It would be an understatement to say Darwin is off the beaten path. Driving time from Sydney or Perth is over 40 hours and from our last stop in Cairns, it takes 25 hours to drive the nearly 1500 miles. By ship, it was supposed to take 2 days but because we turned back to Cairns due to a medical emergency, we ended up arriving late on the third day. Fortunately, we still had the evening and the next day to explore this tropical capital city of the Northern Territory.
The area was inhabited by the Larrakia Aboriginal people for more than 65,000 years before Europeans arrived on the scene in 1839. John Stokes, a surveyor aboard the HMS Beagle, named the harbor Darwin Bay after Charles Darwin but the town, founded in 1869, was called Palmerston until it was renamed Darwin in 1911. The discovery of gold in 1871 ensured rapid growth in the area.
A relatively young city of 140,000, Darwin has been rebuilt several times due to man-made and natural calamity. If you saw the epic movie Australia starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman, you may recall the movie depiction of the bombing destruction of Darwin by the Japanese in 1942. Following WWII, the city was rebuilt only to be almost completely destroyed by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. As a result, today Darwin is one of the most modern cities in Australia.
When we arrived late in the day on February 23, 2019, we knew it would soon be dark, thus preventing us from seeing much of the city. We contented ourselves with a quick look around the Darwin Waterfront area followed by a cocktail at an Irish pub, Fiddler’s Green, so we could connect with their WiFi.
The following morning, we decided a Big Bus tour would be “The perfect way to discover and explore the tropical city.” (Big Bus brochure) Conveniently, the hop-on-hop-off bus stopped close to the cruise terminal at Fort Hill Wharf, so we boarded there. We climbed to the open-air upper level of the double-decker bus which felt exceedingly hot and sticky but it included a roof to protect us from the scorching hot sun.
After a drive through the CBD (Central Business District), we passed through the inner suburb of Larrakeyah, then near Mindil Beach before a stop at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT). Admission was free at this cultural masterpiece but we elected to continue our ride to make sure we saw the entire route.
Darwin was full of parks, green spaces, and coastlines with incredible views everywhere we looked.
East Point Reserve is a popular area for both locals and tourists to enjoy the outdoors with coastlines, trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, a lake, exercise equipment, and over 200 wallabies roaming freely.
The Reserve is also home to the Darwin Military Museum where the Defence of Darwin Experience, an interactive multimedia exhibit of the bombing of Darwin, is shown once daily.
The largest single attack against Australia occurred on February 19, 1942, and to this day the bombing of Darwin is central to Darwin’s history. After 7 of 11 oil storage tanks were destroyed in the bombing, the construction of underground tunnels to store oil was initiated. Although the tunnels weren’t completed before the end of the war, today the tunnels are a popular tourist attraction.
A fine example of tropical architecture, the Parliament House which opened in 1994 offers free guided public tours.
We explored the CBD a bit where the canopy over the pedestrian walkway provided a welcome respite.
The Palmerston Town Hall opened in 1883 and was destroyed by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. The ruins have been preserved as a memorial.
The Yolngu people believe we all have spirits which they call mokuy. When someone dies “the spirit must be sung through to the reservoir of souls from which it came, so it can return once more.” (Plaque near sculpture) Mokuy or spirits are depicted in the sculpture below. It is said if you’re nearby, they can be heard conducting their rituals at night.
After enjoying the entire Big Bus route and some exploration on foot, we were ready to return to the Darwin Waterfront by way of the Sky Bridge.
We decided to stop at Fiddler’s Green once more to spend the last of our Aussie dollars before saying hooroo (goodbye) to the land down under. While there, I noticed a superb dish of prawns delivered to the couple sitting across from us and I couldn’t help asking whether I could take a photo. They kindly agreed because Aussies are a congenial lot and we struck up a conversation. We especially enjoyed hearing about their daughter who plays semi-pro women’s Australian football. Coincidentally, Jim had enjoyed watching the women play just the night before on television.
Toni and Bradley were in Darwin to see their daughter play football but they also mentioned that Darwin is a frequent departure point for Australians to visit Bali. When we said Bali was a port of call on our cruise, Toni gave us the contact information for Wayan, a self-employed tour guide. Look for more about our tour with Wayan in Bali in a future post.
Inevitably during the wet season, storms began to roll in as we chatted. By the time we returned to the ship we were soaked to the skin despite our ponchos.
We chose this cruise mainly because it had more ports of call in Australia than other cruises. We arrived in Sydney on February 9 and departed from Darwin on February 24. While two weeks were not nearly enough time to explore all of this entrancing country, we enjoyed a good sampling of the delights offered by the land down under.
We headed next to Komodo Island to see the dragons so don’t miss it!
Based on events from February 2019.