Arriving in Darwin late in the day, we were both struck by how strange it felt to be driving in to a city after spending most of our time in remote towns with buildings no higher than two storeys and sparsely populated landscapes. The Visitor Centre was our first port of call to help us decide whether to decamp from Heidi for a couple of days and stay at a backpackers in the city centre, or to pitch up at a trusty caravan site. In the end, our desire not to have to pack our stuff up and our deep attachment to Heidi meant that we were heading back out of Darwin to a campsite on the edge of town.
Our first evening brought us our first breath of internet for several days and we were unashamedly staring at our phones before we’d even made it out of the car. The evening was made particularly special as we found out that two of our closest friends are engaged so we had a good excuse to raise a can to them.By this point James had truly mastered the relaxed and unemployed look:After a good night’s sleep and a workout in our makeshift gym, it was back in to Darwin to explore, but first we needed to get Heidi’s fridge seen to and stopped at Apollo. Time for a quick shout out here; Apollo have been great from beginning to end and we have not once regretted our choice of company or particular campervan. Heidi received a new battery and a bit of TLC and we were back on our way within an hour.
Parking in Darwin is interesting. There is plenty of it, but the signs and the pay and display machines don’t necessarily agree with one another so we had to hop in and out of the car to check the machines before finding the cheapest spot and parking up on the edge of Bicentennial Park. By pure coincidence we happened to be parked next to a playground which was populated almost entirely by adults, owing to the fact that it was enormous and more like an assault course. 10 minutes of excellent fun being big kids followed:Bicentennial park is home to numerous war memorials and we left with a new appreciation of the impact of World War II on the Darwin community, particularly those who had suffered as POWs in Japanese camps. Our route took us around to the wharf area which, true to form, James managed to lead us to via an industrial area, avoiding the more picturesque routes. It was a Thursday and the Wharf held a certain eeriness in the middle of the working day, particularly in the all but abandoned residential area. Rounding a corner to Darwin’s saltwater lagoon we found a few more people although still not many. We paused to chat to one of the business owners on the lagoon beach and asked if it was normal for it to be so quiet, conscious that school holidays were over. He replied that it’s always quiet in Darwin and it appeared to us that he preferred it that way as he settled down in his deck chair to “work”. The lagoon itself looked very inviting and, as the water was filtered for stingers and safe to swim in, we made a plan for a chilled day there the next day.
We had a tourist map of Darwin and continued on the rather ambitiously named “tourist walk” of the town. To be perfectly honest, it was a bit crap. Having sought out the Chinese temple to discover that it was mostly car park, we abandoned the map altogether and sought out the Irish Pub, in keeping with our trip rules. Shenanigans Irish Bar was much more satisfying and we sipped our compulsory scooners contentedly before browsing the shops for terrible gifts to give to our loved ones.We popped back to Heidi for a spot of lunch on a bench (leftover cold BBQ food…amazing) and James went off, laptop in hand, in search of free internet. Caro took advantage of the return to civilisation and tracked down a salon. We spent the afternoon in the cool interior of the Northern Territory Library uploading our next blog post and doing general admin. The library is housed in the same building as the State Government, which happened to be session during our visit and we could have sat in the gallery to watch had we had the inclination, we did not.Day two was intended to be an R&R day sat by the lagoon, however James had made friends with a chap in the showers, whom he thereafter referred to as “my shower friend”, who had strongly recommended the Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery. We could hardly ignore the advice of James’s shower friend and so made our way there first. We are so glad that we did as it was excellent. Over the next two hours we wandered among the permanent exhibits of megafauna and other wildlife, a hugely interesting feature on Cyclone Tracey which devastated Darwin in 1974 and the preserved body of Sweetheart, a 5 metre saltwater crocodile who had terrorised fishing boats in the harbour but sadly drowned during an attempt to relocate him.We particularly enjoyed the visiting exhibitions on early migration to Australia from Europe and a collection of photographs depicting life on the early cattle stations and missions in the heart of the Northern Territory.We would both highly recommend that you put this to the top of your to do list if you are visiting Darwin.Having dosed up on culture, we reverted to our original plan of reading and sunbathing by the lagoon. After a lazy few hours we nipped back to the campsite to shower before making our way out to Mindil Beach Sunset Market, which is hugely popular with locals and visitors alike. The market itself is nice with the usual array of stalls and a huge variety of food on offer. This included a raclette stall, which neither of us had ever seen before and couldn’t quite fathom how that might work, practically speaking. Our main draw was the sunset on the beach and we settled down to people watch for the 45 minutes that remained before then. The people watching mainly revealed people eating and James was despatched back up to the market to achieve ice-cream before we watched the sun go down over our last evening in Darwin.