Darwin is renowned as a bit of a frontier town, with a massive beer drinking culture (you can see why – so hot). Article in the local newspaper while we were there last week reported that the Northern Territory has the third highest per capita beer consumption in the world (not sure which places were one and two, but I’m picking they are not in Australia). In Darwin, a 'stubbie' is 2.5 litres! (Or is it 1.5 litres - anyway, a lot) Darwin has been ‘up against it’ in a number of ways, since first founded in about mid 1860’s (I think). First of all, it was very remote from the rest of Australia (still is); the climate is pretty torrid in the wet season; malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases were a big problem until early 1900’s; then the city was bombed by the Japs in February 1942 (nearly 300 lives lost, many on ships in the harbour); then of course Cyclone Tracey flattened the place in December 1974 with winds > 200 miles per hour (more lives lost, officially around 70 I think). Now it is a comfortable, modern city, rebuilt after Tracey. All this means there’s quite a bit of history to see here, and the Museum and Art Gallery which is a good place to get across all this.
We discovered 2 must-do’s in Darwin while we were there:
- on Sunday evening, go to Mindil Beach Market, buy sea food, and watch the sun go down – half Darwin plus all tourists in the area were there last Sunday I reckon
- on the Queens Birthday Monday holiday, head to Litchfield NP for a swim and a frolic in the plunge pools and swimming holes that abound there. Parts of this Park are also still closed, notably the Reynolds River 4WD track which meant that the other half of Darwin and all the tourists in the area were all jammed into 3 or 4 main swimming spots and it was all pretty crowded.
After Darwin, we drove back into Kakadu for a night before setting off for Garig Ganuk Barlu (GGB) NP on the Cobourg peninsula, about 560 km NE of Darwin. En route to Kakadu, we did a 3 hour tour of Corroboree Billabong, part of the Mary River system, about 100 km from Darwin. This was FANTASTIC! If you come up this way, do it. The tour only started this dry season, and costs $55 per person – similar tours at Yellow Waters in Kakadu are > $100 pp, and way more crowded. With Vicky and Mark, we saw:
- about 20 species of birds, some with chicks like the little jacana babies walking with dad
- amazing lotus water lilies, all huge and floppy with purple flowers, very picturesque
- about 5 or 6 crocs, close-up, like about 3 m from the boat, just quietly going about their business except one which took a bit of a lunge in our direction causing everyone to rush to the other side of the boat and nearly toppling us into the water (nah, the last bit didn’t happen, but is was a bit exciting for a while).
The road into GGB NP is a good, easy run and the camp site at Smith Point is a beaut. Hardly a soul about – no caravans, yea! The highlight of our time at GGB NP was the boat trip across Port Essington to the ruins of Victoria settlement, established by the British in 1838 to ward off any attempts by France or Holland to claim northern Australia, and to open up trading between British interests and Asia. Well, the settlement survived for only 11 years though heaps of the original garrison and reinforcements sent from Britain did not – malaria being the main killer, but there were also a couple of cyclones that claimed lives. The largest population supported during those 11 years was just 80 people. Trading never took off – the settlement is 27 km into Port Essington from the heads, about 5-6 days return sailing for any passing ships. And the Dutch and the French weren’t interested in a fight anyway. Ruins of many of the ‘village’ buildings like the married quarters, hospital (the busiest place in town), and the magazine where gunpowder was stored, are still visible. As is the cemetery, and some of the grave sites. Kind of an eerie experience, walking around the place.
Otherwise, there are magnificent beach walks, and a sizeable freshwater lagoon where we startled a small-ish croc yesterday – luckily he/she chose to be startled in the opposite direction to us, cruising off into the reeds in the shallows of the lagoon, while we took some photos of brolgas (large, elegant birds of the crane family). No worries, we saw ‘Crocodile Dundee’ so we know exactly what to do, eh?
Heading south now. Apparently temperatures in Alice Springs have been hitting minus 4 degrees overnight, with daytime maximums of around 14oC. Now, where did we store those coats …
Freshly shucked oysters and other seafood goodies at Mindil Beach market, Darwin
Find some space if you can. Florence Falls pool, Litchfield NP, Queens B'day Monday. Crocodile heaven