Darwin

Trip Start Sep 03, 2007
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Trip End Jun 17, 2009


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Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Thursday, August 21, 2008

We had arrived at 'Cairns' airport around 4pm for our 6pm flight to 'Darwin'. Boarding should have started at 5.30 but instead there was an announcement that there had been a 'connection delay' and we eventually took off at 8pm. This was serious 'cattle class' with the added bonus that we were sat near the back of the plane, a rear engine Boeing 717. So someone had built a plane that was worse than the MD83!!

The cramped flight thankfully only lasted for two hours, including the difficult operation of eating a meal when you didn't have complete mobility in your arms because of the restricted space - this really was sardine style. Ok 'Quantas Link', you've earned a place next to the top of 'the world's worst airline' list.

We landed in Darwin, Northern Territory and went to play the 'baggage game' - blimey, it's been that long since we've been on a plane I'd forgotten the game. Well, "no worries mite" - we had all three, which merited a little forgiveness for Quantas Link!

Out into the warm night and an unfriendly taxi ride to the city and our hotel, who we found out later had already debited our credit card for the (expensive) night's stay. At least the room was clean and comfortable even if nowhere near palatial, for the rate we had paid for it. Our clocks were put back half an hour to northern standard time (?).

Thursday 21st August

An easy start and the luxury of a buffet breakfast, which included 'English bacon', soft cooked, full slices as compared to the thin and crisp American style.

The Northern Territory contains some serious outback and wilderness areas and we wanted to see a (tiny) part of the 'Kakadu national park', which was some 23,000 sq kms in area and extends from just outside  Darwin way up to the north coast. We booked a day trip for Friday and a crocodile viewing trip, that Kath, who we had met on the yacht in Airlie Beach, had recommended, for Saturday.

Next was to prepare for Asia and its mosquito population. We bought a mosquito net and several (small) jars of permethrin concentrate (which is a mosquito repellent) and spent the afternoon soaking some of our clothes in the mix and drying them, which wasn't hard in the hot Darwin sun, tucked away in a disused bar area near the swimming pool.

At dusk we took a taxi ride up to 'Mindl beach', which has a twice weekly night market in the adjacent park. We just missed a fabulous sunset, with scores of people sitting on the beach and either relaxing or eating food from the many stalls that were in the market. We walked around sampling (mostly Asian) food, which tasted just as it does at home and leaves you just as thirsty!

After looking at the many other art, jewellery and souveneir stalls, we sat and listened to a live blues band for an hour before returning to the hotel for an early (ish) night.

Friday 22nd August

Alarm clock at 5.15 am and we managed to grab an early, quick bite of breakfast from the restaurant - bless you all. Picked up by coach at 6.10, where we found there was a transport problem. Our intended coach had broken down, so we travelled  an hour out of Darwin on an old small coach, with no air con and a dodgy clutch, to rendezvous with another small coach. The idea was to meet at this coffee stop whilst a replacement coach was found. An hour and a half later a large coach arrived. It was old but at least it had air con and comfy seats.

We set off on the nearly 300 kms towards Kakadu np and our first stop was at the 'Mamukala wetlands', a great marsh area, home to many different bird types. Then it was 'Nourlangie Rock', a stopover place for the nomadic aborigines who had lived in the area for 50,000 years and had painted artwork on the rock areas. It was very simplistic and represented events in their lives and symbols of their gods. There was a trek up to the 'Gunwarddehwardde lookout', which gave fine views over the surrounding flat topped rainforest, which extended for miles.

After a lunch stop we went on a boat cruise on the 'Yellow Water billabong', a long twisty stretch of isolated river and the home to much bird life, as well as CROCS. At last we got to see the fabled reptiles, some of which were quite large and menacing.

On the way back there was a quick visit to the 'Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre' to learn more about the aborigines.

It was a long day out and we returned to Darwin around 9pm but we had seen a lot and enjoyed the sights of this wild area. The group we spent the day with were all friendly and we had plenty of good conversations. My thanks to Manny for being an interesting travelling companion.

Saturday 23rd August

A last chance to sort things out before leaving Oz. Final pictures were archived and a box of souveneirs was sent back to Mission Support Centre (sorry John, there's another incoming!) Then we looked for a Travelex or similar centre to buy travellers cheques for Asia. Banks don't issue them in Oz and the only office in town was closed - on a Saturday morning! Tourist Information sent me to a Thomas Cook office (which had closed some time ago) and advised that there was another Travelex at the airport.

We'd done as much as we could by the time our next trip was due. Meeting at the bus terminal we drove to the 'Fogg Dam Conservation area', one of several parks in the lower Adelaide river catchments that provide havens for wildlife. There were isolated pools and channels that were slowly drying out, giving ideal feeding conditions for some of the over three hundred bird types that have been logged in the area.

It was a short drive to the 'Window on the Wetlands', a visitor centre built on a small hill, giving great views over the wetlands and explaining the birdlife and animal groups that live there.

Then the 'Jumping Crocodile Cruise' on the Adelaide river, which was on the ebbing tide. Our double decker boat set off into the river flow and as it was a cloudy day, the crocs were not active but trying to conserve energy.
A few recognized the boat and approached us. The idea is that a crew member ties a piece of meat on to a line, which he dangles from a long bamboo pole over the water. The croc swims for the bait, which is raised, causing him to come leaping out of the water to grab it. A bit touristy but I suppose if the crocs didn't want to do it, they wouldn't.

We had quite a few good leaps, with the crocs coming well over a metre out of the water and then snapping their jaws shut on their 'prey', quite an awesome sight. The feeding extended to black kites, which swooped down to catch smaller pieces of meat and even a sea eagle, who cruised in and snatched a big chunk.  Quite an impressive display, especially from the crocs, who definitely need to be treated with respect.

Back in town by teatime and a quick beer at one of the many open air bars. We changed for supper and found a restaurant that had kangaroo on the menu. It was similar to a tasty piece of steak and quite tender. I finished the meal with a Bundaberg (sugar cane) rum, which was not very strong and had little taste, a disappointment.

Sunday 24th August

An easy morning and leisurely breakfast before packing. Our hotel had at least given us a late check-out time and
in early afternoon we left our bags at reception and went for a walk round the esplanade area.

We passed the Northern Territory parliament building, known by the locals as the 'wedding cake' because it's a square, white building. We were told of another reason by a local who, with the usual Aussie disrespect for politicians, said it was called the 'wedding cake' because it was full of 'fruits, nuts and alcohol'!

Near the harbour wharves we came across memorials to the Japanese attack on Darwin in February 1942, carried out by the same battle fleet that had attacked Pearl Harbour, ten weeks earlier.

A last beer, sat in the hot, Darwin sunshine and then at 3.30 we were on our way to the airport and out of Oz.

Reflection:

Australia - how's it go then?

OZZY, OZZY, OZZY - OY, OY, OY !!!!    was the constant cry from, especially younger, Australians and we heard 'Waltzing Matilda' less than a handful of times.

I certainly had an impression of a (mostly) bare and barren country before we arrived and I've been surprised as to how much greenery, forests, serious river systems and mountains there are here. Maybe all the barren bits are elsewhere. I expected a few nice beaches when there are miles and miles and miles of them, most set in deep blue seas.

The animals are as strangely varied and as interesting as we expected, ranging from their unique mammals to fabulously coloured birds. The poisonous ones? We were concerned before coming here but we didn't see one threat at all (apart from in zoos). The way of life here is to be knowledgeable about where you're going, be prepared and leave well alone. It must work because there is a great prosperous nation out here.

The natives? We didn't meet any unfriendly Aussies and the vast majority were helpful, talkative and friendly. There were a few who had some comments on England but I feel that was understandable when we seem not to have been completely supportive in the time that their country was under direct enemy attack. As to the issue of still being 'tied to England's apron strings', yes, it is an anachronism in this modern day for an independent, strong and prosperous nation to be held back by a state of 'Empire' that maybe no longer exists. However at their last recent referendum the majority of Aussies voted against independence, so it's mostly in their hands. They also have a strong feeling of speaking out against anything that they don't like, which is healthily refreshing.

They give no quarter on the roads and will pass you on any side they can, doing whatever speed they want. The strange thing is that many will make a serious effort to pass you and then turn off less than 100 yards further on, as though this is some kind of personal pride challenge. It is just another facet of the general determination to succeed that is part of the Aussies' culture.

We were not even going to see a fraction of Oz and our decision to go up the east coast was to try to see as much as possible. A glimpse of the outback would have been interesting but we still eventually drove 4617 miles (plus tourist trips and local mileage) from bottom to (near) top, enjoying the views and spectacle of as many major landmarks and areas as we could.

Regrets? Maybe not been able to spend more relaxing time with friends and it was nice to catch up with Ollie and David, Neil and Sylvia and Lisa and Alan. We enjoyed the short time with them and being shown around their (widely different) areas.

It has been a great time here and Australia gave us more than we anticipated on all counts. Yes - we would certainly come back here.

 
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Comments

mannypalma
mannypalma on

Manny's comment
Hi guys...glad to have been able to meet and spend time with you. If ever you're out this way again make sure to touch base. I will follow your travels with interest!!

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