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Trip Report At last - Darwin report

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Better late than never – I hope. I have finally found time to begin, and hopefully finish, a report for our great trip to Darwin and surrounds, and Alice Springs last July. Part of the delay has been trying to find a site where I could upload photos without being told they were too big! That and a hectically busy time since then.

Part One - Darwin

We had no delays this time and actually arrived in Darwin 20 minutes ahead of time. We stayed at the Marina View Holiday Apartments in Cullen Bay, and found it a very convenient spot – quiet and on bus route into the city. The apartment we had, 407, needed some TLC but was otherwise comfortable and fine for eating and sleeping in! Our first dinner in Darwin was at Seafood on Cullen, in Cullen Bay obviously. We were lucky enough to have a table outside near the sea, which afforded us an uninterrupted view of the setting sun. The meal was very delicious, with a great range of fish and non-fish dishes.
My laptop wouldn’t work for some very odd reason, so we ended up at Casuarina Shopping Centre looking for a notebook. Fortunately I had already researched notebooks, and with my computer-expert son, decided which was the best for me, so I knew what I was going to buy. I was able to get what I wanted plus external DVD drive and a carry bag for less $NZ than just the notebook would have cost me! Wow, that Casuarina Centre is large, and had some interesting shops in it. I wished we had had time to go into the music shop with its range of interesting instruments.
Myilly Point Precinct is what remains of houses built around 1938 that were not destroyed by cyclones. Definitely worth a wander around as is heading down to Mindil Beach and the Night Markets. Again the most magnificent sunset over the water added to the atmosphere of a warm night, some great finds at the Markets, and the close of our first full day in Darwin.
Our second day started with us catching a bus into Mitchell Street, alighting near Parliament House. We must have looked like lost tourists because a kind young lady stopped to offer us help. We were trying to work out the way to Aquascene and she was able to point out the direction, advising us it was a long walk back to Doctor's Gully. As we had time we decided to walk through the Bicentennial Park, which runs along the waterfront from the Parliament House to Doctor’s Gully, and on the way look at the plaques and memorials – a good way to understand the history of a place. Aquascene is worth a look, especially if you have children. We went because we thought we should but found it was interesting for we “oldies”. We then walked back into the centre of Darwin down Mitchell Street. Collecting a rental car was also on the agenda for this day. This gave us the freedom to look around places that were just outside the walking range. East Point Reserve was one such place, and what a surprise, we were there at sunset – another 100-odd photos!
Next day was “The Forgotten War” tour which took us to Charles Darwin National Park, a cruise from Stokes Wharf to Cullen Bay Marina to see important war sites, and the Darwin Military Museum at East Point. This is a very worthwhile tour. Once back in the city we finished our sightseeing of the historic places, bought me some wonderful Merrill walking shoes and a Leki stick, visited Fanny Bay Gaol and the waterfront park there, and explored the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. This museum is modern, well-planned and has some wonderful exhibits. The Tracy Cyclone exhibit was informative and sobering, the section on boats fascinating, and the natural living world section was also informative. These were the sections I spent most time in!
If you have limited time I would suggest the Historic Places Walk, The Forgotten War tour and the Art Gallery and Museum. I would also suggest renting a car to enable ease of getting around.
I was sorry to leave Darwin – I would have liked another three to five days to continue looking around plus a day just for sitting around reading! I hope to return soon.
Below is a link to some of our photos. I do hope it works.

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    Darn it, I have just tried too, and it doesn't open automatically for me either. :( I'll have to transfer the photos to somewhere else. And I did what they told me to do.

    We really enjoyed the climate in Darwin, Melnq8. It was 28 when we arrived on 16 July and remained between 28 and 31 the 3 weeks we were in Darwin, Kakadu, Katherine and Alice Springs, and not a cloud in the sky until the day we left on 6 August. It was not humid, and so was very comfortable when walking / hiking up hills.

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    Glad to hear you had such nice weather. I asked because I have a friend who spent a year in Darwin and based on her description I'd assumed it was miserably humid 24/7. Of course, she's an even bigger humidity weenie than I am. If that's even possible.

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    Another try with photos - fingers, eyes and legs crossed this time!

    It's worked for me - so far. The only problem with this site is that I can't put many of my photos on as they are too many MBs :(. There are bout half of DH's photos included.

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    Great photos dotty. I get annoyed with WIR too, you can only load so many at a time and it can take forever, even once they're reduced. Have you toyed with TripWow yet? It has its own frustrations, but it's pretty quick all things considered.

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    Hi, Melnq8, yes I did try TripWow but it wouldn't let me upload any of my photos, even those that were less than 6MBs! DH's went on no trouble.
    I am pleased I have some time at present to be able to sort through my photos. I have found a good site that produces great prints for you at a good price and delivered to you. This has spurred me on to collate photos for albums as well as finishing my trip report. My list of "Things to do in the holidays" has been put in abeyance for the moment.

    Part 2: Darwin to Litchfield

    And another beautiful morning on which to continue our exploration of the Top End.
    After a last and more thorough look around Myilly Point Precinct we headed to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. On our previous visit I had not made it to the boat section which houses a great collection of water transporters. This area, known as the Colin Jack Hinton Maritime Gallery, is also well planned and interesting. There are examples from around the Pacific and parts of Asia of small dug-out canoes, refugee boats, fishing boats,pearling boats and pleasure craft. One Indonesian boat was labelled as 'the Holden ute' of rural Australia!

    The next stop was the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre. The centrepiece, literally, is a B52 Bomber! There were interesting exhibits of planes and vehicles used during the war as well as some short films to watch, and we spent a good hour and a half here. DH would have spent more time there if he had had the time to do so. I’m afraid most museums are not really my scene, so after I had looked through and watched part of a movie about the bombing of Darwin I waited in the car.

    Next stop was Adelaide River War Cemetery. This is the only war cemetery in the Top End, and is the final resting place of those service men and women and civilians killed during the Japanese bombings. We strolled around looking at the different plaques in the ground and the young age of many of the soldiers. It was a very peaceful cemetery, well-maintained, with birds chirruping in the bordering trees. A quick drive around got us on the road and back up to Batchelor. We learnt later from friends that there are other things to see in and around Adelaide River.

    Batchelor is a small place but we did have difficulty finding the street our accommodation was in! However, we did have a good look around, including passing the model castle several times! We had two nights at the Butterfly place and two yummy-if-a-little-expensive breakfasts and dinners. The first morning we were collected by our Indigenous Tour guide for a day in Litchfield National Park. This is the only tour I could find that visited places other than just waterfalls. We started at the Magnetic Termite mounds. Really fascinating how they stand all facing the same way. There is fencing around the area where these mounds are to impede human interference! If my understanding is correct, the unusual alignment of these particular magnetic termite mounds is due in part to the need to warm one face of the mound (because they are created on waterlogged soil) hence the alignment of slightly west of true north to 10 degrees East. Very complicated! Just a few steps away from these termite mounds were some Cathedral Termite Mounds. They are fluted and can be up to 6 metres tall! Those we saw are around 2 metres.
    As we drove through the Park we saw an emu, and that was the only wildlife spotted by us. We did go to Florence Falls – 136 steps down to the pool, but then it was 136 steps back up again, and that was a real struggle as I am sure there were really 272. It was about this time I started feeling quite unwell, aching and feverish. Curses! Never mind, too much to see and do. The Falls were definitely worth the stop, and the walk down to the pool. To get a good view of the pool necessitated a tortuous circuit across and around damp rocks, something I didn't feel I could trust myself to do safely. However DH was feeling fine and made it, taking photos to prove it. We travelled through more native bush and on a 4WD-only track to the remains of the Bamboo Creek Tin Mine. This mine was worked from 1906 until the mid 1950s. There are a few parts of the mine still standing and a lot of information boards telling the story of tin mining. We had lunch at Woolaning Spring, Tess’s family's private retreat. No building here yet, just a clearing where a table is erected and covered with a tablecloth, and food laid out. WE collected firewood for the fire so we could have a hot drink! After washing the dishes / cutlery in the beautiful clear stream we packed up and headed out into the real world again. This was a very peaceful, quiet spot in which to have lunch. Next place of interest was Wangi Falls (quite different to the Florence Falls. The pool was quite flooded and as they could not be sure there were no crocs present the Rangers had kept the pool closed to swimmming.
    Last stop was the Blyth Homestead. This place was moved from a neighbouring property over the Tabletop Plateau using a cart pulled by a team of 32 horses, then rebuilt by the teenage children of Harry Sargent, the owner! Tess’s uncle and aunt grew up here. My father came from Blyth in England, which added to the reason I wanted to visit this place. What an isolated place this was to get to in a 4WD. It must have been incredibly difficult to get to in the late 1920s. It was declared a Heritage site in 1997.

    Next morning we left earlyish, to have a close look at the castle model. It was created by a local man Bernie Havlik in his retirement, snd the park where it stands is called Havlik Park. While there we found a wallet so decided to take it to the Police Station. Mmmm, not as easy as you would think. The sign on the Station gate told us what to do if the station was unmanned. That's easy if you are a local, but it took us a couple of wrong turns before we found the Information Centre that acts as a 'locum' base for the Police. The lady in there recognised the name of the owner and said to take it across to the supermarket so it could be placed in their post office box. I gathered the supermarket doubled as the Post Office although they seemed to be separate buildings. As an aside, I was struck by the cleanliness of the supermarket, and the friendliness of the lady serving. What a great experience.
    Leaving Batchelor saw us retracing the road to Darwin to the turn off to Kakadu. I’ll cover this section in another posting. We were here for 3 nights, the last night at Goymarr Tourist Park.

    Pine Creek was our first destination after Kakadu. On the way we were intrigued with the stones, or rather large boulders and rocky formations, lying in amongst the trees, and of course the termite mounds in their many sizes and colours. We were greatly amused at the Road Works sign included in the photo selection.
    Pine Creek is an old gold mining town, the gold being discovered while the Overland Telegraph Line was being constructed. At its heyday there were around 200 Europeans and 4 000 Chinese working in the mines! The Enterprise Pit, once an open-cut mine, is now a lake and can be seen a short drive from the centre of the shops. We had a pleasant lunch at Maysie’s café with its memorabilia of the milkbar days, then located the old bakery which was used until World War 2. Apparently one of the important facts about it is that it had an ant bed oven dating from 1922. Not sure what that is so will have to do some research on it. The Railway Station Museum is in the original station, and had a collection of all sorts of mining, rail and local history. We looked through the old stationmaster's residence then walked through to the Miners Park. In the park are several items of old machinery, and a couple of boab trees. We didn't get to see the water garden created from a disused railway cutting, or other places contributing to the history of Pine Creek. I was still suffering the effects of the flu and did not have the energy to walk any more. However, it is an interesting place to visit, and once again a place we did not allow ourselves enough time in.

    Next stop Katherine.

    Some photos of this section:

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    Part 3: Katherine and Nitmulik Gorge

    We stayed at St Andrew’s Serviced Apartments in Katherine, and they were just wonderful. Due to unforeseen circumstances the studio apartment we had booked was not available so we were upgraded to a two-bedroomed apartment. The apartments are set back from the road so there is no noise at night. Although we didn’t use it there is a pool, and outside our door was a barbecue, also unused by us. The apartments were very comfortable, and we slept really well. All mod cons were provided including washing machine and drier. Paul at reception was very helpful and friendly. Definitely recommend staying here if you go to Katherine.

    While in Katherine our main plan was to visit Nitmulik Gorge, and to ensure we were able to go the day we wanted (weather permitting of course) I had booked before leaving. Thank goodness I did as there were many people wanting to go on the same cruise.
    As we approached the jetty area I could hear some very noisy birds, but they weren’t birds but bats – hundreds of them! Gosh, they do make a terrible mess on the ground and buildings around their nests.

    The Nitmulik cruise was interesting. The boat was packed, and so there was not much spare space. We headed out into the first gorge under instruction to "please remain seated until in open waters." A minute later, "Now we are in open waters and you may walk around the boat!" It was repeated every time we got into a new boat or moved away from close inshore. There wasn't a lot of room to move around on the boat - just stand up to take a photo and sit down again!
    The walls of the gorge are very high and generally 'straight' up. However, I noticed that the walls on the left side travelling out were straighter than the right side which often had 'little' flatter patches and more growth, as well as smaller rocks.
    After the first gorge we had a walk of about 500 metres to the next gorge and boat. This walk had been paved and steps erected, so was very easy to walk. On the way we stopped to look at the art on one of the walls. I could only see one figure but a postcard I saw had several figures in the same area.
    The next gorge is a bit longer, and a little different in some aspects. We were shown the one place on the walls where it continues to drip all year round. On the other side was a small waterfall. This is the first to start flowing in the wet season and the last to stop flowing in the dry season. All the promotional shots for Katherine and the Gorges are taken in this gorge. It is quite stunning in some places. One wall is called Jeddas Leap, and has been used in movies. I missed which movies, though!
    A short easy walk of about 100 metres maximum brought us to the third and final boat and gorge. Again, different to the others. More orange in colour. We were only in here for 10 minutes. At the end is a vortex that stops boats going through, although kayakers could continue if they are prepared to carry their kayaks for about 1 km!
    Then we were on the way back. Before we boarded the last boat some people took up the option of swimming in the gorge's clear water. The rest of us sat around and enjoyed a piece of cake, a muesli bar and a red delicious apple, all washed down with cold water. Before too long we were back at the Nitmulik Centre.

    Do stop and have something to eat and/or drink at The SugarBag Café. We sat out on the deck , under cover, and enjoyed the fresh air. We chose two entrees, and are thankful we didn’t order anything more as we couldn’t finish all the food! Very yummy.

    The Gorge is around 30 kilometres out from Katherine on a good road often through bush. We had a little kangaroo start to hop across the road but then thankfully it changed its mind. Closer to Nitmulik another kangaroo burst through the bush and across the road safely.

    On the way back into Katherine we stopped at the Katherine Museum. Because I was still recovering from the flu bug and feeling quite tired I chose to stay in the car while DH went in. He said there was a lot of farming equipment around the outside in varying states of repair but inside was well organised and interesting.

    Unfortunately one of the places we wanted to see, O’Keeffe House, is only open 10:00am till 3:00pm weekdays, and we were not in Katherine at those times so we could only peer into the grounds from outside the netting fence. It looked worth a visit, too. Oh well, maybe next time . . .

    The old Katherine Railway Station proved a worthwhile stop. One end is the library, the other a small museum mainly about the railways, obviously, but also including a little information about the area and the people who settled there. A lovely collection of old posters advertising the long-distance railway in days past were around the walls.
    From there it was round to the new railway station, just out of town. It took a couple of attempts to find it – the first time we hadn’t gone far enough out on the correct road! We wanted to see if we could leave our bags there ready for the next stage of our trip as we would be catching the shuttle bus there. Just as well we did as there was a lovely, young lass there organising the loading of the cars. She was able to check our bags in, and find me a strip bag to pack my excess baggage in. Your bags are only allowed to weigh a maximum of 20 kg, and mine was 23! Oops.

    Another place we looked around was the park just over the Eugene Betti Bridge at the north end of Katherine. There is an old locomotive permanently parked for the children to climb over, plenty of grass for picnics, and the old railway lines leading to a disused rail bridge. At the south end of Katherine is The Katherine Icon, a bronze statue that acknowledges their forebears, those who are now working the land, and encouraging others to take up the challenge in the future. The statue was erected by the Northern Territory Cattlemen’s Association in time for 2002, Australia’s Year of the Outback.

    We caught up with friends from Wellington who were touring around the Northern Territory in a camper van. It was quite difficult to find somewhere open for dinner around 8 pm that was suitable for people who are not teenyboppers or with young families!

    A good book shop is the shop opposite Woollies in the Mall. They have a good selection of postcards, books, and souvenir items.

    Some more photos to help make sense of my dissertation – hopefully.

    Next part: Katherine to Mataranka to Daly Waters to Katherine again.

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    When starting my report I didn’t intend it to be a blow-by-blow report of each day but it seems to have developed into that. Sorry.

    I also realised this morning that I hadn’t given you a broad outline of what our itinerary was so here it is. The dates included are the nights we stayed in each place.

    Saturday 16 – Tuesday 19 July Darwin
    Wednesday 20 – Thursday 21 July Batchelor
    Friday 22 – Sunday 24 July Kakadu
    Monday 25 – Tuesday 26 July Katherine
    Wednesday 27 July Daly Waters
    Thursday 28 July Mataranka
    Friday 29 July Katherine
    Saturday 30 July The Ghan
    Sunday 31 July – Friday 5 August Alice Springs

    Most of the days were filled with exploring. Probably the one day that we didn’t do that was the Sunday when we arrived in Alice Springs. We wandered around the Todd Mall, revisiting places we had been to last year, and making a couple of purchases because we had the time. On both our visits to Alice I found some great souvenirs in the shop at the beginning of Todd Mall.

    Part 4: From Katherine to Katherine via Daly waters and Mataranka
    When researching our trip originally, we were going to stop at Mataranka. However, I realised Daly Waters, a place I had heard about, was not too far away, and so thought ‘to heck with the budget, etc’, and so our plans changed. And we were pleased we did.
    One of the places we had noted to see while on this part of our trip was the Cutta Cutta Caves, just south of Katherine. I suffer from mild claustrophobia but all the publicity for the caves showed lighted caves so I thought I would be fine. I duly bought us both a ticket to go through the Caves, and we wandered along the path to the entrance where we were to meet the guide. Oh dear, I should have gone with my gut instinct! I truly tried several times but the entrance to the cave was so dark and close I felt panicky and just couldn’t go in. However, DH did and found the caves interesting. He took the photos included in the link. I just sat around outside on my own for 47 minutes watching out for snakes and other nasties! Actually it was quite interesting listening to the birds, and looking at the different flora about the caves. The arrival of the next tour party gave me some company for a few minutes.
    Not long after we re-joined the highway I saw a large black pig sitting in a shallow ditch! It seemed to be alive, unlike the two we saw further down the road that both appeared to have been hit by the same vehicle that sent them flying to opposite sides of the road!
    One of the things we found fascinating was the many, many termite mounds that ‘grew’ under the trees that lined the roads. The mounds varied in colour, in different places and those side-by-side too, and of course size.
    We didn’t stop in Mataranka on our way south making our first stop at Larrimah Hotel. I had read about this place in several different sites used in our research. Larrimah is a very small place – seems to have just the hotel, a café (advertised as the home of Fran’s famous Devonshire teas but closed when we went through), a museum, a few houses, and a burnt-down garage! However, the hotel certainly is worth stopping for. It is on the side of the main road and is quite distinctive. There is a large brown bottle and a pink panther sitting outside the building, and some of the buildings are painted pink! Inside the pub are memorabilia spread around the walls and on anything that will take it. We enjoyed reading the funny signs and quotations, giving an insight into the philosophy of the management. The seating for the restaurant meanders from the front of the hotel undercover to inside in the bar area through to outside in the open. After lunch – a toasted bacon and egg sandwich for DH and scones for me – we wandered around the free zoo, looking at the parrots of many sizes and colours, 3 emus, 1 Johnson's crocodile (freshwater), and a wallaby. The owners were building some new aviaries to house some sand-nesting birds they wanted to breed.
    We strolled across to the museum, which is free entry. Again, this was an interesting display about the Larrimah area, its people and their involvement in the war.
    Daly Waters was the next stop. Now this is a place worth a visit if not an overnight stay. We had booked a cabin, and were shown to a stand-alone cabin, which was one of three in a large grassy area. Cabin was very small and basic, but clean, and with a little verandah complete with table and two chairs. There were some larger cabins across the road from us that looked very new but of similar design.
    According to some publications, The Daly Waters Hotel was built in the 1890s to accommodate people travelling from the north to the south, and is believed to be one of the oldest buildings in the Northern Territory. However, from the official website for Daly Waters Pub, is this info: Despite common belief Daly Waters was never built on the highway. Bill Pearce, a local tin miner,and his wife Hennrietta, in 1930, built a store to service travellers, settlers and drovers and later air passengers en route to London. The Pub was given a jug license in 1938.
    The Pub has several collections of unusual items – caps, bras, jandals, rego plates, business cards to name a few. Staff seem to be from anywhere but Australia – those we spoke to anyway. Each night there is a “beef and Barra” dinner, which is very popular. DH had the beef and I the Barra and salad plus the best damper I have ever eaten. While waiting for your meal – your order is taken, you are given a number which is called when it is ready – there is entertainment. The night we were there we heard the last few minutes of a guy singing some older style songs with the help of his guitar and a backing track. He wasn't too bad. Next up was Chilli. He had a little business right opposite the pub. He was very entertaining, and went on for two short hours.
    Around Daly Waters are a service station, caravan park, and souvenir shop as well as the now disused buildings that housed the Post Office cum Police Station, Gaol, and the Community Hall. There appears to be an aviation base beside the pub but I couldn’t work out what the business was.
    Two other places to look at in the area are the ‘S’ tree and the aerodrome. The ‘S’ tree is not far from the Daly Waters Pub, and you can either walk there or, as we did, drive on the way out. It is reputed that John McDouall Stuart carved his name in this tree on 23 May 1862 during his successful journey from Adelaide to Darwin 1861 – 1862.
    The other place is the Daly Waters Aerodrome. It was originally constructed about 1930 for the mail run, then used in part for interstate and international airlines. In 1942 it was declared an RAAF station. Now it is in the stages of being preserved although it is maintained for use in emergencies. Inside the hangar is a collection of photos and information about the history of the Aerodrome.
    I had just finished taking a photo down the taxiway, and was walking back to the hangar when I was aware of a plane engine humming behind me. I turned and there was a Piper Cherokee taxi-ing towards me! Apparently a group of Piper Cherokee devotees had been touring around the Northern Territory, and were dropping into Daly Waters for lunch at the Pub! By the time we left there were 10 planes at the hangar.
    Again from the official Daly Waters website:
    Prior to the 2nd World War, Daly Waters was the site for the first International Airport in Australia and refuelled planes and passengers en route to London. The trip cost 275 pounds and took 8 days. The Pearces played mine hosts feeding and providing overnight accommodation for the travellers. Bill was also responsible for refuelling the planes. These days The Daly Waters aerodrome is in semi-retirement with private aircraft and Air-Med (remote area medical service) constituting the bulk of the traffic.

    Mataranka is a small place on the edge of the Elsey National Park, and is probably best known for the story We of the Never Never the story written by Jeannie Gunn about her life on Elsey Station. It has several accommodation options, and several attractions for tourists. We stayed at the Territory Manor, a large complex of caravan parking, cabins and motel units, and home of the famous daily Barramundi feeding.
    What we did:
    - Visited and wandered round Elsey Cemetery, reading all the headstones
    - Looked around and through the replica Elsey Homestead, built for the movie We of the Never Never
    - Walked around Bitter Springs and felt very envious of everyone swimming. The water felt so warm, and was so clear, even early in the morning.
    - Watched the Barramundi feeding
    - Looked through the museum, and read about Mataranka and its people
    - Visited the Stockyard Gallery to have lunch and look at the artworks. We also had a very close encounter of the amazing kind with a blue-faced honeyeater
    Mataranka is worth a stopover. The Elsey National Park offers a lot of outdoor activities, water and landbased.
    From there it is a short hour’s drive to Katherine and our last night in this area.

    Link to photos of this section of our trip.

    Next: Alice Springs Part 1

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    I'm very much enjoying your trip report, Dotty. It's bringing back good memories of the two trips we have made to the Top End, which is one of my favorite parts of Australia. You have visited many of the same places we visited and stayed in some of the same places we stayed in, e.g. St. Andrews Apartments in Katherine.

    As soon as the US dollar gets a bit stronger, we hope to return to Australia and, particularly, the Top End.

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