Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Northern Territory travels - Darwin and Kakadu

For me, visiting the Northern Territory was a bit like slotting the last piece into a jigsaw puzzle. It is rewarding to know that I have seen every state and territory in the country I grew up in. It is also easier to grasp Australia, with all its variations and features, when I have seen it from top to bottom as well as east to west (and with the acknowledgement that there's still a bit right in the middle that I haven't seen!).

Darwin esplanade.

When we left Perth, we flew the 3.5 hours north to Darwin. It was not what I expected. I had imagined a small, rundown town, hot and humid and sandy. I found a medium-sized city that combined new buildings with old, and which was hot and humid but tree lined.


We were particularly impressed with the waterfront areas, which featured new apartment buildings, grass-lined lagoons, and Sunday markets that incorporated food stalls from some 12 or more countries. I wish we'd timed our wandering of them to coincide with dinner.

Darwin waterfront.

Our first afternoon was limited to walking the city, taking in the main streets and buildings, and marveling at the number of tourists we encountered. Darwin has a lot of backpackers! I had expected to see more Indigenous Australians, and was saddened to find that those I did see were likely to be begging or otherwise on the streets. [Edit: I realised this sentence wasn't quite accurate. We did see lots of Indigenous Australians but generally they were clustered on the streets and not involved in shops / businesses / employment / moneyed occupations.] I need some more time to sort through my thoughts on this topic, and will return to the issue in a later post. It is bigger than I can fit in today.

Christchurch Cathedral (not the New Zealand one!).

One of the features of Darwin is the damage caused by the infamous Cyclone Tracey of 1974. Many of the traditional stone buildings were damaged or ruined during the storm, resulting in a cathedral (above) that adds modern to old and a town hall (below) that is a little sad.

Old town hall.

As our first evening drew to a close, we started looking for dinner options. As is my tendency, I had looked for vegetarian options online ahead of time, but failed to find any inspiring suggestions for dinners in the city. Without any guidance, we went by street-side menus and what we happened to stumble across. That first evening, this approach resulted in Cafe Uno, an Italian restaurant on the main street. We weren't particularly hungry after a morning of travel and a late lunch, and the offerings of bruchetta and soup sounded appealing. On looking at Trip Advisor now, I note that Cafe Uno is terribly reviewed and if I'd noted the comments ahead of time I would have steered us away! Our experience wasn't as bad as some of those mentioned, but the restaurant wasn't overly inspiring either. I enjoyed my minestrone soup but Mr Bite found his bruchetta to be average at best, and we were unimpressed with the 5% surcharge for paying with eftpos (not credit cards, just eftpos).

Cafe Uno minestrone soup

Our other Darwin-based activities included the free Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, which covered the history of Darwin and the Northern Territory; had a great section on Cyclone Tracey; and displayed wonderful Aboriginal artwork. It is well worth a visit.

We also visited the East Point Military Museum and Defense of Darwin Experience, which cost $14 per adult but gave an interactive and informative overview of Darwin's role in World War II. The museums are set towards East Point reserve, which also houses walk tracks and mangrove forests, a novelty to us at that stage of the trip (less so by the end!).

Mangroves at East Point Reserve.

In addition to time in Darwin itself, we used one of our Darwin days to visit Kakadu National Park. We really should have allowed longer for Kakadu, as with a 2.5 hour drive from Darwin to the park centre, it is tough to do it justice in a single day. The entry admission is also charged at $25 per adult valid for 14 days. Thus, it is not ideal to visit for one day! Still, we did our best.

Kakadu.

Kakadu covers nearly 20,000 square kilometres. It is a World Heritage Site, but in a local sense is managed by the traditional Aboriginal owners. We saw the top sections of the park, but there is much more we didn't visit, including some areas accessible by four wheel drive only. Our visit took in the main visitor information centre, the tiny town of Jabiru, and the Ubirr rock art and walk trails.

Rock art at Ubirr, Kakadu National Park.

We were fortunate to hear a free talk on rock art at Ubirr, and enjoyed viewing the artwork and climbing to the top of rock boulders for views out across the land. It is meant to be a stunning spot at sunset, and it is easy to imagine that being the case.

Kakadu.

Whilst we didn't see any crocodiles (we could have taken a boat tour designed to showcase them, but didn't), we did see a river that we were pretty sure had crocodiles. Neither of us went close enough to the water to find out!

Spot any crocs?

It was a great day out, and I would highly recommend it as a day trip or, preferably, for a longer visit.

Our other two Darwin dinners both featured Thai food, the first a take away (after our day in Kakadu) from Amazing Thailand, a casual store on the main street. It provided a tofu stir fry for me and vegetarian Pad Thai for Mr Bite. My dish was enjoyable, but had tofu of the variety I don't much like - deep fried and spongy. Still, it was an enjoyable meal and that tofu seems to be ubiquitous in Thai food and not a specific limitation of this store.

Amazing Thailand take away

The second Thai came from Thailicious, an upper level restaurant overlooking Darwin's main street. We had views straight across to the backpacker bar opposite, which made for entertaining viewing! I ordered their Pad Kee Mao dish, consisting of "fresh flat rice noodles, wok tossed in chilli, holy basil [I got a laugh from holy basil but it is a real basil variety], bamboo shoots and mixed vegetables", whilst Mr B had vegetarian hokkein noodles. I found my dish to be more noodles than vegetables, never a good mix for me, while Mr Bite's was reportedly over-sauced. Still, it was a good setting and the food was okay if not exceptional.

Upper level dining at Thailicious

Darwin also has a number of shopping areas, including a large shopping centre at Casuarina north of town, which we used to stock up for camping and to purchase lunch and snacks. The Coles supermarket in the centre of town is open until 10pm daily. In all, it is a well equipped town and there is plenty to see and do and eat for a few days. There are also plenty of motels as well as fancier hotels, and we found it easy to park our camper van where we stayed and whilst around town.

Darwin sights:



Darwin restaurants:

  • Amazing Thailand (take away) - 4 / 58 Mitchell Street, Darwin.
  • Cafe Uno - 4 / 69 Mitchell Street, Darwin (not well reviewed!).
  • Thailicious - 26/69 Mitchell Street, Darwin; http://www.thailicious.com.au/ .

Have you been to Darwin? How do my recollections and experiences compare with yours?

37 comments:

  1. I really loved Darwin and would go back in a heart beat. Tyler wants to see more of Australia first though. We were lucky enough to get a Wotif deal for $11 a night at the Crown Plaza - 5 stars!! But I got food poisoning at the markets on an arancini ball and spent the majority of our trip in bed :( Love your compilation of the trip and I can't wait to visit again!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You make me feel better about not managing to eat the market food! How awful :( That $11 / night at the Crown Plaza is pretty amazing though...a good recommendation for Wotif!

      Delete
  2. I had head office in darwin for quite some years and spent a lot of work trips there with a few recreational trips attached. The markets are fantastic - it didn't sound like you got to eat there but it is one of the places I loved to eat. I am glad you got to the museum because it is one of the highlights and the cyclone tracey exhibition is really insightful - the cafe there is also very good. (Though it is quite some years since I have been there so it might have changed since then). Having locals to take me out helped me to find some nice eating areas too.

    We went to the rock art that you visited in Kakadu and it is quite amazing and probably better than sitting on a boat watching crocodiles being fed huge chunks of meat and hoping that the boat doesn't tip over!

    Re your comment about not seeing many Indigenous people except the long grassers, I am surprised as I always saw lots around but probably was even more aware of them as I worked with a lot of Indigenous people. Darwin has such a higher percentage of Indigenous citizens compared to Melbourne that it always seemed very noticeable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had hoped to eat at the Myall sunset markets but sadly that was the day we went to Kakadu and we didn't get back in time. It's probably my one Darwin regret as I had heard such good things about the food! With hindsight I wish we'd returned to the Sunday waterfront markets for dinner instead of Cafe Uno, but we were originally there about 4pm and for some reason it didn't occur to us. Alas.

      I have edited my paragraph about Indigenous people as we did in fact see quite a lot...it was more the seeing them only on the edges of society that surprised me. I had expected to see them where we saw Caucasian people, but there was still a massive division (as in Perth) and I found that sad. It would have been amazing working in the area - hopefully rewarding too.

      Delete
    2. yes I got to work with lots of high flying Indigenous people as well as many up and coming public servants and researchers. I feel very lucky to have had this experience.

      re the markets - I was in darwin quite a few times and yet I never managed to see a proper mindl beach market sunset - it is never easy to get timing right around these things

      Delete
    3. I did mean Mindl instead of Myall - don't know where I pulled Myall from! - and you make me feel a bit better about missing it :-) Your work time there sound wonderful, definitely the sort of experience that would be defining in job memories I imagine.

      Delete
  3. I enjoyed my trip to Darwin but didn't love it as much as other places I've been too. We ate at the markets once but weren't overly impressed with what we had ordered. Actually none of the food we ate in Darwin was particularly special but we did find a good place to buy coffees. :)

    On the other hand I loved my time in Kakadu, we spent 4 nights there and hired a 4WD so we could do our own touring. Sunset at Ubirr is so amazing, it's an experience I'll never forget. The only downside is that the light isn't great for taking photos of the rock art. We didn't do one of those jumping croc tours either but saw plenty of them (and birds, brumbies and buffalo) on a Yellow Water sunrise cruise.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad it wasn't just me who didn't find good food :P I remember you speaking fondly of Kakadu and do wish we'd had time to do it justice - a 4WD and an overnight stay would have made the experience even better. It gives us a reason to go back though :)

      Delete
  4. Darwin sounds fun! Minus the food/meager vegetarian options. I hate it when that happens!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Me too! Fortunately we found some better food as the trip went on :)

      Delete
  5. Darwin sounds like a fun little town. I am always pleasantly surprised when we go on vacation and a town we are visiting is better than I had imagined. I didn't see any crocs in that picture. Were there any?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We didn't see any either, so you weren't missing anything obvious :-) We were just sure there'd be some in the water somewhere, hiding!

      Delete
  6. I love these trip recaps! Sounds like you are having some great adventures. I hope to make it to your part of the world someday!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Raechel! I hope you do too - it's a long way to come, but hopefully worth it if you do!

      Delete
  7. Got to love Kakadu. I went there when I was 8 and we were lucky enough to see some crocadiles.

    Shame about that cafe you went to but lucky you found some great Thai to make up for it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a great trip it would have been as an 8 year old - I'd have found it eye opening as a child even more than I did as an adult. Glad you enjoyed your time there too.

      Delete
  8. Did you get to Ulure this trip? Forgive me if you've said so elsewhere; there is too much living and not enough time in my life right now. Glad your holiday was awesome, deep-fried tofu notwithstanding.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Too much living is nothing to apologise for, and rather an excellent place to be!

      We didn't make it to Uluru, or indeed south of Tennant Creek (which is about 500km north of Alice Springs), but my one previous venture into the NT was flying to Cairns via Ayers Rock airport, which means I have at least seen Uluru from the air and touched down near it. I know it doesn't quite count, but I feel like I've had the metaphorical equivalent of a toe in the middle of Australia even if the rest of me hasn't quite managed it ;)

      Delete
  9. This is such an interesting post - I've never been to Australia at all, so it's all new to me! Really hoping to go sometime in the future though, so thanks for writing all about Darwin!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad you enjoyed hearing about it Sarah - hopefully you can make it yourself one day!

      Delete
  10. It really doesn't seem right that a restaurant in the tropics has a winter's soup on the menu! And it doesn't look like a great soup either. Looks more like a tomato soup with something floating in it. I haven't been to Darwin but I've heard the markets along the waterfront are excellent and have great food - what a shame you missed that! I love that Thai dish you ordered and am a fan of holy basil. I'd like to grow it but haven't worked out where I can buy it xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can buy it in Thai stores in Darwin quite easily...but I'll concede that may not be the most convenient location ;)

      Delete
  11. I haven't been to the Northern Territory but would love to go one day...so many amazing places to see in this country.
    Kakadu is definitely on my 'to do' list.
    So where to next Kari? You've done lots of travelling in the last 2 years! :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We have indeed - I feel very fortunate! There are some work trips on the horizon but after that I think it will be all about moving countries, and possibly not having very much in the way of income, and staying somewhat closer to home :-)

      Delete
  12. Love Darwin. My favourite activity was doing the Mindil Night Markets - it's a foodies paradise :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, I so wanted to go! We missed them because we were still driving back from Kakadu...it was worthy reason to miss them but I have heard so many good things about the food.

      Delete
  13. Congratulations on having visited every state and territory in Oz - I am yet to do that. Tassie and the NT have not been touched yet. Thanks for taking us with you on your travels - your photos are amazing. I especially love the rock art.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tasmania and the NT were the last I crossed off too - but Tasmania certainly amongst the best and NT rivaling other places! The rock art was wonderful, it's amazing how much is there to be seen.

      Delete
  14. Very cool, looked like a really great time!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Yay! I was waiting for this post for a while now! Although it's making me want to visit Australia (doesn't matter which part) as I'm gaining a greater appreciation for its beauty, culture, food...I didn't realize Thai food is so prevalent..or is it? I absolutely love visiting the National Parks, and I would have been so bummed out if I only got to enjoy it for one day..Tim doesn't seem to mind much though. The rock art is amazing! I'm glad you and Mr. Bite had a great time!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thai food is very prevalent here :-) I think because of our proximity to Asia, and thus quite a few Asian migrants, we have a big Asian food culture. Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese are found pretty much everywhere. We also have a big Italian influence from Italian migrants :)

      Delete
  16. So frustrating not finding good food options when travelling :-(
    Looks like a real interesting place to visit tho

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was - it was even worth the lack of good food options (and in fairness, I suspect there were lots of good food options we just didn't find!) :)

      Delete
  17. Darwin is a great place, though I may be a little bias as it is my home town. You are right about Cafe Uno, I am sure it is only unsuspecting visitors like yourself that keep the place in business. Surprised about Thailiaious though as I have only heard and had wonderful experiences there. Kakadu really is an amazing place, there are so many other hidden little beauties around the place as well you really need to be able to spend a few weeks there to take it all in. Glad you had a wonderful time though. Fairy wishes and butterfly kisses

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In fairness to Thailicious, I think if we'd ordered different dishes we might have been happier. It's always a bit risky for me ordering a noodle dish (many people probably want more noodles than anything else when they do that!) and my husband has a very specific sauce tolerance level :P How cool that it's your home town - and thanks so much for stopping by!

      Delete
  18. It looks like you had a great time!!
    Thanks for sharing info, i hope it will work for me at the time of visiting Australia.
    Excited!!!!

    ReplyDelete

I genuinely appreciate all comments and the time taken to post them. Occasionally, I may need to restrict commenting to registered users in order to halt large volumes of spam. If that happens, I will lift the restriction within a week.

Want other ways to interact? Bite-sized thoughts is on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/bitesizedthoughts) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/bitesizethought).