Trip Start Sep 03, 2007
220Trip End Jun 17, 2009
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Where I stayed
The cramped flight thankfully only lasted for two hours, including the difficult operation of eating a meal when you didn't have complete mobility in your arms because of the restricted space - this really was sardine style. Ok 'Quantas Link', you've earned a place next to the top of 'the world's worst airline' list.
We landed in Darwin, Northern Territory and went to play the 'baggage game' - blimey, it's been that long since we've been on a plane I'd forgotten the game
Out into the warm night and an unfriendly taxi ride to the city and our hotel, who we found out later had already debited our credit card for the (expensive) night's stay. At least the room was clean and comfortable even if nowhere near palatial for the rate we had paid for it. Our clocks were put back half an hour to Australian Central Standard Time.
Thursday 21st August
An easy start and the luxury of a buffet breakfast, which included 'English bacon', soft cooked, full slices as compared to the thin and crisp American style.
The Northern Territory contains some serious outback and wilderness areas and we wanted to see a (tiny) part of the 'Kakadu national park', which was some 23,000 sq kms in area and extends from just outside Darwin way up to the north coast. We booked a day trip for Friday and a crocodile viewing trip, that Kath, who we had met on the yacht in Airlie Beach, had recommended, for Saturday
Next was to prepare for Asia and its mosquito population. We bought a mosquito net and several (small) jars of permethrin concentrate (which is a mosquito repellent) and spent the afternoon soaking some of our clothes in the mix and drying them, which wasn't hard in the hot Darwin sun, tucked away in a disused bar area near the swimming pool.
At dusk we took a taxi ride up to 'Mindl beach', which has a twice weekly night market in the adjacent park. We just missed a fabulous sunset, with scores of people sitting on the beach and either relaxing or eating food from the many stalls that were in the market. We walked around sampling (mostly Asian) food, which tasted just as it does at home and leaves you just as thirsty!
After looking at the many other art, jewellery and souveneir stalls, we sat and listened to a live blues band for an hour before returning to the hotel for an early (ish) night.
Friday 22nd August
Alarm clock at 5.15 am and we managed to grab an early, quick bite of breakfast from the restaurant - bless you all
We set off on the nearly 300 kms towards Kakadu np and our first stop was at the 'Mamukala wetlands', a great marsh area, home to many different bird types. Then it was 'Nourlangie Rock', a stopover place for the nomadic aborigines who had lived in the area for 50,000 years and had painted artwork on the rock areas. It was very simplistic and represented events in their lives and symbols of their gods. There was a trek up to the 'Gunwarddehwardde lookout', which gave fine views over the surrounding flat topped rainforest, which extended for miles.
After a lunch stop we went on a boat cruise on the 'Yellow Water billabong', a long twisty stretch of isolated river and the home to much bird life, as well as CROCS. At last we got to see the fabled reptiles, some of which were quite large and menacing.
On the way back there was a quick visit to the 'Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre' to learn more about the aborigines.
It was a long day out and we returned to Darwin around 9pm but we had seen a lot and enjoyed the sights of this wild area. The group we spent the day with were all friendly and we had plenty of good conversations. My thanks to Manny for being an interesting travelling companion.
Saturday 23rd August
A last chance to sort things out before leaving Oz. Final pictures were archived and a box of souveniers was sent back to Mission Support Centre (sorry John, there's another incoming!) Then we looked for a Travelex or similar centre to buy travellers cheques for Asia. Banks don't issue them in Oz and the only office in town was closed - on a Saturday morning! Tourist Information sent me to a Thomas Cook office (which had closed some time ago) and advised that there was another Travelex at the airport.
We'd done as much as we could by the time our next trip was due
It was a short drive to the 'Window on the Wetlands', a visitor centre built on a small hill, giving great views over the wetlands and explaining the birdlife and animal groups that live there.
Then the 'Jumping Crocodile Cruise' on the Adelaide river, which was on the ebbing tide. Our double decker boat set off into the river flow and as it was a cloudy day, the crocs were not active but trying to conserve energy.
A few recognized the boat and approached us. The idea is that a crew member ties a piece of meat on to a line, which he dangles from a long bamboo pole over the water. The croc swims for the bait, which is raised, causing him to come leaping out of the water to grab it. A bit touristy but I suppose if the crocs didn't want to do it, they wouldn't.
We had quite a few good leaps, with the crocs coming well over a metre out of the water and then snapping their jaws shut on their 'prey', quite an awesome sight
On the way back we stopped to look at some magnetic termite hills in a field at the side of the road. These amazing constructions, some over seven feet tall, always face east – west so that they are not in direct sun and therefore keep cooler. Intriguing.
Back in town by teatime and a quick beer at one of the many open air bars. We changed for supper and found a restaurant that had kangaroo on the menu. It was similar to a tasty piece of steak and quite tender. I finished the meal with a Bundaberg (sugar cane) rum, which was not very strong and had little taste, a disappointment.
Sunday 24th August
An easy morning and leisurely breakfast before packing. Our hotel had at least given us a late check-out time and in early afternoon we left our bags at reception and went for a walk round the esplanade area
We passed the Northern Territory parliament building, known by the locals as the 'wedding cake' because it's a square, white building. We were told of another reason by a local who, with the usual Aussie disrespect for politicians, said it was called the 'wedding cake' because it was full of 'fruits, nuts and alcohol'!
Near the harbour wharves we came across memorials to the Japanese attack on Darwin in February 1942, carried out by the same battle fleet that had attacked Pearl Harbour, ten weeks earlier.
A last beer, sat in the hot, Darwin sunshine and then at 3.30 we were on our way to the airport and out of Oz.
Australia - how's it go then?
OZZY, OZZY, OZZY - OY, OY, OY !!!! was the constant cry from, especially younger, Australians and we heard 'Waltzing Matilda' less than a handful of times
I certainly had an impression of a (mostly) bare and barren country before we arrived and I've been surprised as to how much greenery, forests, serious river systems and mountains there are here. Maybe all the barren bits are elsewhere. I expected a few nice beaches when there are miles and miles and miles of them, most set in deep blue seas.
The animals are as strangely varied and as interesting as we expected, ranging from their unique mammals to fabulously coloured birds. The poisonous ones? We were concerned before coming here but we didn't see one threat at all (apart from in zoos). The way of life here is to be knowledgeable about where you're going, be prepared and leave well alone. It must work because there is a great prosperous nation out here.
The natives? We didn't meet any unfriendly Aussies and the vast majority were helpful, talkative and friendly. There were a few who had some comments on England but I feel that was understandable when we seem not to have been completely supportive in the time that their country was under direct enemy attack. As to the issue of still being 'tied to England's apron strings', yes, it is an anachronism in this modern day for an independent, strong and prosperous nation to be held back by a state of 'Empire' that maybe no longer exists
They give no quarter on the roads and will pass you on any side they can, doing whatever speed they want. The strange thing is that many will make a serious effort to pass you and then turn off less than 100 yards further on, as though this is some kind of personal pride challenge. It is just another facet of the general determination to succeed that is part of the Aussies' culture.
We were not even going to see a fraction of Oz and our decision to go up the east coast was to try to see as much as possible. A glimpse of the outback would have been interesting but we still eventually drove 4617 miles (plus tourist trips and local mileage) from bottom to (near) top, enjoying the views and spectacle of as many major landmarks and areas as we could.
Regrets? Maybe not been able to spend more relaxing time with friends and it was nice to catch up with Ollie and David, Neil and Sylvia and Lisa and Alan. We enjoyed the short time with them and being shown around their (widely different) areas.
It has been a great time here and Australia gave us more than we anticipated on all counts. Yes - we would certainly come back here.