We stayed over a week in Darwin, but honestly it was mostly because we wanted to take a bit of a camping break and enjoy some air con and wifi for a while. Not that there aren’t things to see and do in the city, although the options are a bit more limited in the wet season. But so are the number of tourists, so we couldn’t complain. Our relaxation was tainted a bit by the amount we ended up spending on our car, but more on that later.
The Darwin Waterfront and Downtown
We spent quite a lot of time at the Darwin Waterfront, more than intended mainly due to the amount of time we had to kill while waiting to get our car serviced. It always seemed pretty quiet, compared to what it could be during high season (I assume, based on the number of restaurants and souvenir shops). Darwin is a coastal city, with lots of nice beaches, though they are not really good for swimming due to the number of jellyfish (including the dreaded and incredibly poisonous box jellyfish) and saltwater crocodiles. Chances of running into them are less in the winter than in the summer, but still never zero.
The city has remedied this by building a couple of manmade lagoons in the harbour for year round swimming. There is a free “regular” lagoon, which is basically a sandy inlet with a big net to keep out unwanted critters. There is also a wave lagoon, which costs a few dollars to get into and has big manmade waves. The number of kids in inner tubes in that one deterred us (plus we have the World Waterpark at home, so) but we did take a dip in the regular lagoon, which was pretty refreshing in the 30 plus degree weather that is summertime in the Top End.
Darwin bills itself as cosmopolitan city, and while I wouldn’t exactly call it that compared to the other big cities in Australia, it has a good number of cute cafes and ethnic food restaurants, especially of the Asian type due to its proximity (Darwin is closer to Indonesia than Sydney). Compared to everything around it (i.e. the Outback) I guess it’s the most modern city, but Chris couldn’t find any all-you-can-eat sushi restaurants, so… Anyways, we spent some time getting iced coffees downtown and also took a walk along the Esplanade, where there were a lot of nice flame trees in bloom.
Mindil Beach and the Darwin Markets
Mindil Beach is probably Darwin’s most popular beach, if only because it’s the one downtown. During the winter (i.e. dry months) there is a famous sunset market that happens on the beach, but alas we were visiting during the wet season. We took a walk along the beach anyways though.
Fortunately Darwin has a lot of markets, and many of them do run year round. We arrived on the weekend so were able to visit both the Parap and Nightcliff weekend markets. They sell a lot of local handicrafts, fresh fruit and vegetables (especially mangoes and papayas a.k.a. paw-paw, a nickname I honestly only thought was used by Baloo from The Jungle Book), and Asian snacks.
East Point Reserve
East Point Reserve is a kind of nature park with beaches, mangrove forests, a big lake, and some residual military stuff, among other things. We took a walk around in the late afternoon and saw all the crabs scuttling around amongst the mangroves as the tide came in.
We stayed to watch the sunset from the beach, then went to get some fancy pizza. Gourmet pizza is one thing Darwin is not lacking in!
The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory
Darwin is a small enough town that the museum and art gallery are the same space, aptly titled the The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. We really only went because it was a) free, b) air conditioned, and c) provided protection from the rain, but it did have some interesting stuff. We breezed through the natural history and Aboriginal sections since we figured we’d seen enough of those, and went to the more specialized stuff. The museum has a big exhibit dedicated to Cyclone Tracy, which basically decimated Darwin one Christmas and changed the building style and standards for the entire city. There is also a bit of a shrine to Sweetheart, an enormous crocodile that terrorized fisherman for while before he was accidentally killed while they were trying to relocate him.
There is also a ship gallery (seemingly mostly ships confiscated by the government from people sailing up to Australia trying to do something illegal) and a modern art exhibit which confounded Chris, as usual.
The George Brown Darwin Botanic Gardens
We took a walk through The George Brown Botanic Gardens one evening just because. They are pretty big and lush, I assume due to the climate up here, and have different sections for monsoonal rainforest, woodland, savanna, etc. It is hilarious to see plants that are house plants back home outside here growing so large.
Cullen Bay Marina
The Cullen Bay Marina is the upscale waterfront district, where the fancy folk live in harbourside houses and dock their yachts. The bay was specially designed to be tideless, which is quite convenient as Darwin has very big tides, up to 8 metres (still not as big as Canada’s Bay of Fundy though, as they pointed out in the information display). The area has its own beach and a lot of nice harbour front restaurants, although it was pretty empty when we were there.
Darwin is all about the CROCODILES and there are various crocodile-themed attractions around town, including Crocosaurus Cove, Crocodylus Park, and the Crocodile Farm. We didn’t want to pay to visit all of them, so we chose Crocosaurus Cove, mainly because it was the most crocodile-specific, and also because it was downtown so we could visit it while our car was getting serviced. It’s basically a zoo/aquarium with only crocodiles in it, plus some assorted other reptiles and fish. Some of the crocodiles are pretty huge and old, while others are cute little babies.
The park is pretty touristy. Their main attraction is the Cage of Death, which is where they stick you in a plexiglass box and lower it into one of the crocodile enclosures, then dangle some meat around so the crocodile gets riled up and you can get some good pictures of it seemingly chomping at you. The price was pretty extravagant though, so we just watched some other richer people do it.
There is also a part where you can dangle fishing lines with meat tied to the ends into one of the enclosures and “fish” for crocodiles, and a place where you can take a photo holding a baby crocodile. We passed because they tape the crocodile’s mouth closed to do it, which seemed a bit sad. We stayed until we had seen sufficient impressive crocodile feedings though.
Three Days of Car Servicing
We took our car in for an oil change and ended up spending 3 days waiting around while it got various things fixed and replaced. All in all, we got a whole set of new tires (plus rims that were given to us to replace the wrong sized wheels we had on before), fixed a loose wheel bearing, got new break pads, belts, and a new battery, and got a new timing belt and water pump fitted. The mechanic also had wanted to replace our windshield until the Travellers Autobahn staff came to our rescue. So on the plus side, we got to hang out with the very friendly Travellers Autobarn staff who also washed and polished our car, although I’m pretty sure they were mainly trying to placate us since most of the problems were probably due to a poor initial inspection of the car, and their recommended mechanic trying to take us for a ride. But anyways, the car was shiny and new when we left, so Chris was feeling good, even though our credit cards were not. By that time we were glad to be heading on to Western Australia!