physical comforts of the 21st century.