This trip has changed so many times because of all the chaos around COVID-19. Whenever a new hotspot turns up flights are cancelled and new flights booked. So the first booking was a return trip from Sydney to Uluru with Jetstar. We’d booked 3 nights at Sails in the Desert at Ayers Rock. All good until Sydney became a hotspot according to the Northern Territory government and the flights were cancelled and we were given Jetstar credit coupons. We don’t live in Sydney so we thought we were safe to book Newcastle to Brisbane and Brisbane to Uluru then Uluru back to Sydney. Then Port Stephens was declared a hotspot by the NT and Newcastle Airport is in Port Stephens. After phone calls to Newcastle Airport, the Queensland government and the NT government we found that if we went straight to Newcastle Airport without stopping then stay at an airport hotel in Brisbane we were right to go.
Next, our Uluru to Sydney flight was cancelled so booked Uluru to Brisbane to Newcastle flights. All good until the Aboriginal people closed Uluru National Park and Uluru Airport. This means all flights cancelled and more Jetstar credit coupons.
The closure of Uluru was announced yesterday on Tuesday 4th August but we were determined that we weren’t staying home. We decided to keep the Newcastle to Brisbane flight and work out something from there. So on to the diary ….
Wednesday 5th August, 2020
Newcastle to Brisbane
Our flight from Newcastle to Brisbane leaves at 5.30pm so we have to decide this morning if we’ll just stay in Brisbane for a few days and return to Newcastle on Monday as planned… or to take another week off work and either fly to Cairns or to Darwin. Mark checks out the weather forecast and it looks bad all along the east coast over the weekend and into early next week. Darwin on the other hand, will be hot and sunny so it’s a no-brainer.
Besides, I’ve been talking to Kerrie and she tells me that Ross Kerridge will be on the Brisbane flight this afternoon. Marion is already in Darwin staying with her sister Margaret so I give her a call. She convinces me that Darwin is the place to be – hot and tropical!
Kerrie and David are leaving tomorrow to drive to Brisbane before Queensland shuts its borders to NSW on Sat morning. They want to see Todd in case this thing goes on forever.
But then comes more news that some fuckwit from Sydney had been spreading his germs all over Hamilton on the weekend so there’s every chance that the Northern Territory will now class Newcastle as a hot spot.
I call Marion who’s been calling the NT government and I do the same. So far so good and we decide to take the chance. At 1pm I book Qantas flights for tomorrow to Darwin returning to Brisbane next Thursday.
Besides all the phone calls, border restrictions, both of us sorting out annual leave from work and constant Facebook posts about Hamilton being Covid infected, I still haven’t packed! I’m actually standing in the middle of our bedroom just staring into space.
Part of me wants to just forget the whole bloody thing but then I know this might be the only chance for who-knows-when that we’ll get to go away. We just want to be on a plane and be somewhere hot and steamy.
At 3.30pm we say goodbye to our three darling girls and are heading towards Newcastle Airport in an Uber. We have to track our trip so that we can prove we didn’t get out of the car between home and the airport which is in the Port Stephens hotspot. We chat with Ross then all don facemasks as we board the plane.
In Brisbane we walk to the Ibis Brisbane Airport Hotel where we have to isolate for the night. Originally we’d booked a cheaper place but it was 7kms from the terminal which doesn’t fit in with the Northern Territory’s border rules of staying within 4kms of Brisbane Airport. All this shit can make your head spin!
At the Ibis we have to check in and not leave our room. We’re allocated a quarantine room where we can get room service. A few drinks and a pizza later we’re in bed.
Thursday 6th August, 2020
Brisbane to Darwin
This morning we walk to the terminal and grab a coffee and muffins before boarding at 8am. Once again, masks are compulsory, which isn’t a great experience on a four and a half hour flight. Since we’re flying Qantas we expected to be able to watch inflight movies but because of Covid19 it’s not available. WTF?
The issue today is that our flight lands at 12.30pm which is half an hour after the NT government decides which areas are classed as hotspots. And because of the big deal about Covid cases in Newcastle (they’ve been two confirmed cases overnight) we suspect that it will become a hotspot and we won’t be allowed in and will have to go into quarantine until the next available flight out.
Anyway we can’t do anything about it and just go with the flow. At Darwin airport we all line up to be interviewed and to hand in our border passes. Ross is ahead of us so we know that if he gets through we should be okay as well. And yes, he’s in! Next our turn and we’re asked lots of questions before being waved through.
So, so great to be here and wonderful to walk outside into the warm sunshine. Palm trees and Aboriginal sculptures remind us that we’ve actually made it to the tropical Top End.
Marion is here to pick us up in Margaret’s little yellow car. We all fit and head off to Margaret’s place where Marion has made lunch.
We drive to Fanny Bay which is one of the older and nicer areas of Darwin. And we love Margaret’s house – in a tree-lined street surrounded by tropical plants and tall palms. We sit outside next to the pool, making salad sandwiches and swapping Covid stories.
Lots to talk about and plans to make. Later Marion drives Mark and me around the city to get our bearings. Most of the town is flat with the city proper on a low bluff overlooking Darwin Harbour, with Frances Bay to the east and Cullen Bay to the west. We like how small it is and that the water is never far from anything.
Marion drops us at the Travelodge where we’ve booked a room for tonight. It’s in a good spot in the town centre but not sure if we’ll stay here tomorrow – we’ll check out booking.com later. After dumping our bags we’re straight into the pool. It’s wonderful to be in the water again and surrounded by lush gardens and even a waterfall.
Later while resting in our room, I read up on the history of the area which is what we usually do before we go anywhere but there wasn’t time this trip. This is what I learnt …. The greater Darwin area is the ancestral home of the Larrakia people, but on the 9th September 1839, HMS Beagle sailed into Darwin harbour during its survey of the area. John Clements Wickham named the region “Port Darwin” in honour of their former shipmate Charles Darwin, who had sailed with them on the ship’s previous voyage in 1836. The settlement there became the town of Palmerston in 1869, but it was renamed Darwin in 1911.
At 5 o’clock we meet Margaret outside. We’ve met her a couple of times before when she’s been down to Newcastle for Christmas and for Marion’s birthday parties on Boxing Day.
She drives us back to her place to drop off the car then the three of us walk down to the Darwin Trailer Boat Club on the shore of Fanny Bay. It’s the city’s oldest seaside club, now a Darwin institution. We’re surprised how many people are here and it’s why Marion and Ross had come down earlier to grab a table. Apparently it’s like this every night as people come to watch Darwin’s famed tropical sunsets.
After ordering beers and wine, we enjoy the spectacle of the sun sinking into the Timor Sea. It reminds us of untold times in Bali that we’ve watched sunsets on Kuta Beach – one day again soon, we hope.
After a seafood dinner and smorgasbord, Mark and I call an Uber and head into town. Instead of going back to our room we decide to check out the area for a bar. We find a cluster just around the corner in Mitchell Street – Shenannigans, The Tap Bar and Six Tanks Brewery. We settle in at The Tap Bar for an hour listening to live music and trying to dodge the smokers.
We also book a trip to Litchfield National Park on Sunday – all online in five minutes flat – the internet never ceases to amaze me!
Home to bed about 10.30pm.
Friday 7th August, 2020
Because we’re smack in the middle of the dry season (which runs from May to October), we’re not surprised that the weather is warm and sunny without a cloud in the sky. The Top End has distinct wet and dry seasons with the temperature being virtually the same all year round. While the dry season is very dry, the wet season is very wet with monsoonal downpours and thunderstorms every afternoon. Apparently, this is the ‘off’ tourist season but Margaret said that most locals love it.
This morning we decide to move hotels. We’ve found The Palms on booking.com and love the tropical look of it. While the Travelodge has a nice pool area, it’s still one of the generic high rise hotels. And anyway, the Palms is cheaper at $88 a night.
Dragging our packs through the streets we pass lots of Aboriginal people just milling about or squatting in groups – some of them drunk but all looking pitiful. So sad!
We make our way to The Esplanade which runs along the cliffs of Darwin Harbour and the green lawns of the shady Bicentennial Park. The Palms Resort sits on the corner of the Esplanade and Herbert Street, a perfect spot within walking distance of shops and the Waterfront.
After checking out the lovely pool (we’ll be back later) and settling into our room, we head off in search of breakfast. We decide to head down to the Waterfront, walking along The Esplanade.
This is a truly lovely area with lots of old buildings. Actually, we’re surprised to see any old buildings at all as the city has been almost entirely rebuilt four times – after the 1897 cyclone, the 1937 cyclone, Japanese air raids during World War II, and Cyclone Tracy in 1974. We suspect that most of these ‘old’ buildings are replicas of what once was.
What is for real, though, is the very pretty Government House. It’s a white Victorian Gothic villa with shaded verandahs set amongst lush hillside gardens. It’s the oldest European building in the Northern Territory and miraculously survived all the cyclones and bombings.
We also pass State Square which houses the Supreme Court buildings and Darwin’s Parliament House – a huge monstrosity of a building – what were they thinking???
Nearby we find a staircase shaded by trees and vines that leads down to the harbour. At the bottom we come across the historic Oil Tunnels and plan to come back for a tour after breakfast.
Down more steps we find the Darwin Waterfront with manicured lawns, a swimming lagoon, restaurants, bars and the Wave Pool. This is a man-made outdoor pool complete with a sandy beach and where artificially made waves let swimmers ride boogie boards and other floaties. It looks amazing and we wish we’d brought our swimmers – we’ll just have to come back another day.
Breakfast is eggs on toast at an outdoor café then we head back to the Darwin Tunnels. They were built around 1942 after Japanese air raids destroyed the above-ground oil tanks. It was decided to build underground bomb-proof tanks but by the end of the war only a few tunnels had been completed and none had ever been used. Still, it’s interesting to walk along the 650 foot tunnel which is lined with information boards of photographs and stories about the Allied wartime events up here at the Top End.
Back up in the city we find Smith Street Mall where we spend ages in an Aboriginal art gallery. We buy a painting, a bag for me, a wine cooler and fridge magnets all painted by local people. We’re given coloured printouts with a photo and bio of each artist. The shop owner tells me that the lady who did the painting on my bag died in a car crash a couple of years ago – really sad.
On the way back to Palms we buy a couple of kilos of prawns to take to Margaret’s for dinner tonight then stop at historic Lyons Cottage where we sit outside in the shade of an umbrella drinking iced chocolate and iced tea – really hot by now!
So because of the heat we cool down in the pool, loving being here in the tropics. After an afternoon nap in our air-conditioned room, we grab an Uber to Margaret’s place. We sit around chatting, peeling prawns and drinking beer and wine. I actually like the wine – a Tasmanian bubbly called Josef Chromy Roaring Beach – I take a photo to remember it. Ross cooks a barbeque and Marion makes up a salad.
We make arrangements for a trip to Katherine on Monday with Marion and Ross. We’ll stay two nights and stop off at a few places on the way. Very excited about it!
After dinner we call another Uber and get the same lovely young Bangladesh guy who brought us here. He wants to bring his mother to Australia because he’s scared of her getting Covid in Dhaka – not surprisingly it’s rife over there.
Of course, we don’t go straight to bed but have a few drinks at the Darwin Hotel just around the corner from The Palms. This is only after Mark hires an electric scooter which is the rage here in Darwin. I have a try but I’m a wimp so we give up.
Saturday 8th August, 2020
Darwin to Litchfield
This morning we’re being picked up at 7am for our day trip to Litchfield National Park. Because of Covid19, tour companies can’t use minivans – social distancing – so we’re picked up in a big tour bus even though there are only twelve of us on the trip. Our driver is a tall, pretty woman called Marietta who came to Darwin from Holland twenty years ago as a backpacker and hasn’t left. We like her.
We only have one more couple to pick up and we’re soon heading out of town speeding south down the Stuart Highway. ‘The Track’ as its often called, runs almost three thousand kilometres from Darwin to Port Augusta in South Australia and is named after Scottish explorer John McDouall Stuart – the first European to cross Australia from south to north (sorry, never heard of him).
And when I say speeding, I mean speeding – the speed limit is 130kph which has only recently been changed from no speed limit at all!
Marietta introduces herself then we all call out our names and where we’re from – lucky no Melbourne people who are the lepers of Australia at the moment – ha, ha. Melbourne is currently in Stage 4 lockdown and has been for about six weeks – would hate to be them.
Litchfield National Park is just an hour-and-a-half drive from Darwin and is an important area to the Koongurrukun, Marranuggu, Werat, and Warray Aboriginal people. But the park is named after the explorer Frederick Litchfield – another European. It’s just occurred to me that Darwin, the Stuart Highway and now Litchfield are all named after white people – and probably heaps of other places as well. How fucked up for the Aboriginal people!
The landscape is dry and barren, typical of the Australian tropical savanna covered with dense grass and scattered trees. The land is also mainly flat with only a few straggly trees and shrubs – not beautiful but interesting.
Our first stop is for morning tea in the small town of Batchelor, ‘the gateway to Litchfield National Park’ (and you guessed it, named after another whitey, Mr. Batchelor, in 1912). It’s a pretty place with lots of greenery and tall trees. It’s like an oasis after the rest of the trip.
In Batchelor we stop at the Banyan Tree café, of course, named because of a huge banyan tree attached. It’s a cute place with an old car filled with tropical plants and a coffin with a white faced dummy inside.
After everyone loads up on tea and coffee we set off for the termite mounds. A really impressive sight is the hundreds of Magnetic Termite mounds standing two metres high on a wide flat plain. From a distance it looks like a graveyard with tall grey headstones. They’re up to one hundred years old with magnetic compasses – their thin edges pointing north-south and broad backs facing east-west. This aspect thermo-regulates the mounds so the termites don’t get too hot or too cold.
Nearby, Mark and I are more impressed with the four metre high Cathedral Termite Mounds. Always wanted to see these and we pose for photos next to them – tick it off the bucket list!
Now we keep driving through the Park to Florence Falls. Marietta tells us that it’s a bit of a walk but worth it once we get there. We change into our swimmers from the carpark to walk along tracks then down lots of stairs through the rainforest-filled gorge to reach the Falls – spectacular!
Water cascades into a crystal clear swimming hole surrounded by sandstone walls and the monsoon forest. We dive straight in even though the water is ‘refreshing’. Mark swims over to the falls then comes back to get me. This is the first time I’ve ever stood directly under a waterfall – tick that off the list as well!
We spend ages just floating around soaking up the beautiful surrounds. Because of the lack of tourists (Corona Virus), there are only about thirty people here. Normally this place is packed!
Time to head back, we decide to return via the one kilometre Shady Creek walk. This loops along a stream through the rainforest – so pretty. Towards the end of the track we emerge from the shade of the forest into dry open woodlands and the scorching sun. At the top we chat with some of the group then all pile back onto the bus.
Our next stop is Tomer Falls near the western boundary of the park. This time we can’t swim as it’s too hard to get down into the gorge. Instead we walk to the viewing platforms and just take photos.
Heading about 60 kilometres further south, Marietta tells us that we’ll be having lunch at Wangi Falls which is the most popular attraction in Litchfield. This is completely different again with a manicured picnic area and with the falls and pool just a short walk from the carpark.
Before swimming, though, we all have lunch in the kiosk/restaurant. Social distancing here, with our group the only ones allowed to sit down to eat. Lunch is a cold buffet salad which is perfect on this very hot day. We chat with an older couple originally from Scotland. She’s a sweet little mouse and he’s hilarious. Totally politically incorrect every time he opens his mouth (he never draws breath) so we love him instantly.
Now we walk past the Crocodile Warning signs to the pool. WTF??? We’re told that it’s safe to swim here in the dry season as the salt water crocs aren’t able to swim up the river from the coast. But what if there’s one still in there?? And the pool here is surrounded by tall reeds and I’m sure one is lurking in there somewhere.
But no-one else seems worried but I do make sure I’m in the middle. This pool is much bigger than the one at Florence but still lovely surrounded by lush monsoon rainforest. We stand around in the water chatting to the guys from our bus then at 2.30pm change back into our clothes and set off north.
Marietta explains that by now we’re now 150 kilometres from Darwin so we’ll be driving for an hour or two before our last stop at Howard Springs. This is a nature park popular with Darwin locals for weekend picnics. Marietta buys bags of dried fish to feed the turtles and barramundi – huuuge things – in the man-made pond. This area is lush with rainforest plants and was a recreational spot for soldiers during World War II.
We arrive back at our hotel about 5 o’clock and on dark, walk down Mitchell Street for a drink and food at Monsoons. A guy is playing a guitar and singing. Unfortunately he takes requests – ‘Country Roads’ – and I sing along. A fun night ending up at the Darwin Hotel once again.
Sunday 9th August, 2020
Today we plan to hang out in the city and meet at Margaret’s about three o’clock so Mark and Marion can get out to the airport to pick up the hire car for tomorrow.
Down on the Waterfront we walk along Stokes Wharf to find the Royal Flying Doctor Museum. It takes ages and the sun is belting down. Darwin Harbour looks amazing with clear blue water and clear blue skies above. The RFDS Museum also houses the Bombing of Darwin Museum so we relive the attack with a Virtual Reality experience of the bombing. We wear headsets that allow us to see a 360 degree view of the attack from where we actually are right now on Stoke’s Wharf which took the brunt of it.
It’s February 19th 1942, and this is the most significant wartime attack ever launched on Australian soil. More than two hundred Japanese aircraft bombed Darwin, destroying ships and the city’s waterfront and killing two hundred and thirty five people. The sight of the planes coming and the sound of the bombs exploding is frightening – a brilliant production. Also my first Virtual Reality experience – yet another thing to tick off the list!
At the rear of the Museum is the RFDS exhibition with a real plane that we can climb inside to see how it’s fitted out. The RFDS is significant to Darwin as the NT is where it began its aero medical operations in 1939 after being founded by the Reverend John Flynn – good trivia question.
We don’t hang around much longer and the staff are shocked that we’re leaving. ‘Oh no, we’ll be back this afternoon’, we lie and quickly fuck off out of there.
We make the long hot trek back to the Waterfront where we hire another e-bike. I’m better this time but still not confident enough to ride it around the streets. Now we change into our swimmers and pay to enter the Wave Pool. The waves today though are rough and we don’t stay long. Anyway we’re hungry and an Uber ride later we arrive at Cullen Bay.
This is a man-made housing and marina development area and is Darwin’s top residential suburb. The Marina is home to over two hundred boats and overlooked by some of Darwin’s best restaurants. We like the look of the very funky Lola’s Pergola decorated with horses from an old merry-go-round. It has a deck over the water with the boats so close we can almost touch them. After a seafood lunch we call another Uber to take us back to The Palms for a rest.
At three o’clock we order another Uber (lucky they’re cheap – about $12 a trip) to take us to Margaret’s. Mark, Ross and Marion leave for the airport to pick up the hire car while Margaret and I chat and empty the fridge. She’s having her kitchen done up and the builder is starting tomorrow. The boys will move the fridge when they get back. At 5.30pm we drive to Mindil Beach for the weekly Mindil Beach Sunset Market.
The market is said to be the heart of Darwin’s cultural melting pot with over two hundred stalls, including more than sixty food stalls. Because of Darwin’s close proximity to Asia, it means that there’s a strong Asian influence, especially in the food scene. But we find many more international food stalls – Indian, Sri Lankan, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Thai etc.
The market has a great buzz even in these Covid times. People are having picnics on the grass under tall coconut palms all along the beachfront. We split up for a while then meet on the beach just before sunset. Hundreds of people have come down to the sand – reminds us again of Kuta Beach when crowds of Balinese people and tourists head for the beach every night for sunset. And the sunset here doesn’t disappoint. As the sun falls, the sky changes from gold to orange to red – stunning!
Later Marion drops Mark and I back in town where we head straight to our local – the Darwin Hotel – but have an early night – off to Katherine in the morning.
Monday 10th August, 2020
Darwin to Katherine
At 7.30 am we check out of The Palms and book another two nights for when we return on Wednesday. Marion and Ross pick us up at the side gate and we set off south for the 320 kilometre trip to the outback town of Katherine.
With Mark driving, we take the Stuart Highway through Palmerston and Coolalinga then past the turn-off to Litchfield National Park. From here on Mark and I haven’t been on this part of the highway but the scenery is basically the same the whole trip, dry savanna with red soil and scrawny trees.
After an hour, we stop at the small township of Adelaide River. We spend half an hour at the war cemetery – Ross loves to read all the signs so we do the same. It’s a peaceful place and, like all war cemeteries, has manicured lawns and gardens.
Back near the main road, Marion and I check out the market. This consists of two stalls – one run by a grumpy woman and the other by a sweet old lady selling jams and pickles. We buy from the sweet lady.
At the servo Mark buys chocolate Billabongs for us all then we head off for Pine Creek. This is an old gold mining town which stumbled into existence when the teams building the Overland Telegraph Line in 1870 dug up some gold while digging holes for posts. Here we drive up to the lookout that has views of a deep lake, once an open cut gold mine but now filled with water.
Back down in the town, we set up in a pretty park, to have a picnic lunch that Marion has brought then decide to go off the Highway onto the Northern Goldfields Loop. The main reason for this is to visit the Grove Hill Historic Hotel. This is
63 km north of Pine Creek so it’s a long hot drive on a dirt road. We find it situated on the old Northern Railway line and it looks amazing – but sadly it’s closed!
Marion tries to chat to a couple of Asian ladies sitting in the shade of a big tree in the side yard. She’s hoping they’ll let us have a look inside but they’re not interested in being friendly. We do manage to get a look through an open shutter though and it’s amazing – full of mining artefacts and all internal walls made of corrugated iron. This industrial look is the real deal!
We keep driving hoping to find our way back to the highway but we seem to have missed the turnoff and end up ages on the horrible gravel road. Very glad to get back onto the paved highway and on our way to Edith Falls where we’re going to have a swim!
After another hour or so, we turn off the Stuart Highway once again and drive a further nineteen kilometres to Edith Falls which is now known by the Aboriginal name of Leliyn Falls – about bloody time! It’s actually a series of waterfalls but the main attraction is the vast natural swimming hole with only a small waterfall on the distant shore. The area surrounding the pool is lovely – fringed with paperbark, pandanus and grassy areas under the trees where families have set up picnics. We all jump in to cool down and spend ages floating around. The pool is spring fed so it flows all year round. We don’t bother with the any of the many walks around here although I’m sure Marion and Ross will be back to explore next week.
From here it’s only about seventy kilometres to Katherine. It’s the fourth largest town in the Territory and is known as the place where “the outback meets the tropics”. Coming into town we cross the Katherine River then turn right onto the Victoria Highway. This highway is almost seven hundred kilometres long, linking the Great Northern Highway in Western Australia with the Stuart Highway here in the Northern Territory.
On the outskirts of town we pull into the Victoria Village Hotel where Margaret has booked us in for the next two nights. It’s a strange place made up of shipping containers and mainly used by FIFO (fly-in fly-out) people working in the surrounding mines. We love it – we’ve never stayed in a shipping container before!
After settling in, we lay around till it’s time for dinner. This comes as part of the cost of the room – so, too, does breakfast we’re told. It’s like being back at residential school at UNE! It’s a buffet style with lots of choices – including desserts.
Later we decide to go star-gazing. Ross has borrowed Margaret’s telescope but we need to get out of town, away from the street lights. Marion drives a few kilometres along the Victoria Highway then pulls into a side road. It’s very dark with a clear sky so a perfect night to see the stars. Unfortunately, the telescope legs break but it’s pretty amazing with just the naked eye.
Back at the Village we play scrabble and have a few drinks before an early night.
Tuesday 11th August, 2020
We’ve decided to just hang out in and around Katherine today then do Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) tomorrow before heading back to Darwin. After breakfast at 6.30am Mark and I just chill out while Marion and Ross go for a walk. We plan to pick them up in town later.
About nine o’clock we’re all back in the car driving the thirty kilometres north-east out to Nitmiluk National Park. Marion wants to check it out to make sure we can get onto a cruise in the morning.
The Visitor Centre is fairly new and impressive with a vast interior opening onto a large outdoor deck on two levels. Trees come right up to the edge which overlooks the Gorge. We settle in for coffee and cakes then follow a winding path through the bushland down to the river.
Back in town we call in at the Katherine Museum. Inside a weatherboard house we find exhibits of old household equipment and lots of posters showing past floods. Katherine it seems, has a history of flooding, those in 1957 and 1974 but the worst was on Australia Day in 1998 which devastated the whole town and was declared a National Disaster.
In an old World War II regional air terminal we find more pioneer memorabilia and even a Gypsy Moth plane used by the Flying Doctor Service. It’s good to see that there are also Aboriginal artefacts from the region plus furniture, home wares and tools ranging in date from the late-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.
Next we park in the town centre where we split up and plan to meet back in the car in an hour when we’ll find somewhere to have lunch. Mark and I check out the main street walking up one side then back down the other. There are lots of Aboriginal people hanging around and don’t look in any better condition than the poor souls in Darwin.
There doesn’t seem to be anywhere decent to eat in the town centre so we drive to Katherine Bowling Club. This is typical of bowling clubs anywhere in Australia – a bit daggy but cheap food and drinks.
After lunch we head back to the Village to grab our swimmers. Marion and Ross had come across the Katherine Hot Springs on their walk this morning along the Katherine River. These natural thermal springs are actually made up of a series of pools framed by native vegetation. This place is very pretty with the clear spring water shaded by the monsoon forest. And they’re not really hot at all – only about 25 degrees – which would have been not so good on this warm sweaty day. Surrounded by tall paperbark trees and pandanas, we spend a lovely hour or so bobbing around and chatting with the other tourists.
On dark, we eat again in the dining room then play a game of Bananas with Marion and Ross – fun.
Wednesday 12th August, 2020
Katherine to Darwin
After an early breakfast, Marion and Ross set off walking into town while we finish packing the car. Mark drives us down to the river but the ‘WARNING. CROCODILE SAFETY’ signs keep us safely inside the car.
We pick up Marion and Ross then head out to Nitmiluk National Park. The Park is vast with thirteen gorges carved out of the ancient sandstone. But because it’s the dry season we can only visit the first two by boat.
Down near the wharf, we line up (socially distanced) then go through the Covid registering before boarding the boat. We’re introduced to our driver, Josh, and our guide, Jamie. Both guys are from the Jawoyn people who are the traditional owners of the area and who jointly manage Nitmiluk National Park with the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission, as well as owning and operating Nitmiluk Tours. Jamie explains about the Jawoyn people’s association with the area and brings to life the stories of Bula the Creator and Nabilil, a dragon-like creature who camped at the entrance to the gorge.
Cruising the emerald waters, we’re hemmed in by the seventy metre high red sandstone cliffs of the Gorge which snakes its way from here for twelve kilometres along the Arnhem Land Plateau on its way to the sea. At the end of the first gorge we all disembark to a rocky area shaded by the towering cliff above us. Here Jamie points out Aboriginal rock art which he tells us could date back as far as ten thousand years ago! This is another first as this is the first time either of us have seen Aboriginal rock paintings even though we’ve seen so many on the tele. It’s awesome to know how old they are! Apparently rock art sites are dotted all over the Park and Jamie’s dreamtime stories are special.
We all follow him across a rock bar that separates the first two gorges. Boarding another boat we chug quietly up this second gorge stopping in a shady inlet to turn around. This gorge is even more spectacular but I’m sort of glad we’re not visiting all thirteen – been there, done that as they say! And it’s so hot I wish we could jump in for a swim.
Back at the Visitor Centre we’re soon speeding towards Katherine then onto the Stuart Highway heading north to Darwin. This will be a three hour trip which we break up at Lake Copperfield just south of Pine Creek. Marion and I can’t be bothered getting out of the car but Mark and Ross walk down to the water’s edge. Here they find the remains of a fresh water crocodile nest and take photos.
About six o’clock we arrive in Darwin where Marion and Ross drop us off at the Palms. We’ve booked a more expensive room with a wide balcony overlooking the thick gardens. This is much nicer than our first room as we can leave the door wide open.
On dark we set off for our nightly drinks and dinner. At the farther end of Mitchell Street we set up in the Six Tanks Pub. Mark orders beer while I go for the half priced margaritas. You get what you pay for as they say because they’re undrinkable.
Soon a DJ starts playing terrible music but then, to make it worse, we realise this is a karaoke night and tragic wannabes are out in force. We move to a table on the balcony to try to escape the noise. The singing is atrocious and we leave as soon as we’ve eaten.
Next door is Shennigans where we’d had a drink on our whistle-stop visit to Darwin in 2012 when we’d had a three hour stopover on our way to Bali. A couple more drinks here then a last one at the Darwin Hotel.
Later we have another drink on our balcony while Mark feeds cute possums that pop out from the palm tree overhanging our balcony.
Thursday 13th August, 2020
Today will be our last full day in Darwin as we fly out tomorrow at lunch time. Marion drives in to give us the car for the day then she’ll walk home after visiting Margaret at work in the building just next to our hotel.
We head first for the George Brown Botanic Gardens just north of the CBD. They were established by European settlers in 1886 where plants could be tested for their suitability in the tropics. But in 1974, Cyclone Tracey destroyed most of the plants. Restoration was led by George Brown and so the gardens were renamed after him – get it?
We wander around seeing fountains, shaded walkways, a small waterfall, and especially love the rainforest area. At the lower level we find Eva’s Café which is set up in the old Wesleyan Methodist Church which was moved to the gardens for preservation. A broad deck has been built into the foliage which is where we choose to sit on this lovely warm day.
Next we head out of the city towards the Adelaide River where we’ve booked a Crocodile Jumping cruise for this afternoon.
After about forty kilometres, we turn left off the Stuart Highway onto the Arnhem Highway which, of course, leads to Arnhem Land and Kakadu National Park. We don’t have time this trip but it’ll be something to come back for.
Our first stop is Humpty Doo – gotta love that name! – which is really just a stopover town for people travelling between Darwin and Kakadu. Its main attraction is the Big Croc – one of the ‘big’ things towns use to try to attract tourists. The croc stands thirteen metres high and wears a pair of red boxing gloves. It was inspired by the “Boxing Kangaroo” logo used in Australia’s successful 1983 bid for the America’s Cup. We stop to pose for photos to send to the Dollies.
Another thirty or so kilometres is the Fogg Dam Conservation Reservoir. This is totally uninspiring but we do drive across the dam wall, stopping to check out the wetlands from the bird hides. Been there, seen that, so we hightail back onto the highway and head for the Jumping Crocodile Cruise place about ten kilometres further east.
I’m stressing that we’ll be late but Mark is calm as usual and we get there in time. At the entrance is another ‘big’ crocodile and a rustic café overhung with palms and bougainvillea. A group of us line up for the boat to arrive. This includes four intellectually disabled Aboriginal ladies with their carer workers – reminds me of my job at home.
On the flat-bottomed boat we set off down river while our guide, Davey, tells us what to expect and, more importantly, the safety rules including no arms outside the boat! We don’t go far when someone spies a crocodile coming straight for us. Great excitement especially when Davey holds a piece of meat on the end of a long stick. The croc leaps spectacularly in the air to grab it. Soon another one turns up and then another all jumping high right alongside the edge of the boat. Apparently the crocodiles know the boats and they leave their place of hiding, knowing they’ll be fed. And Davey knows them all individually – they even have pet names.
It’s thrilling to see these scary cold-blooded creatures so up close in their natural habitat. There’s supposed to be about 80,000 salt water crocs roaming around the Northern Territory waterways. Apparently this is a good thing after being declared a protected species in 1971 when they were facing extinction.
Now we make for Darwin and to return the car to Marion and Ross. At the Palms we have a last swim then dress for our last night.
We’d been talking to Marion and she’s given us a few options for dinner. One was Jimmy Shu’s restaurant, Hunaman, but because I’m a total bogan I’d never heard of him and elected to go somewhere on the Waterfront. Later back home, we find Jimmy Shu’s Taste of the Territory on SBS which is one of our favourite shows ever! Yet another reason to come back to Darwin!
At 6.30pm Mark and I walk down to the Waterfront and being early we stop for a drink at an Irish Pub near Chow which is where we’ll be all meeting. Obviously this is an Asian restaurant set up in an outdoor setting. And because Darwin is Covid-free it’s happily vibrant and busy.
We have a fabulous night with Margaret, Marion and Ross talking about our time here then Mark and I say our goodbyes before walking up into the city. The Darwin Festival is in full swing despite Covid19 and we wander in for a look. A big stage has local bands playing and food stall are dotted around. We don’t stay long but move onto the Darwin Hotel. Our local!
Friday 14th August, 2020
Darwin to Brisbane
Our last day in Darwin! Our main plan before we leave for the airport is to visit Margaret’s workplace because Marion has told us about the awesome view from her office. So at 9am we walk around to her building. Margaret meets us at the lift and shows us her office and the conference room. It’s like having a million dollar view of Sydney Harbour – she’s so lucky but we suspect that it’s because she’s doing a great job.
Back at Palms, we pack then order an Uber to the airport. This time in the Top End has been a wonderful surprise. Not only didn’t we expect to be here but we’ve loved both Darwin and our trips into the outback. There’s still much more we didn’t get to see and we know we’ll be back. That is unless we can get to Asia and then forget it!!! Ha!!
Landing in Brisbane we can’t wait to meet up with Kerrie and David. We’ve booked a room in the same cute boutique hotel as them and we’ll be catching up with Todd and Briny tonight.
Great excitement until we’re stopped by police and army to be interviewed. That idiot Queensland Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk still has the border closed between NSW and Queensland. But we’d crossed before she shut it and we’ve been to the Northern Territory for the last 8 days, which has zero Covid cases, so all should be good.
Actually no! A police woman asks “have you been in NSW in the last 14 days?” – yes we have but we crossed into Queensland three days before the border closed – too bad, sunshine – “you have to go into quarantine for 2 weeks!” Wtf?????
After a lot of negotiating we’re allowed to quarantine for 2 nights before catching our flight to Newcastle on Sunday. This means we won’t get to see Kerrie and David at all! For fuuuuck sake!!
Kerrie actually rings right now and thinks I’m having her on when I tell her we have to go into quarantine. She had some great plans for us and can’t believe this bullshit either. Mark tries to reason with the police and while they agree that it’s crazy, they’re just following the rules. They’re all pretty nice especially to a distraught NSW’s lady who I try to comfort as well. But, bloody hell, get a grip woman!
There’s also a group of four guys from Tweed Heads who have spent a week fishing in the Northern Territory. They’d driven their cars to Brisbane Airport and expected to drive straight home tonight. What they’ll have to do now though is fly to Sydney then catch another flight to Ballina and get picked up from there.
What we realise in the end is that there’s nothing we can do, so neither of us get stressed. Actually this is yet another first – never been in quarantine before so we’ll just think of it as an experience.
So after lots of organising there are about twelve of us who are frog marched through the terminal surrounded by police and army. If anyone comes anywhere near us they’re shooed away. Of course, people are staring and we feel like drug runners on our way to gaol – ha. A special bus has been ordered for us which will drive us to the Ibis just over there.
Off we go but speed past the Ibis and keep driving for another ten minutes. We think we must be going to another Ibis but then we literally do two laps of a roundabout and head back towards the airport. I’m nearly wetting myself laughing by now as the driver is obviously lost!
Finally at the Ibis, it takes ages to get allocated rooms – endless paperwork etc. The ‘distraught’ woman thanks me before being led off still crying. Our room is actually not too bad with a large window with a stunning view of the Brisbane CBD far away in the distance. So near but so far!
I have my Bacardi and Mark can order a six pack so this is not a total disaster! We order food, make phone calls, watch tv then get drunk.
Saturday 15th August, 2020
Not a whole lot is happening today. Just more food and more television. When the food arrives someone knocks on the door, dumps the tray in the corridor and runs away like we’ve got the fucking plague which we don’t have!
Sunday 16th August, 2020
Brisbane to Newcastle
Our instructions for this morning are to wait till police come to escort us to the airport but then we get a call to tell us to just walk over ourselves. What the fuckety fuck???!!! None of this shit makes any sense!
In the terminal we just mingle with everyone else spreading our non-existent Covid germs far and wide. Again, what the fuck! On the plane we do wear masks and I’m sitting next to a very friendly young Scottish guy who announces “we’ll be best friends by the end of this flight!” He never draws breath the whole trip.
At Newcastle Airport there aren’t any taxis and no Ubers in the area so we wait for a bus which will be heaps cheaper anyway. Lauren picks us up from the Interchange and we’re home to our three darling girls.
Another great trip!