We have come to the conclusion that no one is born in Darwin. We can’t even confirm the hospital has a maternity ward. People there are friendly though, so it doesn’t take long to strike up a conversation with a random. Plenty of those conversations go something like this.
“Yeah we are just travelling through, we’ve been six months on the road already,” says us.
“Oh really, Neville and I did a trip like that 21 years ago. That’s how we got stuck here. We just loved it so much we couldn’t leave”
As we rounded out our third week in Darwin, it was getting easier to see ourselves having a similar conversation 21 years down the track, but on the other side of it. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to leave. In fact we tried on 4 separate occasions, got the tent half packed and then found a new excuse to stay “just one more day” every time. There is good reason for that however, which brings us to our first point on what makes it so hard to leave…. The people!!
For instance, our neighbours at Coolalinga Caravan park, Introduced in the order of appearance…
Goran was camped next to us. He had travelled from North Queensland and had been in Darwin for some time already after he picked up a contract to paint the rooves of a new military residential complex. It took us a while to warm to Goran, and he to us, I think, as we got off to an interesting start.
A Yugoslavian ex-pat, Goran introduced himself as a prophet of God who saw and interpreted visions. He then asked if River wanted to come watch a dvd in his tent while we set up!! Not your usual run of the mill introduction. He also pointed us to a website, The Trumpet Call of God, where we would find a collection of conversations between another modern day prophet and God that ‘will’ be added to the Christian bible in seven years time. As Angela and I are Christian ourselves and believe in the infallibility of the current Bible, we were somewhat sceptical, and discussion thus ensued.
Once we got past that awkward first stage and realised he had no untoward intentions concerning our daughter, we found Goran to be one of the nicest, most generous people we have ever met. He opened his tent to all those around and shared his belongings with anyone who asked. Many a night was spent sitting outside his tent with our numerous other neighbours sharing a meal and enjoying some friendly conversation (and not a few sitcoms on the digital tv he had set up!).
Our second acquaintance was Paul. We could write anything we want about Paul and he would never know, because, even in his late forties, he has never learnt to read. There is naught but admiration to be said however. Living on a disability pension, he packed nearly everything he owned into the back of his EA Falcon ute and headed north from Melbourne to Darwin. Once there, he and a mate spent a month free camping out the back of Howard Springs, until he came across a $300 cyclone damaged caravan and spent another month and $300 making it road worthy. Camped a couple of spots up from us, he and his best mate Ruby (a 10 year old fox terrier), were quick to offer any of the little they had to help us out in any way.
A few days later we were in for a treat with the arrival of Peter, Maria and Maria’s daughter, Melina (or Melisa or Melinda, she got called all three). Easily River’s favourite of our neighbours, the trio, and their Pomeranian cross, Fendy, were travelling around Australia on motorbikes until, like us, they got stuck in Coolalinga Caravan Park. These guys were instantly likeable. Peter, who Brendan privately refers to as ‘the smiling Hungarian’, is waiting for a visa to start working in Australia so he decided to make the most of the wait by buying a BMW GS1200 and riding around on it.
Maria, somewhat of a superwoman, Peter’s wife of four or so years, a Swede and River’s baby sitter for nearly three weeks, can also ride a motorbike better than anyone you know. River instantly took to Maria, who from the moment the two met, were nigh inseparable. In the mornings, River would get up, climb out of our tent and walk over to Maria and Peter’s to see if they were awake yet. Maria is one of those people who isn’t happy unless she is feeding you, helping you or generally looking out for you which suited us just fine, especially the feeding bit!
Melina, interestingly enough, actually recognised Angela by the tattoos on her ankle after seeing her at Miranda Fair once. Small world. Melina is one of those people you talk to and wonder if perhaps they have the secret to time travel, judging by the ridiculous amount of things they have already done in their fairly short lifespan. She has studied acting in LA, is setting up a cafe in Newtown, has worked as a postie, can speak a handful of languages, lived in more than 2 different countries and was trying to get her pilots licence while in the NT. River also had her employed as her personal stylist for the time we were with them. A woman of many talents with the glass always half full to be sure.
About a week into our stay River sniffed out some kids and as a result we were lucky enough to meet Shai, his wife Anut and their 3 young boys. Originally from Israel the family had been living in Sydney and decided to take some time out to do a trip in the caravan. We were extremely jealous of their air con, what with daily temps reaching 38 before 10am but luckily Anut was kind enough to tell us about the free water park and insist we attend (see previous post about why Darwin is better). We were also lucky enough to meet Andrew, his wife Rachel and their daughter Evie who we spent an awesome day at Leanyer with. By the end of the week all 3 families had exchanged details and promised to catch up in Sydney. The other 2 families even managed to continue travelling together until Alice Springs. We were sad to miss that opportunity but look forward to a reunion soon!
A little later a surprise visit was made by Peter’s long time school friend…. Peter. So as to avoid confusion he will be referred to as second Peter. Second Peter is living and working in Sydney City as a barista. Unfortunately as we only had instant coffee on hand we did not get to sample any of his work but Melina assured us he is good at what he does and she might even offer him a job one day.
With the arrival of second Peter also came the arrival of another very important ingredient in the reason we enjoyed Darwin so much… Goulash Paste!!
Which brings us to our second reason for not wanting to leave – The food. It would seem we were extremely fortunate in having 2 Hungarians camped next to us because for the next 4 or so nights we were treated to bowl after bowl of culinary delights! First was the spicy stew, then there was the cottage cheese pasta with bacon, then there was langos topped with garlic water, sour cream and cheese followed by goulash, then there was the mushroom pasta, oh and did we mention the pancakes for breakfast with nutella and mango and ice cream ….. Pretty sure we each put on about 5kg that week, and not just because one of us is preggas.
Hungarians aside though, Darwin is quite well known for its array of delicious tasting food. We spent a day wandering the city and treated ourselves to a sit down lunch at one of the many thai restaurants in the area. Now it could have been the fact that we hadn’t eaten fresh thai food in over 5 months but man it was good! Another good spot for a feed is the local markets held each Thursday and Sunday night at Mindil Beach. Half the market is filled with fresh food stalls and you know they must be good when ¾ of the clientele are locals coming just for the food! We shared a chicken laksa and were practically coming to blows by the end over who would get the last mouthful. It was so good we came back again the following week just to have some more. Unfortunately we weren’t smart enough to take down the name of the stall and weren’t able to find it again despite doing 3 laps of the market. Hungry or not though, if you do visit Darwin, Mindil Markets is an absolute must!!!!
And of course, something everyone must try on a visit to Darwin is croc meat. We grabbed a BBQ pack from one of the local farms which included 4 crumbed rissoles, 6 sausages and 6 Satay style kebabs. That night we feasted on croc burgers topped with homemade spicy mango chutney which we cooked using a few mangos we had picked fresh from one of the many trees they had growing in the caravan park (another awesome thing about Darwin! Mango trees EVERYWHERE!!!!). If you have never had croc it comes highly recommended. The flavour is so unique it wouldn’t do it justice trying to describe it in print.
Speaking of crocs, that would be another reasons we loved Darwin so much. We were lucky enough to spend 4 days up in Kakadu before the temperature got too hot for a certain pregnant lady to handle. Whilst there though we managed to have the most fun croc-spotting than anywhere else in the top end. At one spot along the East Alligator River We had spotted 6 different crocs within 2 minutes. It really is amazing to watch these massive creatures in their natural surroundings. If there wasn’t that constant fear of potential attack it would almost be peaceful. They are so elegant when they swim, creating hardly a ripple as they go past. They have such amazing power and yet as they rest quietly along the banks it can be almost tempting to just walk right up and have a closer look. Of course we didn’t and are fully aware it sounds crazy that this was something to attract us but try it for yourself and you will know what we are talking about.
If that isn’t your thing though you can always do a tour of one of the many croc farms in the area, try a jumping croc cruise up the Adelaide River or, like us, head to Crocasaurus cove in the heart of Darwin CBD. It is basically like going to Sydney Aquarium only instead of fish and penguins they have crocodiles and lizards. There are heaps of activities for the kids to enjoy like fishing for crocs (feeding baby crocodiles using a fishing pole), holding a snake or a lizard, feeding the turtles, they can even swim next to the baby crocs in a specially designed Perspex tank. Or for the brave adults why not try the cage of death, a Perspex ‘cage’ which gets lowered into the tank of one of the largest crocs on display. Our budget (heart rate) didn’t permit such an adventure that day but there were plenty of others willing to give it a shot, and judging by the many scratch marks on the side of the cage, plenty of others before them too.
We already mentioned in our last post about the awesomeness that is Leanyer Recreation Park so we won’t go on about it here but if waterslides aren’t your thing then there are plenty of other free things around to get your attention. Like the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory which is located about 5 mins drive from the CBD. We visited here twice, and not just because it was free and air conditioned, it is actually interesting. There is an entire section of the museum dedicated to the 1974 natural disaster – Cyclone Tracy. This was particularly enlightening to see the amount of destruction actually caused and how the community coped in the aftermath.
There are also numerous fresh water springs located around the outskirts of Darwin which provide a pleasant spot for a dip and a picnic. These areas are cleared out at the start of every dry season and monitored daily by rangers. Multiple traps are also set at either end of the springs in case an unsuspecting croc should happen to find their way that far up stream. The areas are considered extremely safe and make for a beautiful FREE day out with the family. We visited Berry Springs a number of times with our new friends and enjoyed every minute of it.
Anyway, we could continue to go on and on and on about the great things Darwin has to offer, but really, we would much rather be out there doing them than writing about it! Do yourselves a favour, save up for flights and put it at the top of your “to visit” list!!!!
If you haven’t already, dont forget to check out the gallery here. Until next time – B, A & R