Days are Numbers (The Traveller) Darwin

Sunday 16th February
I caught the shuttle bus to Perth Airport where my insect repellent (which hasn’t caused an issue on any of my other domestic flight) was investigated and my bag searched. Then I was ‘randomly’ picked for the explosives test despite also bring ‘randomly’ picked the day before. The airport appeared to be pretty empty as it was only 7.15am and I think the staff just wanted to look busy. I don’t take it to heart that I must look like a dodgy backpacker.

The surrounding scenery in both Perth and Darwin couldn’t be any more contrasting. I left Perth and we started by crossing the red desert area where there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Eventually like the guy next to me I fell asleep and an hour or so woke up. The outside view was now thick cloud so I couldn’t see anything. I fell asleep again and maybe half an hour later woke up for the dissent. It appeared I was now landing in a tropical rainforest. I wondered if the cloud hadn’t been there whether I would have seen the two totally contrasting landscapes slowly amalgamate as I’m sure they must at some point unless there is some great natural divide.

I arrived in Darwin and caught the shuttle to the YHA before catching another bus to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. I started off with the Indigenous Art display and watched a short video about the techniques and equipment used to create a rock painting. There was also a display of dot paintings from the desert and various other styles including bark paintings and carvings.

Leaving the Indigenous display behind I made my way to the exhibition on Cyclone Tracey. I first remember reading about this in a book at school on natural disasters when I had to do a geography project when i was 11 or 12. The display was very moving as there were voice recordings from eye witness’s as well as before, after and more recent aerial views to show how the city was affected. The exhibition also included a pitch black sound proof room where you could listen to a recording of the cyclone. Making my way in to the room alone I couldn’t see a thing and literally jumped when the awful howling sound of around 300 Km winds mixed with the screeching of metal suddenly began.

Seeing the display of the aftermath it’s a testament to Darwinians that the city was rebuilt and that the population now exceeds that pre cyclone. The city had not only been the territories capital but in 1970 plans had been put in place to make it the cultural capital of the region. An old museum had been located in the town hall where renovation had just finished that year however the cyclone was too strong and the building collapsed destroying many exhibits. Some of the broken artefacts that had been salvaged were on display however it also made me wonder what had been lost. It appeared no one really knew as all the museum records were also lost.

After briefly seeing the maritime display I made my way to one called ‘Transformations’ which was about the local fauna and how it has developed. This included a number of displays about the poisonous insects/spiders, snakes, jelly fish and other deadly critters. I was surprised at how small the Blue Ring Octopus was especially as a sting from it would result in the entire nervous system being shut down within 15 minutes. I also came face to face with the infamous box jelly fish as well as innocent looking shells and coral that would no doubt also result in death. I tried to familiarise myself with what to avoid but there was to much and I’ll just continue trying to avoid everything.

Next I went to see a stuffed crocodile called “Sweetheart” whose name is misleading because it wasn’t overly friendly and it was actually a male. After destroying a number of fishing boat propellers the intention was to capture Sweetheart and transport him to a zoo, however the tranquilliser caused his body to shut down and he sadly drowned.

Out of curiosity I wondered in to the “Wallace Display” and it turned out that like Charles Darwin he travelled through the Malay Archipelago looking to prove the theory of evolution. I’d never heard of Alfred Wallace at school but it seems he laid out his theory before Charles Darwin however the latter had greater financial backing and I assume that is why it was he who made it to the mainstream history books. The museum went to great length to explain how important Wallace was but the irony wasn’t lost on me that I was after all in the city named after Charles Darwin.

I retuned back to the city enjoying a meal and a pint at ‘ The Tap on Mitchell Street’. I then walked to my hostel via my pick up point and sorted out my bag because the next tour was only 3 days and I was only allowed 10kg of luggage. That done I thought about checking out another bar but the hostel one was dead and the Irish one unconformably full. I returned to the hostel and as those in my room were preparing for bed I did the same so that I’d get a good nights sleep before the next adventure.

Note: This blog will continue with Darwin. Tour of Litchfield and Kakadu is here:

Thursday 20th February
I think for the first time in quite a while I had the slightest of hangovers. Luckily I had always planned for this to be my post tour R&R day and had a number of little tasks I wanted to complete. I have promised various people I’d send them pictures from various events and I admit I’m behind. It doesn’t help that the 32gb tablet I thought would be sufficient for 5 months travelling was full which meant before I could transfer any pictures using the snail speed WiFi I’d have to start sorting and deleting photos. If you’re still waiting – I’m sorry!

The main task of the day however was to face the reality that after 4 months living out of a backpack the journey is coming to an end. Thanks to Kirsten, I have return flights via Bangkok and Dubai with time to explore both of those cities so hopefully the end won’t feel like an end until I actually arrive at Heathrow on 28th March.

Whilst I waited for space to cook I got in to conversation with people in the hostel kitchen. It’s currently the wet/low season for Darwin so there aren’t many tourists and apparently as Darwin is currently more expensive than Sydney to rent and buy most of those in the hostel are either working or looking to work.

Friday 21st February
The previous night I had started talking to a guy from Spain about possible ideas of things to do in the city. I had an idea of what I wanted to see but as I sat in the dining room eating breakfast I remembered I’d been told about ‘Spectacular Jumping Crocodiles’ who offered trips along the Adelaide River.

Unfortunately the shuttle bus they ran from Darwin was cancelled however maybe sensing my disappointment the girl kindly gave me an alternative number for ‘About Darwin’. Places were available with this company however it added in some extra stopping places and included lunch which meant the price was a bit more than i was prepared to pay so I said I’d call back whilst I weighed up my options.

At that moment I saw the guy from Spain clutching the same leaflets as me. I explained the situation and we went to the hostel reception for some local advice. The receptionist said what I felt that seeing the crocodiles jump in the wild would be more spectacular than seeing them in the towns glorified aquarium. I was in a backpackers dilemma. Thankfully at that moment I got a call back from ‘About Darwin’ and they kindly offered me the same price as the cancelled shuttle bus.

The pick up still gave me some time to visit the fish feeding at Aquascene. This only takes place once a day lasting for two hours during high tide at a point called Doctors Gully. The guide was very good at providing interesting information on the different types of fish. The main focus of interest was a huge Giant Grouper that lay just below the surface however unlike the other fish only the feeder could feed it as it ate small fish. The Giant Grouper mostly lay in wait however when it moved to grab the small fish fed to him I glimpsed its whole body and it was possible to appreciate what a big fish it was, approximately twice the size of a Rugby ball.

Some of the other fish were also fairly big and included Milk fish, Catfish, and an interesting flat looking fish, though there were no barramundi. It was quite a sight as there must have been at least 100 fish in the area, all totally wild. Eventually I grabbed some bread and waded in to the shallow water. There were already a few fish around me as I entered the water and as soon as the fish realised I had food even more came over to my hand. The flat looking fish in particular was quite aggressive at grabbing the bread out of my hand. Whilst it probably doesn’t sound that exciting I have to admit I enjoyed the whole event more than I expected and it was actually a lot of fun though an hour was more than enough.

After being collected from the hostel the guide provided a running commentary as we made our way to our first stop at Fogg Dam. He told us about a rice growing project in the agricultural region of Humpty Doo which had failed as the local magpie goose had eaten all the rice. We were also told that Buffalo’s are still farmed in the area as the meat is popular with the Asian market.

We were also told to look out for crocodiles and ironically just as we approached the sign warning us they were in the area we saw a Freshwater crocodile bathing in the water by the side of road. Freshwater crocodiles are quite a bit smaller than saltwater crocodiles and are less likely to attack but we still proceeded slowly on the bus so as not to disturb it.

The road across to the information display was slightly flooded however we were able to make it across and both sides of the road were teeming with bird life. This is meant to be a safe area so we were also able to see a humane trap to capture saltwater crocodiles so that they could be relocated elsewhere. Normally those caught go to farms because if they are released back in to the wild they have a habit of returning to their territory and have been known to travel over 100km.

Eventually we arrived at the jetty for the ‘Spectacular Jumping Crocodiles’ and before we boarded I had the opportunity to hold a python. There was also a statue of a 8 metre crocodile that was over 150 years old when it was shot in Queensland and of course I couldn’t resist getting two pictures…one of me wrestling it, and one of me having lost the battle…

We were told the majority of crocodiles in the river especially the males still ignore the boat and will remain submerged however there are a large number that have become familiar with the sound and know they will get a free feed. However to ensure the crocodiles don’t lose their hunting instinct the company monitors how many times each are fed so if one receives a feed it won’t again for the rest of the day and maybe even the next.

We boarded the boat and almost immediately having entered the centre of the river we saw a crocodile swimming towards us. The first crocodile was a 3 metre female called Barbeque who stays by the area near the jetty which is why she was so quick to approach us. The guides don’t allow the jumps to be performed in the water near the jetty in case it gives the crocodiles ideas so we had to tempt Barbeque away and she obliged. As Barbeque was performing the jumps someone exclaimed a light coloured object was approaching from under the water.

We’d been told the biggest and oldest crocodile was Michael Jackson who is about 80 years old and 5 and a half metres long. Normally Crocs are born with a colour to match the mud of their environment however Michael was born with a disease which meant he has a light coloured head and a dark body. The light coloured object that looked like a ghost was Michael, and he was hungry and were it not for his light coloured head we wouldn’t have known he was there because there was no movement of water on the surface. As he fought his way to the side where the meat was hanging he hit the boat and whilst it was unclear if this was intentional or accidental it added to the excitement.

Barbeque continued to swim near Michael even though the guides kept urging her to yield and they took the meat out of the water because they didn’t want the two to fight over it. As both swam slowly side by side towards the boat with both heads out of the water Michael lashed out at Barbeque with a warning blow. It was hard to tell if he made contact, or if he just thrashed the water but either way the message was loud and clear and Barbeque made a prompt getaway. The guides said he was in a forgiving mood because normally in that situation it wouldn’t have been a warning attack. I’d felt sorry for Michael when I heard about his disease but it clearly hasn’t affected his ferocity and he certainly looked like a deadly monster when he performed his jumps.

Michael continued to follow us for a few minutes knowing there were 12 other meals on the boat (us) but eventually he stopped and disappeared beneath the surface. He may as well have stayed above the surface because if he thinks he’s camouflaged under water, someone needs to show him a mirror.

We were surrounded by Crocs, some that were allowed to participate in the jumps and others that weren’t. It wasn’t long before another female came over and the guides used the meat to encourage her on to the bank so we could appreciate her full size. The crocodile grabbed and caught the meat first time and the guide had to battle to get it free because otherwise she had a forfeit where she’d have to buy the rest of the crew a round of drinks. The intention was to perform the jumps in the water but the crocodile was now settled on the bank and clearly didn’t appreciate being made to look like a circus act so ignored us and we carried on our way.

This time a much smaller male came rushing through the water and we could see why he was called Rocket, especially when he leapt out of the water. All the others had come out about half way but he came out so fast and far only his tail was slightly under the water. The whole event had been unbelievable. I thought the demonstration at Australia Zoo had been impressive, but to be so close and in the wild was something else. No aquarium can compete with that show especially in the wet season when the river and surrounding scenery looks so dramatic as it is.

We were shown a nest however it was explained to us that unfortunately the eggs probably won’t produce any baby crocodiles because the recent flooding meant they were submerged for to long. We also had the opportunity to see some of the wild birds of prey and the guide threw bits of meat in to the air over the river for them to catch before I had a go. She counted me down and told me when to throw it and when I did the bird caught it perfectly in its mouth before swooping in to the air. We also saw a herd of wild buffalo down by the edge of the water which surprised the guides because of the obvious danger they were in as a result of all the crocodiles in the area.

We arrived back at the jetty and once on the bus we departed for the Window of the Water Wetlands Aboriginal Culture Centre. There was quite a bit of information on the eco systems and a nice viewing platform which overlooked the floodplains of the Adelaide River. On our return back to Darwin our guide provided some information about the bombing of the city by the Japanese in the second world war with the first attack taking place on 19th February 1942. I hadn’t realised that it was so soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbour and carried out as a surprise attack by the same fleet. A mass evacuation of civilian’s had taken place just before the attack though there were still a huge number of casualties and fatalities because a number of Navy and Merchant boats had been docked in the harbour.

After I arrived back in Darwin and during a quick late lunch I chatted to one of the girls from the night before and met a guy from Poland who had recommended I take time to see the sunset. First I made my way to see the Darwin Waterfront and on my way walked past the ruins of the Old Town Hall. The building had been destroyed by Cyclone Tracey and once the ruins had been stabilised it had been left as a memorial. I also saw Christchurch Cathedral which apart from the porch had also been destroyed. Thee cathedral had been rebuilt and the architects of the day had combined the new and the old to create a fairly unique design.

I arrived at the Waterfront and wasn’t surprised that it was really just a modern shopping area as the war and cyclone had probably destroyed anything that gave a indication of the cities maritime heritage. I had considered going for a swim in the Recreation Lagoon but instead I started walking to Stokes Hill Wharf. There was a good vantage of the wharf from the sea wall and as it looked closed I decided to leave the Waterfront.

On my way to Bicentennial Park I passed Survivors Lookout which is apparently where those who survived the attacks 72 years before had gathered to look down on the destruction of the harbour. Trees had grown up and meant the view of the harbour was now obscured however a display provided a vivid description of the harrowing scene they would have witnessed.

Throughout Bicentennial Park there were war memorials to those who died and as the remembrance anniversary had only just taken place all had fresh cards and flowers. As I stood appreciating the view from the USS Peary memorial a little black bird with yellow feet swopped down and rushed at speed right over my head. At first I thought it might have been blind and not seen me, but by the 3rd time I realised it was attacking me and the noise it made strongly implied I should leave. As I did it continued to keep diving towards me so during it’s 5th attack I ducked and tried to swot it away as if it were a fly (totally missing of course). All my defensive move had achieved was to upset it more though eventually the little beast left me alone.

There was also a unobstructed lookout to view the sunset but I was an hour to early so I found a bench and read my book before I took up a position and was joined by some locals. Whilst the sky was clear the sun itself appeared to be behind a storm cloud and as I was feeling a bit bored and underwhelmed I decided to leave. Thankfully as I left the park I took one final look and saw there was a tiny hole in the cloud that the sun was shining out of so I walked briskly back to the lookout. I was astounded. The sky had totally changed in to a range of Bicentennial Park. colours including orange, pink light and dark blue all in the space of a few minutes. As the cloud slowly dispersed further as the sun settled on the horizon the sunset became became even more stunning.

I started talking to one of the locals, a teacher who had just moved up from Melbourne. When I got back to my room I told the Spanish guy to see the sunset the next day and then I prepared for the trip to a rather famous Rock called Uluru.

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