I know we keep mentioning the fabulous sunsets here, well on 3rd March we had one of the best ones ever—truly, even the radio announcers were commenting on it the next morning. How fortuitous that an Aussie cycling couple, Jules & Jess, arrived for the first time in Darwin to see this magnificent event. When you see other touring cyclists you just have to go & speak to them to find out where they’ve been & what motivated them (in this case) to cycle all the way from the UK to Australia, by the time they reach Melbourne in July they will have cycled 33,000klms. They came to dinner the following night & yes, they are as crazy as we are. You can check out their journey here.
On 4th March we attended another excellent event at the NT Library—an inaugural Memorial Address in honour of Tony Fitzgerald, who sadly passed away in Feb 2009 & who was the former NT Anti-Discrimination Commissioner. He worked tirelessly to promote messages of tolerance, understanding & justice for all people in the Northern Territory. The address by Mr. Terry O’Gorman—President of the Australia Council for Civil Liberties— spoke about overcrowding in NT jails caused by a tightening of the Bail Act, an unflinching parole board & extra police presence as a result of the Federal Intervention. Instead of introducing a rehabilitation programme & shorter sentences a new prison due to be completed in 2012 will be overcrowded on day one, 80% of the inmates being aboriginal.
On 8th March our friends from Gunnedah (country NSW) Mally & Karen, arrived with their beasties, Jaimie & Benny. To get here to Darwin they first had to drive an hour to Tamworth airport, then board a flight for 50 minutes to Brisbane and then board another flight to Darwin, so we were delighted to see them and appreciative of the effort it had taken to get here. Fortunately the afternoon they arrived coincided with the completion of the relaying of pavers around the pool which had been out of action for the previous week. It didn’t take long before we were all in the pool and the commencement of the drowning of Greg began. It also didn’t take long for the competition to see who could press the lift button first began in earnest. Some may recall that Benny McElroy was not impressed with our house in Warwick Qld and let me know as soon as he alighted from the car in January of last year. He seemed to approve of our Darwin Digs but Greg’s cooking didn’t seem to impress. Mal had warned us that while physically the kids could walk a reasonable distance the real challenge was dealing with the whingeing that started after about 150 metres. The wave pool was considered a fair reward for having to walk the approximately 1 kilometre to get there. However the 4 kilometre walk to the museum almost caused mutiny with cries of “can we catch a cab?” and “where’s the bus stop?” followed by “how much further?”. Fortunately this was all forgotten after a cool drink and a wander through the museum which as we’ve mentioned before is excellent. That night (Friday) we went to the Darwin Ski Boat Club for a feed and a few wines. Very relaxed is the Darwin Ski Boat Club and a great place to watch the sun setting over the water. Our tour guide activities included an excursion through the War Tunnels. These tunnels are dug into the ground below Darwin and were designed to be used to store oil during the second world war. Fortunately (unfortunately for the diggers of the tunnels by hand) the war finished and they have never been used to store a single drop of oil and are now open to the public to inspect having been closed since the second world war until 1992. We also had a day at Litchfield National Park which has changed yet again since our last trip in late January. The magnetic termite mounds are now almost completely invisible due to the spear grass that has grown over the wet season. It stands over 2 metres tall so we just had to explain to Mally and Karen what they could have seen. After quick visits to Tolmer Falls, Wangi Falls we made a bee line for Buley Rock Holes for a swim and lunch followed by another swim at Florence Falls before heading back to Darwin. Mal arranged for a helicopter ride for he and the kids which included a fishing stop at Shady Camp near the mouth of the Mary River. They’re so certain of catching fish at Shady Camp the trip comes with a guarantee to catch a fish. They headed to the airport in the morning which left Greg, Karen and I to amuse ourselves which we did by going to Ducks Nuts Cafe for coffee and reading the papers from cover to cover. We were expecting fish for dinner and we weren’t disappointed. Out they popped from the cab with a large bag containing the filleted remains a 6 large Barramundi freshly caught and delivered with enthusiastically retold fishing tales. Greg BBQ’d them and I have to admit it was so good I had seconds. Which is a rare thing as I’m not really a fish eater. The following day we all piled onto what is known as the Croc Bus which is an amphibious vehicle that drives around town and then into the water for a spin around the harbour followed by a very relaxed lunch at Darwin Sailing Club. By this time we had all developed into a bit of a daily routine. It went something like this. Jaimie and Benny would wake up and immediately turn on the tele to catch the next enthralling episode of some talking pig cartoon. We’d all have breaky and make our way to one cafe or another. Lunch was definitely followed by some quiet time which preceded a swim and drowning of Greg session, followed by drinks and dinner on the balcony. It seemed to suit us all although there is definitely pressure building around our waist lines. Both Greg and I are going to suffer for our gluttony. After 6 actioned packed days Mal, Karen and the kids had to go home. Mally and Karen back to work, Jaimie and Benny, back to school. It was great to catch up and Greg and I had a ball. When they loaded them selves into the cab to take them to the airport we were really very sad to see them go, a sure sign of a great time. We waved goodbye and went upstairs to a very quite apartment, 4 tonnes of dirty washing and no talking pigs on tele.
We spent the next week preparing for our departure from Darwin. Planning food parcels to be sent along the way and determining what supplies we could get where, along the Gibb River Road. This process involves creating an itinerary and then planning meals and weighing the ingredients being sure not to exceed the 5 kilogram post bag limit.
There is only one French restaurant in Darwin, La Chaumiere, apparently a popular Darwin institution so we had to check it out with Keith & Terina. After drinks on our balcony we walked to the restaurant. Think French cuisine circa 1970 and you’re probably on the mark. The food was fine, just old fashioned. With our dining partners we had a great night but probably wouldn’t rush back.
Our final visitors arrived from Sydney on 23rd March, Greg’s cousin Sally & her Mum, Auntie Bev. Again, Sally was first time visitor and Bev hadn’t been top Darwin for a long time, so we were delighted to show off Darwin to them including our 5th trip to Litchfield National Park, not that we minded in the least, via a trip to Fogg Dam where the bird life is coming back, a sure sign the wet season is ending. We lunched on smoked chicken salad in the picnic area adjacent to Wangi falls before Greg and Sally went swimming at Buley Rock Holes and then back home. Our days of sightseeing, which included Parliament House, Darwin Museum, Darwin Waterfront, Nightcliff foreshore, East Point Reserve and the obligatory tour of the Darwin Cafe scene, were followed by a dip in the pool then champagne & dinner on the balcony as we watched the sun set. Aunty Bev and Sally were only with us for 4 full days but we packed a bit in and again enjoyed a very relaxing dinner at Darwin Sailing Club while the sun set into the sea.
It’s been another hot, humid month with only 209 mm of rain falling, much lower than the average of 324 mm with day time temperatures of 33.3C. We watched with anticipation as Cyclone Paul (Category 2) continued to batter the eastern Territory coast but unfortunately didn’t come our way, a bit of wild weather is always exciting to watch especially from the safe confines of our unit. This lack of rain is good news for us though as grading has already started on The Gibb River Road which we’ll be tackling in 3 weeks time.
And so after living in Darwin for 7 months we say goodbye on 7th April. We’ll leave Darwin with a mixture of sadness but also excitement being back on our bikes heading west to Broome via Kununurra. By the time we leave we will have entertained, fed and/or accommodated more than 20 interstate friends and family plus our new Darwin friends. We feel really chuffed we’ve had the opportunity to see and share our Darwin stay with all of them.
We shall miss this balmy, relaxed, tropical place & especially thank our friends Trish, Jeff, Terina, Keith, Alex, Lee-ann & all the staff at The Office Espresso Bar for making us feel so welcome. We also thank all our friends & family who made the long journey from NSW, we hope you left Darwin with a view to come back and see more of what this place has to offer.