The W.A.-N.T. Tour, Days 7 & 8: Darwin and Litchfield Park

It’s the morning of Day 9 and my little corner of the verandah looks like a Chinese laundry . . . mostly socks and underwear hanging to dry in the morning heat since I’m too cheap to pay for washing and drying of any kind.  I would rather take that $7 and buy another 1/2 dozen oysters at the wharf.

It’s another lovely day here in the Top End, the weather feels more like a very hot Canadian summer than a South Australian winter . . . that said, I do enjoy my seasons, and it’s nice to have a bit of summer in the middle of winter any time!

Wednesday morning I actually woke up cold.  Yes, cold.  Sleeping on the top bunk with an air conditioner pointed at me and two fans blowing cold air on me with only a very thin blanket in a dark room does equal cold even though by mid-morning we’re in the low 30s.  Had a slow start to the morning, but it seems that pretty much everyone sleep until 10 here (probably because they are partying until 4am) so there was really no rush to get up and at’em.  Eventually I started my wanderings of Darwin.

My hostel is a couple of blocks back from the main party areas and CBD of Darwin, so I headed in that direction and ended up at the ocean.  Bicentennial Park follows the length of Darwin on an escarpment that goes straight down to the sea.  Met a Canadian couple, Walter and Sue, at Lameroo Beach and walked with them for a bit along the waterfront.  Took a self-guided tour in the lovely and air-conditioned Parliament House, and then went to Survivor’s Lookout, which over looks Darwin’s wharf.  unbeknownst to be until I watched the epicly long Australia, Darwin was actually involved in WWII.  The lookout had pictures of what the wharf looked like after the bombings of February 19th, 1942.  The post office suffered a direct hit, and over 200 people were killed.  Darwin and the Top End was placed under military control for the duration of the war.  Directly below the lookout were the WWII Oil Storage Tunnels, which were never used in the war, but afterwards housed jet fuel until the tunnels leaked.  Opened in 1992 to the public, they display wartime photos and were another great respite from the heat of the day.  I bought a stubby holder to commemorate my visit.  In the tunnels I started talking to Orem, a 32 year-old town planner from Israel.  both agreeing that we needed lunch, we walked down to the wharf and enjoyed a fantastic crocodile burger and chips, with oysters as an appy – delicious.  Crocodile kind of tastes like alligator, and if you’ve never tasted either, imagine a sort of tough and very mild tasting dark meat chicken fillet.  Breaded and deep-fried, almost anything could be good, I guess!

After the wharf, Orem and I started back into town, but got side-tracked by the lovely green space that now endows Darwin’s harbour.  The lovely green grass was too nice to miss out on, so we took a break under some shade and just chatted about our travels around the continent.  Feeling refreshed by our rest, we went back up into town to take a look at a couple more sights before going our separate ways for the night.  Having spent a lot on lunch, I decided to cheap out on dinner and went to Woolies for some takeaway.  As I was leaving I ran into a Kiwi guy who was campaigning for the seeing eye dogs of Australia that I’d met the week before in Naracoorte!  Small world!

Back at the hostel, I chatted to a couple other backpackers over dinner and a couple of nice cold beers before getting ready for my Litchfield tour the next day.

Yesterday I had an early wake up call, but was all ready to go by 6:50, when the bus picked me up for the day tour.  After calling in at all the hostels and hotels in town for the other tour guests, we were finally on our way – down the Stuart Highway, past Humpty Doo (yes, there is a place called Humpty Doo) and on to the Adelaide River to see the jumping crocs.

Ruben, our lovely but slightly over-talkative tour guide, explained to us “That tour over there has a boat, that tour over there has a boat . . . you have a box – don’t lean over the side for any reason, or else a giant mongrel croc will eat you.”  Gotcha.

As we putted down the river, the crocs were EVERYWHERE!  Swimming towards us with just their eyes and nostrils above water, the massive and fierce-looking dinosaurs swam right up to and then under the boat, popping up unexpectedly on the other side, looking for Ruben’s bait.  He would tease them alongside the boat and speed up slightly to make them think their prey was alive.  When they poked their heads above the water, he knew they were interested and he lifted the bait higher and higher, until these massive 3-4.5m animals launched themselves out of the water for a feed.  We must have fed about 10 crocs this way, and I could have spent the rest of the day doing it!

After the crocs it was time to get back on the road and go to Litchfield.  Not as well-known as Kakadu, but close enough to get a good taste in a one day tour, I would recommend renting a car and spending a day at the swimming holes rather than taking a tour.  The beautiful Wangi Falls, Florence Falls and Buley Rockholes are well worth a visit, but unless you really like camping in 30+ degree heat, rather just go for a day.  If you get a 4WD vehicle, you would be able to see a bit more of the park, and a couple of landmarks that are only 4WD accessible, but the swimming would be a main reason to go, the welcoming 25 degree water a perfect break.  You can also see the Cathedral and Magnetic Termite mounds.  The Cathedrals grow a metre in 10 years, and some are up to 7 metres tall!!  The Magnetic mounds are perfectly aligned north-south so as to catch the least amount of sun, and look like a graveyard when viewed from the east or west.

After a few swims and general relaxing, it was time to get back on the bus, and head into East Point in Darwin to watch the sun set while enjoying champagne and prawns (the reason I booked this particular Litchfield tour).  12 hours after pick-up, a few of us got dropped off at the famous Mindil Beach Markets, for a stroll and a browse through the most amazing array of cultural food stalls . . . and a few knick-knacks as well.  Musicians playing and a slight breeze off the water made for a wonderful evening.

Today its chill out day, the only day on this vacation (aside from the trains, I guess) where I have planned to do absolutely nothing.  My book and I will be headed to the waterfront shortly to enjoy each others’ company in the sun.  Tomorrow its back on a train to head south to the middle of Australia.

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