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.
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 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.
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.
- Defense of Darwin Experience (including the Military Museum) - East Point Reserve, Darwin; open daily; http://www.defenceofdarwin.nt.gov.au .
- Kakadu National Park - 2.5 hours out of Darwin. Comprehensive guide available at http://www.environment.gov.au/parks/publications/kakadu/pubs/visitor-guide.pdf .
- Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory - Bullocky Point, Darwin; open daily; http://artsandmuseums.nt.gov.au/museums .
- 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?