Trekking Australia’s Last Frontier

An average day of bush walking starts 4:20 a.m., and continues for about 12 hours before she fishes and sets up her camp for the night. The walking is slow, partly due to unsure footing, and because Marquis constantly has her eyes peeled for a snack.

Sarah Marquis is drawn to solitude. That’s why she spent three years walking the estimated 10,000 miles from Siberia to Australia, and then across that continent’s big, empty backyard. And that’s why she faced a four-month survivalist adventure in Australia’s Kimberley region, which she called her “Dropped Into the Wild Corner” expedition. (Marquis was named a Nat Geo Adventurer of the Year for her solo walk from Siberia to Australia.)

Located Australia’s tropical northwestern corner, the Kimberley is the continent’s last frontier. It offers wild, rugged nature in one of the unfriendliest ecosystems on the planet. Home to saltwater crocodiles, dozens of venomous snakes (including the ominously named desert death adder), deep canyons, loose rocks, and unpredictable wildfires, Marquis says she relied on all 23 years of her trekking experience in order to survive.

“Here, there’s a zone where there are no humans. And there is no such thing on this planet, anymore,” Marquis explains by phone from a local ranch she’s using as a rest point at the midpoint of her journey. “And I wanted the connection with nature, the animals, and the wild. I wanted to be in a place where the animals hadn’t seen people.”

Sarah Marquis recharges at her camp in Australia’s Kimberley [Photograph by Sarah Marquis]

In a place that was chosen specifically for its lack of people, Marquis says that there is one surprising clue to nearby humans. “There are heaps of wild bulls,” she says with a laugh. The livestock escape from nearby ranches and go rogue in the bush.
Marquis describes her first encounter with one of the hooved deserters: “I was walking through the tall, dry spear grasses. They’re taller than me, so I can’t see anything. It’s pure navigation; I use my compass and a map to go anywhere. Every once in a while, you have to stop to listen to see if anything is happening around you. And one day, I was walking and I heard something behind me. I stopped. And the sound stopped. When I arrived at a clearing, I waited under a tree and suddenly a big bull came out of the grasses. He was following me, really cautiously.”

She says that it’s easy to keep the peace with her bovine neighbors, which have a habit of emerging just feet away from her through the tall grasses: “Pretend you don’t see them.”

That’s not to say that Marquis isn’t careful of Australia’s more notorious wildlife. The Kimberley’s saltwater crocs are the world’s largest reptiles, and can reach up to 20 feet long and weigh over 3,000 pounds.

“I saw some crocodiles from the chopper. And then after two days, I threw my bucket into the water with my rope. But I couldn’t pull my bucket back to shore. I was fighting with a crocodile to get my bucket back. It’s really the only thing I need. That was a sign, this was going to be tough.”

Luckily, the bucket survived. “Yeah, it had a hole, but I fixed it,” Marquis explains simply.

Sarah Marquis’s modest camp blends into the landscape in Australia’s Kimberly [Photograph by Sarah Marquis]

An average day of bush walking starts 4:20 a.m., and continues for about 12 hours before she fishes and sets up her camp for the night. The walking is slow, partly due to unsure footing, and because Marquis constantly has her eyes peeled for a snack. Her go-to “bush tucker” meals include crickets (“They’re big, like a finger!”), lily bulbs, wild passion fruit, and pretty much anything else that looks edible, which sometimes has negative consequences.

“I saw this lovely orange tree – well, it looked like a mini orange tree. It had these little, really bitter fruit. And I tasted a few of them and I liked it. So one day, I was starving and I saw a few of those trees, so I had been snacking on them. I guess I had too many of those fruit, and suddenly I had really blurry vision. It got better once I stopped eating them.”

Because of a prolonged drought in the middle of the dry season, the wild tomatoes and yams that Marquis had counted on to be the staples of her diet aren’t available, so she ended up bringing 100 grams of flour for every day she’s on expedition. She forages for the rest of her food. After the first month of her adventure, Marquis has dropped 22 pounds from her 5 foot 9 inch frame.

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