This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2011 Travels February 17

THURSDAY 17 FEBRUARY     ON THE GHAN

Woke about 6am, and got up. We were dressed by the time the  hostess brought our morning coffees.

Outside was scrub country, nothing to identify where we were.

Went to breakfast. This was a great spread. Choice of juices, and fruit. We both had the cooked breakfast – bacon, egg, mushrooms, tomato, plus toast and jam. It was all very nice. I could easily get used to the lifestyle we’d enjoyed on this trip!

Outside, ranges came into view – the Harts Ranges around the Gemtree area, I thought. The rail route did pass well to the east of the Stuart Highway for much of the way south from Tennant Creek, which we must have passed through in the night.

Country to the north of Alice Springs

In contrast to yesterday, during the night it seemed we had totally outrun the bad weather – blue sky and sunshine outside.

We were back in our compartment, now changed back to day time mode, for a short while, before we cruised into Alice Springs, about 9am.

Passengers were not allowed to remain on the train here, because it was cleaned. Several tour options were offered – user pays. They were all to sights we’d visited in the past, so we really did not want to re-do any as part of a tour group. So we decided to walk into town and wander about there.

A surprising number of passengers left the train totally, at Alice Springs. I speculated that some might stay and “do” the tourist things, then fly elsewhere, or catch the next train, next week, south. I doubted that there were many residents among them.

Where the train pulled in – again a disembarkation down steps – was just a ground level area. We were about a ten or fifteen minute walk from the town centre. There was lots of broken glass on the footpath. It was quite hot to be out walking.

We went to the Mbantua Gallery – a favourite of ours. Here, we browsed for ages; it was that sort of place. They had wonderful and varied art works, at reasonable prices. We ended up buying a small painting on canvas, a sort of “leaf” style, by a young woman painter.

Then we wandered the Mall, looking in a couple more galleries.

My leg – the one affected by nerve damage in my spine – was hurting and my feet were tired. John was tired too, so we walked back to the train, knowing we were allowed to re-embark at 11.40. We timed it well, were checked on and soon back in “our” train home.

The Ghan at Alice Springs Station

Alice Springs, in the brief time we were out and about, seemed more threatening than we remembered from four years ago. We’d passed some large groups of “locals” who muttered and commented as we went and I’d been grateful that on this weekday morning, there were plenty of other people around. Still, in passing, we got some good whiffs of “eau de town camp” or maybe of Todd River bed camp. Either way, most unpleasant.

The train pulled out again, about 12.30. It was interesting to be on it, going through the narrow Heavitree Gap, in the McDonnell Ranges, instead of watching the train from the roadside, as we’d done on a few occasions. Road and railway are close together, through The Gap.

Stuart Highway and the railway converging through Heavitree Gap (Google)

We sat and watched the passing scenery. Adverse weather seemed to have caught up with us again. Storm clouds were building, and John finally got to see a good forked lightning display.

Storm clouds just south of Alice Springs

The Red Centre was the Green Centre. La Nina weather conditions for Australia, this summer, had clearly bought decent rains to the Centre.

Green countryside to the south of Alice Springs

We went to lunch, as we were – as near as we could work out – about level with Rainbow Valley and the Hugh Stock Route, both of which we’d previously driven. Whilst eating lunch, we saw Chambers Pillar in the distance.

A bit more arid looking now….

This was our first lunch on board the train, thanks to yesterday’s debacle, and it offered a good range of choices too, and yummy food.

We were just finishing lunch when the train slowed and the speaker system announced we were about to cross the Finke River. John quickly went to fetch the camera, and took photos.

Approaching the Finke River
Finke River with water in it

We spent the afternoon in the compartment, watching the passing country. It was all greener and much more lush than we had ever seen it. Overseas, or even local, travellers experiencing the Centre for the first time right now, must be wondering why on earth it was supposed to be arid country.

After lunch, our toilet wouldn’t flush. Much angst, wondering what we’d done wrong to make it malfunction. John went and found our hostess and reported the problem, prepared  for us to be embarrassed. Turned out it affected our whole carriage – the air compressor had tripped. No one else had been to hostess, though. Obviously everyone thought it was just them – as we had – and were feeling mortified. It was quickly fixed, thankfully, and clearly a common occurrence.

I sewed a bit. John sat by the window, gazing out and napping.

Went to the lounge car to have a drink, before tea.

Into South Australia……

There was a small range of souvenirs available to buy. Purchased John a very nice red-brown polo shirt, good quality weave, with a small Ghan logo on the pocket. Unfortunately, there was no stock in my size.

Tea offered lots of choices again. The Ghan food was certainly excellent. Spreading the meal out over three courses passed the time. By the time we finished dinner, the train was stopped at a siding near Coober Pedy and it was dark.

Back in our cabin, magically transformed into bedroom mode, we had a nightcap of our remaining wine, and went to bed.

Again, the night’s sleep was excellent.


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2011 Travels February 16

WEDNESDAY 16 FEBRUARY     ON THE GHAN

Woke to the alarm at 6am.

The wind had dropped overnight. However, the BOM was forecasting that a Category 1 cyclone – Carlos – would develop, with winds to 100kmh. There had been 367mm of rain from 9am yesterday to 9am today. The airport was closed.

The path of Cyclone Carlos

Breakfasted on oranges, weetbix, toast, then threw out the remaining food – not much.

We were downstairs, with our luggage, at 8am, for an 8.10 pickup. Another lady was waiting there too.

The bus was late. Eventually the Reception lady rang to check it was coming. It arrived a bit after 8.30. The lateness was understandable, given the conditions.

We made several other pickups at accommodation places around town, before heading out, to the Ghan Station. driving was a delicate operation. Trees were down, traffic lights were not working, there was much debris on the roads.

There were more passengers at the Station, and a second bus. We stayed on the same bus which was about half full, as was the second bus when we pulled out again. That meant it was reasonably comfortable, at least, with room to spread out a bit.

Left the Station about 10.15am, which would have been about train departure time.

As we were passing Palmerston,  and crawling through water across the road, the driver told us how “they” made the Tiger Brennan Drive extension too low for the big semis, at one point where another road goes over it. The solution was to lower Tiger Brennan Drive by a metre or so, whereupon the water table was intersected. Now, there were ongoing problems with this. Only in Darwin…..

In sections, one side of the dual road Stuart Highway was flooded, and so traffic became two way on the other side. I wondered if the road builders had elevated one side for this reason, or if it was a lucky fluke? We were lucky to get through at all.

Driving down the up side, with flooded highway in distance

At Noonamah, we pulled in by a servo. The other bus was there – broken down, apparently. So its passengers were loaded onto our bus. Every seat was full. It became really stuffy, very quickly – the air-con was ineffectual in these conditions.

Maybe in an effort to distract us from our discomfort, maybe because he liked the sound of his own voice, the driver kept up a running commentary, on local facts, environment, history, events. Some of it was just factually wrong, according to what I knew. It became really annoying.

Then the driver announced that we would not be stopping, as had been planned, at Emerald Springs, for a break, but “for operational reasons” would continue through to Katherine without a break. This was rapidly becoming the bus trip from hell.

Stuart Highway under there.

John had to use the on board bus toilet. He reported that it was very hard for him, with the bus swaying, in the confined space, and not all that clean…. I preferred to go thirsty and not drink much of my bottled water, trying to ensure I didn’t need to use the toilet.

Some of the passengers were from overseas and did not have any idea of the distance involved, from Darwin to Katherine. They didn’t even have any water and none was provided on the bus. They were really cross and disgruntled. I decided we were travelling with some sort of local outfit, organized at the last moment, and not really set up for comfortable travel over several hours.

We passed through the Katherine outskirts and were taken straight out to Nitmiluk, where we got out of our torture chamber. Obviously, I had not been the only person annoyed by the driver’s errors – the woman in front of me as we disembarked, said sweetly to him “Oh, by the way Jawoyn is pronounced……” (not the way he had mangled it). I couldn’t top that one.

It had stopped raining so heavily after about Pine Creek and now was more just showers.

Lunch was served to us at the Nitmiluk Visitor area. It was a buffet style one for Gold and Platinum Class passengers. Red Class ones had to stay on the bus. I guess they got dumped in Katherine to fend for themselves.

After lunch we were given the chance to do the one hour boat trip on the Gorge, for free. Clearly, there was some compensating going on for our altered experience, to date. Some chose not to do the boat trip, but we wanted to. We hung back from the initial rush, and so got a place on the second, smaller boat.

Katherine River near the Visitor Centre
Red rock walls of Katherine Gorge
Not how most tourists see this cave feature….

Aboriginal guides take the boat tours. The commentary by our guide was interesting. He only spoke when there was something worth pointing out or telling us. A marked contrast to our bus driver!

The river was high and flowing quite strongly. Because of this, and the green-ness, it all looked very different from how we’d seen it on previous trips. Back in ’93, we’d canoed along this same stretch.

Swirling currents in the strongly flowing river

In places, there were little waterfalls coming down the cliffs.

Black staining on the rock walls shows waterfalls

After about 40 minutes, we turned about and went back down river to where we started. Because of the currents, it was faster going that way.

Back near the Visitor Centre

The tour was worth doing. I’d have paid for it, certainly. At one hour, it was just enough to give a good taste of the Gorge at this time, without becoming boring. We’d seen the first part of the Katherine Gorge system in a mode that most tourists, visiting in the Dry, had not.

We climbed back on the bus – fewer people now, as the Red Class and the non-boat trippers had already gone. And thus to the train – at last! By now it was 4pm.

I suppose I’d been expecting the standard sort of train station platform, like in Melbourne, so was surprised to find that we accessed the train from ground level, via little mobile stairs.

Our carriage – H – was towards the back of quite a long train. We were checked on board at the doorway to this. Our compartment – 7/8 – was dinky! We had a carriage hostess, who introduced herself.

The lounge seat was also the lower bed, so it was about two metres long – plenty of sitting room. The compartment  was not very wide, but there were two little robe cupboards, and adequate storage space, under the bed and on top of the bath cubicle roof. But I could see why we’d had to limit our onboard luggage, with our main suitcases checked into the luggage carriage – we hoped! Given the earlier bus trip experience I wasn’t totally confident in their ability to transfer our cases from bus to train.

We had a nice big window – no problem seeing the passing country from that. The carriage layout was a corridor down one side that gave access to the compartments, so the latter were almost the full width of the carriage.

Our en-suite bathroom was a bit of a challenge. There was a fold-up toilet, which needed some care in operating! A fold-up hand basin was above that. To shower, one pulled a curtain across in front of the door, toilet and basin, but that didn’t stop the floor from getting wet, of course, and – as we were to discover – it took ages to dry.

Ghan toilet and shower curtain

We got going – hooray!

John and I went along to the lounge car and had a can of beer each, to celebrate finally being on The Ghan. Then we were called to dinner – there was an order in which different carriages were served.

We sat with an older couple. He was 91 and stroke affected, so his speech was hard to follow against the background noise of the train. They’d lived on the Qld gem fields for years – she had some great jewellery. So we talked fossicking, mostly. They’d lived in a van at The Willows fields.

Dinner gave us a choice between soup or some type of quiche entree, main was a choice between a chicken dish and salmon, which I had. There was a choice of desserts too. We had a bottle of wine with dinner.

The food was wonderful. Beautifully presented and serves not too big.

We took another bottle of wine back to our compartment. While we’d been gone, the beds had been set up. The lounge had become a lower bed and a top one had somehow folded down from on high. The beds were made up and turned down. All very seamless.

We had a glass of wine each, sitting on the lower bed. It had grown dark while we were in the dining car, so there wasn’t much to be seen outside by now. We were surprised to realize that it was already 9.30pm.

John said he would take the top bunk. Noble of him. I was tired. It had been a long day. So we went to bed. There was moonlight outside, so once the interior light was off, we could see trees and scrub passing by.

I had no trouble falling asleep. The slight rhythm of the train was very soothing. I woke a couple of times through the night, to find the train stopped, but could only see bush around. The schedule we’d been given did indicate a couple of stops – maybe to allow other trains past? Or to rotate train crews.

It had been overcast all day, though we’d travelled out of the heaviest rain. Found out later that, essentially, we had travelled through Cyclone Carlos when we first left Darwin, and it was now to the north of us. Over the three day period from 15-17 Feb, Darwin was to get nearly 700mm of rain. Had we been a day later trying to get to the Ghan at Katherine, it wouldn’t have happened.

“Let’s see Darwin in the storm season” he said…….


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2011 Travels February 15

TUESDAY 15 FEBRUARY     DARWIN

Woke to strong winds and heavy rain squalls. Turned on the TV to get a forecast. That little tropical low that had only warranted a brief mention, yesterday, now was said to have a 50% chance of turning into a cyclone by Thursday. Bloody wonderful! John wanted to see Darwin in the Wet Season – maybe this was overdoing  it,  just a tad?

Squally wind gusts, to 98kmh were forecast. And rain….

Bleak outlook from our bedroom window

The Stuart Highway south was closed by floods at Noonamah. The Mandorah ferry was not running and had been moved inside the Marina. We could just hope the Ghan makes it through….

The skies were all grey. The winds were strong even in the central atrium of the building.

Rain blown into the central atrium – and onto my camera!

John went down in the lift to get the daily paper. I decided that when I had to go downstairs, I’d use the stairs – didn’t want to get trapped in a power failure in a lift.

While he was down there, John asked the lady at Reception to arrange for the Ghan bus to collect us, tomorrow, then came back and told me he’d done that. I was really cross – I’d clearly told him that I’d arranged this, back with the rest of the trip, in Melbourne. I rang Reception and explained our transport was already arranged, and that my husband was “confused”.

They asked us to bring our balcony furniture inside. Workers were putting the pool furniture – tables and chairs – into the pools at our complex, and the one we could see, next door. This was starting to seem rather serious.

Not much traffic out and about….

According to the paper, last night’s ship was the Diamond Princess, out of Port Douglas, bound for Indonesia. She was in port at Fort Hill Wharf for part of the day – over lunchtime included. Over 1000 passengers would be braving the rain to have a quick look at the town. So that would be an area to avoid.

Drove to nearby Sky City to have their seafood buffet lunch once again; it was cheap with the Monday to Wednesday discount, plus our Action Club one. We had a big feed, because it would be dinner too – in these conditions we would not be going out again, anywhere.

At Sky City, also, workers were packing away anything from outdoors, and sandbagging the bottoms of doorways facing seawards.

Everyone we spoke to today said there hadn’t been weather like this in Darwin for at least eight years. Trust us to land in it. Concern was expressed on the media that there were now a lot of people living in Darwin who had never experienced a cyclone and wouldn’t know what to do.

Then to Nightcliff shops again. It was hard driving, in the wind and rain, and somewhat scary. Something hit the car roof with a thump – a little coconut? There was lots of leaf litter and small debris on the roads. It actually felt quite cold.

At Nightcliff, the lights were out and the shops were on emergency power.

We bought wine and some snack foods for the train. The supermarket shelves were being rapidly emptied – just about every shopper was buying supplies of bottled water.

Refuelled the car, then drove to Stuart Park to return the car. The wind was getting worse all the time. We were very glad to get to Thrifty with no mishap. Their staff were not going outside in these conditions to inspect the car – said they’d look at it tomorrow. We hoped there wasn’t a ding in the roof – or if there was, they would think it happened at their place.

They called us a taxi. We only waited about 15 minutes for it to come, which was pretty good in these conditions.

Back at the apartment, received a phone call from Great Southern Rail. The Ghan train was being terminated at Katherine and we would be bussed down there tomorrow. Damn! I hate bus travel.

We watched the weather – by now a howling gale – out the windows.

Palm trees showing the wind direction…

I packed what I could, cleaned out the fridge.

It turned out that today was the coolest February day on record in Darwin, at only 24 degrees.

The wind howled and wailed through the atrium, all night, making it harder to sleep.


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2011 Travels February 14

MONDAY 14 FEBRUARY     DARWIN

After breakfast “in”, we drove back to Star City and the Casino, through rain.

In our apartment. The curtained window, rather strangely, looked onto the walkway and atrium

Being a Monday, we were due to receive a free recharge on our Action Cards: $20 worth of poker machine credits, vouchers for $5 Keno games and a free drink. Provided one stuck to the limits of the freebies, this was worth having. It provided us with something to do, as we were, to some extent, just filling in time now. My original plans had us spending last Thursday, Friday and most of Saturday on a trip out to Kakadu, so by now we’d done the Darwin based things that really appealed, that could be done in the increasingly wet weather.

We played the pokies, taking winnings as we went. When my “free” money ran out on the card, I had $17 cash. I’d had to put in a dollar of my own to start, and another dollar because John told me wrong information, so the actual profit was $15. John didn’t do quite as well, but still made money. Then we played Keno while we had our free drinks. John said I had to pay $5 to get the free $5 worth, so I did that, buying ten games. He was wrong, and I could have just had the free games. Anyway, I got back $7, so finished that with a profit too. Again, John didn’t do as well and just broke even. So we left Star City with profits.

I’d have spent time in the Aqua Bar there, just to watch the unicorn fish they had swimming around in the large fish tank. Loved them.

Went to the Nightcliff shops, where I mailed some postcards to grandchildren. Bought a couple of novels from a book exchange – reading for the train. Bought some lunch – a pasty and sausage roll for John,  savoury bread roll for me. Parked out by the little jetty there, to eat the food. The seas were really wild.

John wanted to drive out the Kakadu road, to see some more of the bush and country in the wet conditions. But we only got as far as  Palmerston when it became obvious that the rain and storms were getting worse, so we turned back.

On the way back, stopped at the fish wharf and bought a kilo of really large, cooked, tiger prawns, for tea, and half a dozen oysters as well to be a dinner appetizer for John.

Then, back to the unit. Sat out on the balcony watching the marina and the changing skies, until we were driven inside by rain squalls blowing in.

Not long after, we saw a light moving over the trees beyond the marina. It grew into the top lights of a  big ship. Quite surreal. Once it cleared the low hills, it was obvious that it was a really large cruise ship. We watched it “turn the corner” and disappear behind the buildings. The shipping channel here is really close to the shore. Unfortunately, it was too dark to take photos of the ship.

The upper decks of a ship were clearly seen above the tree line shown here

Our prawn dinner was lovely, with some salad.

Heavy rain came, with wind squalls, just as we finished tea. The Bureau of Meteorology for Darwin was hopeless, we decided. “Showers” had been forecast for today. There was a dinky little tropical low in the region. For the rest of the night we had heavy rain and wind.

Marina in the rain

Today’s grey and wet weather had, at least, made the temperature a bit lower – only 28 degrees top today, compared to the 31 degrees we’d been having each day previously.


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2011 Travels February 13

SUNDAY 13 FEBRUARY     DARWIN

It was pleasant to have a normal sort of breakfast, in our apartment. Grapefruit and toast.

Spent some of the morning relaxing, and watching the marina activity from the balcony. Being a weekend, there was quite a bit of boat movement, in and out.

Looking across towards the Marina entrance at Cullen Bay

Went out and walked around the Marina complex itself, up at the end of Marina Drive, where our apartments were. It did not seem to have changed much since 2006. There were similar food outlets, including Yots, the Greek establishment where we had dined then. It was still expensive! Much as we’d enjoyed the food back then, we were not tempted to eat there again, this time.

There were some empty shop fronts and the place did still seem a bit dead.

Cullen Bay was developed in the 1990’s, by enclosing a natural bay to create a sheltered anchorage, for pleasure craft. The surrounding housing and accommodation, and the small commercial area, were developed at the same time. In 2006, we’d caught the Mandorah ferry from its terminal by the marina entrance.

Cullen Bay Marina (Wikipedia).Apartment complexes on the left and central Darwin in distance

We had a sandwich, “at home”, for lunch.

Looking the other way, from our balcony

Went out driving – felt the need to do something, rather than stay all day in the apartment.

Went to have a look at the newer port development along Frances Bay. There had been a lot more industrial development since we last saw it.

Frances Bay

Continued out Tiger Brennan Drive – very pleasant motoring along that – to Berrimah, East Arm and the Ghan Railway Station. Mainly, we wanted to check out the route and access, for later on. It was small, and closed and there was really nothing to see. Just another industrial area out here. People arriving in Darwin, for the first time, on The Ghan, would definitely not get a very favourable first impression of the city.

After that, drove back towards the city and out to Fanny Bay where we bought fish and chips for dinner. As we’d headed back from East Arm, the sky was looking increasingly black and rain seemed imminent, so we’d decided an early meal was in order, rather than venture out later in poor conditions.

Ate our meal sitting out on our balcony – it really was a most pleasant spot. The food was a bit pricey, having cost us $30 for snapper for two, 3 potato cakes, a dim sim, and a heap of chips. We drank our last bottle of wine.

After tea, John watched football on TV. I read and did some of the embroidery I’d brought from home. Predictably, it rained steadily from before dusk, on.


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2011 Travels February 12

SATURDAY 12 FEBRUARY     DARWIN

Moving day today. Had the original plan worked, we’d have been returning from Kakadu today.

Left Star City about 10.30am. Couldn’t go into our apartment at Cullen Bay until 2pm, so had time to fill in.

Outside our Sky City room

Went to the weekly Parap Markets and wandered about there. Unlike the better known tourist destination of the Mindil Beach Market, the ones centred on the Parap Village centre operate all year round. They are not of the same scale as Mindil Beach, or at least they weren’t at this time of year. But in some ways, I preferred these to Mindil Beach. They seemed more geared to the permanent residents of Darwin, and less to tourists.

There were many food stalls and some selling fruit and vegies. There were a few  stalls with the usual Darwin market kitch offerings.

We bought some greengroceries – our apartment was self catering, and I fancied a salad tea.Tomatoes, cucumber, capsicum, red onion, a dragon fruit because John wanted to try it.

We browsed the surrounding Parap shops too. Went into one art gallery shop. I was initially attracted by some aboriginal print fabric that was on display, thinking it would make up into great cushions. But then we looked at some limited edition prints on paper. John was very attracted to a stylized one of an owl. I loved it too, so we bought it, for $350. One of only 20 made. It would be mailed to Melbourne for us. With my artist brother now specializing in doing prints on paper, these days I had more of an appreciation of print making as an art form.

From the Markets, drove to the Wharf precinct and wandered about some more. We only had cool drinks there. We’d both had a final big breakfast at the Sunset, this morning (despite my supplies purchase yesterday), so neither of us was hungry at lunchtime.

All that filled in the time for us. Our final stop was at the Nightcliff shops for more supplies for the apartment. I bought olives, feta cheese, a carrot, some mixed leaves, milk, bread, margarine, a little jar of marmalade, bananas and oranges. Bought a couple of pasta dura rolls for tonight, and a Weekend Australian – that cost $4! We needed to be careful not to oversupply ourselves with foodstuffs. It wasn’t like a caravan park, where we could take food with us when we moved on.

So, to our establishment at Cullen Bay Apartments.

Our Cullen Bay apartment complex (Google)

We had Apartment 403, several levels up. The complex was built around a central atrium, like Sky City. Maybe it’s a tropical thing, for some reason? However, unlike Sky City, this had more of a roofed effect because of the walkways at each level, so was gloomier, with no plants growing.

Internal atrium at Cullen Bay

The underground car park spaces were tight to get into, because of the placement of pillars. But at least, they were under cover, with a degree of security, and with lift access to each floor.

Our apartment was fine. It was clean. We had a bedroom, kitchen/living area, bathroom off the bedroom. There were two split system aircons, ceiling fans, a good TV, couch, a couple of tables. All we needed to stay in comfort – except there were no microwave specific cooking dishes.

Living room

We had a nice little balcony, where we could sit out and look over the Cullen Bay Marina – interesting in itself. Below us, in front, a street of waterfront houses edged this part of the Marina. Presumably, the residents accounted for a number of the definitely upmarket boats moored there.

Marina and residences from our balcony

If there were any lightning storms over Darwin, we should have a good view of same, from our balcony.

So, I was happy with the unit. Back in 2006, we had visited a friend of M’s who lived in one of these serviced apartments, provided  as part of her job. So I’d had a fair idea of what they were like.

We unpacked. John watched sport on TV. We had a beer each for happy hour, out on the balcony, watching the boat activity in the marina, and the sunset over it.

I made a Greek salad, and a leafy green one, for tea. These made a nice change from all the large and heavy meals we’d been eating. We didn’t have any wine with the meal – again, a change. I only had one bottle left from the supplies we’d bought, and was saving that for another time. The dragon fruit tasting was really a non-event. John wasn’t keen on it.

There were some storms at night, but no lightning.

                `


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2011 Travels February 11

FRIDAY 11 FEBRUARY    DARWIN

We drove into the town centre, to the Information Centre, where we cashed in our Kakadu Passes for a refund. Had no problems with that, as the highway was still closed.

This morning’s sight seeing focus was to do the Historic Walk along Smith Street and nearby. We could do this whilst leaving our car parked near the Information Centre.

Town Hall remains

The walk featured some historic buildings, of what had been the city centre, and some remnants left after Cyclone Tracy. This cyclone had arrived unexpectedly on Xmas Eve 1974, weather forecasting back then not having the technology to detect cyclone formation, like it does these days. Because recording instruments broke, there was no accurate measurement, but it was estimated that the winds that devastated Darwin then, reached 250kmh.  

“Old” Darwin had grown in an ad hoc manner, without much regulation, and its structures could not withstand such impacts. Not much was left standing. Officially, the death toll was about 70. I had been told by a friend, a long time resident of the Top End, that her brother had bulldozed into pits, and covered, lots of bodies, and the real death toll was hundreds. The old Darwin was a place people went to drop off the grid, and no-one knew how many aboriginals were camped around the town at the time.

After Cyclone Tracy

Tens of thousands of the survivors were evacuated, mostly by a massive air lift. Many never returned. The Darwin that was rebuilt and grew anew, according to the old hands, bears little resemblance to the old, frontier type of town that so many of them loved.

For me, there was a sense of both pathos and bravery in some of what we saw.

The old and the new….
Christ Church old and new

Walked the new Sky Bridge, a sheltered walkway that took us from the end of Smith Street, over the cliffs that drop naturally to sea level, with the old roads carved along them, to the Waterfront Precinct building. There, a glass lift  took us to ground level. That was all very well done; from the Sky Bridge we had good outlooks down over the waterfront developments.

Had a look at the Wave Pool, which had been built and opened a couple of years ago, and so was new to us. That would be a great place to take kids – safe from the local marine wild life, but more interesting than just a swimming pool.

It was very hot and humid, walking, so we sat and had a coffee at the Coffee Club. Then walked around to the historic WW2 oil storage tunnels that had been excavated into the cliffs below the city centre. These were closed off with a wire mesh gate – another tourist feature shut in the Wet Season. But we could look in through the mesh and get a general idea of what they were like.

Climbed up the Survivors Steps, from there, and thus along Smith Street back to the car. The Sky Bridge and elevator route had been much easier than our walk up the Steps! It teemed rain, just as we got to the top. The really heavy rain was an indication that the weather pattern had definitely changed from earlier in the week.

Despite the conditions, the Historic Walk had been well worth doing. An interesting contrast between the old and new.

Drove to Nightcliff shops. Bought a bottle of wine to take out tonight. I decided to buy some breakfast type groceries for me, so I could eat in the room: some grapefruit, a little pack of Weetbix, soy milk.

Outside our room at Sky City

After some leisure time back at the hotel, we left to drive to P’s place, for 7pm, taking some beers and a bottle of wine. P had asked our former colleague J, now working at Kormilda College to the meal, so we could catch up again. With J was his new wife.

P’s house was great, inside, belying its outward appearance and overgrown garden. The place was surprisingly large, P sharing the rental with a couple of others, who were not home tonight. It was a very “Darwin” establishment – much atmosphere, with a lot of old restaurant gear around. There were little ponds scattered outside, much greenery of course, a small spa pool, and obviously a huge frog population. They provided background song all evening.

P cooked a Thai soup and curry – very yummy. A dessert platter was rather an eclectic mix – melon, chocolate icecream, raspberries, chocolate cake.

Was much enjoyable talk, mostly about Kormilda. J’s role had changed and he and wife were now running the girls’ boarding house, but not living in. They had only been doing this for four weeks, and already the wife hated it and clearly resented the time J was putting into the role. I am afraid I could not warm to the lady at all. It was the third marriage for both; the ceremony had taken place in Bali because she did not want any of his family to attend. I thought that fact really summed her up, and could not see the marriage lasting very long.

After J and wife left, we stayed on for a while, talking with P, mostly about the various short term contracted works he’d been doing, including writing a grant application for Planet Savers, conservation being a cause dear to his heart. We arranged a return meal with him, at home in Melbourne, for a couple of weeks’ time.

The drive back to the hotel was through rain – of course!

Again, there were thunderstorms through the night.


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2011 Travels February 10

THURSDAY 10 FEBRUARY     DARWIN

Now that we were not leaving today, decided to drive out to Litchfield and revisit where we worked, five years ago.

Obviously we took the highway south and the route through Batchelor. The shorter way, that we’d used a lot in 2006, would have been well under water at the Finniss River ford.

It was clearly the Green Season. Lots of road side water in the lower lying areas, really tall green grass. A few flowing shallow flood ways and areas of sheet water on the road.

Litchfield National Park in the Wet Season

We drove straight through the National Park, to the former Monsoon Cafe, where we’d worked. Now, it had been renamed the Litchfield Cafe, the boss we’d liked having bought out the other one.

Said boss was in the office corner of the cafe when I went in. Recognition was immediate!

The place had changed a lot. Boss’ wife lived out there now, full time – no more weekly commuting to Darwin. His daughter, her husband and their little kids lived on site too; they took it in turns of one working in the cafe and one minding the kids.

The menu had been streamlined but broadened. There was no more offering of barra poached in garlic and cream – whoever got to clean the stove would have been grateful for that. There was still the same list of burgers and sandwiches, plus filo wraps had been added – there was a range of flavours in these. The boss now bought pre-sliced meats – well, that would save a lot of kitchen worker time in the mornings. The salad was now just leaves, tomato, cucumber; gone were the capsicum slices, grated carrot and sliced red onion. Again, very time saving. They still made wet salads for the tour groups – a curried rice one alternating with “my” rice salad; potato salad; “my” coleslaw made with wombok. There was no more waldorf salad, or the unpopular pasta one that old boss loved so much. They still served watermelon slices.

The mango cheesecake was still on offer – how many of those had I made over the three months? But now it was somewhat less rich, half the cream being cut out and replaced with yoghurt. New regular offerings  were chocolate cake and apple slice. The addition of a little deep fryer meant that now chips were served. That  had been a big lack when we were working there, often being asked for.

Inside the cafe, the tourist souvenir section had been greatly enlarged. There was too much kitchy stuff there now, in my opinion. It cheapened the place. They still had a good range of locally made cards, though, and some of Dorothy Mangan’s art. I bought four small works on canvas – $85 total.

The soft drink fridges had been moved out from behind the counter, to be accessible to the public, but this made the cafe area seem more claustrophobic.

In the kitchen – my former work area –  the two big fridges had gone, now there was an attached coolroom built on. There was a nice air-con in the kitchen – wish it had been there in my time. There was the new deep fryer and an extra microwave. The old stove was still the same – and dirty, as well. Funny how no-one ever liked cleaning the monster.

Outside, the cafe was quite radically changed. A second coolroom container had been put down, with access from the outside. Long gone were the daily drives up to the Wongaling school to collect our bulk meat and green groceries from their coolroom.

We considered that the bus tour group lunch area had been ruined. A hard roof had been built over it – which would extend the area that could be used in wet weather – but instead of the once lush lawn underfoot, there was just bare ground. The buffet servery area had gone. There was a dishwashing machine – not hooked up yet. In our day, John and M were the dishwashers! The boss had put two containers at the end of the cafe veranda – he planned that these would be opened up and filled with souvenir stuff for the bus groups to browse in.

Eating area for bus tour groups

A tarp roof had been added to the front of the cafe, too, creating a larger sheltered area for cafe tables, but creating yet another area of bare ground. I didn’t like it and wondered whether the wet season patronage was really sufficient to justify destroying the former beauty of the place.

There was nowhere near as many of the lovely green hanging baskets of ferns and similar, around the place . The view along the cafe veranda was closed in by the new containers. Now the place looked more like a big shed than anything else – poor ambience. The cafe lawns were long and unkempt, but that could be because it was the quiet season for tourists. I had to admit that the exterior of the place was much more attractive in our time, when the former boss was in charge of it.

A good feature was the addition of more toilets, alongside the old ones.

Boss and wife lived in two containers that were joined together and he was fitting out inside, as a prototype for accommodation units planned for the future. Big improvement on his old caravan. They now had an inside bathroom!

What had been the helicopter pilot’s donga had been moved closer to the cafe. The old boss’ donga was being fitted out to be bathrooms. But the open air, tin showers we’d used were still in use, with the addition of a washing machine at the end of them. The daughter and family had a donga beyond where we’d had our van parked by the creek. That van park area was still there – for seasonal staff use.

Boss said the tent stay business was booming – at $25 a night per person, with no meals. 2010 had been a very good business year. But despite all that, he said he still planned to move the business further along, to Woolanning, where he owned a block of land. I was dubious that the volume of tourists that now went to the cafe would bother to drive that much further out, especially if someone else bought the old Monsoon and ran it as a cafe.

Boss and wife were coming to Melbourne for the Caravan and Camping Show – to publicize the business. We invited them to come to tea and stay the night, on a spare night they had. Would try to get M to come too.

We spent more than two hours at the cafe, talking and looking over the place. When we left, it was raining quite heavily.

Blue winged kookaburra

We called in at Wangi Falls. As we walked to the viewing platforms, there was a family of feral pigs digging around beside the path – quite out in the open. What on earth were the Rangers doing?

Wangi Falls were thundering down very nicely.

Wet Season Wangi Falls

So many tourists who visit the Falls in the Dry Season, and swim in the plunge pool, would not believe what they are like in the Wet.

Such an awesome volume of water pours over the escarpment edge at Wangi, and the plunge pool is such a mass of swirling, turbulent currents.

Swirling currents in the Wangi Falls plunge pool

We went on to Buley Rockholes, hoping to be able to get some good photos there. However, there were a dozen or so tourists swimming about in the pools. These had been closed until yesterday, because they were running too fast, so we lucked out by a day. But I managed to get some photos that did not include bodies.

Buley Rockholes

Our last stop on the way out of the Park was at the Magnetic Termite Mounds. Walked around the track to the viewing platforms. The grass was so high that the mounds were barely visible.

Magnetic Termite Mounds

Back to Darwin, through occasional drizzle. Then, as we approached Palmerston, the heavens opened. We were grateful that Tiger Brennan Drive was now open from Palmerston, as it was much better for driving in such conditions. It was like trying to drive in a big bucket of water. One could hardly even see the bonnet of the car, let alone any further. That was a new driving experience for John!

Closer to central Darwin, the rain became lighter. We still got a bit damp, walking up from the parking area to the hotel entry. No question about the humidity today – 100%.

Enjoyed the day’s outing. It had definitely been worth doing, even without the old times factor. Litchfield in a good Wet Season should be on every tourist’s agenda. So beautiful.

Went down to the Sunset Restaurant for tea. It was the seafood buffet again – yummy, but a bit dearer than last time because the 20% discount only applied Monday to Wednesday.

There were thunderstorms at irregular intervals through the night, but little in the way of evident lightning.