When Lee (USA) booked his 22-day Darwin to Perth trip with Adventure Tours Australia, he had no idea that on this trip, he would abseil right into the arms of his future wife, Sanne (The Netherlands). Yet, this is exactly what happened in the adventure of a lifetime. Not only did they fall in love with Western Australia, they also fell in love with each other. Technically, their trip with Adventure Tours Australia could be viewed as the most epic first date ever.
It all started on a very early Saturday morning, 19 April 2014, to be exact. A pick up time of 6:50 meant that some of the travellers were still in a slightly zombielike state, clutching their coffees and quietly trying to get a measure of the other travellers. And then, of course, there are people like Danny (originating from Germany but a true globetrotter).
Her cheerfulness was infectious, and she got people talking in no time. Some of them would become friends for life. Danny, Michael (Germany), Rebecca (Sanne’s cousin from the Netherlands), Lee and Sanne would eventually become inseparable. By the time the truck arrived, most of the introductions were done and everyone was ready for the adventure to begin.
The awesome first guide, Travis, made sure his group stayed as cool as possible on the first hike through Nitmiluk (Katherine) National Park.
The hike to Leliyn (Edith) Falls, was hot, but a lovely refreshing swim at Sweetwater Pool ensured the adventurers were ready for the walk to the Upper Pool, where they enjoyed the beautiful views. This “walk – swim – walk” would be the reoccurring pattern these next few days. The walks would be hot but interesting (Travis was an amazing storyteller) and exciting (scrambling over rocks and crossing streams with each other’s help), and the promise of a waterhole at the end would keep everyone going without a problem.
One of the many things that Sanne and Lee will never forget about this trip, was waking up to the sounds of the countless Australian birds. Whenever a group member would ask Travis what time they had to get up, he’d say “Ah, with the birds…” and left it at that. On that first night, everyone was a bit confused and a little insecure. “With the birds”, what does that exactly mean? What time did they have to set their alarms? Would they get up in time or would they be that person who would oversleep and keep the entire group waiting? They needn’t have worried. Together with the light of the sunrise, the birds woke them up better than any alarm clock ever could. First, softly, in the distance, the birds would start singing, and then the cacophony would come closer and closer with the rising sun, like a tidal wave washing over you. The approaching light and increasing volume of the feathered choir turned even the most staunch morning hater into a morning person. Sleeping in mozzie domes or just a swag under the countless stars, with the occasional shooting star and satellites drifting past, and waking up like that is one of the best feelings ever. Flash forward: this made such an impression on Lee and Sanne that the Australian birds even made it to their wedding. Well, a recording of the birds. “Here comes the bride”, eat your heart out, you’ve got nothing on Kookaburra and co.
From wonderful sunrises to drop dead gorgeous sunsets (e.g., watching from the middle of Lake Argyle), the days in between would be filled with excitement and wonder, moments of deep contemplation and inner peace. Once the excitement and the obligatory “Kodak moments” were over, even the biggest photography addicts would lower their cameras and just sit down and take in what places like Cathedral Gorge in Purnululu (Bungle Bungles) NP had to offer.
After the serenity of Cathedral Gorge, it was time for some adrenaline: a helicopter flight over the Bungles! And who needs doors on a helicopter; they’ll only ruin your photos, right? Totally pumped (and Sanne with hair like Tina Turner), they returned after a 42-minute flight over the entire Bungle range. It was awesome!
The following days were incredible: every time when they saw something or did something, they thought “there’s no way anything can top this”, and time and time again, Australia proved them wrong. Gorgeous waterholes and waterfalls, natural hot springs, stunning vistas, the seemingly endless Gibb River Road, it was a humbling experience. Mother Nature at her finest, vast and untamed.
Friendships that would last a lifetime were formed while gathering firewood and cooking the delicious meals, sitting around the campfire, chatting on the long drives, enjoying each other’s music and company.
Additionally, sharing aquatic adrenaline rushes at Ningaloo Reef like scuba diving and swimming with graceful, acrobatic manta rays and serene, massive whale sharks, and canyoning in Karijini NP strengthened the bonds between the group members.
It is almost impossible to choose a highlight of this trip, but if Sanne and Lee must, their personal one would be the canyoning trip with West Oz Active (shout out to Pete & Freddie!), because this is where their love story truly began. On the first part of the trip (Darwin to Broome), Lee and Sanne didn’t talk much, but on the second part (Broome to Perth), some travellers left the group, which brought Lee closer to Sanne. In Broome, they were also joined by some new people and a new guide, Sean, who was a born entertainer, which was very welcome on the long drives.
Lee, who isn’t quite comfortable with heights, had been strong-armed into going on this canyoning trip by Sanne, Rebecca, and Michael. Sanne had been made “safety officer”, which meant she would be lowered into the restricted Knox Gorge area first, and guide the others down, unclip their ropes, and send them down the natural waterslide.
When Lee was lowered, he didn’t look happy, to put it mildly, and kept glancing over his shoulder to the waterslide.
Sanne, definitely feeling guilty now for pressuring Lee into going, tried to reassure him. Then, out of nowhere, Lee said “thank you’, and, emboldened by adrenaline, stepped forward, kissed Sanne and before she realised what had happened, he was already down the waterslide.
Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, including this 22-day ripper of a trip. Saying goodbye to Australia and each other was heartbreaking. However, Lee and Sanne stayed in touch and one thing led to another. In July 2016, they married in a castle in the Netherlands in the presence of Michael, Danny and Rebecca.
You’ll never guess their honeymoon destination! Australia, they fell hard and fast for you, and they will be back, Lee for his fourth trip and Sanne for her third – but this time as husband and wife.
Sanne and Lee would like to thank everyone at ATA, especially their guides, Travis and Sean, and Pete and Freddie from West Oz Active. You’ve taken them to some breathtaking places, and taught them many things. You’ve given them the opportunity to learn that not all Americans are megalomaniacs (most of the time), some Germans do have a sense of humour, and – okay, admittedly, Sanne confirmed the Dutch stereotype about stinginess… Travel indeed broadens the mind.
Fall in love on any of our small group tours around Australia.