Unexpectedly our first stop once arriving in Darwin wasn’t destined to be my Cousin Jess and her fiancé Ben’s place; instead it turned out to be O’brien’s Autoglass :-/ While taking a detour past Daly River to have a look round an Aboriginal art centre on friendly advice from wise Grey Nomads (it was very inspiring and we even got a peek at the workshops, although the town felt a little rough), a stone kicked up from a passing caravan smashed violently upon our windscreen. Fortunately the resulting crack didn’t affect my driving visibility too much, although was definitely going to need some attention before departing from Darwin.
Once we’d booked our windscreen replacement for later in the week (fortunately our insurance was going to pick up the majority of the bill, bar the excess), we headed to Jess and Ben’s place, which turned out to be a large, modern townhouse positioned picturesquely overlooking a marina 🙂 That evening Jess and Ben treated us to a hearty feed of chicken schnitzels, washed down with icy cold golden lagers and conversation about cyclones at the local (water) Ski Club, while the sun scorched the dusky skies as it sank slowly below the warm waters of the Timor Sea.
Escaping the humidity while sightseeing on two wheels
Darwin is (in)famously known for extremely humid conditions, even during its ‘winter’ months, so I was understandably hesitant to trust Joella’s suggestion of saying goodbye to the comfort of our car’s air-con and instead venture out for the day on bicycles. Almost immediately however, I was pleasantly surprised by how well the passing air cooled us, as we speedily navigated Darwin’s superb network of cycle lanes on two wheels.
Our first stop once in town was a much deserved coffee and brunch at Kopi Stop, where we treated ourselves to some lovely veggie jaffles (Aussie for toasty). After refuelling, we were ready to explore Darwin further, and headed to the beautiful recreation area of East Point just past Fannie Bay (snigger snigger..).
We hadn’t done much research about the Northern Territory’s capital before arriving, and to be honest we weren’t sure what to expect, but once we’d spent time trundling around Darwin’s (surprisingly lush green) coast, beaches and harbours, we quickly grew fond of Australia’s largest ‘Top End’ city. And that was before visiting the magnificent Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory… Conveniently entry was free, and the standard of the exhibitions was superb. We were especially impressed by the Natural World section, full of Australia’s many unique, weird and wonderful animals from past and present including various dinosaurs, sawfish and giant clams.
After being in awe of Aussie’s animals, things quickly turned to a more sombre mood while learning about the devastation caused by Cyclone Tracy back in 1974. The scale of the disaster was shockingly brought to life through full size replica houses to demonstrate the damage caused, as well as a darkened room where a recording of the storm can be heard. It was all very sad, and we struggled to understand recent decisions to relax building regulation that were put in place as a result; no longer needing safe rooms and a decrease in wind speed buildings are required to withstand.
Struggling with difficult dining decisions at the Mindil Beach Sunset Market
Despite Jess mentioning the markets can get busy, we weren’t expecting large crowds in comparison to those we’ve grown accustomed to back in London. However, after arriving then spending quarter of an hour to find a parking space, we soon realised Jess wasn’t kidding! After parking on an unlikely spot along a grass embankment lined with infinite palm trees, we followed the smells, lights and noise towards the market strip that lay parallel with the busy beach peppered with people gobbling food.
There we were greeted by far more stalls than we’d seen earlier in the afternoon when cycling past, all selling tantalisingly tasty looking foods from all over the world, as well as a multitude of other crafty goodies. An up-tempo didgeridoo band provided a fitting soundtrack as we snaked up and down, struggling to decide what we should treat ourselves to. Finally we settled upon a mixture of flavoursome Turkish wraps, stuffed Indian roti’s, chicken laksa soup and superb mini Dutch pancakes – yum!
Once full, we were able to focus more on our atmospheric surroundings, as we explored the eclectic mix of stalls offering the likes of ‘roadkill’ themed burgers, whipping tutorials and the opportunity to have your name written on a grain of rice. After enjoying another lovely, but busy sunset from the beach, we made our way back home for beers and banter.
Uncovering the fascinating world of Aboriginal Art
The next day started off productively; sitting in a coffee shop that was suitably blaring the Wombats back catalogue, as we waited for our windscreen to be fixed. Once all done, we headed down-town to go shopping in the many aboriginal art shops and galleries that line Darwin’s streets and alleyways. Fortunately the town centre is fairly compact, allowing us to park up and leave the car, before immersing ourselves in the magical world of aboriginal art
What we expected to be a brief two hour wander, turned into a full-day mission, as we delved deeper and deeper into the many stacks of rainbow coloured paintings. Not only was it a feast for the eyes, but we found it truly fascinating too; learning about the methods used to create the intrinsic patterns as well as the meanings behind the various shapes and symbols.
We were tempted by many of the pieces, however one by Eddie Blitner stood out for us more than others. It features a celebratory brolga bird – which represents going for your dream and expressing yourself creatively on a professional level in Aboriginal culture – formed from what seems like an infinite number of fine white lines across a scorched yellow background. Unfortunately our time with it was short lived, as it needed to be wrapped-up ready for posting – it was far too big and expensive to be chucked in the back of our car! Not only had the painting burned a hole in our pocket, but so did the parking ticket, which had shot up from free for the first 2 hours, to over $50 for the next 3 :-/
Finding ourselves in hot water (literally) with some intoxicated boguns
Having originally planned to squeeze in a day trip to the famous Litchfield National Park, we soon came to our senses, deciding against spending X hours driving there and back (you’re better to spend a night there). Instead, Jess suggested we check out the much closer Berry Springs – a natural hot springs in amongst the rainforest – which understandably didn’t need much selling to us!
After a swift 45 mins drive, we arrived first unexpectedly at an enormous car park, rammed full of fellow hot spring seekers. It wasn’t looking likely to be as peaceful and tranquil as we’d hoped, but happily the size and number of pools meant it wasn’t to be too crowded. Once we’d grabbed our ‘noodles’ (highly recommended long foam tubes to keep you afloat) and taken some amusing photos next to the crocodile warning signs, we excitedly made our way into the surreal balmy waters surrounded by tropical foliage.
Unexpectedly, our relaxation was soon disturbed by a couple of Boguns (Aussie Chavs / Neds) that had got people’s backs up, by uncaringly taking glass bottled beers into the water. Jess gave them evils, which led to us receiving a tirade of abuse. Fortunately their behaviour was more entertaining than threatening, and we quickly learned to ignore their pathetic grumblings about ‘arrogant tourists’, which made no sense seeing Jess is a local!
For our final evening we all tucked into some pricy, but highly scenic fish and chips at La Beach next to Cullen Bay. There we huddled together on the grass eating out of paper wrappers, in an attempt to prevent the circling seagulls from thieving our golden battered prizes. As we successfully finished the last of our chips without any losses, we were treated to one more beautiful sunset over the water – a highly satisfying ending to our stay in Darwin 🙂