Blog #19 – Darwin – Days 131 to 143 of 180
Strange that after 4 ½ months on the road I have lobbed into Darwin with no game plan. My travel plans went out the window after Greg left as the main reason for going to Darwin was to fly to Perth. Now that was cancelled it was time to take a proper timeout and have a rest.
The Boomerang Caravan Park & Virginia Tavern was a very small park (only 60 sites plus 5 cabins) but was reasonably close to the CBD (25 klms away). The roads around Darwin are amazing for the lack of traffic. Strange as it may seem but every time I drove into the CBD on the Tiger Brennan Drive I was the only car for miles.
This city has seen its fair share of tragedies and is the only capital city in Australia to be bombed then 30 odd years later nearly get wiped out by a cyclone. Darwin was bombed 64 times between February 1942 through too November 1943. If you have the time, and the inclination, a visit to The Darwin Experience will give you a feel for how unprepared Australia was to be bombed at the time. The bombing was to ensure that Darwin could not be used as a base to contest the Japanese landings on Java & Timor. Many thought that we would be invaded and preparations were being made to fall back to the lower half of Australia (the Brisbane Line) if this had happened. As usual there no linger exists any record of what that plan would have looked like and both Fadden & Menzies deny it ever existed. You gotta love a good conspiracy story!! After the war it was revealed that Japan did not have enough troops to invade Australia as they were already overstretched in setting up their Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere for all the old colonies of the Dutch, French, US & Australian they had overrun.
Many of the old battlements and airstrips still exist today as you drive around this beautiful city. I don’t think I could live here however as it is quite hot for someone from Victoria. One thing about cold weather is you can add more clothing to get warm but, in the heat, once you are down to your birthday suit you are still hot and likely to be arrested if you are out in public.
Luckily, I have a friend, Leigh, and his mate Barry to take me out into Darwin Harbour on a fishing trip. Remember this is the home of the estuarine crocodile and it is not wise to fish off banks close to the waters edge when you are by yourself. We had to postpone the trip a couple of times as it was very windy but eventually, we got out there and we had a field day. Early start to match the tides for the day with very little wind as we sped out from Dinah Beach Boat Ramp near the Tipperary Marina. Now if I was a rich man, which I am not, this would be the place to have a property.
It took us a ½ hour to get to the spot we were to fish amongst the mangrove islands. Along the way we saw a couple of salties giving us the eye as we cruised past. This was all new to me so Leigh & Barry had to help me sort out how to fish NT style. Up here the reel drags are set to maximum as giving the fish the ability to run means disaster and broken lines with lost lures. The strikes were savage compared to fishing for redfin or trout. We fished two high tides, a run in tide & a run out tide in an 8 hour session and caught a variety of fish. I saw my first wild barra absolutely smash at Barry’s lure from close range but we missed him – it was heart stopping excitement to see that huge silver fish appear from nowhere and try and smash the lure only two metres from the boat. Between us we caught a variety of fish including Mangrove Jack, Tarpon, Blue-nose Salmon, Trevally, Golden Snapper (Fingermark Bream), Bucketmouth Cod (I swear that little fish had a mouth bigger than his body even if he was only 20cm long). My contribution was the Trevally which was tough enough to get aboard but then quickly released unharmed. I missed numerous others as I was trying to learn these new techniques. The gear I had bought up from Victoria wasn’t really suited for this type of fishing so I decided to treat myself to some new saltwater gear as soon as practicable once I was ashore. I absolutely loved that trip except for the sandflies as they truly feasted on me. Of all God’s creatures they would have to be the bane of anyone’s existence living near the coast up here. You do not realise that you have been bitten until many hours later, in this case I had been bitten about 50 times on both ankles. That night was a misery of itches as I looked up all the cures to lessen the uncomfortable itch. I have since discovered that 50% Dettol/50% Baby Oil mixed in a spray bottle will stop the little buggers from biting and a drop of Morning Fresh will stop the itch (a more expensive solution is a drop of pure TiTree Oil as both work – at least on me). My thanks again to both Leigh & Barry for taking me out.
Another highlight of my stay in Darwin was to go to Doctors Gully Road to feed the fish at the Aquascene Fish Feeding Sanctuary. I did not think I would enjoy it as much as I did as I enjoy fishing but I have fed fish for a long time as they are clever enough to steal my baits and not get caught. No fishing gear allowed in here just you and a handful of stale bread. The Milkfish in here were huge as well as the mullet, catfish, mangrove jack and the stingrays. It was well worth the visit as I also saw two ‘lifer’ birds so had to duck (no pun intended) back out to the car to get a larger lens to take some bird shots. The two lifers were Rajah Shelducks (use to be called Burdekin Ducks – a striking black & white duck) & an Eastern Reef Egret (they are totally grey unlike most other egrets which are mainly white).
Also, on my drives as I was looking for land-based fishing options I managed to get quite a lot of bird photos in the coastal forests. These included Great Bowerbirds, Figbirds & Olive-backed Orioles. Sadly, I could not find the Rainbow Pittas but did hear their calls out at Lee Point. Also missed shots of two other lifers – a Brahminy Kite & Grey Honeyeater. Such is the life of a twitcher but there would be other opportunities, I am sure.
One of the real good things of staying out at Virginia was that a very good remedial massage centre was located 3 klm away at Coolalinga. I managed to get three sessions on my right shoulder to free up the muscles that tighten up every 3 or 4 months after I had Rotator Cuff surgery a number of years ago. This getting old & decrepit is no fun. The masseuse did an excellent job so I will be good to go until get home in late September early October.
I found a birding paradise at Fogg Dam about 30 klm away and spent quite a few hours out there wandering in the paperbark forest & wetland areas plus drove over the dam wall. The bird species was incredible. My enthusiasm slightly dampened by the fact that many other people had read the same articles so there were lots of people as well. This was not conducive to good photography with screaming kids running down the pathways.
Another highlight was going out with Leigh & Corinne to the Darwin Festival for one evening of multicultural festivities and food. The pizzas were yummy and washed down with lots of Cooper ales but the Syrian food was a bit stodgy. All in all, a pleasant evening in the park enjoying good company, fine foods and great conversations. This was followed up with a night city tour which I also thoroughly enjoyed – nothing like having a local guide!! Thanks again to Leigh & Corinne.
I also took a trip out to Wagait & Mandorah for a drive and investigate fishing from the jetty. Ran into an interesting group of enthusiastic kids casting from the ferry platform, due to the low tide, this was 15 metres above the water!!! Big tides around here. They had been fishing since 3.30am and had caught a small shark. I had to ask how they would get a fish up from that height and was amazed when the kids pulled out an enormous home made treble hook about 400mm across tied to a very stout rope. Apparently this was lowered below the fish then gaffed back into the fish to lift them up – ingenious. Too windy for my style of fishing so I drove out to an historical marker where tragically an American B24J (4 engine bomber) crashed on its way back to its base in Darwin. All six crew perished in the accident.
You cannot come all this way without having a beer in the Humpty Doo pub and I am now the proud owner of a singlet to prove that I was there. The beer tasted the same as all the other pubs I had visited but there is only one Humpty Doo pub and it had special character (and characters!!!) in Australian folklore.
At this stage the game plan was still to try and continue the original plan and travel to Karrumba in Qld then down the western edge down to Birdsville but COVID chose to rear its ugly head again and the gods laughed at my plan then ripped it up.
New plan- abandon Queensland altogether and look at options in Western Australia but first a trip out towards Kakadu. Leigh had recommended two Wilderness Lodge/Resorts out on the Mary River and my plan was to spend 3 days in each. The first was the Mary River Wilderness Retreat about 80 klm out of town along the Arnhem Highway. It was sad to hear all the way up the highway the voices of fellow travelers saying it was a waste of time to visit Kakadu as it is so poorly run and the ongoing disagreements with the indigenous owners and the Commonwealth Government has seen the closure of many of the NP’s attractions. Forewarned is forearmed so they say so I won’t waste time & money going out that far.
So, time to pack up and leave Darwin. A hearty thanks to Leigh & Corinne for your hospitality and guidance. Thank you, Darwin, for my second jab to make me fully vaccinated for COVID. Time to move onto a new adventure out along the Arnhem Highway.