Days 19-24…

TITLE: Darwin Daze

Queen sized bed, soft white sheets, no geckos. Must be in heaven I thought as I opened my eyes the next morning. G was looking at me. “You snored.” He said smiling.
“Why didn’t you wake me?” I asked.
“You only snore when you’re over-tired so I thought I’d leave you be.” He replied.
“I’m not sure I would have afforded you the same luxury. Thank you.” I said with a grin.

We spent the morning exploring town a little before meeting Mum for lunch at Fiddler’s Green, just a short stroll from our hotel. Darwin has a unique laid-back feel about it, it’s a remote city embracing a territory of amazing contrasts, the weather, the landscapes, the culture – they all make Darwin the beautiful, fascinating, tropical destination that it is and we were loving it!

ABC Radio Darwin phoned earlier in the day to see if I was still dropping by for a live interview – I was. Nervous as always I walked back into town to the station with G. I met the producer who introduced me to the host and then took off to find a song from the list on The Bold Line site, one which she would play after the interview. I felt a little more at home this time than I had previously. Remembering to speak to the host directly and not stare at the huge microphone thinking of all the people who might be listening in helped!

That evening we had all been invited onboard the ‘Charles Darwin’, a 25 metre tri-level catamaran for the sunset cruise. Seated on the top deck we were presented with champagne and generous platters, laden with seafood, antipasto and cheese. With a bird’s eye view of some of the major highlights of Darwin and the sun slowly setting over the horizon there was little doubt we were in for a relaxing and indulgent two and a half hours.

Next morning it was off to Crocosaurus Cove – invited along for an up close and personal experience with some salt water crocodiles. While there we had the opportunity to have our photo taken with a baby crocodile, Mum was up first. She thoroughly enjoyed herself, though it seems her grip may have been a bit too firm at one stage, the little croc grunting and thrashing about gave away its true feelings on the matter, but Mum wasn’t too perturbed. I was. I had to go next and she’d got him riled, fortunately he had his jaw taped shut.

James, our fantastic guide for the visit took us next to platform where we found ourselves surrounded by almost 100 juvenile crocodiles. With a makeshift fishing rod in hand we fed whichever crocodile was first to propel its entire body length out of the water and snap at the meaty morsel swinging directly above its nose.

The Cage of Death was booked for midday, but not for me, I’d already come a long way – from running from a gecko to holding the baby crocodile, so getting in a cage to be lowered into a pen housing one 5 metre, 900kg crocodile? Uh uh, no chance. G on the other hand, well he was all for it. G was going to visit Axel, Axel was captured in the mid 1980s at the mouth of the Roper River, he’d been making a bit of nuisance of himself snapping at boat trailer tyres and puncturing them. Needless to say Axel had attitude.

The suspended cage became semi submerged with G on board sporting a big grin and an equally sizeable pair of goggles. GoPros at the ready the handlers fed Axel while both G and Fred got a 360 degree view of a prehistoric creature from the safety of an oversized biscuit jar. I was allowed to tag along with the photographer so we’re not short on images – she kindly supplied us with all of her shots too.

Axel had eaten his lunch and we were due for ours, Curve Restaurant and Bar was right near our hotel so G and I headed there with Mum. We had a lovely meal watching people pass by, all enjoying the weather and the relaxed atmosphere as much as we were.

I was merely an hour away from taking ‘relaxed’ to a whole new level. G had booked me in for a massage that afternoon and I couldn’t wait! After a luxurious hour and a half I floated back to the hotel room and promptly fell into bed unable to string a sentence together. G was pleased, said it was the most relaxed he’d ever seen me. I hoped so, if I was that relaxed regularly in public I’d be snoozing on park benches, slurring my words – people would get the wrong idea.

For dinner that evening we were off to the restaurant Wharf One where we were due to meet Owen, a friend of mine I’d not seen since the first stage four years earlier. Owen had been a huge help and was eager to hear how stage three had unfolded. We were just stoked we were able to see him at all! He was due to fly out that night for Melbourne and onto Queenstown, New Zealand for his wedding. We shared stories over mud crab, prawns, whole baby barramundi and a lovely bottle of pinot gris – but the evening flew by and it was soon time to say our goodbyes and manoeuvre our well fed selves in the direction of the hotel.

The next day a little lazing by the lagoon in the sun was in order. I took my laptop to catch up on some writing while G read his book. Another layer of suncream would have been a good idea but we weren’t to realise this until later – when we returned to our room and noticed our reflections were an unfamiliar shade of pink. I also returned with half the park on my towel. I’d grabbed my microfibre travel towel to lay on and the microfibre grabbed everything, grass, leaves – you name it. And there’s no shaking it off, unless you have an hour to pick at it you might need to do as I did, roll it up and take it home. I’m sure there’ll be a rainy day sometime this century when I can think of nothing better to do than remove turf from a towel with the required precision of a monkey grooming his mate.

Mum and G had both succumbed to the gelato stand during our stay. I did by proxy.
“Do you want gelato?” G asked.
“No thanks, I’ll just have a spoonful of yours.” I said smiling hopefully.
G came back with half sesame salted caramel half coconut and two spoons.
I ate half. But, I never ordered any so it doesn’t count does it? I’m going with no.

As the sun dips into the Arafura Sea every Thursday and Sunday evening, most of Darwin descends on Mindil Beach for the Sunset Market. Besides the sunset itself food is the major attraction. During the mid 80s, six entrepreneurs shared their vision to bring a taste of Asia’s night markets to this tropical town and they’ve certainly achieved that, so too the relaxed, creative lifestyle that typifies Darwin.

G had phoned ahead to reserve some seating so after a couple of laps – when we’d narrowed down what we would share and made our purchases we found our spot. Reserving space means you have a private area with front row sunset viewing, personalised signage so you can come and go as you please, seating with tables and chairs or bean bags and an esky with ice provided, nice! We’d decided on crocodile, barramundi and prawns – with so many different stalls to choose from deciding had taken far longer than we thought so it was time to tuck in!

Visitors to the market get a taste of tropical life as stallholders converge on Mindil to sell their hand made wares. Mum bought me a great hat. I wished I’d had it with me on the trip but I’ll be sure to take it along on the next one! We watched the sun go down with the thousands lining the beach, saw a little of the fire show and returned to the hotel feeling very content. The night wasn’t over though, it was time to remove all those stickers we’d so painstakingly applied back in Cairns three weeks earlier. I’d been worried they wouldn’t come off easily but within ten minutes, fourteen had been removed, they’d come off easily! G and I gave the inside a clean too, not to mention the fridge, pulverised fruit anyone?

The wave pool was calling, not that night – the next day. While they’re not surf-able waves as such and more reminiscent of ocean chop caused by a mini squall it looked like fun. We paid our entry fee, stuck our wrist bands on and headed for the water. Floating on our backs we sailed over the waves, occasionally copping a slap to the side of the face from a rogue wave, no crocodiles or box jellyfish to worry about here! G made an energetic break for the back wall powering through the waves but returned looking a little less animated. It was harder than it looked.

We’d worked up an appetite so Mum, G and I went to Il Piatto for dinner at the Skycity Casino. I’d bought a new dress earlier in the day and so was delighted to be able to wear something different after two weeks on the road rotating the same wardrobe. Hadn’t given much thought to which shoes I might wear though. It seemed to have slipped my mind I’d just crossed the Savannah Way with only a pair of Blundstones and a pair of thongs. Never mind. We soon found ourselves seated on the deck with a stunning view overlooking the water. We enjoyed yet another spectacular sunset and a lovely meal – me in my new dress and… classy black Havaianas.

The next day was Saturday and we were keen to pay the Parap Markets a visit while in town. One of Darwin’s longest running markets it’s considered by many an ideal meeting place for breakfast. Try a big bowl of laksa if you can alter your idea of what breakfast should entail! Alternatively grab a fruit salad, a smoothie or a freshly roasted coffee.

From there it was a bit of a hike out to where we were to return the vehicle, just like Cairns the depot was quite out of the way. Unlike Cairns though it was not within walking distance. Mum found some shade while our vehicle was inspected. “Thanks for washing it and cleaning it out,” said Bill, “is the number plate still on the front?” He asked.
“Well yes” I said, surprised by the question.
He sensed this and said, “they usually come back without them, come off going in for water crossings usually, you did well.” He smiled.
“How many flats?” He asked.
“Ah none. I said.
It was his turn to look surprised. “You were on the Savannah Way right?”
“Yep!” I replied, feeling a little proud.

That evening Mum, G and I had dinner at the Oyster Bar. We sat outside eating oysters and watching all the activity down on the waterfront – each of us sad to be leaving. Come midnight we would be on our way to the airport. Spending the last five days together had been brilliant, so many wonderful memories and a fitting way to bring to a close an emotional journey.

Thank you Darwin, we had a lovely time and we’re coming back!

Early the next morning through the brain fog of not sleeping all night, I heard the pilot say. “Welcome to Melbourne, it’s a cool 4 degrees outside.”

Oh my, it had dropped 30 degrees and I was wearing shorts.

TIP: Follow your dreams, never lose sight of your goal and surround yourself with good people.

TRACK(S):

Mosquito Coast – Call My Name
Rufus – You Were Right
Pilgrim – Mo
Boo Seeka – Kingdom Leader
Gorge Ezra – Wanted on Voyage

KMS: 70

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