Darwin 1 (Northern Territory)

23/07/2015  With the car trouble, it was a very rushed trip to Darwin. We just wanted to get as close to a service point as quickly as possible in case things got worse and the rig had to get towed in. The 543km stretch from Cape Crawford to Katherine was done in one day, taking us about eight hours including a couple of rest stops.

At Adelaide River, we met ‘Charlie‘, the Buffalo made famous in the movie “Crocodile Dundee” when Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan) did the finger thing and hypnotised him to the ground. Charlie was table-dancing in the pub’s 303 Bar, looking about as stuffed as we were feeling.

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The following day, the remaining three hundred kilometres took us to Berry Springs, forty-five minutes south of Darwin and camp was set up at the Lakes Resort and Caravan Park (not as flash as it sounds but a very nice place anyway). Being a little further out of town kept the camp fee lower than what was being charged in Darwin and gave us a good base for day trips around the area.

The first few days were spent mainly relaxing, grocery shopping, having the camera and lenses cleaned, haircuts for both of us, chiropractor for Di – all the usual things associated with a large city.

We took in the Sunset Markets at Mindil Beach, a Darwin icon. Food was the main attraction, with stalls offering Thai, Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese and Malaysian to Brazilian, Greek, Portuguese and more. Di went for chicken kebabs and I got into a spicy buffalo burger…yum. We checked out the colourful arts and crafts vendors and their wares and the many buskers performing throughout the markets, and picked up new thongs to replace our very thin and shrunken ones (from being in the sun outside the van door).

Di and I had already known Darwin had been attacked by Japanese aircraft during WWII, but we had no real appreciation of the extent of those air raids or the resulting deaths and damage. The first two aerial attacks by 188 Japanese aircraft on 19 February 1942 were launched from the same carrier fleet that ten weeks earlier had attacked Pearl Harbour. Those first two attacks were the biggest strikes ever made on Australian soil. A further sixty-two raids were conducted by Japanese forces over the following year and a half. Too little has been taught of this in our schools.

We went on a self-guided tour of the extensive Oil Storage Tunnels located beneath the cliffs of Darwin city, a short walk from the city centre and the Esplanade. Numerous references and commemorations to its military past could be found all around Darwin city and its outskirts, including bomb-like shapes incorporated into the architectural design of the corner columns on the Northern Territory Parliament House, completed in 1994.

During the hectic two day drive from Cape Crawford and the few days driving back and forth to Darwin from our camp at Berry Springs, the Land Rover didn’t miss a beat, and I was starting to think that maybe the couple of repairs that I’d done at Cape Crawford may have fixed the problem after all. Gibbsy’s Automotives ran a diagnostics on it which showed a few fault codes unrelated to our earlier problem. These were cleared and didn’t come up again – which was good. Looks like I had fixed it after all. I had the car serviced while it was in there so she’ll be good to go for the next stretch.

We visited the Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery and then had a nice lunch on the Stokes Wharf looking out over the huge harbour called Port Darwin. A few diners were feeding fish below the wharf but most of the food scraps were being stolen off the water, not be seagulls, but by a large mob of terns and whistling kites that wheeled and dove madly to get the morsels. A walk along Fanny Bay foreshore produced some nice beach glass for our collection.

Early one morning, we had a dip in Berry Springs, in the Berry Springs Nature Park, a popular swimming and picnic area with several pools and a small waterfall fed by crystal clear spring water and surrounded by natural bush. It was very relaxing sitting against the falls getting a strong back massage from the warm water that comes from a thermal aquifer.

After a morning exploring the George Brown Darwin Botanical Gardens we finished the day at Seafood on Cullen Restaurant overlooking Cullen Bay, where we tucked into an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet before watching the sun set into the Arafura Sea, a novelty for us East Coasters. The chocolate fountain was a big hit with Di. We both had way too much to eat and getting down the stairs from the restaurant to watch the sunset was a tad problematic given all we’d eaten.

While Di was having massage and chiro appointments, I headed off to the East Point Military Museum and spent a couple of interesting hours looking through the exhibits and the extensive now-decommissioned gun emplacements that protected Darwin since the 1930s.

One of the caravan tyres had developed a slow leak a while back and had been rotated to one of the two spare positions. It turned out to have been spiked in the sidewall; in other words, irreparable. Kiss that tyre goodbye. Getting a replacement from Melbourne pushed our stay out a further week or so, not that we were too concerned as we had been having a very relaxing layover at Berry Springs.

Coming back from town, we could hear a very loud aircraft noise overhead, and pulled over to watch two Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey military aircraft come across just above us and land at the RAAF Base beside the highway. Absolutely awesome to see and hear and we had front row seats. Exercise Talisman Sabre is currently being held near Darwin and there are large numbers of Australian and United States military vehicles and aircraft being moved about, and a number of warships are at anchor in the harbour. Strangely though, no personnel on the streets. Guess they are still all out having fun on the exercise.

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“Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs.” – Susan Sontag

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